In the strictest sense, a welfare state is a state that has assumed complete responsibility for the welfare of all its citizens or residents.
"Welfare state" is often taken to be a synonym for "socialist state." This is erroneous; although socialist states offer welfare programs if they are not too broke to do so, most modern welfare states are quite capitalist.
Throughout the centuries, there has been much speculation as to how such a state could be brought into existence. Hope was strongest in the first half of the 20th century, and many countries became "welfare states," but in the later half of that century, many of these found their models to be economically non-viable and instituted reforms that relieved the states of some responsibility.
Presently, the term welfare state is primarily used in a looser sense to refer to a state that provides certain services to all that state's residents. This is usually regardless of their wealth, accomplishments, or contributions, simply because they are human beings.
 The good
Typical candy offered by welfare states include:
- Universal health care
- A "social security" type plan, as offered by the socialist United States, so that older people can survive their later years.
- Payments to the unemployed so they can still eat and pay rent.
Present-day welfare states include:
 The bad
If for some reason a welfare state that has taken on the responsibility of providing certain free services to its citizens is suddenly unable to provide one of the said services to one of the said citizens, costly lawsuits generally ensue and the welfare state is forced to pay out even more money. If a welfare state has really bitten off more than it can chew, this can lead to economic woes.
Other worries include:
- High taxes (up to 57% in Belgium)
- Lower economic growth
- Reduced incentives to work, innovate
- Subsequent risk of welfare dependency
 The ugly
Along these lines, they also make such arguments as "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch," and insist that welfare states are like stage magicians, offering citizens candy with one hand to distract them while they snatch away the citizens' liberties with the other hand. (If someone gave one of these people a cake, their first response would probably be to call the bomb squad.) Theoretically, this is based on Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom, the traditional anti-Keynesian bible.
The idea that the body politic can eventually degenerate into a police state if the welfare state is maintained was somewhat validated by the populist authoritarianism of New Labour, and the encroaching threats to liberty it represented.
In more general terms, "welfare state" policies have facilitated large increases in the size of the state across Europe, but the jury is out as to whether this will necessarily lead to the rise of authoritarian governments as a consequence. Probably not, given that even at the height of New Labour populism, citizens could still buy cars and read newspapers and stuff...
And, for completeness' sake, here is the 2010 Democracy Index's top ten nations for responsible government:
- Norway (9.80)
- Iceland (9.65)
- Denmark (9.52)
- Sweden (9.50)
- New Zealand (9.26)
- Australia (9.22)
- Finland (9.19)
- Switzerland (9.09)
- Canada (9.08)
- Netherlands (8.99)
Yep, all welfare states. The US was ranked 17th.
 See also
- Entitlement program - what those against welfare think welfare is.
- Libertarianism - the exact opposite political philosophy to welfare statism.
- Republican Party - a political party in the United States which works to prevent the establishment of a welfare state there.
- Welfare queen - someone who those against welfare think is taking advantage of the system.
- ↑ Don't believe us? You're currently consuming products from private companies like Electrolux, Saab, Volvo, Metro News, IKEA, Ericsson... and that's just Sweden alone.
- ↑ 
- ↑ Almost an outright lie. Many point to late 19th century America, where up to 80% of families received some kind of Civil War veterans' assistance, as the first example. And Germany had universal health care since the 1880s.