Social welfare is the promotion and distribution of material and physical aid by the government for citizens in need. It can come in the form of unemployment compensation, food stamps, or various social services ranging from drug rehabilitation to child care assistance. This sample politics essay explores why the United States and other developed nations need some type of societal welfare, arguing that while initiatives should be made to reduce the number of people on these programs, their infrastructure is good on the whole.
Well-being and social welfare
There are so many different methods of implementing and maintaining social welfare that it is difficult to broadly espouse or condemn the label. However, along with issues such as immigration and abortion, it is one of the most divisive issues in American politics. The common criticisms of social welfare, while sometimes valid, cannot be considered justifications for completely abolishing any government aid for people pushed into desperate situations by circumstances out of their control.
First of all, we will look at the criticisms of the concept of welfare throughout U.S. history. The more base and emotional criticism comes from social welfare’s seeming contradiction to two enduring aspects of American identity: free market competition and the ‘American Dream’.
Diehard proponents of the free market believe that any intervention on the part of the government will alter the most efficient growth of business. For example, assuming an industry or business fails, the subsequently unemployed workers will provide a labor resource for the competing industry or business that will inevitably fill the gap left in the market. If these unemployed workers receive social welfare, it is believed that this will slow down the growth of the market and the flow of competition.
Achieving the American Dream through welfare
The American Dream is the belief that the USA is an extremely meritocratic country where an individual’s success correlates to how hard he or she works. Many of those with faith in the American Dream believe that social welfare mars its purity. If people can receive benefits and services without working, the value of work will decrease and a culture of laziness will ensue. People will use loopholes and make excuses to receive social welfare and avoid working. Tax dollars will then be diverted from serving the public good to sustaining the livelihood of freeloaders.
The less conceptual criticisms of social welfare–although they tend to be easily hedged under the two previously described categories—focus on the inefficiency of welfare states and governmental programs and their spending. Inefficient spending may often increase dependency of citizens on the government, instead of guiding them towards independence and productivity (Jones, 2010). When governments reach deficit spending and need to cut programs, social welfare will often receive the brunt of these cuts, leading to disaster for those already in a situation with few options.
Capitalism in a welfare state
This dependence that leads to collapse is what the USA fears from a ‘welfare state,’ a country in which is citizens are unproductive and dependent on government spending. However, there is a great difference between creating a welfare state and providing a safety net. For example, concerning the situation proposed earlier of an industry or business collapsing, it must be acknowledged that the transition between jobs, especially lower level manufacturing or labor jobs, is not a smooth one for the worker, particularly if he or she needs to pay child care.
If there is an economic recession, a disaster, a radically automating new technology, or a labor market that opens up abroad, a safety net for the workers’ basic needs is necessary (Powers, 2010). These are all strenuous circumstances outside of the citizens’ control, and it can’t be assumed that through ingenuity and hard work they will be able to immediately better their situation.
Even if one believes social welfare affects the motivation of workers to achieve the American Dream in a negative way, there still must be a point where social welfare is considered necessary to achieve equal opportunity for children. There needs to be a social safety net for children in large single parent families with low income.
With a pragmatic perspective of these circumstances, it can easily be seen how tax dollars spent on social welfare for children can save tax dollars in the futures. Homelessness, injury, and crime are greater and more damaging social expenditures than social welfare. From this perspective, social welfare is not strictly an issue of conservative versus liberal government spending, but more a concern of how to prevent social ailments that may harm economic productivity (Frank, 2006).
Creating a better society for future generations
From the conservative side, social welfare and foodstamps is a necessary evil for extreme circumstances, but the more far left attitude towards social welfare, one where the state and market operate hand in hand, as opposed to being as estranged as possible, is not necessarily as catastrophic as might be expected by Americans. The current European economic crisis, besides the collapse of the Soviet Union, is often pointed to as the premier example of how government involvement in markets is catastrophic.
However, it is not necessarily the case that welfare spending caused the collapse (Krugman, 2012). The welfare states were criticized for slower economic growth, but their abundance of social safety nets also helped to slow down the recession (Bennhold, 2009). It has not been proven that what Americans consider an excess of social welfare is as deleterious to the society and economy as is assumed.
The two typical arguments against the very concept of social welfare that began this essay are meant to show that much of the antagonism and support for the abolishment of social welfare is a cultural prejudice that completely ignores the nuances of the economy and the lives of citizens. Whether or not social welfare should exist is not a productive question. Undoubtedly the state holds a certain level of obligation to its citizens, especially when there is a situation that is catastrophic to livelihoods. How, when, for how long, and under what circumstances should social welfare be implemented is the real argument that should take place.
Bennhold, K. (2009, January 27). Is europe’s welfare system a model for the 21st century?. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/business/worldbusiness/27iht-shift.4.19719958.html?pagewanted=all
Frank, R. H. (2006, November 23). The other milton friedman: A conservative with a social welfare program. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/23/business/23scene.html
Jones, J. M. (2010, September 17). A matter of political will. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/09/16/rising-poverty-and-the-social-safety-net/the-difficulty-in-expanding-social-welfare-is-one-of-political-will
Krugman, P. (2012, February 25). European crisis realities. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/25/european-crisis-realities/
Powers, E. T. (2010, September 17). We can afford aid programs. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/09/16/rising-poverty-and-the-social-safety-net/how-the-safety-net-changed