« Lower taxes for the working poor would be better than a living wage | Main | Roger Scruton versus the post-modern Conservative Party »

Home and family
1 March 2013

Heresy of the week: The welfare state was created by capitalism, not socialism

In North Korea, you can be sure that the state is keeping a close eye on you. In South Korea, the authorities are also watchful – but for a very different reason:

  • “The South Korean capital has installed anti-suicide monitoring devices on bridges over the city after 196 people jumped to their deaths on 2012 according to South Korean officials. The new initiative — in a country with the highest suicide rate among leading developed nations — incorporates closed-circuit television cameras programmed to recognize motions that suggest somebody might be preparing to jump from a bridge.”

In an important essay for the Dish, Andrew Sullivan identifies one the drivers of the South Korean suicide rate:

  • “...the elderly [are] committing suicide at historic rates: from 1,161 in 2000 to 4,378 in 2010. The Korean government requires the elderly to ask their families for resources if they can pay for retirement funding – forcing parents to beg children to pay for their living alone – a fate they never anticipated and that violates their sense of dignity.”

Sullivan uses the South Korean experience to illustrate something that is also true of Europe and America, which is the tension between two things that conservatives believe in – the free market and family values:

  • “...the forces that free market capitalism unleashes are precisely the forces that undermine traditional forms of community and family that once served as a traditional safety net, free from government control...”
  • “The sheer cruelty of the market, the way it dispenses brutally with inefficiency (i.e. human beings and their jobs), the manner in which it encourages constant travel and communication: these… are not ways to strengthen existing social norms, buttress the family, allow the civil society to do what it once did: take care of people within smaller familial units according to generational justice and respect.”

In countries like South Korea, the pace of change has been much faster than the transformations that took place previously in the west. Therefore they’ve had less time to adjust to the loss of family and community-based support systems.

But what is it that we put in place of the old order? The answer to that, of course, is the welfare state. Though associated with socialism, the substitution of the state for the family is first and foremost a product of societies characterised by personal freedom in both economic and social matters.

In most western nations, the theory and practice of welfare has been hijacked by the left – and, as a result, exerts its own destructive influence on family cohesion. And yet this is tolerated and even celebrated by voters who see the state as their only protection against the “sheer cruelty of the market”:

  • “One reason, I think, that Obama’s move toward a slightly more effective welfare state has not met strong resistance – and is clearly winning the American argument – is that the sheer force of this global capitalism is coming to bear down on America more fiercely than ever before.”

Traditionally, conservatives have stood for both freedom and stability. Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrated how those two objectives can be reconciled.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.

Register to get The Deep End delivered to your inbox.