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Thread: The Welfare State

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    The Welfare State

    So I just finished watching the third season of Call the Midwife, a show that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    The series is based on the memoirs of a British midwife who worked in London's east end at the inception of the National Health System. In many ways it celebrates the triumph of modern medicine and the British welfare state. The homeless are housed. The sick are healed. Children who would have died in previous generations for want of medical care (lacking the proper technology or finances or both) are saved.

    It's got me thinking about Theodore Dalrymple, a more contemporary British doctor whose writing describes a contrary view. In his work, he sees what he interprets to be a culture of dependency that perpetuates a cycle of contempt and abuse. His wikipedia article contains a decent summary of his conclusions.

    I think that the issue isn't welfare itself but the context in which it is applied. If you have a situation in which the working poor feel that they are making valuable contributions to society and the larger society is, in turn, organizing healthcare and housing and so on in the interest of all, that's one thing. The ideal here would be something like Scandinavia - everyone contributes through high taxes; everyone benefits from universal and top quality public services (one obvious downside being conformity... but that's a different discussion). But if you have a deindustrialized lumpen proletariat who feel that they are receiving handouts out of the charity of more productive people, that easily translates into feelings of inward shame, outward hostility, entitlement, etc. Meanwhile the productive people likewise feel resentment and contempt.

    I suppose one could that that any welfare system is inevitably going to reflect the class structure of its society. So then the question becomes... Within a society riddled by class and ethnic divisions, is it possible to conduct welfare programs in such a way that they subvert rather than perpetuate the dominant paradigm?

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    Senior Member Limes's Avatar
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    I think your question is a little bit loaded and might not be well defined.
    In my experience (my mother and a few uncles work in the NHS) the more that the welfare state hands out to the lumpen proletariat, the more they take it for granted and the less they feel inclined to seek for themselves, across the board as the nanny state becomes their crutch. It's an ugly symbiotic relationship where the state grows monstrously large and inefficient and the few people left foolishly paying in to the system are burdened with the increasing costs of the lazy and feckless masses that inevitable learn to game the system to their advantage, e.g. cosmetic surgeries, perpetual unemployment benefit for relatively benign maladies (doubtlessly tens of thousands of claimants with "anxiety" - I know a few).

    It's a sorry state when collective laziness is instilled en masse and the proletariat don't use their benefits as one less thing to worry about and a spring board to elevate their lot, but as a crutch to lean on and make do with as base subsistence, bleeding out and fleecing the middle class and honest working man, until they become an endangered species.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Limey View Post
    It's a sorry state when collective laziness is instilled en masse and the proletariat don't use their benefits as one less thing to worry about and a spring board to elevate their lot, but as a crutch to lean on and make do with as base subsistence, bleeding out and fleecing the middle class and honest working man, until they become an endangered species.
    Do you think Canada is collectively lazy?

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Limey View Post
    I think your question is a little bit loaded and might not be well defined.
    In my experience (my mother and a few uncles work in the NHS) the more that the welfare state hands out to the lumpen proletariat, the more they take it for granted and the less they feel inclined to seek for themselves, across the board as the nanny state becomes their crutch. It's an ugly symbiotic relationship where the state grows monstrously large and inefficient and the few people left foolishly paying in to the system are burdened with the increasing costs of the lazy and feckless masses that inevitable learn to game the system to their advantage, e.g. cosmetic surgeries, perpetual unemployment benefit for relatively benign maladies (doubtlessly tens of thousands of claimants with "anxiety" - I know a few).

    It's a sorry state when collective laziness is instilled en masse and the proletariat don't use their benefits as one less thing to worry about and a spring board to elevate their lot, but as a crutch to lean on and make do with as base subsistence, bleeding out and fleecing the middle class and honest working man, until they become an endangered species.
    I didn't mean for it to be a loaded question. I found myself coming to certain conclusions as I started writing, so that's how it turned out.

    But anyway... Maybe a better question would be, specifically in the case of England, could it have been done differently to still provide support without engendering dependency? Thinking out loud (as always, hope it makes sense): I wonder how much of it is welfare picking up the slack of deindustrialization vs supplementing a healthy workforce. Like, if the economy had behaved differently over the course of the twentieth century - more blue collar jobs and/or more of an emphasis on retraining for different careers... Would the welfare class look and behave totally differently?

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    Senior Member Limes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slab_Bulkhead View Post
    Do you think Canada is collectively lazy?
    I don't know enough about Canada, I've only been four times. I'm specifically addressing my own experiences in the British nanny state, where many people have found it's easier and more convenient to live on benefits than work.

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    Senior Member jyng1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Limey View Post
    I don't know enough about Canada, I've only been four times. I'm specifically addressing my own experiences in the British nanny state, where many people have found it's easier and more convenient to live on benefits than work.
    I imagine that's why the unemployment rate in the UK is 6.2% rather than the US's 5.9%

    Ours is 5.2% because our second biggest city fell down.

