I am surprised and delighted to discover that The Welfare State We're In is to be the subject of a reading group led by Professor Meir Kohn at Dartmouth College, the American Ivy League university.
Here is the entry in the blog where it was announced:
Liberal Arts Excellence: Economics Reading Groups
by Zak Moore on September 25, 2008
This fall, two of Dartmouth’s most distinguished professors Meir Kohn and Douglas Irwin, both of the Economics Department, will be leading extracurricular reading groups. Both groups will meet on Monday evening; Professor Kohn’s will discuss The Welfare State We’re In by James Bartholomew and Professor Irwin’s The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.
If you’ll permit me to lapse in to a little commentary before proceeding with more specifics, these reading groups, it seems to me, are the essence of what an undergraduate, liberal arts education should be all about. Intimate interaction between professors and students, an exploration of critical thinkers and ideas, extracurricular engagement in academics, and an open exchange of ideas. The groups are also and especially exciting because while many students are well versed in Marx and Engels (I have had to read the Communist Manifesto for at least three classes at Dartmouth), far fewer are familiar with treatises on the free market. I know of not a single class that reads F.A. Hayek, for example, to say nothing of Mises, Bastiat, Smith, &c. And this is, after all, the economic (and political) system under which we purport to live!
By way of information (and advertisement for what I think are truly going to be great intellectual experiences) the groups will be held from 7-9pm. Groups will get together to discuss a section from their books over refreshments and, I’m sure, lively debate and discussion.
For Dartmouth students looking for more information, or to sign up, email:
The link to this blog entry is http://www.dartblog.com/data/2008/09/008173.php
Here is an email I have just received. I copy it here because sometimes I sense that people think that mine are 'ivory-tower' views. I have left off the name of the sender in case he/she wishes to remain anonymous.
I commute 3 hours a day to my job in London, as a NHS dentist in a
deprived area. In this most boring time I usually crave a good reading. Your book "The Welfare State We're In" accompanied me on my daily commute for the past week.
I am extremely disappointed with it because I paid £12.99 for it and I believed that it would keep me company for 2-3 weeks. However, its
content was so rich and irresistible that sadly it only lasted me for a week! I practically devoured it.
Your book was not exactly an eye-opener for me, as I had reached pretty much the same conclusions through the almost daily contact I have with the welfare state. I was amazed however by the strength and clarity of your argument and by all the evidence you've mustered to support it.
It saddens me to think that I considered myself a socialist before I
started working and it only took 3 years working in the coalface with
the welfare zombies to bring about a complete reversal of my beliefs. I have spoken with colleagues that shared the same beliefs and everyone has undergone a similar transition. You are very right to say that most middle- and upper-class people do not understand the real extent of the problem because they don't come in close contact with the welfare state.
Keep up the excellent work.
The Welfare State We're In is referred to in a Wall Street 'Econoblog' today by Arnold Kling, an adjunct scholar with the American think tank, the Cato Institute.
This is the relevant excerpt:
In a libertarian utopia, most families take care of themselves by working, saving, and purchasing insurance. Taxes are low, but charitable contributions are high, and most people who cannot take care of themselves are served by charities. As James Bartholomew points out in "The Welfare State State We're In," private charities have many advantages over government programs.
Andrew Roberts in his Saturday Essay in the Daily Mail today:
In 1938 only 3.8 million Britons paid income tax; by 2003 this had mushroomed to 30.07 million.
In his ground-breaking book 'The Welfare State We're In', James Bartholomew points out how most wages used to fall below the income tax threshold:
"The typical working man and his wife in 1950 lived an income-tax-free existence.
"They could keep every penny they earned. This simple fact made the two-parent family eminently viable. It was just left alone."
The benefits for society of this system were inestimable. Today those with well below average earnings are caught in the tax net, and as Bartholomew shows:
"The State has even brought about a situation where, in some cases, two parents are considerable better off living apart than together."
(I might add that the two parents on average earnings, in this instance, were assumed to have two children. Children's tax allowances were very substantial. They were much more efficient than Children's Tax Credits because every couple with children got the allowances automatically. Many couples with children who would be entitled to Children's Tax Credits do not get them because they either do not know about them or else cannot face the paperwork involved.)
