70 Years On, The Welfare State Has Failed

My daughter and Adam Smith.

Required reading from the Adam Smith Institute – an excerpt:

Readers of this website will hopefully already be convinced that the Beveridge inspired welfare state has been an unmitigated disaster for the provision of welfare in the UK, so I won’t rehearse the arguments and the evidence. For those wanting a good introduction, James Bartholomew’s classic The Welfare State We’re In is a sensible place to start. Suffice to say, and despite the pernicious prejudice of many statists, Classical Liberals like myself care deeply for the plight of the poor, sick and needy. However, instead of clinging to failed and bankrupt systems which do far more harm than good to both recipients of welfare and society as a whole and especially to those at the bottom of society, we seek a different approach. Of course, those opposed to the status quo adopt a variety of positions: from those who argue for different modes of provision (school vouchers for instance); to those who desire a much smaller welfare state which only offers aid to the very poorest in society; to those who wish to do away with state welfare altogether

On the one hand, it is quite clear that opponents of the welfare state have – for the most part – utterly failed to convince the majority of the case for radical reform and retrenchment. Some tentative steps have been made in the field of school and higher education reform but healthcare, pensions and social protection remain largely untouched and any genuine and far-reaching attempts to do so would be political suicide. The forces of vested interests so clearly described in Public Choice Theory indicate why this is so – nonetheless the only means to overcome the barrier of vested interests is via the dissemination of ideas and ideological support so we must continue this effort. Moreover, recent years have seen the resurgence of the regulatory and license state – an activity which grew popular with the denationalisations of the 1980s and has been compounded with the recent Banking Crisis into a widespread belief that markets cannot function properly without state intervention. Many of these interventions are logically underpinned by the existence of state welfare provision; e.g. alcoholism is creating a burden on the NHS so should be prevented. Strike at the welfare state and we strike at the root of this approach as well.

On the other hand, we must continue to propose sensible mechanisms for moving from the status quo and towards private provision. As I have argued before, this is probably best done piecemeal. Given that opposition to the welfare state spans a spectrum of opinion, it is also sensible to move from reform of provision towards much greater privatisation and then ask the question of whether we need any state provision of welfare at all. One major area to target would be universality. This was one of the key principles of Beveridge and is one of the most unnecessary and expensive aspects of welfare provision – witness pensioners donating their winter fuel payments to charity. Universality was also introduced in order to engender support for the welfare state amongst the better off, remove it and that plank may also disappear.

America needs to learn from our British cousins.

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