Why have a Welfare State?

Why have a Welfare State?


Hello, this is Drew Halfmann
from UC Davis. Today I’m going to talk about
the question: Why have a welfare state? And I want to break this
discussion into two parts. One, a set of moral reasons based
in questions of what’s right, questions of human rights, etc. And second, a group of instrumental needs. Serving the needs of the state,
the society, or perhaps particular political officials. And so we’ll start with the moral reasons. People argue that you should have
a welfare state to reflect the equal worth of every citizen,
to reduce gender and class equality. I’m sorry, I said that wrong,
[LAUGH] gender and class inequality. To provide for
a minimum standard of living, to ensure human rights to health or
education, or to equality itself. To promote the autonomy, freedom, and
self-respect of the people in the society. And also to help people
maximize their potential. Now, people might have
all of these reasons or just a few of these reasons, and these
are some of the sort of main moral or ethical reasons that people give for
having welfare state programs. But there’s also a series
of instrumental reasons. Quite a few actually why governments or government officials, state bureaucrats,
might want to have welfare state programs. So one is the notion of pooling the risks
of life in a capitalist economy. Capitalist economies have business cycles. People lose their job,
people become unemployed, their business goes bankrupt,
things like that. And the welfare state can be a form of
insurance for these types of risks. And, and by providing that insurance,
it could provide an opportunity for people to take more risks and do the things
they need to make capitalism function. So that’s one thing. A lot of people argue that welfare state
programs can improve the productivity of labor. By providing training, by placing
workers in the best jobs for them. By providing healthcare that means
that workers are in good health, and able to do their jobs as well as possible. Many welfare state programs were
established in time of war, in order to prepare men in particular for
war. To make sure that they were healthy. Many of the British welfare state programs
came after World War One when they discovered that the men in England were
badly malnourished before the war. Also during times of war you’ll
often see an expansion of welfare state programs in order to
increase the sense of social solidarity. The sense of everyone being included. Everyone being in the same
boat during the war. FDR has argued that the welfare state
is key to democratic participation. Because people who are ill-housed, ill-fed
are less able to, to become good citizens. To follow what’s happening in politics. They’re also more likely to be bought off
by demagogues who can promise them things. I guess some people might
accuse FDR of that same thing. Others have argued that the welfare
state can reduce crime, or that it can reduce disease. So these are very sort of selfish
reasons for having a welfare state. Many people have argued especially
the welfare state programs of Von Bismark in Germany. Were meant to reduce social conflict and
especially to avoid revolution to make sure that the working classes don’t
come and murder the rich in their beds. So that’s a very good reason for
having the welfare state. During the cold war, after World War II, there was a battle between capitalism and
communism. And both systems were trying to
gain allies in the Third World. So they were trying to, you know,
use the Welfare State as a way of showing that their way of organizing
society was better than the Communist way. Same during World War II,
trying to show that Fascism was not, a, a good way to run a society. Many conservatives have argued that
the Welfare State is mainly in existence to help political officials
get elected or to stay in office. This was the claim that Romney
made during the last election. That Obama had won, because he had
given various gifts to the people. The main gift for people of college
age was the ability to stay on their parent’s insurance
until they were 26. Others have argued that
the welfare state is often, it’s often intended to benefit
various interest groups such as the medical profession because they
benefit from high medical spending. Or the elderly, who benefit from,
social security provision. Lastly, some people on the left, Esping-Anderson in particular, have argued
that the welfare state can serve as a way of equalizing the distribution of
social output between capital and labor. There is always a battle for the profits
between the capitalists and the laborers. Often, the capitalists are able
to get more of the profit. But the welfare state has provided
a way for left-wing parties to seize some of that profit from
capitalists through progressive tax, taxation, and distribute it to
the workers through the welfare state. And that’s all for today,
thank you very much.

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