What’s Left of the Welfare state
Providing insurance against some of the main risks in a capitalist society. (Liberal) Providing a social minimum below which nobody is allowed to fall. (Liberal) Provide a base of equality, both general and specific (Socialist) Build a communitarian society (Socialist) It seems confusing at this point in the examination of the welfare state to bring in liberal values, not because there don’t apply to the state but because they do not push forward a discussion of the relevance of socialist themes to that state.
The arguments here are trivial and to briefly discuss: providing state insurance against risks (sickness, unemployment, etc) allows those risks of the individual to be shared throughout the whole of society rather than bore individually. The argument that the private sector should be able to provide that risk adjusting mechanism more efficiently seems to me to be dubious, a lot of these risks are un-quantifiable and therefore we have no ability to make a market in them.
Our second clearly liberal aspect is the idea of a social level below which nobody will fall, this Miller argues is fully justified on grounds as an humanitarian and the rights of citizens to have a minimum set of resources. No libertarian argument is presented against this position (which from a stylistic perspective is slightly at odds with including a justification for the previous point), such as Nozick’s position that the administrations and funding of these parachutes belong in the private sector (faith based charities etc) due to the coercion involved in removing ones monies and giving it to another.
How then is the case to be proven, if our second two points are show to exist in the welfare state then that state is acting as a vehicle for socialist values. To describe these aspects: Equality General equality is when we examine the complete bundle of resources available to each citizen, and the distribution is then more equal after taxes and welfare are taken into account than before; Specific equality is that the state will provide each citizen with resources on an equal basis.
Ideal of community A welfare state allows a society to be communitarian in a way that it could not be without it. This is argued by the following – by attending common schools and hospitals people are in direct contact with other people whom they might not normally mix with and therefore allows the idea of them all existing in a shared common society to be reinforced.
I agree with Miller’s argument that both the ideal of community and equality are the important pillars of a socialist society, and I believe we can at once see that they are not present in the modern welfare state. The two important points that I disagree on with Miller is whether these taken in isolation and can be used for justification that a society has socialist themes and that the foundation of the modern welfare state had them in mind when be determined.
The modern welfare state unwritten purpose is to provide stability to the existing market driven society. Equality in the form of either specific or general is not a guiding rule of the society rather citizens are given the bear minimum necessary to survive and not disturb the functioning of that society. The resources that are allocated to individuals within the state in most societies is not a function of their need but rather a function of their contribution to society before their need for a redistribution took place.
This is demonstrated through welfare payments which in most societies are a determined by previous level of income. The idea of community being generated through the welfare state is one that at first glace seems plausible until one looks at the number of places where people gather without community building up (transport, supermarkets, etc) and with the increased level of opting out seen by classes with a higher level of resources (for medical services, education) even the remaining shared services are becoming occupied by a single class.
Miller then argues that the welfare state has these aims in mind but it fails in delivery of those aims, I would argue that the welfare state did and does not have those aims in mind and has increased in movement away from even the manifestation of structure and rules which look as if they may have come about through those ideals.
1 2003 Social Philosophy ; Policy Foundation 2 PG 92; What’s Left of the Welfare State; 2003 Social Philosophy ; Policy Foundation Alex O’Cinneide Paper 3.