Why the Welfare State

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A powerful scene from the movie The Mudlark (1950), which is a fictional account of a young orphan who scrounges a very meager living by trying to find items of value washed ashore along the banks of the Thames, and who goes to see Queen Victoria and causes her to end her withdrawal from public life after the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861.  In the above scene Alec Guinness, at the top of his game, portrays Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli giving a speech condemning the conditions in England that caused the boy to be leading a life of poverty and misery.  Guinness did the speech in one take which is a feat of acting that is almost preternatural.

Such conditions started the West on the road to the Welfare State with the best of intentions:  to relieve those who live in want through no fault of their own and who cannot raise themselves from poverty through their own efforts.  Over time of course the Welfare State grew into a massive bureaucracy and now alleviates, in addition to those who are unable to help themselves, the poverty of people, this example is taken from a case I was involved in, who receive disability payments because they are drug addicts, like to steal, are allergic to work and are experts at gaming the system.  Advocates of welfare reform should acknowledge the good intentions that caused the original apparatus to be erected;  defenders of the Welfare State should acknowledge that without root and branch reform, the current system will bankrupt us and cause welfare for the truly needy to come to a screeching halt.

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  1. I wonder if in lieu of the current Social Security disability system we had a system of mandatory income assessments to a dedicated account which the subject could direct to one or more licensed indemnity and annuity plans. Garnering benefits would require persuading a private insurer to extend benefits or persuading a hearing examiner to award them. Vetting by a private insurer and adversarial hearings pitting the claimant against a private insurer might screen out some of the more dubious claims. A private insurer will have a different organization culture and more constrained resources than the Social Security Administration. You could limit government income transfers to the disabled to those who lapsed into that state before age 33 or thereabouts.

  2. I am a great believer in whole life, and I have invested in some Knights of Columbus policies. If I had invested the amount that I paid over in social security taxes, I would have been able to retire, if I had so desired, about five years ago.

    In regard to social security disability, it could be privatized for most workers, a la what is done for worker’s comp in most states. In reference to payments to the truly disabled who would never have worked we would have to develop the political will to distinguish between those who are truly disabled from fake disabilities so popular these days. A prime example:


  3. IIRC, SSI has a much smaller primary clientele than Social Security Disability – something along the lines of 1.2 million v. 8 million.

    Megan McArdle has written about some of the difficulties in parsing disability claims.


  4. The poor we have always with us. But the welfare state comes from the mistaken idea that the proper corporate response is to institutionalize charity in the State. It is not wrong to have a corporate response for instance in the Church, or humanist organizations, but must make sure the response remains true to the dignity of the persons involved. Not to institutionalize the response so much that the dignity of each person is lost. The poor person is not respected as an individual with capabilities.

    Yes it all began with good intentions. So did the unions.
    Also The civilian militia banded together to protect and defend each other in forming young America , but today’s DOD seems to turn against those good original intentions.
    the current use of power contravailing the proclaimed good intentions, doesn’t mean much about unions or charities or general defense, but a lot about how those people in charge respect or disrespect other human beings. How they misappropriate the good intentions to garner power.

  5. A Welfare State is incompatible with Equality Before the Law. Attempting to join the two into one State yields as fruit those who would “game the system”.

    Our Savior never taught us to render the poor unto Caesar. Too bad Queen Victoria failed to heed the instruction He gave to the rich young man, “Sell all you have and give the proceeds to the poor. Then come follow Me.” Britain’s royals have immense personal fortunes, you know.

  6. At what point does the withdrawal of panem et circenses lead to a breakdown of public order?

    After all, as Talleyrand observed “Governing has never been anything other than postponing by a thousand subterfuges the moment when the mob will hang you from the lamp-post, and every act of government is nothing but a way of not losing control of the people.”

    Will the force of law, backed by bayonets, be enough to keep the underclass in check? If we want to curtail welfare spending, are we ready for a repetition of les journées de juin 1848, following the closure of les Ateliers Nationaux? Then, the Liberals secured a victory over the Radical Republicans, but at the cost of 1,500 dead in the streets and thousands of summary executions of prisoners. The Assembly, one recalls, welcomed the surrender of the last barricade with cries of “Long Live the Republic!” What they got, inevitably, was Napoléon III; as Marx observed of this, history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

    Nowadays, when governments depend for their legitimacy on media coverage and the cult of personality, it is pretty generally recognised that welfare cheques, drug-dealing and cheap alcohol are indispensible guarantees of the political order.

