Symposium: Reform and Rhetoric in Australian Social Policy

Why can’t we have a simple welfare system?

Don Arthur


By the early 2000s, delivering Centrelink’s payments and services involved applying around 30,000 rules (Australian National Audit Office 2002, p. 108). With around twenty separate income support payments and 55 supplementary payments, the system as a whole outstrips anyone’s ability to understand it. Customers struggle to understand their entitlements and obligations (Commonwealth Ombudsman 1999), staff must specialise in particular payment areas, and policy analysts are unable to predict the impact of changes without using sophisticated computer simulation models (Dawkins et al. 1998). And on top of this the Treasurer Joe Hockey recently announced that the 30-year-old information technology (IT) system the government uses to administer income support payments is in ‘bad shape’ and needs to be replaced (Hockey 2014).

The new Reference Group on Welfare Reform chaired by Patrick McClure promises to simplify the system (McClure 2014). But so did the review McClure chaired in 2000. This reform never happened, and the current McClure review has abandoned the single payment model of its predecessor altogether.

The push for these kinds of schemes lost momentum.

For over 50 years, individual economists, along with various government reviews, have proposed radically simplifying the income support system by replacing it with a single payment, often called a ‘negative income tax’ or ‘guaranteed minimum income’ scheme. At one time, these radical proposals were discussed in national newspapers and there was real hope that government might take them up. Today only a few economists like Ross Garnaut (2013) are advocating this kind of reform. Radical reform now seems impossible. This paper looks at the reasons why. While a number of non-economists, such as Philippe Van Parijs, have proposed simplified schemes such as a ‘basic income’ (Ackerman, Alstott & van Parijs 2006), this paper focuses on the contribution of economists to the debate.

Negative income tax proposals in Australia

More than 50 years ago, economist Milton Friedman suggested replacing most of America’s welfare system with a negative income tax (NIT). The NIT would set a floor below which nobody’s income could fall. A person with no income would receive a payment from the government, and as their earnings rose the amount they received would taper away. Then, at some point as their income rose, they would start paying tax (Friedman 2002, pp. 191–195).

During the early 1970s, the idea of radically simplifying the welfare system with a negative income tax or guaranteed minimum income took hold in the Australian policy community. For a time, some policy experts and welfare advocates thought there was a real chance they could get governments to take up the idea. A guaranteed minimum income scheme was one of the recommendations of Commission of Inquiry into Poverty that issued its final report in last year of the Whitlam Labor government. Announced by a Coalition Government in 1972 and chaired by Professor Ronald Henderson, the commission recommended combining the tax and social security systems and creating a guaranteed minimum income scheme (Henderson 1975). In 1974 the Priorities Review Staff (PRS), a Whitlam Government think tank, floated the idea of minimum guaranteed income to replace existing cash payments and some in-kind welfare schemes. While the Henderson Commission recommended keeping a separate category for people with disabilities, the PRS (1975) looked at a simpler scheme without categories. Prominent groups in the non-government welfare sector also backed the idea. In 1975, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) published a report recommending that government adopt a guaranteed minimum income scheme. A study commissioned by the Anglican Church in Sydney argued that the idea was ‘more than an economist’s dream. It is a real possibility, and ought to be greeted with enthusiasm by all those who work closely with the poor and disadvantaged in Australia’ (Hersey 1974).

The push for these kinds of schemes lost momentum with the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in November 1975. An Income Security Review (ISR) established under Whitlam in 1975 continued under the Fraser Coalition government. While it continued to develop some of the policy ideas outlined by the Henderson Commission and the PRS, government policy moved in a different direction (Podger 2011).

In the late 1970s and early 80, classical liberals and Liberal Party ‘Dries’ took up the cause of radical simplification. In Australia at the Crossroads, a group of classical liberal thinkers including Wolfgang Kasper proposed introducing a negative income tax to replace pensions, benefits and other forms of support (Kasper et al. 1980). John Hyde, a Liberal backbencher in the Fraser Government, also took up the idea in his 1982 ‘Blue book’ (Hyde 2002, p. 92).

While the Hawke and Keating Labor governments were active on income support reform, the guaranteed minimum income idea dropped from the agenda. By the mid-1990s the income support system had become more, rather than less, complicated. There was a Youth Training Allowance for under 18-year-olds, separate payments for short-term and long-term unemployed, a Mature Age Allowance for people aged over 60 but still too young to apply for an age pension, and various partner allowances for non-working spouses of income support recipients. By the mid-1990s, a system that started with two payments (age and invalid pensions) had now ballooned to twenty (Perry 1995).

