Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Neoliberal Nanny State

I don't like welfare (as opposed to social insurance), but I really don't like intrusive means testing for welfare recipients if we must have welfare programs. Of course, I don't approve of drug use either. What is the alternative? Why not just have the State directly employ people, in public works or state-owned industries if need be? Then any drug testing can be made rationally related to work performance and not just a way to essentially humiliate people who are already miserable.

There used to be a time when socialism/social democracy was seen as an important weapon against the nagging problem of substance abuse among the poor. Now that the State refuses to intervene to create or protect high-wage, high-status employment and just pays people to be idle instead of directly employing them (because that would be Marxism!), we are supposed to be surprised when they turn to drugs.

On a related note, is it just me or has the nanny state expanded alongside neoliberalism? It may seem counterintuitive, but as the State receded in some areas (deregulation, privatization, etc.) it became much more intrusive in other areas, such as family life (for example, divorce liberalization has resulted in much more governmental meddling in family affairs), that used to be considered mostly private. Today, it seems as if the dominant impulse is to control and manage the poor instead of helping to uplift the unfortunate through appropriate public action.


  1. Hi John!

    Very good points this post. One of the problems with modern welfare liberalism (of the sort you're describing here) is that - being in large part a reaction to Marxian strands of socialism or at least a palliative to socialist demands - it does to a significant extent emphasise material benefits over intellectual / ethical / philosophical ones.

    I think more than anything else, we don't need less socialism so much as better socialists. Ones who recognise that man cannot live on bread alone, but also require a dignified existence and a degree of situated independence, not only from Gudge but from Hudge as well. Ones who understand that we don't need more McJobs from mythical corporate 'job creators', but rather legal (and fiscal, and monetary) conditions in which working-class people can organise and employ themselves (with a possible Ruskinite option of government-as-employer-of-last-resort).

    Just a few thoughts. Great post!


  2. Hello Mr. Cooper,

    I agree with you. I even think some Keynesians are afflicted with the kind of "job creation" mania that ignores what kinds of jobs are being created and simply cheers “job growth.”

    I support Keynesian macroeconomic management (especially the Post-Keynesian variety), but at the micro level of the firm, I am more of a distributist/guild socialist, at least as an ideal.

  3. Why don't you like welfare? I think it's important for those who can't get a job immediately. I'm in favor of more employment and job protection too, but everyone's situation is different. Same with divorce: what of the woman suffering in a domestic abuse relationship? Divorce liberalization isn't necessarily meddling with families, I think it can provide a life saving service.

  4. Hello JM,

    Thank you for the comments. Regarding welfare, in the case of a person who cannot work, I am in favor of social insurance, such as Social Security. However, for those who can work, I would prefer something along the lines of a job guarantee system.


    To be sure, I am not in favor of Soviet-style labor conscription. For example, I do not think that mothers should be conscripted into the workforce. Instead, I would support a family allowance for all couples with children.

    Regarding divorce, the problem with the modern no-fault system of divorce is that it is essentially used for any or no reason, not just for extreme cases of spousal abuse, for exmple.

    Divorce liberalization has reduced marriage to notarized dating, with the marital contract worth less than most business contracts. And unsurprisingly, poorer families have been damaged most by this state of affairs.

  5. Regarding divorce, I don't think marriage contracts should be taken so seriously, some people want to get married while others don't and sometimes problems within a marriage happen, thus I think divorce should be available to all.

  6. The problem with liberal divorce law is that it sows caprice into society. It also elevates the needs of individuals above the family unit (especially children) and the society's interest in maintaining stable families.

    Easy divorce under neoliberal capitalism has been especially unfortunate, as the poorer sections of society find themselves increasingly unable to maintain stable marriages under the strain of an oppressive socio-economic system.