Solidarity and the Welfare State

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An interesting look at Paul Ryan by Father Barron based upon the twin poles of Catholic social teaching:  subsidiarity and solidarity.  It is easy to see how the welfare state, consolidating ever more power in the central government, is destructive of subsidiarity.  What is often overlooked however, is how destructive the welfare state tends to be also of solidarity.

1.  A welfare state by its nature needs government employees, and lots of them.  We are seeing in our time how the interests of these employees and the populations they purportedly serve often clash.  Think, for example, teachers unions and school choice.

2.  A welfare state, once it reaches a large enough size, becomes a crushing burden on the economy.  Paradoxically, the welfare state which is meant to alleviate poverty, ends by increasing it.

3.  As governmental power and scope grows through a welfare state, elections tend to become much more important to ever larger segments of the population, as society increasingly divides between those who receive benefits and those who pay the taxes to provide the benefits.

4.  By increasing dependence upon government, the welfare state lessens the initiative among a great many people to not only improve their own lot through their efforts, but also the lot of their families.

5.  Welfare states tend to become substitute husbands for low-income women and substitute fathers for the children born to single low-income women.  The impact upon illegitimacy rates is as obvious as it is destructive of the family, the basic building block of solidarity in any society.

6.  Welfare benefits tend to foster a sense of entitlement and an unwillingness to tolerate any diminution of such benefits for the common good, even when a country is careening toward bankruptcy.

7.  Welfare states tend to involve ever-increasing domination of society by those who write the rules that govern the welfare state and administer it.  Rather than societies governed by debate and compromise, government diktat becomes the order of the day.

8.  Welfare states, because of their scope and power, inevitably threaten basic human freedoms.  The HHS mandate, devised by President Obama for a cheap political advantage this election year, is a prime example.

9.  Welfare states dull the desire of people to engage in charitable activities, and take ever greater sums from the populations they exist upon, depleting the funds available for charity.

10. Solidarity is possible only in societies which view their people as adults, capable of working together for the common good.   Welfare states tend to view populations as clients who must be led into paths that the controllers of the welfare states deem desirable.

One of the great questions of this century will be what comes after the welfare states, which are manifestly dying.  The beginning of an answer would be to consider what contributes in a society to true solidarity and what does not.

15 Responses to Solidarity and the Welfare State

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    It is remarkable how rapidly the main social functions of the family have been transferred to the state. Until 1745, here in Scotland, north of Stirling, justice, production and consumption, education, health were almost entirely the responsibility of the family, especially the extended family, the sept or clan. In the Lowlands, the burghs were, effectively, petty republics, governed by the incorporations or guilds and, in the countryside, the laird and his barony court and the minister and elders in the kirk-session, were the effective government. A very good example of subsidiarity and solidarity working together.

  • JD says:

    Nicely done. I would just add a few thoughts.

    The danger for us as critics, I believe, is to so dislike the welfare state that we disconnect from the principle of solidarity altogether. While I am extremely reluctant to count government mandated redistributionism as any kind of charity and question its virtues in many ways, I do think in solidarity we must recognize our “sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone”. So your question as to what replaces the welfare state must be fully answered, I think, before it can be replaced.

    JD
    http://www.traditium.com

  • T. Shaw says:

    Here’s a charitable man.

    From Politifact.com/Tampa Bay Times which just fact-checked it.

    “In July 1996, the 14-year-old daughter of Robert Gay, a partner at Bain Capital, had disappeared,” the story reads. “She had attended a rave party in New York City and gotten high on ecstasy. Three days later, her distraught father had no idea where she was. Romney took immediate action. He closed down the entire firm and asked all 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to help find Gay’s daughter. Romney set up a command center at the LaGuardia Marriott and hired a private detective firm to assist with the search. He established a toll-free number for tips, coordinating the effort with the NYPD, and went through his Rolodex and called everyone Bain did business with in New York and asked them to help find his friend’s missing daughter. Romney’s accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper put up posters on street poles, while cashiers at a pharmacy owned by Bain put fliers in the bag of every shopper. Romney and the other Bain employees scoured every part of New York and talked with everyone they could – prostitutes, drug addicts – anyone.

    “That day, their hunt made the evening news, which featured photos of the girl and the Bain employees searching for her. As a result, a teenage boy phoned in, asked if there was a reward, and then hung up abruptly. The NYPD traced the call to a home in New Jersey, where they found the girl in the basement, shivering and experiencing withdrawal symptoms from a massive ecstasy dose. Doctors later said the girl might not have survived another day. Romney’s former partner credits Mitt Romney with saving his daughter’s life, saying, ‘It was the most amazing thing, and I’ll never forget this to the day I die.’”

