Most countries that I know of in The West have developed some sort of a welfare state, where the majority of the residents in the country are entitled to various welfare programs.
When I argue against that and for a free voluntary society, I often come across the misconception that in such a society, there will be no welfare – there will be no programs that take care of people that are disadvantaged. Below, I’m going to make the case that there will be. And those will be even better welfare programs!
In any given society there’s of course a number of people that are completely unable to take care of themselves – i.e. disabled, orphans and elderly. Additionally, there will also be people that have ended up in an unfortunate situation in life and need a helping hand to move on – i.e. unemployed, victims to crime and accident, people that suffered a great loss and were uninsured — to name a few.
Welfare in a democracy
The word democracy can be perceived in many ways, here meant as a representative democracy where people vote for representatives. Those representatives pass laws and tax people and may choose to redistribute their wealth in a welfare state.
It’s my impression that most middle class and wealthy people think like this: “Well, I’m a resourceful person, I can take care of myself in a free voluntary society, I would be fine. But there are all these other groups that would be miserable and exploited or neglected in such a society! And that’s why I vote for redistribution of wealth!”. The majority of people I know, think along those lines.
Now, in a democracy like that, why do we have welfare? The way democracy supposedly works is, that what the majority votes for, is what people are going to get. So, if the majority votes for a situation where it’s downright illegal to be charitable and you are forced to only help yourself, or they vote for some sort of terror regime or an authoritarian fascist hell hole, then that’s what they’re going to get.
In other words, if you live in a welfare state, it is because the majority of people in your society have already voted for a welfare system. That happened because most people have such values – they want to help those that can’t take care of themselves – plus a great deal of other people who are in an unfortunate situation and could use a helping hand. The majority of people in your society have voted for that because those are their values.
Welfare without democracy
Now imagine for a moment that you take that representative democracy away in your given society – say in Denmark, The Netherlands or any other welfare state. The majority of people in that society would still want welfare programs for the needy – that’s why they voted for it; those are their core values. A 100 or 200 years ago the majority may not have cared much about welfare programs for others because they were too busy providing for themselves and their loved ones. In the meantime, society has become so productive and prosperous that most people feel that they wanna take care of a lot of other people than themselves. Without the option to vote for redistribution of wealth – without the democracy, without government – they would still have those values and they would act on them.
In that scenario, you would have a choice between different programs. Right now, the government takes away perhaps 40 or 60 percent of what you produce and give a lot of it to other people. They probably prioritize in a way that you don’t like and quality is not as good as you’d want it — yet you still vote for it because you think it’s the right thing to do. Instead you’d find yourself in a society where you have other options. Now you get to keep a 100 percent of what you produce and you can donate and even buy services that give welfare to the needy. To people such as unemployed or elderly, disabled, orphans or whatever people in society that you think need the best or most help, you can shop between different options and you can choose the one that you think gives the best results for the lowest price.
Welfare monopoly versus diversity
With the current system, you have a de facto monopoly on welfare — and with a monopoly there’s no guarantee that it couldn’t have been done better or cheaper by someone else – in a way that you find satisfactory. In other words, there’s no competition on welfare services. Instead, you and all the other millions of people in your nation are forced to donate to one specific welfare solution.
Another advantage of buying such services voluntarily is, that the agreement between you and the organization you buy it from is mutually binding – if they don’t live up the requirements, you can hold them accountable the way you’d do with e.g. an insurance, a restaurant etc. You can withdraw your subscription — or you can even get reimbursed and give the money to another provider that does a better job at helping the needy. Government welfare systems routinely fail at delivering the results that they promise to those that pay for them – and you cannot hold them individually accountable for the their failures.
Imagine that: In a free voluntary society, you would have welfare programs that yield ever better results at ever lower costs! Doesn’t that sound more appealing than your current sluggish, expensive system with poor results?