Welfare is nothing new, and has been an essential element of effective government for centuries

welfareThe conservatives of today often argue that government welfare programs are an invention of modern government, and are therefore the result of some systematic, liberal plot to reduce the foundations of western civilization to a pile of smoking rubble.

The truth is that while modern forms of welfare, which only came into existence once the system reached a point where it could sustain them, are creations of the modern state-economy dichotomy which manifested itself after the transformation of the western world during the industrial revolution, history shows that the extent to which welfare is represented is a good indicator of the success of any government institution, and that some governments, like the state structure established by Maoist revolutionaries in China, should not be considered as representative of the true spirit of welfare.

I. Rome

Historical examples from the Roman Period (also, in fact, stretching far back to the Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians) demonstrate quite clearly how the societal foundations for the modern government-economy dichotomy had been built. Many of the hot topic issues of today were also problems for the Roman government.

Inflation was a major issue. Roman officials over the years (at many different points) had debased the currency (sound familiar?) by literally removing chunks of precious metal and re-smelting the coins. This led to massive levels of price inflation in the marketplace. Well-meaning government bureaucrats sought to control this by instituting price ceilings. These obviously only acted to create black markets for the exact same goods.

Government support for the poor in times of high inflation or when food became scarce was almost always present during the Roman period. Bread would be handed out on street corners to those who were hungry. Many have argued that this was also simply a way for Roman emperors to temporarily buy the allegiance of the poor with a full stomach.

II. China

Confucianism, a core piece of Chinese thought, stresses the central role of the state in civilized human life. Throughout the history of China there have been competing ideologies such as Buddhism and Taoism, however the core values of Confucianism can still be seen as quite prolific in China today.

The Chinese state throughout history has been traditionally very centered around the wellfare of its citizens. In times of famine the custom had been for over a thousand years to open government grain stores. Charity was generally accorded to the poorest individuals as it reflected badly on a monarch when homeless lined the streets.

This began to change when European powers started to meddle in Chinese affairs. British involvement in the opium trade, which primarily came out of India, got the Chinese economy “hooked” on opium. Slowly but surely the government began to lose control to British corporate entities which demanded the right to sell their product (even though opium was made illegal in Britain). After a series of skirmishes known as the Opium Wars, in which the British army did not face much of a fight, the Chinese monarchy became effectively powerless.

The rise of the Maoist government during and after the Second World War brought a radical re-organization of the old Chinese feudal system. Land was re-distributed to the peasants who worked on it and for a time there was much plenty. It seemed as if the Communists would really hold up to their end of the bargain.mao

Things changed, however, when, after 3 years, the Maoists seized farm property and organized it into collectives, effectively negating much of the work that had been done in the years past.

The government then dictated that all individuals must work for the rice that they consume. If one was not recorded as having done the appropriate work, then one would go hungry for the night.

Maoist China represents nearly the opposite of a welfare state. The most obvious indication lies in the fact that when massive starvation struck once again, the “Communists” (closer to totalitarians) refused to open the massive grain stores maintained by the government while men, women, and children starved just outside in the street.

III. Europe

Enlightenment Europe found itself controlled (nearly in its entirety) by “absolute” rulers. The state became something that had a body (the current corporations vs. people debate seems relevant). The Ruler, in this case the “divinely-ordained” monarch assumed within himself the body of the state. Because of this the crime of treason and the crime of a direct attempt on the life of the king became equated.

Welfare came in many forms. As the monarch was seen as the holy embodiment of the state, building projects like canals, roads, hospitals, universities, and general infrastructure brought prestige to him or her. What became clear with the French Revolution, however, was the extent to which some social movements can monopolize on dire economic crises and create complete chaos. The revolution itself was seen ideally as a resistance against the old feudal power of European history. In reality it stemmed much more deeply from huge problems within the expansive French bureaucracy which needed change.

The modern world was forged in the depths of the industrial revolution. The First World War can easily be seen as the flash point for this. The “welfare” state structures in Britain, France, Germany (Prussia), and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had all been built up through past, successive decades in competition with one another. The 19th century as a whole, after the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, at least in Western Europe, remained fairly peaceful, with only a few exceptions.

States did not, at least initially, want to maintain massive standing armies at all times (as this is extremely expensive). As the power balance in western Europe became more and more ingrained, so too did the necessity for larger and more effective forces. The relative peace on the continent in these years did little more than to forestall the inevitable continental war that would break out (just as it had multiple times in the previous century).