    That is my Romney reverse detraction for today.

  • Mike Petrik says:

    You are giving Romney too much credit, T. Shaw. It was of little consequence for Romney to make this easy gesture. First, he is rich so it doesn’t count. Second, the closure of his firm was hardly a sacrifice since the government that built it no doubt continued to run it. Finally, the real hero was government in the form of the NYPD, which plainly would have found the girl eventually.

  • Art Deco says:

    1. A welfare state by its nature needs government employees, and lots of them. We are seeing in our time how the interests of these employees and the populations they purportedly serve often clash. Think, for example, teachers unions and school choice.

    The public housing authority, the child protective apparat, the ‘family services apparat’, state asylums and sanitoriums, and the public schools require a great deal of manpower. Insurance, voucher, and cash transfer programs, not so much.

    2. A welfare state, once it reaches a large enough size, becomes a crushing burden on the economy. Paradoxically, the welfare state which is meant to alleviate poverty, ends by increasing it.

    More precisely, increases economic sclerosis. France has a particularly serious case.

    3. As governmental power and scope grows through a welfare state, elections tend to become much more important to ever larger segments of the population, as society increasingly divides between those who receive benefits and those who pay the taxes to provide the benefits.

    Yes, but what often divides these two classes is a position in the life-cycle. I suspect you would find occupational factors, cultural factors, and social-psychological factors more important in influencing voting behavior.

    4. By increasing dependence upon government, the welfare state lessens the initiative among a great many people to not only improve their own lot through their efforts, but also the lot of their families.

    True, but a great deal of the problem is not common provision per se but poorly structured incentives incorporated into the existing programs.

    5. Welfare states tend to become substitute husbands for low-income women and substitute fathers for the children born to single low-income women. The impact upon illegitimacy rates is as obvious as it is destructive of the family, the basic building block of solidarity in any society.

    True of AFDC and like problems. The thing is, AFDC turned out to have a permissive influence on this sort of behavior. It was not much of a motor of it and the reduction in the size of welfare rolls has not been accompanied by improvements in family maintenance.

    6. Welfare benefits tend to foster a sense of entitlement and an unwillingness to tolerate any diminution of such benefits for the common good, even when a country is careening toward bankruptcy.

    There is a good deal of truth to that with regard to benefits for the elderly. The trouble is, the elderly are the least able to adjust to changes in economic circumstances. You do not really see much in the way of mobilization of the non-elderly poor. The resistance you’re seeing comes from the delivery apparat and from the brokering politicians.

    7. Welfare states tend to involve ever-increasing domination of society by those who write the rules that govern the welfare state and administer it. Rather than societies governed by debate and compromise, government diktat becomes the order of the day.

    Aaron Wildavsky would have disagreed with you. He said the hallmark of contemporary political society was bureaucracy without authority.

    It increasingly seems Congress is incapable of accomplishing anything at all.

    8. Welfare states, because of their scope and power, inevitably threaten basic human freedoms. The HHS mandate, devised by President Obama for a cheap political advantage this election year, is a prime example.

    More precisely, they are one vector among many that acts to diminish independence of mind and self-confident discretion on the part of both the man in the street and local politicians.

    9. Welfare states dull the desire of people to engage in charitable activities, and take ever greater sums from the populations they exist upon, depleting the funds available for charity.

    This is true to a point, but often welfare bureaucracies and private charity are addressing somewhat different sets of problems. One is not a substitute for the other.

    10. Solidarity is possible only in societies which view their people as adults, capable of working together for the common good. Welfare states tend to view populations as clients who must be led into paths that the controllers of the welfare states deem desirable.

    True.

    One of the great questions of this century will be what comes after the welfare states, which are manifestly dying. The beginning of an answer would be to consider what contributes in a society to true solidarity and what does not.

  • T. Shaw says:

    MP: Thanks.

    St. Melanie (my wife) thinks I had a bad day. On the contrary, it was a good day. I didn’t get shot when, within a minute of when I was and a hundred yards of me, 10 were less lucky. You don’t hear the one that hits you.

    Even better, I learned that it’s a blessing to vote for the 100% pro-abortion incumbent prez and VP candidates because Romney’s so-called Catholic running mate is objectively evil: he’s only 98% pro-life.

  • T. Shaw says:

    Thank you, Mac.

    Recalls that we do not know the hour or day.