By the late 1990s the complexity of the income support system had become a serious problem. Not only were there more payment categories, but within some categories there were now multiple levels of payment. For example, unemployed people aged between eighteen and twenty received a lower rate than those 21 or over. They also received more or less depending on whether they lived with their parents. There was also a growing range of supplementary payments such as rent assistance. Different payments had different means tests and many recipients were eligible for multiple payments. Economists Peter Dawkins and John Freebairn argued that the income support system’s complexity was undermining work incentives. Overlapping means tests from combinations of payments meant that some households gained little from earning extra income. They suggested a negative income tax could help overcome this problem (Dawkins & Freebairn 1997).

The idea of radical simplification re-emerged on the government agenda in 1999 when Jocelyn Newman, the Coalition Minister for Family and Community Services, appointed Dawkins to the reference group of a welfare reform review. Chaired by Patrick McClure, chief executive officer of Mission Australia, this became known as the McClure review. The McClure review’s report in 2000 recommended moving in the direction of a negative income tax by creating a single payment for people of working age. This ‘common base payment’ would replace all of the separate pensions and allowances. But unlike a simple negative income tax, the McClure proposal included extra add-on payments for people with particular needs such as costs associated with disability and the costs of housing (McClure 2000).

By the late 1990s the complexity of the income support system had become a serious problem.

For a brief period it looked as if the Howard Government might take up McClure’s recommendation. In a speech to the Young Liberals in 2003, Minister for Employment Tony Abbott said: ‘It should be possible to build a consensus for a single working age payment with supplements based on special needs and participation in the community’ (Abbott 2003a). University of Sydney professor of economics, Patricia Apps, was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald saying that the government was working towards ‘a simple negative income tax structure’ (Garnaut 2003).

Despite Abbott’s early enthusiasm, the reform never happened. In his 2009 book Battlelines he writes that he got into trouble for speaking about it and goes on to explain that a taskforce considered the idea of single payment but ‘Tweaking such a system to avoid numerous losers or a horrendous cost to the revenue might be almost impossible’ (Abbott 2009/2013). Now the current review on welfare reform, the second McClure review, has also abandoned the model. In its interim report released in June 2014, the reference group suggests the gap between pensions and allowances may have grown too large for single payment model to be possible (McClure 2014). So after decades of reviews, reports, and conferences the Australian income support system is more complicated now than when the debate started in the 1970s.

Radical simplification as a technical solution to the problem of poverty

Negative income tax and guaranteed minimum income proposals have emerged when politicians have delegated anti-poverty policy to economic experts. These experts have treated welfare reform as a technical problem with a clear objective and clear constraints on how those objectives can be achieved. Their policy recommendations flow from the economic framework they use to analyse the problem.

The tool: welfare economics

The problem is structured by the theory and concepts of welfare economics. Unless policymakers commissioning an analysis specify otherwise, this approach defaults to the assumption that the overriding goal of public policy is social efficiency. So any change that makes at least one person better off without making anyone else worse off is obviously an improvement. And where changes do leave somebody worse off, they are an improvement if ‘winners’ gain enough to fully compensate ‘losers’ and still remain better off.

The approach assumes people become better off by consuming goods and services that satisfy their preferences. It also assumes that, in most cases, individuals can be trusted to rationally pursue their own interests. So individuals are the best judges of which goods and services to consume. The approach suggests that markets will usually be the best way to organise economic activity since every freely agreed exchange between individuals will leave both better off. The major rationales for government intervention will be where there is market failure or where policymakers want to pursue goals other than social efficiency.

Main features of negative income tax proposals

The major features of negative income tax proposals flow from the assumptions built into the welfare economics approach. There are four main features: (1) a single objective; (2) cash not in-kind assistance; (3) assistance according to need, not category; and (4) carrots not sticks.

1. A single objective

Milton Friedman began his argument for a negative income tax by acknowledging that government had a role in alleviating poverty. His proposal was designed to place a ‘floor under the standard of life of every person in the community’ (Friedman 2002, p. 191).

