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Ten years ago I had never really ventured past the Rockies, never been to Europe, never traveled alone. I didn't have much money but scraped together enough for a birthday trip to NYC, booking a ticket that connected in half a dozen cities before depositing me in the middle of the night in a shuttered and frozen Long Island airport.
Between genuine economic woes and the efforts of the coalition government to push through hasty, misguided, and largely ideological reforms, we have the rare moment of hilarity.
Like former Tory party vice-chairman and new life peer Howard Flight, personally selected for the honour by David Cameron, wading in with commentary like (paraphrasing headlines) cuts will encourage the poor to breed.
When my maniacal giggling subsided I pursued the point and found that technically he said "We're going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it's jolly expensive, but for those on benefit there is every incentive. Well, that's not very sensible."
Jolly expensive! How quaint!
Setting aside our obvious political differences, he has a point. The child benefit was income-blind precisely because it was felt that every child, regardless of background, deserved nominal support. This idea plays well to the British notion of gamesmanship. If everyone has the same base funding, same healthcare, same right to housing and schools, then it is jolly well your own fault if you fail. I say, old chap, what what?
Personally I think it is all just a fiddle. I spend more than £1,000 per year on coffee - I don't need child benefit, and I don't claim it. Other people would call that sum the difference between life and death, and they won't lose the money under the reforms. Somewhere in the middle (hence the term 'middle class') are the people who will indeed feel the pinch. And you know what will happen to them? They will claim elsewhere - they will require, and the government will provide, a program that covers services they would otherwise pay for out of that £1,000. Let me make a spooky prediction: within the next three years the number of children seeking free lunches will go up.
Not to mention the fact that right now the administration of child benefit is simple - every legal resident who asks for it gets it. With means testing, the government will need to assemble a massive bureaucratic structure of clerks, supervisors, advisors, and directors (drawing salaries and benefits) to hassle parents for proof of household income.
Of course that is one way to create jobs. Though I suspect it would be easier and cheaper to continue funding the current child benefit system.
I have a few Tory friends. One family shells out to send their "bright" child to private school, waving the other three off to the local and markedly inferior school. While, and this is the bit that amazes me, they openly discuss the bias in front of the children. I wonder if they will reflect on the wisdom of the policy a few decades from now, when those same children are making choices about elder care.
Caveat emptor and all that.
Regardless, it is nice to have an opportunity to reminisce about old projects. Ten years ago: