Chapter 2: Welfare
2.1 Welfare in a Free America
Having grown up in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, most of us have a narrow mental window through which to view the subject of human welfare and insurance. It is almost impossible for us to imagine a world in which Social Security, Medicare, and multiple other State-funded benefits do not exist. This world seems like the norm because it’s the way it’s always been: States by definition provide social security and social insurances for old age and the needy. But that’s not the way it’s always been. . . .
Welfare in a Free America
There are still a quite a few people out there who can remember the time prior to the passage of America’s first Social Security Act in 1935. Aside, perhaps, from some memories associated with the Great Depression (which was both an uncommon and temporary event), they can vouch for what I am about to express in this brief discussion: In a free society, cradle-to-grave welfare issues are a matter only of private individuals, families, and private enterprise and contracts.
Further, contrary to popular assumption today, these people can also vouch that in such a society, people did not commonly go hungry or starve in old age, nor go bankrupt and become homeless due to medical expenses, or any of the many nightmare scenarios that are brought up any time privatization is discussed. Those things simply did not happen except in extraordinary circumstances, as they still do today in extraordinary circumstances despite vast socialistic measures. In other words, in a free society, private welfare and insurance are both the principle and a viable practice.
The Principle of Welfare in a Free Society
First, let’s talk about the principle of freedom in welfare. A truly free society will exercise individual liberty and responsibility in all the areas of human welfare—health insurance, old-age or retirement insurance or planning, survivors benefits, disability, unemployment, and all things of that nature. Free people learn and work to make provisions, plan, manage, and take care of themselves and their own families. And in turn, in time of need, they are taken care of by their own private arrangements, their own private funds, insurance benefits, and their own family to the extent that need be—and preferably, they will have a combination of each of these things.
As long as the State, however, is involved in funding and/or regulating any of these matters, we do not have a free society. The State is by definition an agency of the use of legal coercion. The civil government is by definition, an agency of force. To argue for anything to be placed under the proper responsibility of civil government is to say that it is right in the eyes of God to use force—even threats of lethal force, if necessary—in order to compel people to do that thing. In areas of remuneration or restitution for crime, legal force makes sense; but this by definition is the negation of freedom. A criminal who is under civil penal sanctions is to that degree a slave (and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution allows for this explicitly), because the very nature of being compelled is by definition a loss of liberty. Coercion is servitude. But since this is so, the more we expand the State’s power to coerce people, the more we deny freedom and liberty in society. And so, the very moment we begin to expand the State’s functions and institutions beyond the proper punishment of crime, that same moment we begin to make slaves out of free men. And thus, the moment we begin to subject basic human cradle-to-grave issues beneath the coercive arm of civil government—that is, to legitimize the Welfare State to the slightest degree—is to subvert a free society.
In fact, there are many people who argue for the existence and expansion of the Welfare State because they consciously believe it is legitimate to use violence or threats of force in order to make society as they see it virtuous, or equitable, or whatever virtue they wish to use to make their intentions appear as good intentions. Many liberals and progressive have long since been very open about this very belief; and many conservatives, by the way, hold the same belief, although they are less often open about it, or are sometimes unconscious of it. The belief in State coercion, however, must be seen for what it is: anti-Christian, unbiblical, and against every reasonable idea of liberty on which this country was settled and founded. It is certainly opposed to any idea of individual liberty and responsibility.
There was certainly no Welfare State when Thomas Jefferson penned those immortal words “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There was none when Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanack and started his own printing and news business; none designed by the framers of the Constitution, and subsequently there was no Welfare State in American through virtually all of the nineteenth century (although it did begin to creep in as we shall see). There was no Welfare State in the original American Way, and there certainly are people still living today who can remember living before the imposition of that system. And they can tell you, it was a family-based society, and human welfare was a family-based and business-based affair. And it worked.
The Practice of Welfare in a Free Society
So let’s discuss the practice of Welfare in a free society. It practice, in must be family-based. The family is the basic Welfare unit of society, the church secondarily. There is the reality of social debt: you come into this world helpless and with no property. You are entirely dependent upon the love and provision of your parents. This dependence runs longer for humans than any other living being in the natural world—anywhere, normally, from 18 to 20 or more years. During nearly this entire period, you are indebted to the welfare provided by your parents. Parents have a moral obligation to provide this welfare in the form of food, clothing, shelter, and education (as well as many intangibles like discipline, love, etc.). In turn, as children remain indebted for these many years of provision, they can repay their familial debt if their parents need provision and care in their elderly years. In the typical family scenario, there is always at least one bread winner distributing food to several dependents.
