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The Fabian Society fails Chesterton’s Fence

Summary:
Chesterton’s Fence is the idea that, if when walking in a field one encounters a fence, it is necessary to work out why a fence was built before concluding that the fence should be destroyed. We can also invert this and ask, when considering a new policy, whether we’ve had this before and if we did why did we stop doing so? This is what the Fabian Society fails to do:Hundreds of thousands of people would be guaranteed up to 80% of their earnings for a maximum of six months if they lose their job, under furlough-style proposals to overhaul the current unemployment benefit system. Under the proposed scheme, people who have paid sufficient national insurance credits prior to losing their job would be eligible for payments of up to £460 a week – rather than the current job seeker’s allowance

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Chesterton’s Fence is the idea that, if when walking in a field one encounters a fence, it is necessary to work out why a fence was built before concluding that the fence should be destroyed. We can also invert this and ask, when considering a new policy, whether we’ve had this before and if we did why did we stop doing so?

This is what the Fabian Society fails to do:

Hundreds of thousands of people would be guaranteed up to 80% of their earnings for a maximum of six months if they lose their job, under furlough-style proposals to overhaul the current unemployment benefit system.

Under the proposed scheme, people who have paid sufficient national insurance credits prior to losing their job would be eligible for payments of up to £460 a week – rather than the current job seeker’s allowance (JSA) of £75 a week for over 25-year-olds.

The scheme, proposed by the Fabian Society thinktank,

The thing being that we used to have this. From 1966 to 1982 in fact, then we stopped having it. We did look through the Fabian report and could see no mention of this - perhaps it is our speed reading at fault.

We can think of all sorts of reasons why it was stopped. Significant unemployment benefits do extend the period of unemployment. Costs might well be more than what a 1% rise in national insurance might cover. Folks might indeed start to wonder why people on higher incomes get more. But that’s not our point here.

The specific reasons why it might be a bad idea are this one thing over here. Far more important is this other over there that we used to have this then we stopped doing so. The first and most obvious thing to ask when proposing it again is, well, why did we stop having it? Failing to do that means that the entire suggestion must be ignored until they bother to do that most basic inquiry.

But then this is the Fabians, the future of the left from 1884 and having learnt little by experience since.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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