The Nation: Bhaskar Sunkara- Beyond the Welfare State


Source: The Nation Magazine– Bhaskar Sunkara

Source: The Nation: Bhaskar Sunkara- Beyond The Welfare State

I think beyond the welfare state, is the perfect title of this piece because that’s exactly what this is about. I would like to move past the welfare state and actually not even see it exist in America. But before you do that I think I should clear something up. We do not have a welfare state in America for lots of reasons. We have a safety-net which is different and a safety net is there for people who for whatever reasons aren’t able to fully take care of themselves for some point in time.

Like being unemployed or aren’t able to afford health insurance to use as examples. Or do not have a big enough retirement which would be another example. That’s what we have in America and chances are we will always have that which is good in a private enterprise system. Where success and failure are never guaranteed. But a welfare state is a whole host of programs that are designed to literally take care of people for an indefinite amount of time. And the only thing you need to qualify for these programs is to be alive and living in that country. And they are there so people do not have to make these decisions for themselves how to obtain basic human services.

Safety net is what we have in America and perhaps Canada and Germany as well. The welfare state is what’s common in Europe especially in Britain, Scandinavia, France, Greece to use as examples. Which is what Social Democrats want to bring to America and argue that people have too much choice and personal responsibility. And with business’s that have profit motive they believe we need to cut back on these choices and responsibility and take some of these pressures off of the individual. And have these services performed by government which isn’t in the business to make a profit.

Safety net I’m in favor of as long as we do not have on big centralized government managing all of these programs for the entire country and we allow for the states and localities to take up some of these responsibilities for running these programs. And that they are designed to empower people to get themselves on their feet rather than government taking care of them indefinitely.

And where I differ from let’s say Social Democrats who do believe in the welfare state and want that in America and would like a more centralized Federal Government with a whole host of new Federal social programs, is that I want people to have as much freedom to be able to take care of themselves and only need government for the minimum of services.

Like protection from criminals and people who would take advantage of them in the economy. So regulators not to run business’s but to protect consumers and workers from people who would try to make a profit by hurting innocent people and then if they need that safety net because they lose their job or something. Then they collect from it like you would collect from social insurance so you can pay your bills in the short-term as you are preparing yourself to go back to work with a good job and be independent. And this is what government’s job in a liberal democracy is to protect freedom and empower people to get freedom but not try to run our lives for us.

That’s what I believe in as a Liberal when it comes to economic policy. And a couple of things I want to see the public invest more in when it comes to the economy would be in education and job training so no longer would anyone be forced to live in poverty and live off of public assistance. Because they didn’t have access to get themselves the skills that they need to live in freedom. Social insurance would be the best way to describe my politics when it comes to the safety net. Rather than the safety net that you collect these social insurance when you need them. And that they also empower you be getting on your feet but they aren’t there to take care of you indefinitely. But empower you to be able to take care of yourself and that’s what my alternative to the welfare state is.


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2 Responses to The Nation: Bhaskar Sunkara- Beyond the Welfare State

  1. SammyScoops says:

    I’m not sure I agree with you 100%, at least not as far as I understood your point to be, but I CAN find several points of commonality with you, especially regarding the need to invest in education and job training (and heavily, in my opinion).

    Granted I’m operating off of my “grass is greener on the other side” bias, because I’ve never lived anywhere else but here; but to me it would appear those nations in Europe, which you would classify as being a welfare state and therefore are in disagreement with, don’t have the types of problems our health care system does where people aren’t able to get insurance at all, or where they were allowed to refuse people on the basis of having a pre-existing condition (which is when they need the insurance most). If that wasn’t enough of a “fuck you”, the pharmaceutical and insurance companies and their powerful lobbies in Washington ensure that interest rates continue going up and up and up at an exorbitant rate making quality coverage nearly unattainable for most; something which plays no small roll in our national and state budgetary woes.

    Theirs is just there, everyone has it from day one, no need to worry about preexisting conditions, or lapses in coverage; it’s there for you to use, for no other reason than you’re a citizen and you pay taxes; and it’s the right thing and the smart thing to do. Sure their coverage may rank lower than ours in terms of quality, but it’s available to everyone. Sure you could get the cutting edge treatment here, by a world renowned dr. but you can’t get that shit at just any hospital and certainly not at any county hospital where there’s huge emergency lines because most of the patients lack health insurance. Wherever you do have to go to get whatever it is warranted that trade off, I can guarantee one thing, you’ll be paying out the ass for it; well above market value I’d imagine too.

    Personally, I’d take the consistent all encompassing health care, all day everyday.

    The way we do it now is effected way too much by factors like income, location, education level and race in determining the quality of care you receive for it to seem anywhere close to worth it to me. Besides, these other European nations must be doing something right because they outrank us in many of the benchmarks we use to measure industrialized nations; infant mortality, life expectancy, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, the list goes on.

    For us to sit here and continue to tell ourselves and the rest of the world our system is the best or so great and blah blah blah in spite of these statistics is absolutely naive; it’s a fairytale, a bedtime story we tell ourselves and our children because it makes us feel good. Just because you read Rapunzle a hundred times, doesn’t mean the next time you walk past a skyscraper you’re going to see flowing gold locks of hair lowered down to you like a fucking rope, if that’s what any of us believe; seek help, immediately (that my friends, is what they would call a psychotic break).