Australian proposals had the same objective. For example, the Priorities Review Staff’s (PRS) 1975 paper quotes the former minister for Social Security, Bill Hayden, as saying that ‘The over-riding goal of all our welfare programs is to successfully tackle the problem of poverty’ (p. 5).

2. Cash not in-kind assistance

If individuals are the best judges of which goods and services to consume to improve their welfare, then giving people cash will be a more efficient way to improve their welfare than giving them goods and services. Friedman argued that a negative income tax would treat people in poverty ‘as responsible individuals, not as incompetent wards of the state’ (Friedman 1975).

The problem is structured by the theory and concepts of welfare economics.

This, combined with their broad view of the welfare system, means that supporters of a negative income tax see it as an opportunity to replace programs such as public housing, food assistance and job training. In the late 1960s, Milton Friedman argued that a negative income tax would actually be cheaper than the programs it replaced (Friedman 1975).

3. Assistance according to need

A negative income tax targets assistance according to a single criterion: need. To receive payments, a person needs to show that their income is below a certain threshold. The current systems in countries like Australia provide assistance to people in need only if they are members of particular categories.

By the late 1970s the number of categories had expanded to cover almost every group on low incomes; indeed, in 1980 income support expert Thomas Kewley wrote that, in practice, the Australian system was close to being a guaranteed minimum income system (1980, p. 219). According to the current McClure review, the system now includes ‘around 20 income support payments and 55 supplementary payments’ (McClure 2014, p. 28). Each income support payment provides support to a particular category of person, such as people with a disability, carers, people who are unemployed and single parents.

A negative income tax system would streamline the administration of income support by replacing these separate payments along with their complex eligibility conditions and taper rates with a single payment. It would also expand assistance to low wage workers.

4. Carrots not sticks

In the simplest versions of the scheme, a negative income tax would abolish the job search and mutual obligation requirements that now apply to people on unemployment payments. Instead of paternalistic sticks, the negative income tax would rely on carrots. The system would be designed to make sure a recipient was always financially better off if they took an extra hour of work.

This approach flows from the assumption that most people can be trusted to rationally pursue their own interests. As Friedman put it:

I think a great defect of welfare programs and arrangements is that we have been too contemptuous of the poor. Our welfare—people who propose these programs have treated the poor as if they were incompetent people who had to be managed by their betters. I don’t believe that’s the case. Most of the poor people are perfectly responsible, respectable people who, given half a chance don’t want to be on welfare any more than you or I want to be. You’ve got to give them a chance to get off (1968).

The major technical challenge involved in designing a negative income tax system is controlling costs while maintaining work incentives. The more gradually the system withdraws payments as earnings increase, the more incentive recipients have to take on more work and earn extra income. But at the same time, the more gradually payments are withdrawn, the more people are eligible to receive a payment and hence, the more the scheme will cost. One of the arguments for a negative income tax scheme is that it is much easier to manage this tradeoff in a system with a single payment than one with multiple and sometimes overlapping payments.

Children and other technical difficulties

Even as a purely technical problem, creating a negative income tax is a huge challenge. For a start it is difficult to balance the goal of alleviating poverty within the constraints of maintaining incentives to work and controlling costs.

One way to control costs while still alleviating poverty is to target payments more closely to individual needs. For example, rather than paying everyone enough to afford to rent housing in the private market, it is possible to create a separate payment restricted to people who actually pay rent. This allows the base rate of payment to be lower but reintroduces complexity by creating new add on payments. This is the approach the first McClure review recommended (McClure 2000).

Adapting the system to the needs of families with dependent children can also increase complexity. Children have an anomalous status in Friedman’s analytic framework. He writes:

children are at one and the same time consumer goods and potentially responsible members of society. The freedom of individuals to use their economic resources as they want includes the freedom to use them to have children—to buy, as it were, the services of children as a particular form of consumption. But once this choice is exercised, the children have a value in and of themselves and have a freedom of their own that is not simply and extension of the freedom of the parents (2002).

So while Friedman argued against paternalistic policies for adults, he acknowledged that the government might need to step in when parents neglected or abused their children. There are also strong social efficiency arguments for creating programs to assist disadvantaged children (Heckman & Masterov 2007). This complicates the system in two ways. It means that not all in-kind assistance can be replaced by cash support and it raises the possibility of making payments to parents conditional on participating in parenting programs and sending their children to school or preschool.

