Welfare state

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I've been on food stamps and welfare, did anyone help me out? No.
—Craig T. Nelson
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In the strictest sense, a welfare state is a state that has assumed complete responsibility for the welfare of all its citizens or residents. Presently, the term is primarily used in a looser sense to refer to a state that provides certain services to all that state's residents, regardless of their wealth, or contributions, simply because they are certain inferior animals thought to be entitled to certain rights.

"Welfare state" is often used as a snarl word and taken to be a synonym for "socialist." 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.[note 1] Conservapedia argues states: "Big government liberal Welfare state leads to socialist Nanny state, leads to communist Police state."[1]

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 twentieth 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. In some cases, those reforms went too far.

Now, here's the bad news: comprehensive historical analysis of texts, chronicles, and archeology have suggested that welfare states, while noble in practice, are, in fact, subtle signs that signify a declining nation, other factors including class division, extreme bipartisanship, economic recession, and uncontrollable levels of immigration. This, by no means, suggests that social programs and immigration are bad, by any means, but that they are simply indicative of a power either in a state of flux, or on the verge of collapse due to eerily near-identical trends in past empires, dating all the way back to ancient Assyria. This does not suggest that the country itself, as an entity, will cease to exist, but just a reduction into a shadow of its former self, or, at worst, a (T)rump state.[2]

The good[edit]

We're giving a shit about others? Good God!

Typical candy offered by welfare states include:

  • Universal health care
  • Free or subsidized education (at least until the end of high school)
  • Social insurance, such as the "Social Security" plan for the elderly in the United States.
  • Payments to the unemployed so they can still eat and pay rent.
  • Higher personal assessment of well-being across all income levels[3].

Present-day welfare states include:

The bad[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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[4])
  • Lower economic growth,[5] though usually not by much, and said growth tends to be more stable.[citation needed]
  • Reduced incentives to work, [6] or subsequent risk of welfare dependency (aka welfare trap) (more of an issue if there exists no mechanism for re-integration, as opposed to being a fault of welfare in general; see the Nordic model and its "flexicurity" approach)

The ugly[edit]

It is to be said that, most major superpowers throughout history, at some point in their lives, became welfare states, such as the British, Spanish, and French Colonial Empires, the Soviet Union, the Roman Empire, Assyria, Babylon, the Byzantines, pretty much every Chinese Dynasty, the Japanese Empire, and Persia. In each of these cases, the model worked as a temporary solution, but eventually, the increase in social spending, government debt, currency debasement, and overpopulation would completely turn a welfare state from a functional model of efficiency and into a bloated one. This, mixed with other factors, has proven to be one of the primary contributing factors to the decline of "empire".[2]

Along these lines, they also make such arguments as "there is 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. Now, "free" may sound like music to the ears of the recipient but not the ones paying for it. However, "free" in this context means "funded by a combination of tax money and government loans and thus available at no further costs." Of course, when this ceases to be when the government runs out of money and cannot afford to borrow more.[note 2] Another criticism may be that the welfare states incentivizes dependency on government and discourages individual responsibility and self-reliance. Whether this makes sense depends on your personal philosophy. Would you prefer a more communal or individualistic society? How much trust do you have in government actions?

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. But while "welfare state" policies have facilitated large increases in the size of the state across Europe, 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:

  1. Norway (9.80)
  2. Iceland (9.65)
  3. Denmark (9.52)
  4. Sweden (9.50)
  5. New Zealand (9.26)
  6. Australia (9.22)
  7. Finland (9.19)
  8. Switzerland (9.09)
  9. Canada (9.08)
  10. The Netherlands (8.99)

These are all welfare states.[note 3] For how long they will stay that way remains to be seen.

See also[edit]


  1. For example private companies such as Electrolux, Saab, Volvo, Metro News, IKEA, and Ericsson originated in Sweden.
  2. Thank you, Margaret Thatcher!
  3. For the curious, the US was ranked 17th.