    The Blessed Virgin Mary and my sainted mother in Heaven, obviously, have prayed and interceded for me these many years.

    Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it know that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly to you O virgin of Virgins, my Mother. To You I come. Before You I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate despise not my petitions but in Your Mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

  • Hibernian Faithful says:

    It is reasonable to oppose Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc. because they are used by those who embrace socialistic government control of the economy.

    Social Security (retirement) has been a systematic looting of alleged “retirement benefits” by the federal government. There is no respect for private property and the level at which the secular leaning government that is involved is too high, and prone to corruption. Retention by the individual of ownership of the funds, if we are to require a set aside of funds would be allowing the individual retain his money for himself and his family for their benefit and for their use in the society, including supporting and helping the poor.

    Other programs, such as unemployment, food stamps, disability, etc. as currently used are designed not to help the recipients, but to enslave in a cynic manner for retention of power. In addition, as we see in the current administration, whether it be the “freedom to worship,” denial of Catholic agencies to provide adoption services (to this children not murdered by abortion), denial of Catholic agencies to assist victims of the international slave trade because they won’t provide or promote intrinsic evils and the HHS mandates, the exercise of the state of solidarity by the provision of unemployment, food stamps, disability, etc. is designed, implicitly, to marginalize the role of Faith in the society. The Church, and other believers, need to say that the so-called “welfare” state has failed and that even if the faith-communities provisions of unemployment, food stamps, disability, etc. is lacking, it is much better in the long run for both the physical and spiritual needs of those members of the Body of Christ that are in need. Unfortunately this is an all or nothing proposition because the once the politicians get a nose under the tent, they are an 800 lb. bully. In the area of solidarity services, you cannot be a little pregnant with State. (Additionally, it is likely that the absence of the Leviathan, would allow for greater marketplace rewards that could be used to either employ others or help the truly needy.)

    The absence of government in the provision of these services, in this digital age, would be a blessing because it would require those members of the Church, who support the coercive solidarity of the state to stand and be counted and support the Church (and its schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) and not the State. Supporting the Church (and its schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) is not a matter of charitable deductions; it is a central obligation of the Faithful to support the mission of the Church (and its schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) and not for the benefit of a tax return.

    Given the history of failures of the socialist-based policies of the so-called Progressives through the New Deal, the Great Society to the present, I think the most cogent moral position is that for a country the size and complexity of ours that the coercive solidarity of the state has been a failure and should be rejected and abandoned.

    A closing note, by way of a simple and simplistic example of the failure of the coercive solidarity of the state; the “Head Start” program has since its inception cost the taxpayers of the USA approximately $160 billion dollars (or 1% of the current national debt) and it has never demonstrated any measurable long-term beneficial effect on the society or to those to which is was directed, yet the socialist left refuses to accept this and demands more money to “make it work.” The principal here is power and its retention, and not the provision of any benefit to which is was directed and that is why this, and so much else of the coercive solidarity is in conflict with the Church’s teaching of subsidiarity.

    N.B. The portion of the national debt relating Head Start is for one failed program, imagine if all of the failed programs were eliminated and what the national debt would be? What amount of private capital and income could in the society and from which faithful Catholics could, in the true and faithful spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity could be directed, effectively by Church (and its schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) to those needy and less fortunate in our society.

    Pray for me as I pray for you.

  • DJ Hesselius says:

    There is another reason to oppose many (most? all?) government “social welfare” programs (and many other things as well, like art endowments, etc) If Oskari Juurikkala is correct in his analysis of Social Security and fertility rates, then Social Security is one of the last things the Church and other pro-lifers want to have around. (Making Kids Worthless, found at http://mises.org/daily/2451)

    I have also read that public education is also correlated with fewer children (and homeschooling correlated with having more), but I don’t have much information on that. That information came to me from “There’s No Place Like Work” by Brian Robertson.

  • christine says:

    Yesterday a young woman who had had a minor accident came into the office some two months after the accident, claiming that she needed disability as she had lost her job and still had pain from the accident. Her exam was normal. A refusal to give her disability provoked a hostile sarcastic remark. Last week a male and female “significant other” couple wanted disability for her severe muscle pain. Her exam was normal. Refusal to give disability was followed by the couple’s disapointed exit with the female partner abandoning her slouched painful gait in favor of a brisk walk. A man paid by the state to administer insulin to his somewhat developmentally delayed wife failed to do so and still recieved payments. His excuse? “we were moving to a new apartment”. I could go on and on. What will become of our nation when the receptees of largesse from the state outnumber taxpayers? Sol Olinski knows.

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