Even as a purely technical problem, creating a negative income tax is a huge challenge.

There are also problems of making the transition from the current system to a new simpler system. In Australia there is also a constitutional constraint. In the 1970s, the Priorities Review Staff realised that the Constitution may not give the Commonwealth the power to create a radically different income support scheme without the agreement of the states (Wood 1974).

The political reasons for failure

While the technical difficulties involved in creating a negative income tax scheme are formidable, they are not the most serious problem. The most important reason negative income tax schemes fail is that their proponents treat income support reform as a technical problem rather than a political one. A technical problem is one people are happy to leave to experts. When people have a clear idea what they want to achieve and are confident they can identify experts who are able to deliver it, they will treat a problem as technical. Neither of these conditions holds for income support policy. A political situation is one where there is no agreement on goals and no agreement on how the world works in the domain under dispute. Reform of the income support system is deeply political.

Solving the wrong problem

Economists who design negative income tax systems assume that the system’s purpose is to alleviate poverty. They understand poverty as an inability to satisfy preferences, and they see that as more or less equivalent to a lack of income. However, the politicians who commission the analysis, and the media commentators and voters who judge their performance, often do not to understand the problem in this way.

In the United States, former Clinton Government official Mary Jo Bane (2008) argued that those involved in debates about income support policy do not always see poverty as the problem. Speaking about the US debate over negative income tax proposals she explains:

as the political discussions and public opinion polling around these proposals showed, ‘annual cash income below the poverty line’ was not a good definition of the problem people were concerned about. There were and are, in fact, multiple definitions of the problem. Some have to do with the lack of very basic necessities; hunger, for example, or homelessness. Some have to do with self-sufficiency, especially the ability of families to support themselves through employment. Some have to do with income security. And some have to do with social ills that are related to but not defined by cash income: crime, for example, or health problems or lack of educational opportunities.

Bane argues that it may be better for policymakers to address the specific problems people in the community are worried about rather than tackling the problem of low incomes.

American political scientist Lawrence Mead (1986) argues that the public worry about able-bodied people receiving money from the government with no conditions attached. They see this as morally wrong. If Mead is right, then what economists like Friedman see as a solution, many of the public see as a problem.

In Australia this seems to have been part of the rationale for the Howard Government’s Work for the Dole scheme. This policy stems from an understanding of the problems associated with joblessness that has little to do with improving unemployed people’s ability to satisfy preferences through consumption. The government saw the problem in terms of obligation rather than utility. Ministers argued community had an obligation to protect people from destitution if they could not find work and, in turn, people who were able to work had an obligation to give something back to the community (Kemp 1997).

In Australia policymakers do not see unemployment payments as part of a system designed to deal with the broad problem of poverty, they see them as part of a package of measures designed to deal with the specific problems of joblessness. So when a Senate committee looked at the adequacy of income support payments, they concluded that while payments to unemployed people did ‘not allow people to live at an acceptable standard in the long term’, it was better to put money into employment assistance than to make payments more adequate (Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee 2012).

Disputed expertise

While the economists who design negative income tax systems may be confident that economic models can predict how people will respond to policy changes, many politicians and their constituents are not. There is no consensus that economists are experts in the way that civil engineers or software designers are.

There is no consensus that economists are experts.

Unlike the economists who design negative income tax systems, many lay people are convinced that financial incentives are not enough to motivate some people to work. This is a view shared by some politicians, including those responsible for employment policy. In an interview with talkback radio host Alan Jones, the current employment minister, Eric Abetz (2014), invoked the stereotype of people on the dole enjoying life on the beach:

What Mr Whitlam argued, all those years ago, is that if someone lost their job through no fault of their own, we should tip in to provide—and his language at the time—a bridging payment until that person found another job.

In other words, the unemployment benefit was a transitional payment. It was never intended to be a wage. Now, of course, we find that people expect it’ll be there. It’s their entitlement. I’ll go on the dole. And five or six of them can go on the dole, rent a flat at Bondi, sunbake all day while some poor bugger is working his backside off to pay tax so others can claim welfare and do very little in return.