Customer Reviews on the Amazon website as at 2nd October 2005
A rare and first rate examination of this taboo subject, September 26, 2005
Reviewer: jarmolkiewicz from London
This book is a well balanced and very thorough examination of all aspects of the British welfare state, including healthcare and education and the wider social impacts of welfare dependence. The arguments are well made and backed by comprehensive research and facts. It presents a worrying picture of the state we have got ourselves into. It is also worrying that so few have chosen to tackle such a major issue and thankfully this author has done a first rate job.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
If you only buy one book this year.........., March 26, 2005
Reviewer: chrisp12 from Notts United Kingdom
This book by Mr Bartholomew is a truly marvelous read. Page by page and using hundreds of references he gradually dismantles the illusions created over the last 50 years in relation to the Welfare State from the health service, education, social benefits, pensions and beyond. Mr Bartholomew gives credit to the true founders of the welfare state in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century, not those in the twentieth century that have persued an agenda beyond welfarism for their own political gain. A remarkable read !
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
The Scariest Book I Have Ever Read, March 19, 2005
Reviewer: amazonreplies2 from London
The NHS needlessly kills thousands of people each year by failing to do as well as an average healthcare system. If you have heart problems or cancer you're far more likely to die if you rely on the NHS than if you were to rely on more consumer-choice-driven healthcare systems that other countries have choosen. This is just one of the politically-unsayable facts this book uncovers.
This book scares me. It joins together the dots of many of the stories you have seen in the papers, and reveals a horrifying picture. The Welfare State is nothing short of a disaster. Everything to which it turns its hand ends up getting worse, as it creates perverse incentives and crowds out more-effective alternative provision.
Like everyone else, I believed that the NHS and state education could be better. What I didn't appreciate until reading this book was the shocking levels of failure in our public services. For example, 1 in 7 students leave school, after 11 years of full-time education, without passing a single GCSE-level exam. That's after senior schooling costing £5,500 per year. The only word for that is incompetence. The book is filled with page after page of similarly shocking statistics, showing how the welfare state hurts the poor, the sick and the vulnerable - and everyone else in Britain.
Typically the author provides some history of provision in a given area prior to the welfare state's intervention, details of the state's good intentions, anecdotes that show how things have changed for the worse and statistics that demonstrate that the anecdotes illustrate a wide-spread worrying trend. Bartholomew considers alternative explanations that might absolve the welfare state of blame. One by one he brings out statistics and arguments that demolish these alternative explanations, leaving us with the unpaletable truth that the welfare state does more harm than good.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful:
Read This and Ponder, January 26, 2005
Reviewer: 9f from Crawley, West Sussex United Kingdom
This is a book that is well worth reading, whatever your political orientation. It should certainly cause you to ponder the welfare state and its affect on the British people. Basically, the author's thesis is that the welfare state has created more problems than it solved and has also altered the character of the British people, causing them to become less civil and decent.
However, I wonder whether the author could be confusing cause and effect - perhaps the British people have become less decent and civil and that has caused the failure of the welfare state. Certainly my childhood recollections are that the welfare state worked tolerably well until the 1960s, when the old certainties and deferential attitudes were overthrown. Since then we have seen the triumph of "rights-ism" and rampant consumerism. The old idols have also gone - the British people have lost their faith in God and the royal family. Today's idols are footballers and politicians, with the latter rapidly falling out of favour, as they promise much and deliver little. The old villains have gone too. There are more and more laws and correspondingly less and less respect for them - most people break laws every day, so who are the real criminals?
A factor that the author seems to neglect is democracy - the British people have voted pretty consistently for the welfare state and don't look like changing any moment now. No one could possibly get elected by promising to do away with the National Health Service, no matter how bad it gets (and in my part of Sussex that is pretty bad). You may agree with the author that the welfare state is in a sorry mess and can only get worse but there seems to be no practical alternative. Perhaps in the long term pressure and competition from the rest of the world will trigger reforms in health, education, welfare and so on. I do not believe that this book alone will trigger the reforms that the author hopes for - but it is still an interesting, if depressing, read.
This book by James Bartholomew is a truly marvellous read. Using hundreds of references he gradually dismantles the illusions created during the last 50 years in relation to the welfare state from the health service, education, social benefits, pensions and beyond. The welfare state emerges without credit and appears nothing short of a disaster. Everything to which it turns its hand ends up worse, as it creates perverse incentives and crowds out more effective, alternate provision. Living in Bristol, in one of the worst performing wards in the United Kingdom, it is easy to understand Bartholomew's conclusion that one in seven students leave school without passing a single GCSE exam, but difficult to digest the incompetence. Page after page of shocking statistics show how the welfare state hurts the poor, the sick and the vulnerable and everyone else in Britain. Despite considering alternative explanations that might absolve the welfare state of blame, we are left with the unpalatable truth that the welfare state does more harm than good. I would like to believe that this book will trigger the necessary reforms so that our faith and confidence in government- provided welfare might be restored. Somehow I doubt it. This book deserves the strongest recommendation. The author presents complex evidence in a highly readable style, without over-simplification.
