Does the Welfare State Have a Future?
Canadians are fragmented politically, religiously, and socially. The acceptance of moral relativism is widespread in the guise of democratic pluralism. The Christian church no longer has any influence. Religion has become privatized.
Canadians are incomparably weaker economically than a few decades ago. High unemployment is a scourge. The current real rate is at least 15 per cent, or about one in six. Unemployment has become aggravated by a technological apparatus which is causing the gradual disposal of the industrial worker.
The foundation of our welfare state appears to be shakier than assumed in the past. The federal and provincial governments are now aware that they can no longer mortgage the future generation for current beliefs. Welfare reform, workfare, cutbacks and government deficits are high on Canada's social agenda. The recent fiscal conservative wave, a disappointment over the limited fulfillment of election promises, and the continual chipping away at the universality of the social security net have led many to question the viability of Canada as a welfare state. There are many indications of a general move toward a reduction of public commitment to social welfare, a tightening of administrative controls in social assistance, and a greatly increased attention to incentives to get welfare beneficiaries to work.
And what is being done by the welfare state in the name of social justice, especially through affirmative action programs bestowing special legal and economic privileges to groups, is often in conflict with biblical standards. Dr. M.H. Ogilvie, Professor of Law at Carleton University, Ottawa, points to the public funding for abortion through the tax system, which means that people opposed to abortion on religious grounds or those opposed to it on other moral grounds are nevertheless obligated to support it indirectly. The welfare state's social engineering agenda poses a moral dilemma for a substantial number of taxpayers.
In 1850 Groen van Prinsterer said that
What Groen said in his time remains true today. Pauperism is evil. The welfare state objective was to have zero Canadians living in poverty. This goal has not been achieved, whatever poverty criterion is used. Recently, Statistics Canada noted that no matter how much governments spends on welfare, health and education to furnish all Canadians with equal opportunities, "wealth continues to beget wealth, and poverty to beget poverty." Despite all efforts to equalize Canadians, Canada remains a highly unequal society.
The problem of poverty is complex. Statistics Canada determines "poverty lines" on observations of consumption behaviour. Poverty among children has emerged in recent years as a national issue. In 1988, the Ontario Social Assistance Review Commission was shocked at evidence that shows that about one-sixth of Ontario's children under eighteen were, by prevailing definition, poor. A high proportion of working single parents are also considered poor. Public assistance benefits are usually based on what is considered to be more or less essential to a minimal living standard. And this varies from province to province.
The assumption of much social policy is that people with jobs need little financial help to get by. Yet this assumption is not a fair assessment of economic reality. The working poor are a class by themselves. Studies show that most of the poor either work or are dependents of family heads who work. They do respond to whatever work is available. But from the perspective of those who have marginal jobs, the comparison between a welfare income and a work income does not add up. In the words of one welfare recipient:
"I think that at the present time, if I could find a job, I would refuse.... After paying transportation, food, babysitting and the extras you need when working ... I would come out about $10 ahead.... So you stay where you are."
History of the welfare state
The term "the welfare state" originated in Britain during World War II as a contrast to Hitler's "warfare state." However, its history goes back to Germany itself. Under Prince von Bismarck (18151898), known as the "Iron Chancellor," Germany pioneered social insurance schemes which "collectivised" risks such as accident and illness, at least for industrial workers. The period from the 1920s saw the gradual extension of welfare in First World countries to more areas of life (for example, pensions and family allowances) and to more groups in the population. Although the original intent was to assist the needy, the middle class also received its share. Furthermore, post-World War 11 extension of the welfare state brought many affluent people within the social security net who had previously been excluded from means-tested schemes.
The transformation of First World countries into welfare states has been called the single major achievement of liberal democracy. However, in order to accomplish their goal, the states became highly activist and interventionist. Welfare now consumes much of the states' financial resources and much of the time of their bureaucracy. It also led to state induced and subsidized poverty by creating "welfare dependency."
To understand what constitutes the welfare state we should define it. A welfare state takes a prime role in ensuring the provision of a minimum standard of welfare to all its citizens. The main welfare components are medical care, education, housing, income maintenance and personal social services from birth to death. State agencies are the major suppliers of these services. A welfare state implies that all citizens have the right to basic standards of welfare and can demand them as an expression of citizenship.
The Canadian welfare state
The Canadian government professed its faith in the success of the welfare state. The booklet Social security in Canada, published by Human Resources Development in Canada in 1993, declares in laudatory language:
In Canada, welfare and health, in general, are authoritatively considered to be within the domain of the provinces. But not one provincial government commits itself to giving welfare benefits high enough to keep all social assistance and welfare recipients above any particular "poverty line." Because of the high cost of social services, provinces began to rely more and more on the federal government for funds. Public assistance became one of the most important areas of cost-sharing between the federal and provincial levels of government. There was a long centralist wave from the beginning of World War 11 until the early 1970s. Fiscal realities led the provinces to the direction of more decentralization through the late 1970s and the 1980s. After the 1995 Quebec referendum they have become even more emphatic about decentralization.
