I wrote before about one of beliefs about the welfare state, in that it cannot happen without many inherent problems.
One of my main issues with the debate on welfare is that is too often focused on very narrow aspects of the whole and becomes prone to simplistic views that sound good to people, based on each person’s ideology. I am not necessarily saying that some simple views are not correct, not everything needs to be complex. Or that these aspects should not be debated. But in the case of welfare, there are multiple facets of the problem which all need to be addressed. Off course, when it comes to politicians, what they say is not always what they mean. So we can have simple views that are not even honest.
For the left, the simplistic view is “help people” although the concept of help is never as simple as it is made out to be. The right view is “I should get to keep my money and choose whether to help”. You may agree more with one than the other, but that is not my point. The problem is the debate is framed along the lines “is it ok to tax some to help others”. The argument is not nearly that simple. It implies there are no second order effects beyond some people being taxed more or less, some receiving more or less.
Even maybe honest leftists like Joe Rogan make it sound so simple. Instead of giving corporations trillions, give the poor money to help them, and this lifts the economy as the poor start being more productive. His words were along the lines of (not an exact quote) “this is so simple why it is not done”. This implies that just pouring money in a poor area will automatically generate productivity and economic growth with no other effects. Simple, isn’t it. Just like Joe Rogan, to be fair. Also at odds with reality, in my view. But simple nonetheless.
Most libertarians do believe that one should get to keep one’s money, irrespective of the effects of welfare. But it is both incomplete and counterproductive to allow the debate to be framed solely on this point.
What I find annoyingly offensive about this “simple” claim is that it implies that no one can have an objection to this except “I don’t want to pay anything towards it”, without being painted as not caring about the “less fortunate” let us call them, or without the possibility of thinking there are better ways out of poverty. In the end, if it is so simple and clear, there cannot be arguments against the effectiveness of the claim. It must be those greedy right-winger who do not want to solve the problem. The “do handouts solve problems in the long run” part is ignored, or assumed to be automatically true.
There are many issues with the simple just give money solution. Depending on the situation, that money may not be used to improve oneself. It may generate welfare dependency – dismissed as a “right wing myth” despite the real world, it may lead to increase drug use and so on. But this is not what I want to focus on.
I want to cover a dynamic very present in Romania, which may or may not repeat in other parts of the world. I lean strongly on “probably repeats” myself, but will not make the claim.
In Romania the welfare payout is small compared to many richer European countries. But it is present and insidious. The size is not the issue. Romania is quite split between a few prosperous large cities and a lot of not so prosperous country side – with pockets of prosperous countryside here and there. And unlike most advanced countries, the rural population is pushing 50%. In Western Europe rural areas are not necessarily poor. Urban areas may be more so. In Romania, villages and small towns can be dirt poor. People still engage in what is practically subsistence agriculture, and the monetary income is basically what they get in welfare. Enough to buy a few things and hit the pub.
These areas in Romania are generally under the control of corrupt government officials. These are called, and it is not hyperbole, Local Barons. Because they control a county in the same way a baron would. You have to be on their side, they control the village mayors, the cops, the government agencies, and they can dictate what business is allowed to open in “their” county. Who gets hired. And what money they should get in bribes to allow business operation. Furthermore, they generally control the votes in the area even for national parliament.
This leads to a bad dynamic that is almost impossible to correct. The local barons or their relatives have companies that get rich off government contracts, while the population is kept obedient by the distribution of welfare – don’t act out or they cut you off and you will not be able find a job or start a business. The welfare is low, but enough to prevent outright revolt, to placate the populace. But the area is kept underdeveloped economically – you don’t want people being able to earn money so you need to keep that pesky free market at bay. As such, local tax money is not that much. So these areas depend on receiving money from the central government.
There are areas of “rulers” who realized they get more stealing a smaller percentage from a rich county than a higher percentage from a poorer one, but this takes competence, which the average baron lacks. They are mostly thugs who keep control in simple ways. There are several communes in Romania that pride themselves of zero welfare and there being plenty work for those who want it. But these are few.
This creates a two way dependency: local areas depend on money from the center to keep control, the center needs the Parliament votes controlled by the barons. And this will not change, because as long as the barons keep their counties underdeveloped – and they need to top keep control, they will need money from the center. And as long as the center needs the votes, they need the barons.
The national politicians tend to be also corrupt, so they like things this way – guaranteed votes from the barons. Also it keeps any new upstart parties limited. They may gain some limited traction in the large cities, but not so in the rural areas or smaller cities. Some tried canvasing villages, but people generally do not talk to them and vote for the baron anyway.
The barons switch allegiance to various national parties depending on which one looks better, and they generally bring the votes with them. One electoral cycle to the Social democrat party, another to the Liberal Democrat party and so on.
Off course, various forms of this are present in various places. One can claim that certain Western foreign aid keeps certain African warlords in power, for example. But it is an aspect of welfare not covered by “hand-outs only help people” part. It creates a vicious cycle of dependency and power. It creates many side effects that come with poverty and corruption. Alcoholism, violence, sexual abuse.
Some people leave the area – often the more hard working sorts. And the ones left are the ones who generally accept the situation, get by as they can, eat what they get, drink cheap booze, and try to fuck the village teenagers who don’t know any better – although you need to be ready to take a hike should a pregnancy happen. This does not mean these are all bad people, as the saying goes. But a bad system encourages this. One does not sow where one cannot reap, is an old Romanian saying. The system is certainly not created with welfare as a temporary crutch in mind, until the fracture heals. Because that would be visible – you could say look at area X, it got welfare for many people for 10 years, but now it does not anymore. But you cannot really say that in most places. They were on welfare 10 years ago and 15 years ago and there are no signs of this changing in 5 years. Another factor not addressed by proponents: let us have some metrics to see it works and if not, change things. But that is not the point, is it?
And the cost of the system is not welfare sum X recipients. It is sum X recipients + salary x worthless bureaucrat + graft for local barons family company + graft for additional useless jobs created because the baron owes some of their flunkies a sinecure. Not to mention the lost economic growth country wide due to keeping the same assholes in power.
This does, off course, not mean welfare always leads to something like this. But it is an aspect to keep in mind. Along many others, some mentioned in other posts. And I cannot see the local left bringing a solution to end such a cycle. But I am a cold hearted libertarian who does not care about poor people, unlike those kind hearted leftist who like the poor so much they constantly create more of them. Sometimes I am trying to “unbderstand” our lefty brethren, the not crazy ones, but it is quite hard when I never here them address such issues.