    They must have a pretty good welfare system in Zimbabwe as their unemployment rate is 70%

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...mployment_rate

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    For example, take this article on bariatric surgery by Dalrymple.

    He'll have a great observation like this:

    It is sentimental—and, in the last analysis, condescending, dehumanizing, and even brutal—to regard people with self-destructive habits as simply victims of circumstances, who contribute nothing to their unhappy situation.
    But then his critique is all "you're doing it wrong" without any substantive suggestion of how to do it better. So that's my question - how to do it better? I know that there are individual programs that seem to actually empower people... thinking of education, social work, employment, anti-violence... Is there any way to shift a whole system in that direction? And to shift perceptions as well..?

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    We live in an age where the genius of one can render so many people absent of the need to work at all...

    But our societies don't embrace that sort of phenomenon. Leisure is a huge health benefit when mentally contextualized properly.

    We tend to look at unemployment as a bad thing...when that is only so if we depend on contributions from workers to sustain things.

    Stuff always seems to run better when people are doing it because it is meaningful to do it, as opposed to doing it for money.

    I definitely don't have an answer...but I'm all for a huge paradigm shift as part of it.

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    Makes me think of France. Lots of vacation and maximum hours but... maybe they didn't really commit to it enough or implement it well? From my extremely vague impression of French economy and culture, it seems like lots of young people still need work and also there's a culture of striking just for the hell of it/wants perceived as rights.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TeresaJ View Post
    So I just finished watching the third season of Call the Midwife, a show that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    The series is based on the memoirs of a British midwife who worked in London's east end at the inception of the National Health System. In many ways it celebrates the triumph of modern medicine and the British welfare state. The homeless are housed. The sick are healed. Children who would have died in previous generations for want of medical care (lacking the proper technology or finances or both) are saved.

    It's got me thinking about Theodore Dalrymple, a more contemporary British doctor whose writing describes a contrary view. In his work, he sees what he interprets to be a culture of dependency that perpetuates a cycle of contempt and abuse. His wikipedia article contains a decent summary of his conclusions.

    I think that the issue isn't welfare itself but the context in which it is applied. If you have a situation in which the working poor feel that they are making valuable contributions to society and the larger society is, in turn, organizing healthcare and housing and so on in the interest of all, that's one thing. The ideal here would be something like Scandinavia - everyone contributes through high taxes; everyone benefits from universal and top quality public services (one obvious downside being conformity... but that's a different discussion). But if you have a deindustrialized lumpen proletariat who feel that they are receiving handouts out of the charity of more productive people, that easily translates into feelings of inward shame, outward hostility, entitlement, etc. Meanwhile the productive people likewise feel resentment and contempt.

    I suppose one could that that any welfare system is inevitably going to reflect the class structure of its society. So then the question becomes... Within a society riddled by class and ethnic divisions, is it possible to conduct welfare programs in such a way that they subvert rather than perpetuate the dominant paradigm?

    I don't think most recipients of welfare by any means feel that they are receiving handouts from 'more productive people'. People who work but who are still poor enough to receive welfare are some of the hardest working people around, usually in the worst conditions. Even those not working usually aren't working due to circumstances that are typically quite unpleasant. so most people deserve a lot more than they are getting and they know it. I think most people wake up in the morning and think they deserve to eat and sleep inside, because they're human first and adherents of capitalism second. The alternative to welfare is living at the whims of employers who exploit them in awful conditions which can only be described as any more independent and liberating through thick ideological goggles. Most people at that level are just getting through the day, regardless of the source of the money. I'll grant that some people internalize it, but probably when you're talking systemic poverty those few are not really relevant.

    This culture of dependency talk is bs for the most part, it relies on the false assumption that poverty just needs to be worse and then people will just magically break out of it because it's so intolerable, but the truth of the matter is it's the opposite way around, poverty is a hole and the deeper you go the harder it is to get out of. I don't know what mechanism they think is going to make the difference between the fate of a child growing up in public housing with food assistance as opposed to the same child growing up in a private slum and suffering from malnutrition and a lack of medical care. Maybe the cholera turns them into some randian Spiderman. Being on welfare is still not a good life and if there are dignified jobs that lift people out of poverty and a means to get them people will take them. Welfare programs soften the worst issues and make it easier to get out of poverty for those that have the opportunity.

    Its also good to note that in the US which has some of the highest rates of intergenerational poverty and lack of class mobility, most recipients of welfare have jobs, and most only utilize it for short periods of time, leaving any possibility of this dependency narrative to be only a slim minority of recipients. Given all the countries with better benefits and higher mobility, it's really a baseless concept. The paranoid middle classes have been fearful of this made up bogeyman of welfare abusers 'bleeding out' the middle class since the dawn of capitalism and it's never happened.

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