Scrybe wrote:I know that libertarians are opposed to the welfare state, but I do have a question.
Are libertarians opposed to any and all welfare, or is support for limited welfare for people like the handicapped and as a temporary assistance for people actively seeking work compatible with libertarianism?
I find that I like a lot about libertarianism, but I believe some public welfare is necessary as a means of ensuring the equality of opportunity and helping those who are incapable of taking care of themselves.
Most Libertarians feel that there will always be a need to help the less fortunate or the less able. We can all fall on hard times, no one is free of this risk. However, Libertarians feel that the desire to cooperate and to help our fellow man is a strong urge and one which ensures that we look after those in need. As Adam Smith said "to feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature
" The question, however, is how to do this.
Obviously the first thing to do is to create enough wealth so that people do not need to be in want or poverty. Most studies have shown that trading or markets are the way to do this. The increasing global trade and wealth has meant that many less people are now destitute and in severe poverty. So Libertarians would support free trade to create the material precondition for quality of life for all.
Secondly, how to help those who, for whatever reason, need help either temporarily or permanently. Libertarians would say that there are many, many ways to do this. It depends on the circumstances and will vary in time and in place. Insurance schemes may be good in some circumstances, for example to protect against sudden high costs of illness. Saving may be valuable in others, for example when considering pensions of periods of unemployment. Municipal schemes may help local groups and communities organize assistance for the poor in their areas or social groups and similarly charities may look after the interest of specific groups. It does not matter how these are organised as long as they meet the need of the poor and disadvantaged. To the libertarian the main problem is when the state takes over all these roles and welfare becomes the job of the state rather than of society.
When this happens there are two major, negative consequences.
Firstly, state organised care is less responsive and focused than care organised by people themselves or by societies which want to help them. It is less efficient and usually cost heavy in administration. It is often of poorer quality and perceived as impersonal and bureaucratic by those who receive it. It is rarely responsive to local differences or quickly changed circumstances. It is often structured in such a way as to make it difficult to get out of welfare schemes when your options change as often the way benefits are organised they dis-incentivise leaving welfare.
Secondly when organised by the state there is a moral hazard that it alters our culture and viewpoint. Studies have suggested that expansive welfare schemes, over long periods of time, change our attitudes- it makes us less self-reliant, make us less inclined to save or plan for the future and (perhaps worse of all) makes us less likely to actively help others (as charity is seen as a bad thing and the role of government rather than the individual).
So, to Libertarians, there should be lots of forms of welfare arising from society in response to its needs; just not a monopoly of welfare administered by those in power.