In defence of the welfare state

Picked up at Neil’s Economics Blog and of much interest to me at the moment. I have been criticised for seeing public-sector-provided welfare in a positive light. This seems to be the core of such criticism:

The Supporters of the Welfare State Are Utterly Anti-Social and Intolerant Zealots; They Advocate Enlightened Despotism

It is customary to call the point of view of the advocates of the welfare state the “social” point of view as distinguished from the “individualistic” and “selfish” point of view of the champions of the rule of law. In fact, however, the supporters of the welfare state are utterly anti-social and intolerant zealots. For their ideology tacitly implies that the government will exactly execute what they themselves deem right and beneficial. They entirely disregard the possibility that there could arise disagreement with regard to the question of what is right and expedient and what is not. They advocate enlightened despotism, but they are convinced that the enlightened despot will in every detail comply with their own opinion concerning the measures to be adopted. They favour planning, but what they have in mind is exclusively their own plan, not those of other people. They want to exterminate all opponents, that is, all those who disagree with them. They are utterly intolerant and are not prepared to allow any discussion. Every advocate of the welfare state and of planning is a potential dictator. What he plans is to deprive all other men of all their rights, and to establish his own and his friends’ unrestricted omnipotence. He refuses to convince his fellow-citizens. He prefers to “liquidate” them. He scorns the “bourgeois” society that worships law and legal procedure. He himself worships violence and bloodshed.

–Ludwig von Mises, epilogue to Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981), 520-521.

Let me bring this out of the pack:

Every advocate of the welfare state and of planning is a potential dictator.

It is that kind of statement that hands the debate to the left. If the defence of the free market is based on never advocating or providing social assistance to those in need, however that may be defined, then socialism will roll through and upend the capitalist order in no time flat. It is the conflation of welfare with central planning, and then indicting everyone who wishes to help the aged and the sick as a potential dictator really does lose the debate. I am still looking for a statement from Mises delineating the role of government. If all it does is defend property rights and our national borders, no one will ever sign up, other than those who already feel fully protected by whatever system we already have in place.

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