Security & Welfare: Bankruptcy or New Visions?

As I continue my reviewing of Bobbitt’s book, The Shield of Achilles…

If the Nation State (which in Bobbitt’s usage is the form national states have taken, beginning with the American Civil War) is predicated on providing security from enemies and maximizing the welfare of citizens, we have made clear progress in the past century and a half.

We have found, however, that defense against ALL possible enemies and dangers is rather complicated and expensive. Ok, some have found that, while others still see this as the central role of the state.

When will we discover that assigning the State the responsibility for maximizing the welfare of citizens is probably even more infinite – and thus bankrupting? “Welfare” for citizens keeps evolving, ever upward. It doesn’t stop with indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and internet access. Welfare as health care doesn’t stop with a hospital in every region, with medical care available to all.

Can we contemplate that there are some good things that the State cannot do? Or, more radically, shouldn’t do?

One change we see is the outsourcing of national security to private contractors. Surely a bad thing, since they won’t always do it the right way (when national security was the sole province of the State, the State always did it right, didn’t it?).

Can we imagine that welfare might be outsourced as well? By this I don’t mean that the State sets up a “welfare” program and then contracts its operation out to various companies. That may or may not be a good idea – I’m agnostic. But what happens if, from the bottom up, groups, whether profit or not, come to take it upon themselves to increase the welfare of others? What if this were more than just the rise of lobbying groups seeking to pressure the State to expand welfare assurance to this or that area?

Doubtless these groups will not have the power of the state. They will not be able to raise limitless amounts of cash, via taxation. They will not enjoy the power of compulsion, via the law. They will not have the universal breadth of vision and span of care via the national system. But aren’t theses myths anyway? It’s certainly a myth that the State can raise limitless amounts of cash. Even if we have a 100% marginal rate for all income over a certain amount, I doubt we will have enough to meet the demands. If we enact laws compelling people to do the right thing (even to the extent of using the correct lightbulbs – regardless of cost – and eating the right foods – regardless of taste), I doubt all people will sit by quietly.

The churches already have a heritage of seeking to improve the welfare of others, both near and far. Sometimes this welfare is not just the same version of welfare sought by the State, but forms distinctive to the Gospel.

What do you think?

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