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Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Something we could do without, even if it were free

As the opposition parties lay out their financial proposals, let me offer a few rare words of praise for Charles Kennedy. His policy of abolishing the 'Child Trust Fund', which will give all teenagers a sizeable sum of taxpayers' money on their eighteenth birthday, is a good one. Kennedy doesn't intend to let the people who earned the money keep it themselves, but even his alternative use - spending still more to meet the teachers' unions' self-serving goal of reducing class sizes - is still a better idea than Labour's.

If there is any policy which exemplifies a certain leftist mindset, of the sort which has little respect either for property or for responsible behaviour, it is this one. Why should hard-working families up and down this country have to fork out what may be thousands of pounds per youth, just to fund teenage holidays to Ibiza? What could provoke more righteous resentment from the millions plagued in their own homes by young hooligans every night than part of their tax bill being used to fund government transfer payments of this magnitude to those young thugs the very same government refuses to do anything about?

Furthermore, could there possibly be a worse age to 'give' the money than 18, about the age when it's most important of all for a person to learn that money must come from work, not out of the sky? A proposal to give this money to every married couple upon the birth of their first child would at least be laudable in the sense that it might work to reinforce the determined new sense of maturity and responsibility one sees in adults who become parents for the first time. But at 18, when young people are instead finally seizing on the full freedoms that come with the age of majority, it seems utterly fanciful to believe that most youngsters would use this money responsibly. All it will do is swell the wallets of Ibiza landlords as much as the beer bellies of so many of Britain's youth.

One crucial factor some people never understand about conservative objections to big government is that it comes down to far more than the cost. Smug liberals like to think that it is pure selfishness (their word for wanting to keep and spend or save one's own money) that motivates people to oppose their latest expensive schemes. In fact, many conservatives would oppose most of the actions of the modern mega-welfare state even if they came without a price tag.

Even if one ignores the awful price in increasing taxation and diminishing liberty the bulging welfare state imposes, there is still an enormous cost in terms of displaced responsibilities to one's parents, one's children and one's neighbour - duties that once would have come naturally, and now are passed up to the state with a shrug. There is an opportunity cost in all the talented, caring and hard-working people who would otherwise be putting their abilities and creativity to work in a million different profitable and/or socially responsible enterprises, but instead end up as bureaucrats administering the latest silly scheme dreamed up by ivory tower utopians or special interests who want their snout deeper in the trough. And there is a cost in breaking the link between income and work, between responsible behaviour and reward, between the extent to which you make yourself useful to others by your labour and the extent to which you then earn a wage which you can use to meet your duties and better the circumstances of your family.

The Child Trust Fund represents these costs better than many actions of government. Well done to those who oppose it.

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