American Elephants

Is The Only Way to Really Help People to Grow the Welfare State? by The Elephant's Child

The liberal response to the question of paying for the welfare state has been a protracted exercise in intellectual dishonesty, borne of a conviction that the question doesn’t need to be answered if it can be made to go away. Liberals have generally been happy to tell people what they want to hear. It’s possible to have a big welfare state without worrying all that much about the costs. The programs will pay for themselves. Or an affluent society can pay for them out of the petty cash drawer. Or, the taxes required for a much bigger welfare state are ones that will be borne largely by the very rich and big corporations. None of these propositions can withstand even gentle interrogation, however, making it difficult to know whether the liberals who put them forward are remarkably cynical or remarkably feckless. In either case, whatever political advantages are secured by telling people what they want to hear about paying for the welfare state, the already murky argument for the welfare state becomes even more incoherent.

From Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State by William Voegeli
I loved this book.


2 Comments so far
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I would agree that most people, even supporters, when asked why a particular welfare measure exists, would be hard pressed to come up with a cogent answer.

However, it is fair to mention the broader point sometimes made about the importance of providing a social safety net: the correlation between income inequality and crime rates.

Whether you agree such a correlation exists, and that there is causation, it is certainly an argument one hears, and which needs to be debated seriously. Yes, employing more police (or selling more guns) raises GDP, but these are goods and services that most people would rather spend less money on if they don’t need them.

Societies are complex, however. In some (e.g., Japan), it is considered a personal failing to remain dependent on other people, which provides a spur to pick oneself up and get out of that situation as soon as possible. In other countries, welfare quickly becomes viewed as an entitlement, a view that persists across generations of the same family.

Unfortunately, such attitudes exist also with respect to corporate welfare. It is not for nothing that Archer Daniels Midland has been dubbed year and year out as the nation’s leading “welfare queen”.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Comparing “corporate welfare” with a social safety net for Americans is a pretty poor comparison. Yes, I know you oppose corporate welfare. It’s pure politics and unattractive at best. Bush’s ‘welfare to work” program was quite successful. There is a big barrier to getting off welfare because people lose more benefits than they are apt to get from a real job at first. The Bush program provided government assistance while someone settled into a full-time job, and only gradually removed it as people no longer needed it. You might consider reading the book.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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