By RUSSELL LEWIS
March 3, 2005
Half a century ago George Orwell, like many others, was impressed by the gentleness, courtesy and orderliness of British life. It has been downhill ever since. This view rests not on nostalgia but on recorded fact.
Let's start with Britain's most popular game. In the 1930s, British football crowds were as orderly as church congregations. Today our soccer fans are a byword for aggressive violence. In the first-class matches in 1946-47 only 10 players were sent off. By the mid-'90s the total number of red cards issued in a season had reached 451. Hooliganism is not confined to our footballers and their supporters. In 2002, a survey by the travel company Expedia of tourist offices in 17 countries found that, for loutishness, British visitors were top of the league.
At home the yobbism of the football crowds is only magnified in the incidence of violent crime, which rose from 4,221 in 1898 to 331,843 in 1998-99. Even adjusting for population growth, that amounts to a 47-fold increase. The situation is actually worse than the numbers suggest, for the laws and their enforcement were stricter a century ago. Indeed, as one eminent authority, Professor Jose Harris, put it, "If Edwardian standards were applied in the '90s, most of the youth of Britain would be in gaol."
But at least we Brits still love our children, don't we? Well, not, it seems, in all cases. In recent times there has been a virtual epidemic of child abuse. Prosecutions for cruelty or neglect of children in England and Wales -- 228 in 1988 -- have since jumped more than threefold.
Drug use, once remarkably well-contained in this country, is now rife among English teenagers. According to a 1999 European Union survey, 41% of English youngsters between 15 and 16 years of age had tried cannabis -- the highest rate in Europe. Alcohol abuse is also expanding merrily, and not only among the lager louts in and out of the stadiums. When it comes to tippling, British women are way ahead of their sisters on the European mainland.
Dickens' Fagin would have found much to applaud in the activities of present-day English juveniles. According to a speech by then-Education Secretary Estelle Morris in April 2002, the proportion of all robberies committed by 10- to 16-year-olds during school hours was as follows: street robberies 40%; car thefts 33%; burglaries 25%; and criminal damage 20%. After reading that, it isn't surprising to learn that 9.9% of all schoolchildren skip class at least once a week.
Of course the ultimate source of these troubles is poor upbringing, fueled in part by the rise of illegitimacy. Between 1900 and 1960 births outside marriage averaged 4%-5% in the U.K. Today they are 40% of the total. This flouting of societal norms appears to have stimulated a corrupt attitude toward society's institutions: The Benefit Agency reports that over a quarter of the people it serves were definitely or possibly guilty of false claims -- not a very inspiring example to the offspring.
The reasons for this moral decline are as clear as the aforementioned statistics are bleak. As James Bartholomew argues in his recent book "The Welfare State We're In" (Politico's, 2004), the blame rests squarely on the growth of the welfare state, which has removed personal responsibility in large areas of people's lives and substituted dependency on the state and the rule of the bureaucrat. The state is complicit in the breakdown of the family; consider Mr. Bartholomew's example of how the state has promoted single-parent families by taxing married couples -- and abolishing the marriage allowance -- while giving increasing amounts of money to single parents.
No wonder, then, that from 1972 to 1992 the proportion of children living with a lone parent tripled to 21% from 7%. The link with rising crime is reflected in one shaming statistic: One-third of the people in U.K. prisons spent time in an orphanage at some time in their childhood. One prison governor, on being asked how many of the inmates had formerly been taken into foster care, replied: "Nearly all of them."
Indeed, the collapse of the traditional nuclear family has hit the poorest classes quite disproportionately, with nearly a quarter of girls whose fathers were unskilled workers becoming teenage mothers, mostly outside marriage. Divorces have risen sevenfold since 1960, and these also have been much more common among the poor.
Of course there are many examples of children being well raised by a single parent, but these are statistically dwarfed by the evidence that two-parent families are more successful in teaching discipline and respect for morality. With one parent -- most often the father -- missing from the picture, it is not surprising that children are more apt to run wild.
Free state education was intended to civilize the poor and improve their lot by fostering their intellectual and practical skills while also making them good citizens. The reality is that, rather than making up for the failures of a bad home background, schools in poor neighborhoods are generally the worst -- characterized by lack of discipline, high rates of bullying and crime, poor teaching, low grades and even unacceptably poor basic skills such as reading, writing and counting.
* * *
How depressing to watch the British people trampling upon their once-high reputation for civility and respect for law. Yet for this social breakdown -- for that is what it is -- they have only themselves, and the indulgent welfare society they demanded from the state, to blame.