Opinion surveys suggest that many of the public share the minister’s concerns. For example, the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 reported that 59 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that: ‘Around here most unemployed people could find a job if they really wanted to’ (Evans 2009). Governments have responded by introducing stricter conditions on unemployment benefits. In 2003 the then employment minister Tony Abbott argued that unemployed people needed both carrots and sticks to persuade them to take advantage of employment assistance. He defended income support penalties for non-compliance saying: ‘For working age people who are capable of work remaining on welfare must become a matter of necessity not choice’ (Abbott 2003b).

Moving further away from a negative income tax

Australia’s income support system developed bit by bit as new payments was added to deal with the problems faced by particular groups. As Kewley has argued (see above), there were few gaps remaining in the system by the late 1970s. It covered almost everyone in need. So at the time, moving to a negative income tax or guaranteed minimum income scheme may have seemed more like a way of tidying the system up than a radical change of purpose. But since the mid-70s Australia has moved in the opposite direction. We are further away from a radically simple scheme now than we have ever been.

1. A single objective

Changes to unemployment payments since the 1970s have undermined the idea that all payments share a single purpose. Poverty has slipped down the policy agenda and the system is now constructed around payments with specific objectives such as supporting people while they move into paid employment. There is no official poverty line in Australia. Both Coalition and Labor governments have avoided endorsing any measure of poverty.

Governments have argued that the best way to deal with poverty and disadvantage is to deal with the causes rather than address the symptoms through cash payments (with the assumption that the most policy-relevant causes lie with the individual). This has strengthened the separation of pension payments for people who are not expected to work and allowance payments for those who are. While governments may acknowledge that inadequate income support payments are a cause of hardship for pensioners, they argue that the policy relevant cause of hardship for allowees is lack of employment.

When the Rudd Labor government commissioned a review of the adequacy of income support payments (the Harmer review), the review was restricted to pensions. This was justified on the grounds that ‘the community generally does not expect that people receiving these payments should be required to seek work to support themselves’ (Harmer 2009, p. 1).

The official view within the bureaucracy is that different payments have different objectives and that these objectives ought to shape how payments are designed and administered. A joint interagency submission to a Senate inquiry on the adequacy of allowances made this clear:

Embedded in our system is the fundamental notion that people who can work should do so, except where factors such as disability, age or caring responsibilities are recognised as relieving this obligation. This is reflected in the distinction between pensions and allowances within the payment system. Pensions provide for those whom the community does not expect to fully support themselves through workforce participation. Allowances assist those who are expected to transition to being self-supporting and who are generally required to be looking for work or undertaking activities that prepare them to transition to work.

These distinctly different purposes flow through into the structure and design of payments, so that allowances have a lower rate of payment, less extensive supplementary assistance and concessional arrangements, tighter income tests, and reciprocal obligations in the form of participation requirements to assist the transition to work (Australian Government 2012).

From this perspective, a single payment system such as a negative income tax no longer looks like a solution to the government’s problems.

2. Cash not in-kind assistance

Australian policy makers have rejected the idea that cash is preferable to in-kind support. In 1980, the authors of Australia at the Crossroads envisaged unemployed people using their negative income tax payments to buy employment assistance (Kasper et al. 1980). But during the 1980s and 1990s, Australian governments increased spending on employment assistance and measures like Work for the Dole, while making unemployment payments conditional on participation in these programs. Politicians like the Liberal Party’s Chris Back have argued that it is better for the government to pursue its objectives by putting money into compulsory employment assistance than to increase unemployment payments (Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee 2012). Employment assistance, which often aims to do little more than increase the intensity of job search, is seen as addressing underlying causes of joblessness.

Australian policy makers have rejected the idea that cash is preferable to in-kind support.

Governments have also become more interested in prevention and early intervention programs as a way of reducing disadvantage. Services for disadvantaged children, families and communities that are designed to improve outcomes such as employment participation (Byron 2010) and, as a result, policymakers see them as an alternative to increased spending on income support since they have overlapping objectives.

Another move away from cash support is the creation of income management. Income management sets aside a portion of a person’s income support payment and puts limits on what they can buy. For example, they cannot spend income managed funds on alcohol, tobacco or gambling (Department of Social Services 2014).

3. Assistance according to need, not category

Friedman argued that the ‘proposal for a negative income tax is a proposal to help poor people by giving them money which is what they need’ (1968). But today’s policymakers do not accept that financial need is the problem the welfare system is meant to solve. Another way to put this is to say that policymakers see different categories of recipients as having different needs. While pensioners may need money, recipients of unemployment allowances need jobs. As a result, there is one payment system for pensioners and another for allowees. This is one of the reasons the current McClure review has rejected the idea of a single payment for all income support recipients (McClure 2014).

4. Carrots not sticks

Negative income tax systems put a guaranteed floor under a person’s income and then attempt to manage work incentives by making sure that the more they work, the higher their income is. Current policies rely far more heavily on discouraging people from claiming payments by attaching conditions such as participation in Work for the Dole. If people fail to meet their participation obligations, the government stops their income support payment.

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has argued that if the system does not enforce work, some people would remain stuck on income support. As he wrote in Battlelines: ‘Although most people don’t choose to be on welfare, once they’ve become accustomed to it, it’s easy enough to find reasons why going back to work is too hard’ (Abbott 2009/2013).

The return of the deserving and undeserving poor

Governments have argued that the best way to deal with poverty and disadvantage is to deal with the causes. In the past this has led to policies such as the Keating Government’s Working Nation initiative that tried to deal structural causes in the economy as well as attempting to change the behavior of individuals (Australian Government 1994). But particularly since the election of the Abbott Government there has been a much stronger emphasis on what ministers see as the moral causes of poverty. As social services minister Kevin Andrews says:

The modern welfare state largely involves accepting the consequences of societal dysfunction and often is loath to tackle the causes. This arises from a number of factors.

First, the emphasis on individualism has led to reluctance to interfere with other people’s choices. There is a fear of being accused of moralizing should one seek to address the causes. Even holding out an aspiration is criticised as demeaning the poor or the afflicted, insensitive to their plight, or paternalistic.

This is a modern notion. As recently as a century ago, poverty, for example, was seen as a moral issue. A distinction was drawn between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Taking a sense of responsibility for one’s own situation was a central feature of policy responses (Andrews 2012).

The McClure review is likely to recommend a simpler income support system.

When official documents like the reports of the Harmer and McClure reviews refer to ‘community expectations’, this is an oblique way of allowing morality to shape policy. Among bureaucrats and policy analysts, there is a strong norm against making value judgments. These are political and are for ministers to make. But if one of the technical considerations is that policy should be constrained by community expectations, then morality is allowed back in. According to this view, it is proper for members of the community to make moral judgments and proper for their expectations to be reflected, via their elected representatives, in policy.

This is Lawrence Mead’s argument for work requirements for certain categories of income support recipient. He argues that the requirements ‘may reasonably be treated as enforceable, because there is good evidence that the public views them this way’ (1986, p. 11). He argues that government programs embody social norms:

For that reason social policy should be made in a political way by politicians, not, as it often is in Washington, in an expert and technical way, clothed in the language of economics, that admits only liberal goals or suppresses value questions entirely (Mead 1986, p. 11).

From this perspective, enforcing work requirements and limiting spending on goods like alcohol and tobacco are about more than achieving outcomes such as increased employment or better health, they are ways of managing behavior to ensure that people who receive income support deserve to receive it.


As noted in the introduction, a few economists like Ross Garnaut still advocate for a radically simpler income support system based around a negative income tax. But despite claims that policymakers are in thrall to the ‘neoliberalism’ of Friedman and the Chicago School, economists have had little influence over income support policy in recent years. While their analysis is not value free, it is free of many of the value judgments that politicians want to see reflected in policy.

The McClure review is likely to recommend a simpler income support system with fewer payment types and a more streamlined system of additional payments. There will be technical problems to solve that involve things like overlapping payments and taper rates. But creating a radically simpler income support system in which eligibility is based on financial need alone, is a political problem. It is not the kind of thing a government is likely to hand over to technocrats and then put in place when the electorate is not paying attention.

The political debate focuses on two issues. The first is whether it is morally acceptable for people who are able to work to receive cash support without conditions and limits on how they spend their payments. The second is whether guaranteeing an income support safety net that is enough to protect people from destitution will cause some people to choose to live without working. It is likely that most people believe they are qualified to answer these questions and are not inclined to defer to experts.

Objections to a simple income support system that does not distinguish between deserving and undeserving recipients are embedded in a much broader set of commonsense assumptions about values and about how the world works. Until these change, the income support system will resist simplification.


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Don Arthur’s work has previously been published by the Evatt Foundation and in the Centre for Independent Studies’ Policy magazine. The views expressed here are his own.