Firstly, apologies to anyone who came here wanting a rant either for or against the welfare credit card idea that has been proposed in Britain and adopted recently in Australia, on most issues my views are very clear cut, but on this I am slightly lost.
My initial point would be that I want the state out of welfare entirely, which can be done far more efficiently in a pure free market system, however that is not on the cards. What is proposed is a welfare card which would mean those receiving benefits would only be able to spend the money on certain items such as food and petrol, and not on luxury items.
The initial libertarian opposition is that the state has no business deciding how people spend their money, if you want to ruin yourself with booze, fatty food and drugs then that is your business. This is something I obviously agree with, sin taxes, the proposed sugary drinks tax are abhorrent. Grown adults should not be treated like children, they live their own lives and make their own mistakes, it is not for us to nudge or push them to making choices.
However, in a libertarian society, when one party gives another a gift they are free to attach any strings they want to it. The receiver can either accept the gift with those terms or reject entirely. For example, if someone gives me a gift of £100 they would be free to make me sign a contract saying I wouldn’t spend it before X date, or could only spend it in X shop. They could even make a condition that I only spend it on mini cocktail sausages if they wanted. Freedom to make these contracts is part of a free society, freedom to reject them is also part of a free society. Welfare too is a gift from one party (the state) to another (the recipient). If the state wants to attach conditions then that is their prerogative.
The obvious rebuttal is that the state does not own any money, it does not have its own cash, it only has tax money. Many taxpayers (the majority in fact) support the idea of welfare cards, but a majority does not mean everyone. The problem of the state is that it forces us to act with the majority even though there may well be a sizeable minority who would give their money to those in need with no strings attached at all. Again the biggest problem in this whole debate is the existence of a coercive, non voluntary state.
Overall, I probably oppose the idea, though mostly for practical reasons. The cards will take a significant amount to implement, and the potential for a black market in welfare cards is huge – leading to those on benefits being even worse off (no one will buy a £100 welfare card with a limited use for £100 cash which has unlimited use). On moral terms the fact the state has none of its own money means it probably isn’t legitimate in setting out conditions as it hands out other peoples cash, but from a moral perspective I can’t come down too heavily either way (apart from to point out that tax is theft and is immoral completely). Sorry.
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