|Montréal, 7 juillet 2001 / No 85|
by Edward W.Younkins
In his scholarly, accessible, well-written, informative, and concise new book, Tethered Citizens, Sheldon Richman thoroughly and interestingly traces the history of the welfare state, explains the immorality of the coerced redistribution of wealth, provides an excellent and objective look at the realities of entitlement programs, illustrates how redistribution injures both the taxpayer and the recipient of state aid, details the various consequences of the welfare state, explains why government welfare programs are destined to fail, convincingly argues that the welfare state is incompatible with a free society and a constitutional government, and advocates replacing welfare with the superior alternative of voluntary expectant giving. An excellent introduction to the field, Richman’s book is essential reading for anyone in, or interested in, the poverty relief area.
birth of the welfare state
Richman traces the roots of the modern welfare state to Imperial Germany during the last few decades of the 19th century. During the period, the conservative German politician and chancellor, Otto von Bismark, created the archetype of the welfare state by instituting various programs including national health insurance, social insurance, accident insurance, unemployment insurance, and old-age insurance. These programs became models for Great Britain and the United States.
Although Bismark sincerely did want to protect workers, he also wanted to buy their loyalty and support. He was motivated to entice citizens into supporting his regime because of political challenges he was receiving from the revolutionary Social Democratic Party. By bribing the working classes, he got them to view the state as a social institution existing for their welfare. The German welfare state became the blueprint for progressive intellectuals and policy advocates in the United States during the first few decades of the 20th century.
Richman explains that in America the idea of an activist government became more prominent after the Civil War which had promoted the national collectivization of America by transforming a nation of individuals into a shaped and developed country, aware of the importance of planning and control. As the war imposed
War relief was rendered and a pension system for Union veterans was established. The pension system was expanded and an incipient welfare state emerged in the United States as politicians realized that they could buy votes by granting pensions as favors to non-veterans. The trend continued as progressive intellectuals increasingly called for a new, rationally-planned society and a sense of public duty. Social reforms and economic regulations were adopted. World War I provided a further opportunity to put collectivist ideas onto operation. After the depression, the New Deal, under FDR, was a logical development from the past. During the last seventy years, Americans have increasingly placed their faith in government. Whereas our ancestors relied on themselves, family, friends, neighbors, churches, lodges, mutual benefit societies, and other voluntary groups, we rely on the welfare state.
Richman explains that welfare statists coopted the term welfare, which used to mean freedom from physical force, and attached it to their redistributive ideas. Similarly, the classical idea of security of the person, of possessions, and of exchange has been broadened to provide for people’s
The welfare state is an engine of paternalistic wealth transfer that promises security and stability while robbing individuals of their liberty and autonomy. Richman details how the welfare state lures people in with apparent benefits, imposes controls allegedly for their own good, and compromises their independence and integrity. There are always strings attached – government care and government control go together.
With strings attached
Richman emphasizes that the welfare state is immoral and built on theft. People are not free if the state can take their money for the benefit of others. The government deprives people of the freedom to decide if, and how, they want to show compassion toward fellow citizens. The state impedes citizens’ concern for others that is crucial to personal maturation and flourishing by substituting for personal charity. The state gives people an excuse to avoid charity thus placing an obstacle to individuals’ actualization of their potentialities that are other-directed.
The author convincingly points out the absurdity of the welfare rights idea itself. Welfare rights are counterfeit or illegitimate rights. Richman explains that for a right to be authentic it must be capable of being exercised without anyone’s positive action. To respect a person’s legitimate and moral natural (or negative) rights, all that others need to do is to abstain from interfering in that person’s pursuit of his own happiness. On the other hand, a positive or welfare right to products and services implies the right to compel others to provide them. To be a legitimate right, it must be possible for all persons to exercise the claimed right simultaneously without logical contradiction. Whenever a right claimed by an individual imposes an obligation on another to perform a positive action, it is impossible for the alleged right to be exercised by each simultaneously without logical contradiction.
Using government power to distribute goods and services adversely influences future production. The incentive to produce decreases as the scope of government grows. The more productive are discouraged from being as productive as they could be and the less productive are discouraged from working.
Richman illustrates how it is in the self-interest of politicians and bureaucrats to encourage dependency. Political leaders push for programs because they create or strengthen the allegiance of their constituencies. Those seeking to govern buy the support of their constituencies through confiscation of others’ wealth via taxation. He goes on to explain how ultimately victims of taxation themselves are provided benefits in order to give them a stake in the system. In essence, people are bribed with their own money.
The author describes how the system is skewed toward expansion of the government. With benefits concentrated in a small group of citizens and costs dispersed among all taxpayers, an interest group has an incentive to invest money to create and protect programs. Then there is logrolling (or vote trading) in which a representative votes for another’s program in return for the other voting for his program. The result is a government looked upon as the benevolent provider of all things.
Richman persuasively argues that security can be better provided in a free market. The private sector has greater incentives and more flexibility than does the public sector. The government
The author concludes by emphasizing the need to dismantle the programs of the welfare state thereby removing the chains that keep people from living fully human lives. People require reason and for reason to function they must be free from force and fraud.
This thoughtful and powerful book compellingly argues for a moral revolution that would end political plunder and replace the welfare state with the minimal state. I recommend this book highly.
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