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The future and the welfare state
Posted by: mcq on Thursday, November 08, 2007

A week or so ago, I stated:
We read that polls are telling the Democrats that the mood of the people has swung toward being receptive to more and bigger government. Some argue it's a cyclic phenomenon in which the country accepts and then rejects big government. Yet the rejection phase never seems to lead to smaller or less intrusive government. At best it seems it is simply a moratorium on expansion until the next growth cycle comes along.
Billy Hollis expanded on that thought here.

And today, in the WSJ, William Voegeli points out that while conservatism has talked the talk about smaller government, in reality, it has never walked the walk despite the fact that Republicans occupied the White House for 18 of 26 years after 1980 not to mention the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 in the House. Result? Not much:
Republicans abandoned their promises to abolish the departments of Energy and Education. Efforts to zero out smaller and supposedly vulnerable agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts accomplished nothing. The only important victory here was the 1996 law abolishing Aid to Families with Dependent Children, a victory that may turn out to be hollow. The New Republic celebrated rather than lamented the 10th anniversary of AFDC's demise, arguing that because of the law, "welfare-bashing has lost its political resonance . . . [and] welfare reform has expanded the constituency for activist government. Democrats now have more political room to fight Republican austerity—and to propose, in its place, a stronger safety net."
As I see it, that's precisely what is in the offing, given the talk about national health care and a myriad of other social programs. Or said another way, all Republicans have managed in these 26 years is another lull in the increase in the size of government (and, in fact, been party to increasing it through such programs as No Child Left Behind and Medicare D), and because they've done nothing to demonstrate that we can indeed get along just fine without government, momentum has again built to expand it.

The question however is can the welfare state actually be cut back in reality or are we who oppose its expansion relegated to waging a fighting retreat as it inevitably grows and grows and grows? Well, if the UK is an example, it is most likely inevitable:
There would be many more harsh judgments about how this or that faction betrayed the conservative campaign against Big Government. All such explanations, however, agree on one dubious premise: But for the weakness or hubris of some key player, the conservative project could have succeeded. That premise disregards the central fact—cutting back the welfare state is very, very difficult. Paul Pierson, a political scientist at Berkeley, showed in "Dismantling the Welfare State?" (1994) that Margaret Thatcher had no more success in curtailing Britain's social programs than our conservatives had in undoing ours. As prime minister for 11 years, Mrs. Thatcher had more leverage to change policy than President Reagan or Speaker Gingrich ever possessed. Mr. Pierson concludes, however, that her government "had only modest success" in cutting back individual welfare state programs, while her record in modifying the context of future struggles over the welfare state "was if anything less impressive."
Which puts us where? Well, unfortunately, it puts us in a position to where we're going to have to learn the hard way apparently. The various levels of failure found in existing welfare states seem to be acceptable to our political leaders, who have evolved over the years into creatures who believe their power rests in what they can "give" their constituents. Everyone is a "special interest" constituent who wants life made easier and less stressful regardless of who else's rights must be violated to do that. A good and rising number of us do want to be taken care of from cradle to grave and aren't particularly moved by arguments that to do so means coercing others to give up assets they've earned.

How do you fight that mentality? How do you stop leviathan? How do you again inculcate the same philosophy which drove those who founded this country to break from Britain and do something radically different than anything which had been attempted previously? What happened to both that philosophy and the spirit behind it? And how do those on the right who do oppose the expansion of government fight it when within their midst is a group, the neocons, whose founder Irving Kristol, essentially argued that the welfare state wasn't going away and the right may as well figure out a way to make it their own?

All of that takes me back to considering my question, "are we at a tipping point?" And the unfortunate conclusion I've reached is "No. We've already passed it". All we're doing is conducting a fighting retreat.
 
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Another aspect of this is the design of the tax system: Many, perhaps most voters do not have enough of a financial stake in the system to really appreciate the tax burden of the nanny state. People who pay little or no taxes have little or no incentive to refrain from voting themselves new goodies. The situation will become even worse when Democrats succeed (through the Motor Voter Law) in getting significant numbers of illegal aliens on the voter rolls.
 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
And today, in the WSJ, William Voegeli points out that while conservatism has talked the talk about smaller government, in reality, it has never walked the walk despite the fact that Republicans occupied the White House for 18 of 26 years after 1980 not to mention the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 in the House. Result? Not much:
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, this is the direct result of the same problem the democrats are currently facing; opposition within Congress. Congress, after all, is where appropriations are made. They are the ones with the purse strings. It helps to have a conservative in the white house. Unfortunately it’s not the only requirement.