  7. I agree with Anzlyne. Charity cannot be legislated or imposed by punitive means, only justice. In most cases I think “social injustice” is due to a lack of poor enforcement of existing laws, or corruption, and not a reason for more laws, state controls, etc.

  8. Ah,yes,’THE TRULY NEEDY’ The poor are playing the system especially those pernicious six year olds and those sneaky octogenerians.
    Look at the stastics, most people helped by the state are kids,oldsters and white.
    Let’s let the poor die in the streets like in India.
    Let’s let malnutrition be the lot of the great unwashed.

  9. (continued)
    Let’s let humongous profits dictate whom we fire of lay off.
    Let’s let the bottom line dictate our ways of conceding employment.
    But above all let’s keep up our search the Regan’s “truly needy ” as the opposite o the “welfare queens.”
    Get off it, writer, we got your number during the last half of the Regan administration.

  10. Joe, if you are going to go on a tirade at least try to come up with original material. I have heard these rants from die in the ditch defenders of the Welfare State since before you were probably born and it does not become any more convincing with repetition. It is one thing to help those who cannot help themselves. It is another thing to have one in six Americans currently receiving food stamps or to have welfare benefits so high in many states that going to work involves a financial loss:

    Finally, it is Reagan not Regan.

  11. @joseph vellone – your cry is no different than the cry of Judas Iscariot.

    John 12:1-8 RSVCE

    12 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

    4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

    7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”


    That’s all liberal progressive Democrats want to do. Tax those who produce while claiming this is done to help the poor. Horse manure! It’s the gospel of envy, the policy of abdicating one’s own personal responsibility to help the poor one’s self. Read Deuteronomy 15:7-8:

    If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.

    That is your personal and individual responsibility and mine, NOT nanny Caesar, NOT some nameless, faceless corporate entity, NOT some Diocesan chancery!

  12. Judas is the patron saint of modern secular social-justice – a precursor to full blown Marxism.

    Judas used the false narrative and motive to “sell the perfumed oil to help the poor” only so he could be its broker, extract his vig and profit in the exchange.

  13. Catholics have a duty to help the poor. How many times did Christ compel us in the Gospels? We can neither be Big Statists NOR Ayn Randian anarcho-capitalists.

    The current system does need reform, yes. It should be used for the principle of “teaching a man how to fish so he can eat for a life time.” Let’s consider this, for a moment. There are millions of acres of fallow farmland in America, and countless farmers are approaching old age. How about a 21st century Homesteading Act? Most homeless are sane and free of a criminal record. Give them a plot of land, give them training in farming and sustainable agriculture- as well as entrepreneurship and marketing products- and for ten ears let that land ownership go tax free.

    Let’s find ways to give people dignity again. Good work and ownership are such means of dignity and self-worth.

  14. There nothing intrinsically wrong with Ben-in-SoCal’s idea, just as long as we don’t abdicate to Caesar our God-given responsibility found in Deuteronomy 15:7-8. Furthermore, the principle of subsidiarity applies. I for one am sick and tired of these godless liberal progressive Democrats crying, “It’s for the poor.” They don’t give a darn about the poor, only about how much license they may gain for themselves while abdicating all personal responsibility and evading all personal accountability.

    Yes, I am in a foul mood today. Not related to this post, I found out that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is the 5th in this year to be shutdown (including Ben-in-SoCal’s San Onofre units 2 and 3), all thanks to the machinations of the idiot in charge. If we keep on emasculating our energy infrastructure, there won’t be any money left to help the poor, or to till the farms, and we’ll all be poor and sitting in the dark!


  15. Absolutely Paul. The sad fact is, we have lost a sense of balance in this country. Many people genuinely do need help, but the problem is that you can’t help people who refuse to help themselves. There are some people who are takers; young healthy men should not receive checks simply because they are unemployed. Put them to work in the wilderness reparing bridges and trails! The Civilian Conservation Corps was a tremendous project! We need to find that precious balance between social and individual responsibility.

  16. “There are millions of acres of fallow farmland in America, and countless farmers are approaching old age. How about a 21st century Homesteading Act? ”


  17. Yes I am. We need to do something to counteract the plague of poverty. Why not give sane, criminally-free homeless the dignity of good work and ownership?

  18. Are you saying we should deal with the over-blown handing out of free stuff by handing out free land.
    Where are all of these acres?
    I guess the owners of that land would just donate it…? and the heirs would go along with it too because of the estate tax at death of owner.
    and I guess there would be a welfare to work clause– they would have to develop the land.
    Trying to develop some of that land might just make them want a job with the government instead. We could have a one employer system.

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