Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Welfare State

I'm reading a book entitled 'Modern Welfare States' by two Scandinavian scholars, about the rise of the Welfare State in the Scandinavian countries.  I thought the following was a good definition (which is much different than the pejorative definition of 'welfare' you mostly hear in the U.S).
In general, those [welfare state] policies have been of three sorts: (1) the provision of social services and transfer payments that make up the welfare state proper; (2) the management of capitalistic, market economies to minimize unemployment and maintain optimal economic growth vital to finance welfare measures; and (3) the regulation of behavior by individuals, groups, and corporations to restrict the need for welfare and the costs of welfare programs. The aim was to guarantee a decent standard of living for those worst off in the society, and to increase the degree of equality among socioeconomic groups without undercutting the dynamism of the market economy. In the process, the Scandinavian countries have developed a security net of transfer payments--unemployment, disability, and sickness insurance; old age pensions; family allowances; rent subsidies; and special payments to those temporarily in need--and social services--medical and dental care; home assistance for the sick, disabled, and elderly; and child and after-school care--that provides a comfortable, solid floor to support living standards of anyone forced out of the labor market. In other words, if you have to be sick, disabled, or unemployed, the place to be is in Denmark, Norway, or Sweden.
As any one can tell from the current political debate taking place in Washington and around the country, we have been moving away from this kind of political understanding (formerly called New Deal Liberalism, now simply called--with distain--'socialism') for over 30 years, since the rise of Reagan conservatism.  Except for a few lone voices, what is now on the agenda is twofold: first, making sure that individuals have the right to strive for the 'American Dream' of becoming rich; and second, cutting back government spending at all levels, or in other words, trying to eliminate what 'liberalism' (aka FDR and LBJ) put in place since the New Deal.

In a discreet way in his TV special on restoring America the other night, Fareed Zakaria as much as said that we need to imitate the 'social democracies' of Northern Europe and restore the social safety net that is now being ripped to shreds.  But that is clearly not going to happen anytime soon, short of some sort of unforeseen political revolution.  And believe me, that is not what the Tea Party has in mind!

So, to paraphrase the last sentence of the quoted excerpt above, if you have to be sick, disabled, or unemployed [and I would add 'retired' and simply 'not rich' to this list], the place NOT to be is in the United States of America. 


  1. Wow, that IS an eye opener. Thanks for posting. I think I will see if my passport is up to date...

  2. My wife and I are going to that welfare state hellhole called Europe for a month this summer, starting with Sweden, where we have a family reunion.