Policy Press asked me recently to lead off a discussion on the Welfare State with a short 300 words. My contribution is here.
The issue I’ve raised is about the scope of government, and that will be part of my next book, Reclaiming Individualism. The typescript will go to the publisher in August for publication next April.
One thought on “The scope of the welfare state”
Frankly I always thought that the difference between man and ‘nature’ was welfarism. Out their in the countryside, the desert or the jungle, if you are old or weak or ill you usually end up as something else’s dinner. What the welfare state did was to provide protection for human beings when they were old or weak or without means (or reduced means) to survive in a modern market economy. What we have been seeing recently I think for that last 30 or so years is a failure of markets to ‘provide the greatest amount of social welfare for the greatest amount of people’. Instead that ‘greatest amount of welfare’ has increasingly gone to fewer and fewer people or towards ‘shareholder value’. Welfare seems to have become something that props up low wages for the many and enables companies to financialise their assets and liquidate jobs, plant, lives etc., ( I mean real jobs) leaving the state to provide income or contribute income. I don’t think welfare was intended to serve the financial sector or benefit returns to shareholders but in some perverted way it has. Welfarism has also fallen victim to the politicians who say that we can have high quality public services and a welfare state but also cut taxes at the same time to get votes – something that is utterly rediculous – it just does not add up.
We’ve had the selfish gene hypothesis and rampant individualism (yes they exist) but what has also emerged is that people are much more complex than that and other traits exist too such the capacity for kindness and co-operation as strategies for survival. It’s so typical of today’s reductionist tendencies however to ignore other factors and choose one as ‘the best’.
I would love to see people like Paul Spicker get together with economists like Paul Kugman and Steve Keen and form a buttress against the ‘race to the bottom’ form of capitalism dominated by the Financial Sector that seems to have orginated in the USA (and by some accounts has almost destroyed its own industrial capacity – a capacity that leaves a country like Germany better able to survive the credit crunch – get the hint?).
The real threat to the future of welfare comes from politics itself. The political failure to see markets as the best answer to EVERYTHING, rather than politicians balancing markets with proper supervision and regulation is a huge failure. Infact it is fast becoming a tragedy. This ugly idea is that Goverment is bad and only markets are good. Personally, I want my Government to use my taxes and my vote to protect me and my family/friends when and if I/they hit hard times. I don’t want them or me resorting to the begging bowl or some dodgy NGO. I’ve never ever claimed any benefits for myself because I’ve worked hard and I’ve been lucky so far; others are not so lucky. Our society has been obsessed with being worried about the ‘loony left’ infiltrating Government; well, we’ve been duped. The real threat has come from the Financial Sector infiltrating Government, and they’ve done it right under our noses to make a world that benefits them.
I just live in hope that some form of effective rebalancing takes place within politics that acknowledges the limitations of markets (and the limitations of welfare) and that something coherent and genuinely useful and equitable emerges. Some will say that this is just a compromise. But surely isn’t that what real politics is for? And if so, my view is that we are in desperate need of it right now.