Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yuval Levin on the Welfare State

Yuval Levin is the Editor of National Affairs, which to my mind, is the finest journal of right-of-center domestic policy thinking anywhere.  The writing is superb and the contributors are top notch, resulting in a must-read for anyone seriously interested in the rich field of intellectual conservatism. 

In the issue currently on my coffee table (probably not the most recent), Levin provides an insightful, non-polemical look into the modern welfare state.  Blending both history and analysis, the piece gives credit where credit is due (conservatives have to wrestle with the fact that our grand rise in power occurred at the same time as we created the welfare state) and makes some very sound policy suggestions to conclude it.

Here's a sample from the piece that made me sit back and nod my head: 

"This was not the purpose of our welfare state, but it is among its many unintended consequences. As Irving Kristol put it in 1997, "The secular, social-democratic founders of the modern welfare state really did think that in the kind of welfare state we have today people would be more public-spirited, more high-minded, more humanly ‘fulfilled.'" They were wrong about this for the same reason that their expectations of the administrative state have proven misguided — because their understanding of the human person was far too shallow and emaciated. They assumed that moral problems were functions of material problems, so that addressing the latter would resolve the former, when the opposite is more often the case. And guided by the ethic of the modern left, they imagined that traditional institutions like the family, the church, and the local association were sources of division, prejudice, and backwardness, rather than essential pillars of our moral lives. The failure of the social-democratic vision is, in this sense, fundamentally a failure of moral wisdom.
That is not to say, of course, that it did not produce positive benefits along the way. Indeed, the era in which the social-democratic vision has dominated our politics has hardly been an age of decline for America — it has been, if anything, the American century. And it has been a time of diminishing poverty and rising standards of living. But it is now becoming apparent that this was achieved by our spending our capital (economic, moral, and human) without replenishing it, and that this failure, too, is a defining characteristic of the social-democratic vision."

Read the whole thing.  


"The Hammer" said...

What he is describing is the old "new man" argument Marxists have been putting forth since forever. Leftists love to play with the underlying morality and fundamental values of societies. They see religion and nationalism and shared values, in short all the things that hold us together as the problem.

Bryan said...

Excellent article, Bryan. Levin makes some great points that conservatives need to make clear and which are being borne out by current events:

1. The reform we need to undertake is not the overthrow of today's systems of protection for the poor. This is restricting its provision to those who need it, and reinforcing self-reliance with those who can take care of themselves - our ongoing discussion of TRICARE fees is an example.

2. The reform that is needed will be painful, though. The employment figures this week showed government shed almost as many jobs as the private sector created last month. If we want to shrink government, this will have to continue until private job growth picks up. That won't happen until demand increases and current efforts at improving productivity have run their course.

2. Changing the party in power next November will not in and of itself fix the problem. The American economy is overleveraged and it will take time to shrink government, pay off private debt, and run out of productivity improvements before growth and employment will pick up again. Levin notes younger people (almost all of us) will have to suffer with this for a while.

The GOP may be better served by making clear the sacrifices necessary to get better in the long run. The Ryan budget did do this, but the party tried to avoid saying it was cutting benefits. We have to be straightforward about the sacrifices needed and how we will protect the most vulnerable.

"The Hammer" said...

Protection for the poor? WTF?

Screw the poor! In America the poor are poor out of choice. They have made the choice not to take advantage of a million different opportunities (often times crammed down their throats), and have chosen to be drunkards or drug addicts or fat lazy scumbag broodmares; to the detriment of us all.

I believe we should have a temporary social safety net for the poor. I believe we should provide for the old and disabled, but I feel no moral or ethical obligation (and shouldn't have a legal obligation) to provide benefits for people who's sole purpose in life seems to be lay on their fat asses, eat, drink and screw all on the taxpayer's dime. It's bad public policy and it's bad social policy.

God Damned the poor and the politicians who created them!

Bryan said...

Good point, Hammer. What I meant by continuing protection for the poor is assistance for those who can't do for themselves (the disabled or elderly, for example) and temporary assistance for those who can (job training, for example).

"The Hammer" said...

Job training!!?? Job training!!??
Let me tell you about
JOB TRAINING!!?? Just kidding.

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