Monday, July 18, 2011

The rise and decline of the welfare state

As this Weekly Standard article explains very well, most of the core programs of the welfare state were established in the 1930's or 1960's, times when the life expectancy in America was well below 70, and lifesaving but expensive treatments for cancer, heart disease, and organ failure were still somewhat rare. At the beginning, entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare were the result of good intentions and the knowledge that the costs would be relatively low. They had no way of knowing that one day it might get too expensive. Perhaps more importantly, they had no way of knowing that any attempt to deal with increasing costs by limiting benefits or raising the minimum age would be rejected out of hand by leftists as "greedy" and "mean."

This quote at the end of the article provides a good summary of the issue:

"Pensions and access to health care remain social goods that a decent society will try to provide to its people. But goods are not rights."

The distinction between social goods and rights is an important one. It is important for an advanced society to ensure some minimum standard for its people, such as a minimum wage, a standard workweek, and basic/emergency health care. But these are not rights, and when people begin to insist on equal health care or generous benefits for all, they find that it soon becomes prohibitively expensive. 

No comments:

Post a Comment