I’ll take that one step further, by suggesting that during the vast majority of the time from 1984 forward, the democrats were either in direct control of congress, or had as close to a 50/50 (party) balance as no matter. Such a 50/50 situation makes any progress in either direction near impossible, as you yourself have noted, Bruce. And of course, Democrats being in direct control, makes it completely impossible.

The only combination of Congress critters that hasn’t been tried, is a vast majority of conservative pols in office. So far, that test has not been made. I submit that until the combination is tried, the idea of saying that conservatives are no more effective than are liberals at reducing the size of government is jumping to an unwarranted conclusion.

Further, I reiterate my objection that not all republicans can be considered conservative, per se. Which is why I use the word "conservatives" in the paragraph above. And, the 50/50 (party) balance as I mentioned makes it 60/40 liberal, given the number of Rinos involved.

it may very well be that the test cannot be made, but the conservatives into office, take your measurements, and get back to me about it. Until then I’ll take charges of blame with a bit of salt.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Unfortunately the slide into the nanny state is more inevitable the slower is happens.

If things happen too slowly, people can’t judge the change for multiple reasons. One reason is that individuals get wealthier as they get older, until retirement. So if an economic decline, if slow enough, may be missed by an individual. Add to that people may have difficultly observing slow change over a long time and other events that in the short term have more influence which obscures the change.

So, how do you fight it? You give the socialists what they want in the span of 5 years. In another 5 years after that and the country is a complete POS, you can get people to abandon socialism and start to rebuild.

Get socialism over 50 years, and you won’t be able to make clear to people what went wrong.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
It doesn’t matter which party or ideology controls the government. As soon as you ink some law that gives any kind of preferential treatment to any group, you may as well have chiseled the law on stone tablets. Lobbyists will fight for whatever subsidy or job security benefits they can hold on to, and if a politician is foolish enough to cross them they can count on nasty attack ads and a smaller campaign fund in the next election cycle. Paying protection money to interest groups is a bipartisan sin.

Interestingly, Jonathan Rauch noted in Demosclerosis that after the second World War, Germany and Japan took off while Britain began to lag behind. He speculated that part of this was that the governments of Germany and Japan had been wiped out, so the power of special interest groups had been reset; whereas they maintained their strength in the UK. His conclusion is that the longer a government is continuously in power, the more time special interest groups have to attach themselves to the ship of state like barnacles, and that only a major shock to the system can remove them.
 
Written By: James O
URL: http://
Get socialism over 50 years, and you won’t be able to make clear to people what went wrong.
In short, the boiled frog.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Garet Garrett, in Ex America (1951) regarding the New Deal:

Garrett begins the first essay with a call to recognize the full extent of what had happened in America: "There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom."

http://www.lewrockwell.com/mcmaken/mcmaken103.html
 
Written By: Tom Crispin
URL: http://
Perhaps Jefferson had at least an implicit grasp of the special interests’ accumulative deadweight problem: he thought that there ought to be a revolution at least every 40 years, as I recall from one of his letters c. 1820.
 
Written By: Aristomedes
URL: http://
It must be hard to have the kind of schizophrenia that on one day sees the developed world as on a steady climb of growth, progress and the alleviation of human suffering, thanks to..... um, the "free market"..

and the next day, see it as in a relentless and irreversible decline due to the inevitable triumph of... government spending.

One of these things must not be true. Either we’re really not, as a planet, becoming steadily better-off - and here, I think you face quite a struggle with the facts - or else, steadily growing government spending really hasn’t panned out as the terrible threat to global economic growth and overall progress that it’s claimed to be.

For Pete’s sake, those socialists over there in Europe are suffering to the tune of, what? An entire one percent shaved off their long-run GDP?
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Everyone is a "special interest" constituent who wants life made easier and less stressful regardless of who else’s rights must be violated to do that. A good and rising number of us do want to be taken care of from cradle to grave and aren’t particularly moved by arguments that to do so means coercing others to give up assets they’ve earned.

A good number of us feel that the twentieth century was more prosperous than the eighteenth and that therefore the current system must have some advantages relative to previous one.

Not that I’m disagreeing with you. Hundreds of millions of Americans manage, somehow, to overcome Herculean odds and feel that yes, their lives do have some value and meaning in spite of the fact that they must surrender entire percents of their assets yearly to the income tax. It’s not memorably distinguishable from the innumerable other constraints on our ability to have everything, keep everything, do everything.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://

 
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