The collectivism that was previously felt was no longer required as the ultimate end. The end, instead, was conceptualized more in individualistic or family centered terms, as involving the family’s standard of living, the prospects for occupational advancement and the educational and career opportunities for children. Yet the extent to which this individualistic feeling has come to prevail has been tempered by a continuing strong attachment of working class organizations, such as trade unions, to the collectivist aims that are symbolized above all by the welfare state, and to a lesser extent, by public ownership.
Furthermore, in those countries where socialist parties are particularly strong – especially in the Scandinavian countries – there was little decline in the support for collectivist ends. There are purely economic grounds for hostility toward the welfare state: ageing populations have entailed higher levels of public spending on pensions and on health services, and this financial pressure is increased, sporadically, by economic recession and a general slackening of economic growth.
The accompanying unemployment also makes fresh demands on public expenditure. At the same time, expectations concerning the quality of public services continues to rise. However, most importantly, there are strong ideological arguments in opposition to welfare provision that we should take note of. Perhaps the most interesting and most important intellectual challenge comes from the political “New Right”.
The most prominent opponent of post-war orthodoxy, the New Right has argued “for a strong identity between social democracy and the welfare state, while insisting that both are inconsistent with the moral, political and economic freedom that only liberal capitalism can guarantee”6 It is possible to identify two distinct strands in New Right thinking: a liberal tendency which argues the case for a freer, more open, and more competitive economy, and a conservative tendency which is more interesting in restoring social and political authority throughout society.
The most interesting, and most useful for us, intellectual challenge of the New Right probably comes from it’s neo liberal rather than it’s neo conservative wing (other aspects of society: “Traditional family life” etc). Underlying most neo liberal assessments of the relationship between capitalism and the welfare state is a rehearsal of the sentiments of Adam Smith’s advocacy of liberal capitalism. It is recognized that Smith wrote under very different circumstances and for a quite different agenda and audience than his latter day admirers.
Yet his was a critique of the interventionist state, and a call for limited government, whether or not democratic. He advocated the “spontaneously arising market economy as the means of securing both optimum individual and social welfare and as the surest guarantee of individual liberty. “7 It is just these prescriptions, and the ways in which social democracy and the welfare state countermand them, that lie at the heart of the contemporary neo liberal view.
If welfare were to be granted, still more if it were to be guaranteed, there would remain no incentive for the worker to sell his or her labour power. Workers could then dissipate themselves in idle living at the expense of the productive members of society and the economy would in turn be undermined to the eventual ruination of the whole society. Thus, it would seem that the very uncertainty of the wage-earner’s continued welfare was the mainspring of capitalist economic growth.
Hostility to welfare state intervention amongst many, then, is because: it’s administrative and bureaucratic methods of allocation are inferior to those of the market; it is morally objectionable (for both the sponsors and recipients of the welfare state); it denies the consumers of welfare services any real choice; and despite the enormous resources devoted to it, it has failed either to eliminate poverty or to eradicate unjust inequalities of opportunity.
Indeed, Patric Colquhoun argued that we shouldn’t even attempt to rid ourselves of poverty: “without a large proportion of poverty, there could be no riches, since riches are the offspring of labour, while labour can result away from a state of poverty. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization”8 So we can see that due to varying factors within our economic and social life, the provision of welfare in contemporary society has been challenged.
It is not, however, only the pragmatic response that is prompting such hostility toward welfare provision. There are fundamental ideological challenges that we should be aware of, such as those from the New Right. We live in a, mostly, capitalistic world. The most primitive line of division then, when considering the nature and scope of welfare provision, is between those who perceive the welfare state to be incompatible with the principles and practices of (any form of) capitalism and those who understand the welfare state as a possible or even as a necessary component of any developed capitalist economy.
BIBLIOGRAPHY T. H. MARSHALL and TOM BOTTOMORE – Citizenship and Social Class Pluto Classic 1996 CHRISTOPHER PIERSON – Beyond the Welfare State Polity Press 1988 1 Pierson, C – Beyond the Welfare State Pg 7 2 Marshall, T. H. – Citizenship and Social Class Pg 14 3 Marshall, T. H. – Citizenship and Social Class Pg 18 4 Marshall, T. H. – Citizenship and Social Class Pg 16 5 Bottomore, T – Citizenship and Social Class Pg 77 6 Pierson, C – Beyond the Welfare State Pg 12 7 Pierson, C – Beyond the Welfare State Pg 17 8 Marshall, T. H. – Citizenship and Social Class Pg 19.