What is the Welfare State?

What is the Welfare State?


Hi, I’m Drew Halfmann
from UC Davis Sociology. Today, I’m going to talk about
the question: what is the welfare state? Welfare- just generally, it means to fare well. Well fare or it means well being. That’s the meaning it had in the US
constitution, which I will read to you. The Preamble at least,
not the whole Constitution, thank God. [LAUGH] We the people of the United States
in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to
ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for
the United States of America. That’s the meaning of Welfare
in the Constitution and the meaning in most of
the rest of the world. However, that’s probably not
how you’ve been accustomed to thinking about the world or welfare. In the United States, at least since
the 1970s, the term has had a negative or pejorative meaning. It has mainly meant aid to poor people,
aid to the poor. In the rest of the world welfare
doesn’t really have that meaning. It more often means social policy or
social provision. Government programs that are meant
to promote the well-being, the welfare of the general population. In the United States sometimes people
will now distinguish between social welfare when they’re trying to talk
about the social policy meaning and welfare when they’re trying to talk about
the aid to the poor, meaning of the term. But that is an unusual
usage internationally. I also want to talk about something
called the Welfare State. By state, I mean, the government. By the welfare state, this would include government programs
that attempt to promote social welfare. A more sort of narrow meaning of
that term would be a government that has accepted a duty to promote the
citizen’s economic and social well-being. The term of Welfare State has
his origins in World War II. Where people in England were trying to
distinguish England’s Welfare State from Germany’s Warfare State. That’s really where this term comes from. There’s similar terms for
this in Germany, the social state or in Sweden, the folk home. These are meant to convey this
notion of the welfare state, a state that takes responsibility for
the well-being of its people. There’s a variety of ways to
define the welfare state and none of them are really
better than others. I’m going to let you decide how
to define the welfare state, but I also would like you to think about
what are the different ways of doing so. A very broad definition would be
all government contributions to citizen well-being. So this would include such
things from Linda Gordon, it includes such things
as paved streets and sidewalks, highways, public
transportation systems, schools, parks, tree maintenance, policing, firefighting,
public water, sewage and sewage treatment. Garbage collection,
food and drug regulation, pollution regulation, building inspection,
and even driver testing and licensing. That would be an extremely broad
definition of the welfare state. It’s a definition that most scholars
of the welfare state do not use. Instead, most people use
a narrower definition. The most narrow is programs that
provide cash or services to citizens. And the classic six programs that people
study when they study the welfare state are: worker’s compensation, unemployment
insurance, sickness insurance, health insurance, old-age pensions,
and aid to the poor and disabled. More recently people have
sometimes included programs such as family allowances, maternity leave,
family leave, and child care. There’s also a debate about whether
other types of policy should be considered part of the welfare state. For example, education, labor market
policy, taxation, macroeconomic policy. In other words,
the way that the economy is run and, you know, whether it promotes
full employment or not. Tax expenditures, those, which is when
the government gives people a tax break if they do something that’s good for them. There are tax breaks in the United States
for the purchase of health care, for the purchase of a home, for
contributing money to a private pension. So, these are some forms
of tax expenditures. This is a topic we’ll talk about
quite a bit in this course. Some people have argued that litigation
where people can sue an employer or a product producer for some sort of
harm is part of the welfare state. Some people have argued
that equal opportunity law, which provides equal opportunities for
different racial and ethnic groups for women, for people with disabilities is
also considered part of the welfare state. And lastly, some people on the left like
to call things such as farm subsidies or corporate subsidies,
they like to call it corporate welfare and thus, define that as part of
the welfare state as well. I think a really good
definition comes from Olsen. It’s sort of a three part definition. First, the welfare state provides
protection against contingencies. Contingencies is just another word for
like bad shit that can happen to you. Things like poverty, unemployment,
disability, sickness or old age. A second definition in
some countries not so much in the United States is providing for
full employment. This is especially the case in Sweden. And then a last meaning of it relates
to providing greater equality. And again, this is only sometimes
greater equality may be through income redistribution and
also through an attempt to assure equal opportunity through
the reallocation of various life chances. So this is really the definition I, I think I favor, though I’m not
going to require you to favor it. You can also talk about different
components of the welfare state. So three main components. One having to do with income security and
income maintenance. Mainly, this is cash
that’s provided to people. So this is in the form of family
allowances or old age pensions or unemployment benefits or
aid to the poor, public assistance. A second variety of aid is in
the form of goods and services. It’s called in-kind aid. So this would be things like
food stamps or school meals. These are cases where the government is
providing an actual good to the person. Food stamps, school meals, subsidized
housing, prescription drugs, child care, elder care, health care, education,
labor market training, things like that. And then lastly is regulatory legislation
that attempts to regulate the labor market or the behavior of companies
that attempts to protect workers. So this is things like the minimum wage. Regulations about health and
safety in the workplace. Some countries have a requirement that
employers provide a certain amount of vacation for their workers. We don’t have that in the United States,
unfortunately. And also things that, laws that
restrict child labor, things like that. Okay.
So this, so this is sort of three dimensions. Cash, goods and services, and regulation. In the Olsen reading there’s
a breakdown of something he calls the Welfare System and I wanted to
distinguish that from the welfare state. So the Welfare System would
be a way of providing for all the needs of the population
through a variety of entities. Not just through the government,
but through other entities as well. And so the welfare state would