    I’m not against the market, or competition, or innovation, or being an entrepreneur; I just feel that we’ve allowed it to reach a point where it’s in the best interests (or so they think) of these entities to continue on the way they are, raising prices, cutting costs, laying off the workforce; which only perpetuates this shitty cycle we find ourselves in now. It’s an incredibly shortsighted approach to executing what should essentially be a long term game plan. I mean these markets aren’t even conducive or inviting to entrepreneurs, or people with great ideas to the degree it could be. Especially in the tech industry, these companies have grown so bloated and fat from profit, that they consume each other or fight them to the death, and this wasn’t always the case, at least not to this extent; historically speaking when companies started becoming too powerful, like the trusts, they were met by the government with regulatory efforts; (which they bitched and moaned to high hell about, but when it came down to it, they sacked up, adjusted and realized the world wasn’t over and they were still profiting hand over fist despite the government “interference”.

    I could 100% get behind paying taxes for that, or for education, or for maintaining our roads, retrofitting our buildings etc. as a matter of fact, I don’t know who wouldn’t, but that’s not where the lions share of our taxes are going; and its not “welfare” or social security either. It goes to the Pentagon, and to defense contractors and oil companies so we can maintain our overstretched empire that prefers we call it by another name as if that changes what it in fact is in any way. If I knew that my tax dollars went to things like education, transportation, small business loans, and things of that nature; I would have absolutely no problem paying much more in taxes than I do now.

    Our biggest problem is that we pay taxes like we’re investing in these programs and this safety net for our future and all that shit, and what’s actually happening is its all being given to defense contractors, and multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporations who feel they owe us no shred of loyalty or allegiance threatening to pick up and move, or doing it outright; which effectively places much of the power firmly on their side, rather than our governments, and especially not ours. So it’s easy for people to look at their pay-stub and say wow I should have made so much more, where did it go to and to see the unemployed, uneducated minority that’s typically portrayed as mooching off the government and blame them and those like them for being the source of the problem, but its not. The biggest welfare queens of all are companies like GE, Chevron, Shell, Halliburton and all the rest to a degree exponential compared to what we see as “welfare queens” dependent on the nanny state and your tax dollars to make a living.

    Maybe if education wasn’t the first thing to be cut any time we ran a deficit, or we didn’t feel the need to close under performing schools, sending it’s students to attend an already crowded school that’s now ready to burst at the seams; raising student to teacher ratios to the point of making it almost entirely ineffective; and certainly ensuring that those who were already behind still are, and those who fell behind have little or no chance of getting the necessary one on one attention barring after school hours to get them caught up which in turn brings down performance; and places the school and the teachers at further risk of having it happen all over again.

    I feel like if we trimmed back our defense spending and forced the Pentagon and these contractors to justify each and every purchase or project they’re requesting, itimized, like most Americans have to balance their checkbook or add up their deductions come tax time; rather than blindly writing checks to defense contractors who took us to the cleaners, scamming taxpayers with impunity; as the study on the overall costs of the iraq war that came out around the 10 year anniversary this past march conclusively demonstrates; if we stopped that behavior in conjunction with making a very real effort in a major way to massively dump as much money as we possibly can into education (including job training) right now; as much as we can possibly spare, until either test scores or whatever metric it is they use to measure learning these days drastically improves or the unemployment rate begins to drastically come down, bringing with it our government’s financial commitment, or strain related to the long term unemployed (which speaks to lacking the necessary skills to get into a decent job with a future (not fast food) in an entry level position.

    I feel like if we start to see the level of funding our education system receives from our tax dollars, and we would see a lot of the more troubling statistics about life in this day and age begin to change drastically as well in tandem with it. We start to bring up the skill level of our workforce and companies can no longer claim they don’t hire here because theres not enough people with the proper qualifications (never mind the fact they’re much cheaper somewhere else as well). Then, if companies continue to want to ship jobs overseas to save costs, guess what, we no longer are going to subsidize them, or honor their tax shelters or allow them to make exorbitant profits off their investments without paying real taxes on them. If they wanna go over there, fine, happy trails.

    If we have a well trained and capable workforce making an honest living wage it works best for everybody, even the corporations paying them higher wages or pensions because now their employees can participate in the economy, and show brand loyalty things like that which we don’t see anymore as the pensioned jobs begin to go extinct in favor of the far more volatile 401ks (you know those same ones that got raped and gutted by Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme). This is exactly what we had in place around the time of our economic recovery during WWII era;

    The problem isn’t the safety net; its the fact we as a nation haven’t been wise investors as of now, and have squandered away much of what we could have, and perverted the rest by politicizing it which has served nobody other than those who represent us and their corporate sponsors.

    Anyways, I just kinda realized how much I wrote on that; so my bad, I didn’t mean to hijack your comment section like it was a United Airlines flight; and I’m not even necessarily disagreeing with your point in principle, I just feel like it’s the nanny state that catches the bum wrap when we leave many Americans with little or no other eventual option as they enter the workforce unprepared and untrained for the jobs available.

  2. Other then maybe investing more in education and job training. But I’m guessing we would do it differently. I do not see where else we agree which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Reading your reply was like reading a press release from the leadership of the Green Party or Progressive Caucus with familiar talking points. Who are way to the left of me both but I appreciate your time and effort.

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