Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"March"'s Book: After the Welfare State

I'm beyond terrible at timing this year so far. I have the next couple weeks off so expect a lightning-speed comeback. Well, I hope.


After the Welfare State ed. Tom G. Palmer
Politics (2012 - 136 pp.)

As with almost any political book, suffice to say I agree with parts of it but not with other parts. As this is a compilation of essays rather than a monograph, with Tom G. Palmer writing only some of them (albeit certainly selecting the others in part due to their thematic consistency with his overarching thesis), that is to be expected. The title, and the subtitle "Politicians Stole Your Future... You Can Take It Back", provide a good five-second rundown of that thesis. Palmer and his American, Italian, Greek and British contemporaries take unbridled shots at the political establishment, big government, social programs, and what they see as the erosion of liberty since the nineteenth century.

Italy and Greece's economies emerge as easy targets. Decades of increased government control, along with a clientelist structure, are described very effectively in a way that would make any U.S. Senator blush. The doomsday warnings of America's economy heading in the Italian/Greek direction feel a little exaggerated, but only a little. Hidden between the usual comments about Social Security being a Ponzi scheme are very real concerns about reckless lending from banks that had no stake in the outcome of the home loans they underwrote and bought. The American Dream may not fade as quickly as Palmer and his contemporaries argue, yet 2011's US home ownership rates validate their claims. It is also worth mentioning that public healthcare has worked to varying degrees in Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden, among other countries. Whether it could succeed in a country with as many unique problems as America at this point can only be conjecture. A Dutch- or Swedish-style system may be in some other countries' futures.

The admittedly bachelor-level historian in me finds "Part II: The History of the Welfare State and What It Displaced" particularly interesting. "Bismarck's Legacy", Palmer's entry in this section, is an uncharacteristically scathing review of the Bismarck administration, which is usually more lauded. The connection between it and Adolf Hitler's regime feels tenuous at times, although the continuation of the social safety net is explained well. The essays on mutual aid societies were the most educational parts of the book to me, explaining a community I knew almost nothing about and am now very interested in learning about more. The big takeaway I get from this part is that people will voluntarily help each other even when there is no exertion of the coercive power of the state.

Like many a libertarian manifesto before it, and likely many after it, After the Welfare State does not explain exactly how people without money should be acquiring their healthcare or education. Perhaps my qualm in that regard is a sign of my own attachment to the restrained Canadian version of the welfare state Palmer fears.

Ease of Reading: 4 (much higher for those with history, political science, and/or economics backgrounds)
Educational Content: 8

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