be part of the Welfare System. So let’s talk about this. First is the notion of the public sector,
so these are government provided programs and
initiatives. We start with the welfare state and this is very similar to the previous slide
where we talked about cash transfers. In-kind goods and services and
lastly, protective legislation. So we’ve talked about that. But another category related to
the public sector is Fiscal Welfare. These are tax deductions and credits that are provided to people for
a variety of needs that they may have and also for a variety of behaviors that
the government is trying to promote. So there are tax credits for having
a child, for taking care of the elderly or the disabled. And as I mentioned earlier, there are tax
credits available if you buy a home. If you pay for
your own healthcare premiums. If you provide money to
your retirement fund and also tax credits for
helping you to get an education. So these, so in this public sector, we have direct expenditures by
the government on behalf of the people. And on the other hand, we have various
tax breaks that are given to people, so that they will do certain
beneficial things for them. All right.
We move to the next sector, the private sector. The United States is unusual in that a lot
of welfare benefits are provided within the private sector. Most other countries are mainly providing
these benefits through the government and there’s two categories here. One has to do with
employment based welfare. You might refer to these
as fringe benefits. These are benefits that
are provided by employers. Sometimes, employers are mandated
to provide these benefits. Other times, they do them voluntarily. Often, the employers receive some sort of
tax benefit for providing these things. So these would be things,
like a company pension plan or when the company provides
you with medical insurance. Or the company helps pay for
you to go get some higher education. A second form of welfare
in the private sector is welfare that people buy in the market. Individuals or groups might buy it. Often, again in the United States context,
there is some sort of tax advantage or tax break provided if you
are doing this sort of buying. So many people who do not receive
health insurance from their employer, for example. Might instead, buy health insurance as individuals
in the individual insurance market. They might buy life insurance. They might buy daycare for their kids or nursing home care for
their elderly parents. So these are welfare needs that are being
provided within the private sector, within the market, but
they’re not being provided by employers. Instead, individuals
are buying these services. And then the last grouping
is the Civil Sector. These are, and this is broken into two sections,
community welfare and informal welfare. Community welfare is social
assistance that’s provided by various non-profit organizations. This sort of care is actually being
subsidized by the tax deduction for charitable contributions. So when we make charitable contributions
to these various organizations, we receive a tax benefit for doing so
and that causes us to contribute more. So the government is actually
subsidizing this type of welfare provision through
that tax benefit. These types of organizations provide
a variety of services: health care, housing, home care, educational
activities, counseling, et cetera. And then the last sector, which,
it may be unusual to think about this as part of the welfare system,
is informal welfare. These are the benefits, goods and
services, in the social support that family providers or other
informal groups provide to each other. You know, caring for a child, caring for
an elderly parent, things like that. In some welfare states there
is a strong preference for doing most welfare provision within
the informal welfare sector. Germany, in particular,
has had this concept of subsidiarity that the government will not do
anything that the family can do. It prefers to have the family do it,
but I want to point out now that was subsidiarity is in effect and families
are the main providers of these services. Women are the main providers of
these services given the division of labor within most families. So a state that focuses on subsidiarity,
there are clear gender implications to that focus and we’ll talk more about
that in the remainder of the course. Now I want to finish by talking about
a critique of the welfare state concept. This is a critique I first became aware
of because a grad student in one of my courses raised it and I, I was a little
embarrassed actually when he raised it. But I,
I’ve come to become quite persuaded by it. It means that I have resolved to
stop using the term welfare state. You’ll see that I will
totally fail in that resolve. I can’t stop using the term, and I guess I need to figure out
why I want to use it so badly. Here’s the critique. When we examine something that we’re
going to call a welfare state, there’s an assumption in there that state is there
to promote the citizen’s well-being. But that may or may not be true. States do lots of things that
don’t benefit their citizens. It also sort of brackets other
things that states might do. They might protect the rich and powerful. They definitely make our wars. They keep order. They incarcerate people. They may pass laws that maintain
inequalities of various sort. So to call something
a welfare state sort of, you know,
it’s putting the cart before the horse. You’re assuming it’s a welfare state. When in fact it, it might not
really be promoting the welfare, at least not in everything it does. Another critique here, whenever I go
to England, people will say to me, oh, so you study the welfare state? Why do you study that? Because the United States
doesn’t have a welfare state. And for the longest time, I didn’t
understand what they were talking about. I mean, clearly the United States
has all sorts of welfare programs. A large social security system, a large
healthcare system, et cetera, et cetera. But I think the distinction they
are trying to make is that the US has a variety of welfare policies,
but not a welfare state. And by that, they mean that US
government has not accepted a duty to provide a minimum
subsistence to its people. And you would need to take
on that responsibility to be considered a true welfare state. Moreover, the United States is often
accused mainly of being a warfare state, especially in recent years. So a lot of people argued that instead
of using the term welfare state, we should use the term social provision,
or the term social policy. Because these don’t make an assumption
about, you know, whether these programs are actually benefiting people or
not, whether they promote equality or not, whether they promote well-being,
et cetera, et cetera. So I’ll try to use these terms, but I, I will fail, and, but,
you know, that’s okay, I guess.

3 thoughts on “What is the Welfare State?

  1. it is a very good lecture on welfare state which help me to understand the real concept of welfare state

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