Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Too Many Takers -- Not Enough Givers"

That's the considered response from an Irish cab-driver. Larry Elder asked him what the No.1 economic problem was for welfare-state Northern Ireland.

The problem with the welfare state is that it rewards takers and penalizes givers. Why should that be?

The reason is not that difficult to figure out. It is that government is force, politics is power. Politics is the rule of the powerful, the guys with the guns. Of course, they may not actually display their guns, not all the time. The most effective government is the one that never has to show its guns. But the political sphere is the sphere in which things are decided by force. It may be the force that is legitimated by the "mandate" conferred to an electoral majority by winning an election. Or it may the mandate conferred by winning a civil war or conquering another country.

The power conferred by force is the power to set the rules and the power to take away.

But humans are social animals. The great trick of any species of social animal is that the advantages of social organization are, for the most part, not based on force. In the best social systems people sacrifice for the good of the community not because they are forced to do so but because they want to give, to contribute to society.

In the basic unit of society, the family, the parents give and the children take; it must be so. The parents give so that their children may grow up to adulthood and then give in their turn. In the market economy, people only get to receive if they are willing to give. Workers must develop skills to make themselves useful to employers. Business people must make and sell a product that other people want before they can take anyone's money. In religion people are socialized into becoming givers: people who want to give to others, and people who are reluctant to resort to conflict within a community.

The welfare state is different. It is the opposite of a social system. It is an anti-social system. It is based on the idea that people have basic economic rights, enforceable by the state, and that anything short of an adequate transfer of economic goods to the less fortunate is unjust. Thus it rewards takers, people that demand assistance, and it penalizes givers, people that think up ways to serve their fellows. There is nothing new in this. Robber bands have operated according to this principle since the dawn of time.

Our modern problem is that the welfare state, beginning with the modest transfers of a century ago, has followed its internal logic to the point that, we can now see, it leads to national bankruptcy. Also, it encourages a host of social vices. It encourages people to work less; it encourages people not to have children. It encourages children to abandon their ageing parents to the state. It encourages ageing parents to sicc the state on their children.

The welfare state. It's simple really. "Too Many Takers -- Not Enough Givers."