When we look at the modern welfare state we observe a strong tendency toward collectivism: a society where citizens no longer clearly distinguish between their sphere of responsibility and the task of the state. Although our society stresses individual rights at the expense of the community, people are averse to risks and seek to collectivise them when possible. As Winston Churchill put it, social insurance "brings the magic of averages to the aid of the millions." The state is considered the provider to whom citizens turn to fulfill their needs. The average citizen looks to the government to provide education and health care without feeling direct personal financial consequences. As a result, the state attempts to control every sphere of life. In practice, for many people the state has taken the place of God.
Social control and loss of responsibility
When the state takes over essential economic responsibilities of its citizens, liberty suffers. The liberal ideal of autonomous man completely free from interference by others cannot function in a welfare state. A man cannot be independent and dependent at the same time. The welfare state does more than protect people from hardship. It operates primarily as a powerful instrument of social control. For example, taxes are more than a source of revenue for the government. Taxes have become an instrument of social policy. William Gairdner asserts that government taxation policies work against the family: "It is not an exaggeration to say that the family haven has been invaded more by the long arm of tax policy than by any other factor in our times." No wonder that rise of the welfare state has coincided with the undermining of home and family!
Liberal governments of the 60s indulged in massive social experiments. On the one hand more and more regulations began to curtail personal freedoms; on the other hand because of liberal moral relativism, welfare workers cannot deny assistance because of behaviour. For example, a welfare worker cannot tell a single mother or father to get married. This makes sensible welfare impossible to administer.
In the all-powerful nanny welfare state, democracy declines, work is devaluated, and the sense of personal responsibility is diminished. If the state is the provider, why take care of the neighbour? And when something goes wrong, why not blame the government?
The roots of the welfare state
The foundation of the welfare state was laid by the French-Swiss thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). The theme song of his life was that "man is by nature good, and that only our institutions made him bad." He argued that man's natural goodness can be preserved and developed by right education.
He claimed that economic, political, social and moral inequalities are unnatural. He believed that society was the source of all evil. The King was responsible for all the social misery in France. Rousseau vehemently opposed political and social inequality. But he did not base his views on Scriptural principles. Although he was not a revolutionary by nature, his views certainly were. Without Rousseau, said Napoleon, France would not have had a revolution. Rousseau taught that man is his own master. In building a new society a man can only be free if he obeys rules which he himself has made. Citizens have no other masters than the wise laws they themselves have created, and which are maintained by people they themselves have chosen. Rousseau defended the community against the individual. He advocated the doctrine that there is in every society a "general will"
Rousseau's ideas laid the groundwork for the welfare state, but radical feminism played a significant and active role in building it. It became Canada's new orthodoxy. It also fostered the belief that we are all victims of some sort of discrimination. Jill Vickers, Professor of Canadian Studies and Political Science at Carleton University, notes that the anglophone women's movement inherited a set of ideas on how to do politics, which she labels as "radical liberalism." It included a belief in the welfare state and a belief in state intervention to remedy injustice. Feminists demanded full and equal employment, equality in decision-making, economic security, better social services, a safe world; in other words a just, equitable and egalitarian society.
Vickers observes that few feminists would seriously question the view that "the state is turning out to be the main resource of women." She argues that
Does the welfare state in Canada have a future? I don't believe it has. Policy makers view universal programs from the harsh reality of fiscal restraint. While the demands are increasing, the government does not have the finances to continue funding all its current programs, let alone find money for new ones. And how much more social engineering can the government put on its agenda? Richard Gwyn correctly states:
Few societies in the world are less in need of social engineering to achieve equality for all than Canada. A society with the world's most politically correct Constitution, with the world's largest immigration program and most generous refugee program, and with, uniquely, official multiculturalism simply isn't an especially racist and sexist society.
The welfare state aims for a perfect world. The ideal of liberalism still is the building of a new society by means of the State and its citizens to live by the grace of the State. But the attempt to bring about a new world through legislation is idolatrous. It has no place for God's providence. It denies and opposes everything beyond the horizon of this earthly life. It incites people to pride. Who needs God? Man solves his own problems without giving God and His laws any thought.
The state can't bring about the salvation of both individuals and society. It is unable to usher in utopia through legislation. In its passionate struggle for a better life, liberalism is materialistic at its very core. Instead of paradise once lost and now regained, Canada is now plagued by rampant individualism, a loss of community, and a rights and entitlements frenzy.
Throughout the centuries people have tried to build their utopias, but not one has succeeded. In our century communism and national socialism are prime examples of utter utopian failures. The Christian hope is the new heaven and earth to be established by God (Revelation 21:1).
Johan D. Tangelder