As the massive corporate organization of European states evolved to cope with the military machine it was destined to build, it brought with it many things which people today take for granted. The early model for America’s public school system can be shown to have evolved out of this corporate state structure in Prussia (northern Germany) in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Prussian state introduced compulsory public schooling  for all children. The curriculum was structured to ensure that when education was complete, students would be able to perform tasks either as a worker or a soldier. This can be easily seen in the mundane, repetitive nature of modern public school, where the student, much like a lab rat, is made to respond immediately and routinely to the sound of a bell between classes.welfare

Uniform systems of taxation also made their real appearance on a large scale during this period. The necessity for a consistent tax base was recognized increasingly as one of the single largest influences on the strength of any nation as a whole.

It is also true that governments across Europe (the United States seemed a bit slow to catch up) saw the benefits of keeping a relatively healthy, happy, and “educated” population with respect to maintaining consistent tax revenue.

After the First and Second World Wars the necessity for the maintenance of expansive social programs became quite obvious. It has also been demonstrated in countless ways how these programs greatly benefit society as a whole. While problems will inevitably still exist it is clear that just because “welfare” programs are mostly (in their current form) products of the modern era, that does not mean that they are not essential.

During the 1930s and the following decades the United States underwent many legislative changes related to government participation in the welfare of the general public. Programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid serve to aid those who may otherwise not have the means to aid themselves.

The mark of a successful polity is the state of its poorest citizens. Welfare will continue to expand its presence as the system changes. This is simply a byproduct of the direction that the system is moving as it evolves. In the effort to effectively mould this evolution it is necessary to recognize the absolutely essential place that governmental care for the common good represents.


  1. If we collected all the taxes due from the off-shore US corporations hiding money overseas, we could fund a lot of our welfare for people in need here. The problem of the working poor will be helped by the ACA (Obamacare) so they won’t become bankrupted by unexpected medical bills. Since in recent decades the US health care costs have skyrocketed, there must be some control of what can be charged by hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies, otherwise we will ALL be only one illness/surgery away from the poor house! There are many complicated reasons for poverty.

    • which is precisely why those people have offshore accounts in the first place, to keep people such as yourself from finding some way to take the money they earned and tell them how it should be spent.

      Yes healthcare costs have skyrocketed, which is due in no small part to health insurance see when people get used to their health insurance covering most if not all the expense people tend not to care about the cost of something. this in turn gets doctors and medicine companies thinking “hey, since my patient pretty much never cares how much a drug is i can easily charge double and get their insurance to pay for it!” which they do. see i know this because myself and my family does pay out of pocket for medical treatment, and guess what, when doctors can’t charge insurance the bill is atleast 1/3 less if not more. In point of fact, the ACA or (as it is popularly referred to) Obamacare, actually exacerbates the problem and due to many new taxes included in the bill will actually add to it.

      Though for the vast majority of people i have had contact with the ACA is an absolute nightmare. out of the people i have talked to their health insurance costs are at the very least staying the same and for most are going up by a fair amount if not doubling. Several of my friends are having to drop someone’s coverage and take the penalty because they can’t afford the new cost. so much for the “affordable” care act.

      Yes there are many complicated reasons for poverty, one such is having your house burn down along with everything in it. This happened to me, did i once ask for government assistance? no. all we demanded was a tax right off for the loss of all our property, which after 10 years is still several thousand we haven’t claimed.

      • “which is precisely why those people have offshore accounts in the first place, to keep people such as yourself from finding some way to take the money they earned and tell them how it should be spent”…what? You seem to lack an understanding of how our society works, sir! We all pay a certain amount of taxes in order to maintain our civilized lifestyle and there should be equality in how much we pay, i.e. rich corporations & billionaires should not get off the hook from paying their fair share. Do the math and you will see that the top 1% gets away with murder regarding taxation because they hide much of their profits in overseas banks. If you wish to return to the stone age of “survival of the fittest”, perhaps you would like living in Rwanda or some place where raging warlords rule by force!

        • percentages, ha! in case you weren’t aware up until the early 1920’s we didn’t have an income tax, and we did very well. We need to go back to a flat tax, whereas federal taxes on all goods are the same and states can not enact an income tax. This has proven to be the most productive form of taxation, the type of system you endorse is little less than thievery.

          The funny part is that you don’t even realize you are your own worst enemy. Constantly screaming ” its not fair!!!!” like a five year old is only going to make people have even more of a “screw you” attitude. But yes, they totally get away with it by paying more than 60% of our taxes.(sarcasm)

          Btw great logical leap about the survival of the fittest part, totally makes sense (sarcasm)

            • oh wow, you showed a graph that started in 1950. during one of the worst times in terms of taxation in the countries history considering we had finished WWII not long before and were in the process of rebuilding Japan and Germany. Real impressive trend there also it stops at 2010, things tend to change a lot in 4 years when it comes to taxes.

              Which is why a flat tax is best, far simpler and the average person doesn’t have to hire a professional just to not have the government jump down their throat. I mean it will suck that all those people at the IRS and places like H&R block will lose their jobs but oh well.

