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“”I've been on food stamps and welfare, did anyone help me out? No.
|—Craig T. Nelson|
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. This is usually regardless of their wealth, accomplishments, or contributions, simply because they are human beings.
"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. Conservapedia
argues states: "Big government liberal Welfare state leads to socialist Nanny state, leads to communist Police state."
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. 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. 
Typical candy offered by welfare states include:
- Universal health care
- Free education (at least until secondary school)
- 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.
- Higher personal assessment of well-being across all income levels.
Present-day welfare states include:
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, 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)
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. 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:
- 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.
- Entitlement program — an alternative name, often used as a snarl word.
- Libertarianism — the exact opposite political philosophy to welfare statism.
- Poverty — it sucks.
- Republican Party — a political party in the United States which works to prevent the establishment of a welfare state there.
- Welfare queen — a snarl word that deploys both sexist and racist language to paint welfare recipients as crooks.
- Corporate welfare
- 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.
- Assessing the Impact of the Size and Scope of Government on Human Well-Being
- Taxation in Belgium, Expatica
- Though usually not by much, and said growth tends to be more stable.
- 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.