Mittwoch, 5. Oktober 2011

Welfare State - IV: The Role (and Consequences) of Entitlements

In a well-developed Welfare State, the human being is greeted at birth by the Welfare State in the form of a „child bonus“ (which, actually, the parents receive). The young person begins grammar school and learns that he/she is entitled to free transportation, free education and free literature. Around the age of 10, the young person learns that he/she is entitled to move on (again totally free of charge) to „Gymnasium“ provided that the grades are adequate. Meanwhile, the parents have become accustomed to the fact that they are entitled to receive monthly „child support payments“ from the state. 

Around the age of 18, the young adults learn that they are entitled to move on to a university of their choice to study a field of their choice (again provided that the grades are adequate). Of course, the attendance of university is free of charge, the parents continue to receive the „child support payments“ and in all likelihood one finds subsidized student housing (perhaps with the help of the recommendation of an „influential person“). The student is under no requirement to deliver academic results in order to retain the benefits of free education (and in order for the parents to retain the benefits of „child support payments“). And when the student completes his/her university education, he/she may even feel entitled to be provided with a job that adequately corresponds to the level of education received. A well-developed Welfare State will normally provide ample employment opportunities in the public and semi-public sectors for young academics. It is safe to assume that the performance requirements in such careers are less stringent than in a comparable private sector career: income levels and promotion intervals are prescribed and equal for all, and after a certain number of years the employee is entitled to be ‘pragmatized’, i. e. total job security for a lifetime. And, of course, at a reasonably young age that person will be entitled to retire in order to be able to enjoy retirement while still being physically strong. In short, that prototype of a citizen of the Welfare State will never experience in his/her lifetime the supply and demand forces of the real world.

That way, the young person learns from early on that one is entitled to certain benefits. And, of course, if one learns that, then one also learns to insist on receiving those benefits; a mentality of insisting on „well deserved rights“ develops. What does not develop is a mentality of achieving benefits through performance. One accepts the facts that, in order to eat one must be given a fish and that the hand by which one is fed must not be hurt. Thereby, one does not discover the pleasure of catching a fish by oneself (nor the agony if one does not catch fish despite great effort).

Such a system of entitlements is unlikely to develop on its own. Instead, someone has to invent the system and monitor/control compliance with it and that „someone“ tends to be the Welfare State. And whoever monitors/controls the system assumes a level of power and influence that is generally not very much tested by forces of supply and demand: since the Welfare State tends to be the creation of political (and not economic) interests, its implementation and administration tends to also be influenced by political factors. And any system that tends to ignore and/or violate economic realities over time is very much prone to become inefficient.

Critics of a capitalistic economic system can credibly argue that it is not business that responds to consumer demands but rather that it is business that creates those demands (which is subsequently fulfills) in the first place. Critics of a Welfare State could reasonably argue that the Welfare State first creates in the minds of the people the need for those entitlements that it subsequently provides. There is nothing really wrong with a deodorant manufacturer to create a fear of sweating with the aim that people will therefore buy his deodorants: theoretically, at least, the individual consumer still has free choice to buy. There is something wrong with a state that nurtures in the population the fear and the sense of risk associated with not playing by the rules of the state (e. g. the risk of losing „entitlements“ or „well deserved rights“): practically, the citizen of the Welfare State does not have free choice to individually depart from its rules.

One therefore tends to become dependent. Just like a perspiring person tends to become dependent on deodorants (as long as he thinks that the deodorant is the answer to his problems), a good „welfare citizen“ tends to become dependent on the Welfare State. Only a fool would switch jobs at the age of 45 if that means losing accrued severance and pension benefits! Only a fool would relocate to a new residence if he/she is entitled to an adequate job in the place where he/she lives.

Life is full of dependencies and interdependencies: the dentist needs a baker in order to buy bread, and the baker needs a dentist in order to fix his/her teeth. Those are „natural dependencies“; they are driven by supply and demand. The Welfare State tends to create „unnatural dependencies“: they are driven by considerations of who should be entitled to what, often irrespective of economic realities.

The case is being made here that, over time, „unnatural dependencies“ not only tend to create inefficiencies (because they tend to ignore economic realities), but that they also tend to ignore  basic human needs. It may be nice for a civil servant to know that he/she will be promoted in line with procedures regardless of whether the promotion is deserved or not. But will he/she really develop a sense of individual worth if he/she receives everything as a result of a system of entitlements instead of a system of performance? Is it a natural human need to see entitlements fulfilled? Or is „Homo Sapiens“ perhaps a creature that thrives on achieving a sense of worth, a sense of responsibility and independence, on searching for ways to compete through thought and performance?

If it is indeed a basic human need to develop a sense of personal and individual worth, then the Welfare State tends to violate that basic human need. The Welfare State generally does not respond to individual needs. Instead, it tends to respond to the needs of groups and of society at large. And the actual interests and needs of individuals can easily differ from the perceived interests and needs of society at large. 

Keine Kommentare:

Kommentar veröffentlichen