  2. Very few informed if any informed people argue that welfare is a new concept. But rather that it is an extremely bad and destructive old concept. Which you have so kindly taken the time to list out all the exact reasons why welfare is a sign of decay not growth or progress in any sense.

    • Interesting. So, please point to the society that has been enshrined everlasting prosperity that lacks any form of a welfare state. Your comment shows that you hold little understanding of historic circumstances. Welfare are not root causes of societal decay, but are rather meant to buffer the suffering said collapses can create. Please point to an example that shows a state’s welfare levels as connected to its prosperity or societal condition? Granted, yes sometimes welfare can be a dtriment, and things can go wrong. But to connect any concept of a welfare state to societal ills shows the ingenuousness of your statement. Why don’t you understand the context of welfare first, and then discuss what it does or does not do.

    • Value judgments hold no meaning. Welfare is not good or bad. It is here and won’t be going anywhere for quite a long time. Systemic decay is not the progenitor of welfare in itself, however, once the effects of decay begin to present themselves elements which are already existing within the system may, indeed, exhibit some of the same symptoms.

      • If the system is so broken that it require mass welfare to sustain it you are far better off to let the system collapse right then and there rather than drag out and inevitable demise.

        No country has been able to sustain welfare on a mass scale without violent revolution or drastic revision of government spending. Given our current situation the former is more likely.

        As a history student you should know full well that nearly every civilization who has enacted these types of welfare has only sunk into further decay. While many point to European counties as examples they forget that these detrimental effects can take generations to show themselves. And these effects are already starting to be seen in those countries.

        Regardless of the pain it may bring we need to cut every from of spending in order to bring our country back from the brink. Regardless of how much revenue you try to raise it will never be enough. And such cuts will be very, very painful for many. But such pain is far preferable to the slow death we are experiencing. Better to fix it now and “rip the band-aid off” as it were, than to allow ourselves to suffer or our children to suffer.

        • You have it completely backwards. Cutting government is what led us into the Great Republican Depression of 1929. I went through it and it wasn’t pretty. Now we have the neocons pushing this bullshit again and if they are successful we will sink into another Great Republican Depression that will make 1929 look like a picnic. What do you propose we do about people who are dying like my son and had to quit his job, or people who are mentally deficient or paralyzed for various reasons and can’t work, or aged who cannot work because they are too frail because of their age. Talk about selfish human beings. You seem to represent the republican mantra “hurry up and die” and leave us alone, or “we got ours and screw you”.

          Actions like this will lead to a revolution with Guillotines and all.

          • yes, hurry up and die alright. Did i not say it would be hard? it will be extremely hard and yes there will be people who die, that sounds horrible but that is the reality of our current situation. Our country is held up with so much AstroTurf its astounding that it hasn’t collapsed already. or rather it did, we had a massive sinkhole back when the banks were bailed out. yet we just filled it in with more AstroTurf rather than fixing anything. And it will collapse, be it 20 years or 100 if we keep going the way we are going it will happen.

            If people are totally dependent on the government to even live then we are at a very sad state of affairs. With your son where are you? i take care of my family, i have housed family members while they get back on their feet and others have done the same for me. Government intervention is cold and meaningless. It is your responsibility to take care of your own and if others out of the kindness of their hearts lend you a hand then so be it. But expecting everyone to pay into a sick system that takes any and all heart and thoughtfulness away is the absolute height of selfishness.

            My grandmother lived during that time as well, her father was a doctor who gave his services to people even when all they could give him was a chicken. That is kindness, that is charity, not this sick twisted thing called welfare. If welfare is the best we can do we are all better off dead.

            • Wow, you sir, are an idiot. You clearly have no substantive understanding of the federal government’s current financial situation… You don’t have to entirely so away with social services in order to save the federal budget from implosion… You just have to make targeted (and yes, somewhat painful) reductions in growth trajectories. And you can throw out thar whole “taxes can never be raised lunacy”. You’re even more off your rocker than you already sound if you think taxes don’t need to be raised in order to fix rein in federal deficits.

              Do a little research before you spout off about welfare being the end of civilization, and feel free to challenge me here. I promise you I know substantially more than you about this topic, so please, keep embarassing yourself

              • I don’t think i said that social services need to be entirely done away with, but if you have even 1/8 of the population of the country on government subsidy you are doing it wrong. I believe my comment was that even if every person was taxed 100% it would solve nothing or perhaps i misstated it. However you are wrong, we dont need more taxes, the government better damn well learn how to be happy with what they get and be praying that every person who has any amount of money at all doesn’t decide to go elsewhere because they would certainly be justified in doing so.

                And as i said, if there are any people who are utterly dependent on welfare to even live we are failing as a nation. And fixing it does not include putting more people in that situation. You may like to believe you are helping people but all you are doing is encouraging apathy and degrading generosity.

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