Posts Tagged ‘France’

The United States has long had a larger welfare state than most other Western democracies. Surprised? You may not be aware of the new research on “net social spending.”

Net social spending includes not just government expenditures on social programs, but also tax credits for social purposes and, as a debit, government taxation of social benefits. It turns out that many of the so-called “generous” European welfare states tax social benefits at a high rate. Meanwhile, the United States uses the tax code to help the poor, through the Earned Income Tax Credit. We should also include mandatory private social payments, which are not directly paid by the government.

Using the OECD data, I have plotted total net social expenditure over time for 26 rich countries (click the image to zoom in).

the united states has a bigger welfare state than most other democracies

As of 2009, the United States had the second largest welfare state in the world, at 28.8% of GDP. Only France, at 32.1%, had a bigger one. Moreover, while all advanced industrial societies show a growth in the welfare state from 2005 to 2009, due to economic conditions, the U.S. also had a big runup in welfare spending between 1999 and 2007. In 1995, U.S. net social spending stood at just 22.7% of GDP, although even that figure was higher than those for Denmark, Canada, Italy, Norway, Australia, Ireland, and South Korea. So far as we have data, the U.S. has always had a larger-than-average welfare state.

Read Full Post »

According to the BBC, a new French law makes it “compulsory for drivers to carry a breathalyser kit in their vehicles or risk an on-the-spot fine.”  This new mandate, of course, is designed for safety.  I mean, what else could it be for?  An MSN article on the new law dutifully reports this aspect: “About 4,000 people each year are killed in traffic accidents in France, and many are alcohol-related. The government hopes the new law saves at least 500 lives annually.”  End of story, right?  No.

The MSN article that first caught my attention only mentions the new law and the safety angle.  After reading it, my first thought was that there must be an organized interest behind the law that stands to make a ton of money.  Fortunately, the MSNBC article provides a link to the BBC story.  And there, we see “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say):

Tens of millions of the kits are going to have to be supplied, but right now there is a shortage, which is one reason for the four-month grace period, our correspondent says.  He adds that the new rule is proving a bonanza for manufacturers, of which there are only two in France. Meanwhile, drivers’ groups opposing the measure say it has been foisted on France by clever industry lobbying.

I have no doubt that there were some well-intentioned people hoping and arguing for such a policy change.  And drunk-driving is a scourge on the driving public.  But I bet that the clinching argument was made by lobbyists representing the manufacturers.  Once again, we see Baptists and Bootleggers working together to increase the scope of the state to satisfy their self-interest.

Read Full Post »

For the first time in history, Britain has vetoed a new EU treaty. The purpose of the treaty was to impose tough new limits on budget deficits of member states. David Cameron argues that the new treaty would open the door to new financial regulations that would disadvantage Britain. His move is likely to prove popular in the UK, where a bare majority of voters with an opinion on the question favors leaving the EU altogether. The Europhiles at The Economist, however, are unimpressed. The remaining EU members appear headed for a new treaty technically outside the auspices of the European Union (however, there are obstacles, as Britain will likely insist that no EU resources be used for the new institutions).

From a strictly economic point of view, however, it was always unclear why Britain and other non-eurozone member states needed to be part of the treaty. Large budget deficits in Britain no more threaten the euro’s stability than do large budget deficits in Sweden or the United States. The European Central Bank has no reason to monetize British debt, and while British default – a highly unlikely prospect to begin with – would surely harm the European financial system, the ECB presumably would intervene in such an event by supporting financial institutions within Eurozone countries. As ever, the construction of new economic-policy powers for EU institutions is about politics: building a political-economic bloc with stronger economic bargaining power. Pay attention to Sarkozy.

Read Full Post »

David French writes of what he calls “Entitlement Derangement Syndrome,” which he thinks is motivating what we’re seeing in Wisconsin—namely, aggressive protesting over benefits and pensions, as if we had some kind of natural right to them. He likens the Wisconsin protesting to what went on in France last October when they wanted to raise the retirement age to 62.

I think this points to an unanticipated negative consequence of the welfare state: It corrupts people’s moral sensibilities. More specifically, it encourages people to ignore, violate, and even pretend does not exist a central, foundational moral premise of politics, namely that it is wrong to live at others’ expense.

Now of course that premise has to be properly qualified. Children may live at their parents’ expense; adults who have entered into marriages, partnerships, contracts, or other voluntary associations may live at each others’ expense; and sometimes people have to live at the expense of others’ charity.

But able-bodied adults should not live at the unwilling expense of others. And they certainly have no right to live at unwilling others’ expense. That is why forced labor and slavery are wrong. Forced labor and slavery are wrong not because they are costly or because they are inefficient; they are wrong even if they were inexpensive and efficient. They are wrong because it is wrong to live at unwilling others’ expense.

The welfare state clouds that moral intuition, which should be among our most deeply held. Indeed, the welfare state has not only clouded that intuition, it seems it has entirely inverted it. Thus we have people who believe they are entitled to live at others’ expense, even when those others are in debt, having great difficulty of paying their own way, and thus want to pay less.

It is demeaning for adults to live from the charity of others, even when the charity is voluntary. Even when offered with the best of intentions, it can weaken the recipients’ moral fiber and the power of their independent judgment, reducing them to “kept” status—which is why it is to be avoided except when absolutely necessary. But when the support is not charity and thus not voluntary, it is all the more morally suspect.

The fact that so many people, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, can behave and speak as if they nevertheless have a right to the fruits of others’ labors does not change the character of the reality. If they thought that their case warranted overriding the standard moral prohibition of living at others’ expense, then they should, and presumably would, make the case for why that is. But they make no such case. That suggests they don’t believe any such case has to be made. And that is the kind of moral confusion that I think the welfare state can foster.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: