Skip to comments.The Rise (and Upcoming Fall) of the Welfare State in the Western World
Posted on 11/13/2013 7:12:59 AM PST by Kaslin
I routinely (some would say repetitively) argue that the burden of government spending is a drag on the economy because labor and capital are being misallocated via the political process.
My message is that we need to reduce the size of the public sector, even if we do it in a very gradual way by imposing some sort of spending cap that fulfills the Golden Rule requirement of having government grow slower than the productive sector of the economy.
That being said, a modest short-run agenda doesnt mean we shouldnt have bold long-run goals.
So while Im glad the Tea Party has helped restrain government spending in the past two years, thats just an interim step.
And Im all in favor of bringing federal government spending back down to about 18 percent of GDP, which is where it was when Bill Clinton left office.
But why stop there? Wouldnt it be better to dramatically shrink the public sector?
That approach certainly would be consistent with what our Founders wantedand with the first 150 years of our nations history.
I shared some remarkable data last yearshowing that the public sector used to be very small. Not just in the United States, but other nations as well.
Indeed, government spending (at all levels) consumed less than 10 percent of economic output in the worlds leading nations in 1870. And even as late as 1913, the public sector only consumed an average of about 12 percent of GDP in those major western nations.
So why has government become much larger in the past 100 years? The answer, as shown by this remarkable chart prepared by Vito Tanzi, the former Director of Fiscal Affairs at the International Monetary Fund, is that the welfare state has exploded.
As you can see from the table, there was almost no welfare state at the beginning of the 1900s, and redistribution spending was minimal even as late as 1930.
But welfare-state outlays, referred to as social transfers in the table, have ballooned over the past eight decades. And if youre a glutton for bad news, you should also understand that BIS, OECD, and IMF data predict major long-run troubles because entitlement programs are going to become an even bigger burden in the future.
In other words, were already in a deep hole because the welfare state has radically expanded, and that hole will become much deeper in almost all nations in the absence of genuine entitlement reform and effective caps on so-called discretionary spending.
Fortunately, we can make progress. Perhaps not in the next couple of years with Obama in the White House, but spending caps and entitlement reform are possible at some point in the near future.
Simply stated, the ongoing fiscal crisis in Europeis causing more and more people to understand that we cant remain on the current path.
Our ultimate goal, however, should be shrinking government even further by restoring the Constitutions limit on the size and scope of the federal government.
Maybe Im a Pollyanna, but Im glad to be at the Cato Institute where I can strive every day for this vision of a freer and more prosperous America.
P.S. We should undo the welfare state not only because that reform would be good for taxpayers, but also because the so-called War on Poverty is bad for poor people. Redistribution creates long-run dependency because of a poverty trap that makes it more difficult to climb the economic ladder. If we really want to help the less fortunate, private charity does a far better job and Americans (unlike Europeans) still have the genuine compassion that exists when you spend your own money.
P.P.S. If you want a humorous look at genuine compassion, Libertarian Jesushas some wise advice.
Look at the numbers for Greece! If cutting transfer payments was all there was to it, they'd be sitting pretty. Meanwhile, Germany's transfer payments are worse than ours.
No, there's something else at work here other than simply the welfare state. My suspicion is that the Internet and automation are making the "ownership society" a reality. For as long as the money printers are feeding stockholders, it is they who are doing well.
The welfare state = dependency. The industrialized world is rapidly reaching a tipping point, where large segments of society are overly dependent upon government largesse to get by.
Any true effort to reform or limit it this will lead to political unrest and instability.
The welfare state is systemic. It has become the natural order of things and only a shock to the system will allow an opportunity to change it.
Those shocks are usually pretty ugly and unpredictable in their outcomes. Situations like what we are witnessing usually don’t end well for individuals or liberty.
Must be nice sitting on your ass collecting welfare benefits and free food at our expense. (not you Kaslin)
From the writer’s mouth to God’s ears. It could not happen soon enough to suit me.
This is a great post. It puts hard numbers to the argument.
I had just read an article making the same point but it lacked numbers.
Society needs to figure out why socialism is growing. World has become more complex? More people can’t cope? Capitalism can’t provide enough jobs for citizens? Everything has to grow or perish? ????
Socialized education and mass media.
“Everything has to grow or perish”
It’s the nature of things. Everything must strive. Marxism and its offshoots deny this, which is why they fail.
Society needs to figure out why socialism is growing.
When the power of government is not limited, that power to control access to resources then becomes power for sale. In a democracy, control of private property is then achieved by control of public opinion.
Social democracy always was a preference of the extremely wealthy, the owners of the means to inflect public opinion.