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By Dawson, Stephen | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, July 2000 | Go to article overview

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Dawson, Stephen, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


WELFARE REFORM

Though few realized it at the time, the welfare state was doomed from its beginnings. The reasons were twofold. First, it established a de facto `principle' that, through government, there is such a thing as a free lunch ... and that lunch could become ever more sumptuous. Second, it changed the attitude of a broad swathe of the public towards `charity'.

The appearance of being a free lunch was achieved through artful disguise. We pay taxes, some of which are used for defence, policing, health, artists-in-residence and pro-tax ad campaigns. And some is used for welfare. Few seem to connect the Loss from their paypackets with the money paid to others. Consequently, the attraction to governments of buying votes by extending the categories of people in receipt of free lunches has proved to be irresistible.

Meanwhile, as Francis Fukuyama demonstrates in his 1995 book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, social policy eventually changes people's attitudes and behaviour. In their origins, direct welfare payments were tiny, their recipients few And, in many cases, still imbued with the work ethic and ashamed of receiving charity, they would only avail themselves of welfare when in great need.

Now, of course, welfare is a `right'. Indeed, I've heard it argued that welfare is important precisely because it is not charity, that people who may be ashamed of receiving charity aren't ashamed of receiving support from the government.

Abolition would seem to be a political impossibility. Even gentle reforms of the system attract condemnation. Yet some of the sites set out here offer some pointers about how attitudes may be changed, perhaps leading eventually to significant reform. We can but hope.

THE CATO INSTITUTE

The United States has one great advantage: the problems with its welfare systems are prominent in its public discourse. But, as a Website on the subject conducted by The Cato Institute puts it, the discussion centres not so much around `reforming' the system as `saving' it. This has been brought to a head by a recognition that the US's Social Security system has unfunded future liabilities of US$20 trillion. Ouch!

Through its Social Security Privatization project, Cato proposes that rather than `saving Social Security, [the US] should begin the transition to a new and better retirement system based on individually owned, privately invested accounts.' Go to:

http://www cato.org/pubslssps/ ssp-20es.html

As part of its project, Cato has established a whole site devoted to Social Security privatization advocacy, with some pages dealing with the alternatives to private pen sions, while others address specific issues, such as how a private sys. tem would work for AfricanAmericans, low-wage earners and women. Go to:

http:/I/www.socialsecurity.org/ index.html

INTELLECTUAL CAPITOL

This site, while not exclusively devoted to welfare policy, contains a wealth of documents examining welfare reform options in a United States context. I could, I suppose, simply list them all, but the best way is to click in the little box in the top right-hand corner of the page labelled `Search', type in `welfare' and click the `go' button. You'll be rewarded with dozens of documents. Go to:

http:// www.intellectualcapital.com

POLICY.COM

No, not the Centre for Independent Studies' journal Policy, but another commercial site dealing with political, social and economic issues from a reform orientation. In early 1999, Policy.com featured welfare reform as its issue of the week, so it carries a small amount of reading on the following pages, along with links to several detailed documents covering such matters as welfare reform at the US State level and how people can successfully move from a life of welfare to one of work.

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