The cementing of this family commitment has been, for some two thousand or so years, the marriage vow. This is a binding oath—legally binding—that binds the two into a covenant of, among other things, perpetual welfare of each other and their progeny. We tend to lose sight of the very weighty, material side of the promise being made in the marital oath; it gets obscured by the romantic feelings, and flowers and kisses, and the cake and the champagne. But take a listen again to what is actually being said in those vows. Here’s the traditional vow from the Anglican prayer book which is the basis for nearly all of American Protestants:
The groom says, “I ,____, take thee ,_____, to my lawful wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”
The bride promises essentially the same thing with minor though important differences. Then, as the groom places the ring on the bride’s finger, he says the following:
With this Ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Now look at that: a large portion of these vows pertains to a commitment of material wealth and for material health (in sickness and in health) until death. And towards these ends the vow includes a pledge of the devotion of the person’s body (in other words, all of their physical capacity and labor), and their worldly goods. This is a welfare program, period. And, by the way, it is the original pre-nuptual agreement—because, until after this vow is taken and the marriage consummated, the covenant is not in force. The vow is taken, technically, before the marriage is final (though as part of the process). The idea of a pre-nuptual agreement today we think of as something a rich partner does to limit the risk of his or her wealth in the event of a divorce (in other words, to limit the scope of the traditional vow on his material wealth). In effect, it is divorce protection. But this was not the original and normal idea of marriage. The original and fundamental pre-nuptual agreement is the traditional marital vow, and it is a binding, legal oath to provide for the partner’s welfare and health until death (with exceptions, of course, for adultery or sometimes abandonment). And it was legally enforceable.
It is not surprising, then, by the way, that with the rise of the Welfare State has come the corresponding decline of the family in society, and the outright cheapening of marriage through easy, no-fault divorce. In other words, the State-dominated system has helped destroy the nature of the marriage commitment for most people (and for some, for example the Marxist and other secular traditions, it was consciously designed to do so).
So in the original American way, and in fact throughout the West for most of Western, especially Christian, history, the marriage vow was the foundation of social insurance—both for the provision and education of children, and for old-age and elderly care.
But the same was true of health care: it was primarily carried out by the family. The church did have a large role in the creation of hospitals in the middle ages, but these were not widely used by the populations, especially not in the way we view hospitals and doctors today. Yet when they did use them, it was a private affair, and often accompanied by charity from the sponsoring church—not the State. But since health care was largely decentralized with families funding their own as need be, there has always been—in America at least, until more recent times—a broad base of health care providers in the free market.
In addition to this, in the nineteenth century, there was a tremendous development of private insurance companies of all kinds—life, fire, travel, shipping, crop, deposit, and even eventually reinsurance, which is insurance for insurance companies that face losses in payments. People learned quickly that by paying a small premium they could pool their risk and protect themselves against losses. Constant advances in actuarial tables, competition between companies kept premiums affordable, and most importantly, the fact that it remained in the free markets and the companies did not have state regulation or backing, kept premiums affordable.
In the original free American way, the government was not involved in funding or managing these affairs, nor was it involved in any such redistribution of wealth. The only legal aspect to the whole thing would have been first, the enforceable aspects of the marriage vow which itself had only been entered into freely. Once having taken the oath, if a party abdicated on its responsibility to either spouse or children, the government could enforce sanctions in relation to that oath—this protected the innocent and the children. And second would have been the enforceable aspects of insurance contracts which had also had been entered into freely.
Benefits of Freedom in Welfare
Now, this ideal of liberty in human welfare has the following beneficial features
First, individuals retain sovereignty over their own decisions regarding retirement, old age, health, and all forms of insurance. It’s your decision, not some bureaucrat’s. (If, however, you prefer it to be someone else’s decision, you are certainly free to contract with someone for such consultation; but in a free society, you’re not allowed to demand or force anyone else pay for those decision.)
Second, there’s a much greater value placed on the family. When that happens, more families stick together. Marital vows return as the basis of human society. Churches and private-based charities are restored. This also restores the true nature of charity as voluntary care for the helpless, and it decentralizes the determinations of who truly deserves of aid. Both of these things inhibit those who would take advantage of charitable systems, yet at the same time allow for latitude in those decisions from charity to charity.
Third, property is protected. No one confiscates your property for redistribution, and you don’t demand or even accept anyone else’s property to be confiscated and given to others.
Fourth, the civil government cannot penalize anyone who has not committed a crime, and it cannot impose obligations without your consent either in a vow or a contract freely entered into. You can choose to abstain from a marital vow, insurance contract, or any other situation that may obligate you to pay taxes or fines or penalties or premiums (this means, of course, you also choose to accept the consequences of such a choice, should you have to face them in a time of need—you will fall upon the mercy of charity should there be any for you). But, also, the state would uphold vows and contracts in a court of law. Only these would be legally enforceable.
Fifth, the next generation has obligations to the previous primarily in regard to its familial connections. Parents, in turn, must be honored and respected (this is the fifth commandment!). This being so, the government will not be operating an inter-generational ponzi scheme (which is essentially the nature of social security).
So as with education in a free America, we can easily see that the original way preserved individual freedom and responsibility in both principle and practice. Welfare was a matter of individual and family liberty, and it worked.
These principles are not only traditionally American, but they are also biblical in that they uphold the integrity of the family, family legacies and trusts, and the honoring of parents and protection of inheritance. That’s social freedom—that’s freedom in social security and insurance.
So, why don’t we have such a free society, or anything like it, anymore? How was this freedom lost? How did our society come to be dominated by so-called “cradle-to-grave” programs administered by a paternal state? Why do we have a massive Welfare State where a free society once was? As with the discussion of the state takeover of education, the answer is as illuminating as it is dark in what it reveals. We’ll cover that in the next section.