Mr. Lewis is a former general director of the Institute of Economic Affairs
"a great combination of the statistical scholarship of Charles Murray's Losing Ground, the journalistic appeal of Jason DeParle's American Dream, and the realism of Mona Charen's Do-Gooders."
Jenifer Ziegler, Cato Institute.
It’s rare for a reviewer to describe a book on the welfare state as a ‘page-turner’ but it’s hard to think of a better way to describe for this meticulously-crafted demolition of the post-war consensus on social security, education, healthcare, housing, parenting, pensions, tax and just about everything else. And I emphasise the word consensus for, as James Bartholomew carefully explains, the villains of the piece include Churchill, Eden and Macmillan alongside the usual suspects. His principal target is the ubiquitous ‘Whig’ myth of progress:
The popular view of the origin of the welfare state goes something like this: after the Second World War, the Labour Party won the general election by a landslide. The new government was led by a studious-looking man called Clement Attlee and other men with confusingly similar names like Bevan and Bevin. They created the welfare state, which was a great achievement showing the humanity of the British people. Before then things were extremely harsh and if you stumbled in life you could easily end up in the gutter.
Rather than blaming it all on the spill-over from the war effort, Bartholomew claims that the rot set in as early as 1536. The first act of nationalisation was Henry VIII’s seizure of the monasteries, which had previously spent some ten per cent of their income on charitable work (alms, medical care etc.). Ten per cent may not sound much, but medieval income was land-based, the monasteries owned some one-third of the land in England, so monastic welfare must have accounted for around three per cent of GDP.
Realizing that her father had demolished the medieval welfare system at a stroke, Elizabeth I attempted to plug the gap with her ‘Poor Law’ of 1563, which obliged local parishes to look after their own paupers and for everyone else to pick up the tab. Fast-forward then to 1832 when Viscount Althorp, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House, announced in Parliament that he was setting up a royal commission to ‘ascertain how the different systems worked in different parishes’ (i.e. to address the serious problem of Poor Law welfare-dependency).
For the Elizabethan system was widely abused. In the words of Edwin Chadwick, the commission head, the pauper ‘need not bestir himself to seek work; he need not study to please his master; he need not put any restraint upon his temper.’ The parallels between early-Victorian pauperism and our own culture of welfare-dependency are uncanny: Gordon Brown appears to have lifted his working family tax-credits system directly from the 1795 Speenhamland system, whereby meagre wages were made up with a supplement from parish funds. But, as the commissioners reported, this led to farmers paying lower wages and hiring part-timers, subsidised by the parish. Plus ça change…
Bartholomew is careful to allow for the (frequently) good intentions of the advocates of state intervention in welfare and education. W.E. Forster, the architect of the 1870 Elementary Education Act, merely proposed ‘to complete the present voluntary system, to fill in the gaps’. Forster only wanted to create free state schools under ‘special circumstances’ in places of ‘exceeding poverty’ and would have been horrified to see his modest proposals lead to the replacement of the existing diversity of provision by a state monolith. Nevertheless the high levels of pre-1870 literacy (over 95 per cent) have now been replaced by the scandal of one in five adults being functionally illiterate after eleven years of full-time state education (DES, 1999). As Karl Popper was to observe a century later, every social action has unanticipated consequences which usually drown out the intentions of the original agents.
In the social security arena Lloyd George, Churchill and Beveridge wanted self-sufficiency and mutual support through friendly societies to continue. As a result the benefits introduced by the 1911 National Insurance Act were very selectively targeted and even after being made universal following the 1942 Beveridge Report, were still to be at the ‘subsistence’ level. The benefits should only be basic, otherwise they would discourage voluntary insurance and savings. What Beveridge failed to foresee was that subsequent generations of politicians (Eden, Macmillan and Wilson being the prime culprits) would raise benefits to the level that work itself became only marginally worthwhile. As Bartholomew demonstrates, increases in unemployment have shadowed increases in benefit rates almost exactly. And under New Labour, household savings levels have halved.
The author is not always so charitable in reporting the motives of political actors. According to Michael Foot, Nye Bevan’s biographer, the foundation of the NHS was attributed to Bevan’s ‘detestation of a class-ridden society’, his ‘belief in a collectivist cure’ and ‘his dream … that democratic processes and democratic vigour, intrepidly unleashed, could accomplish revolutionary ends.’ No mention of the quality of healthcare. Although Bartholomew doesn’t doubt the benign intentions of Beveridge’s proposals, the grandiloquent language in which they were expressed was a reflection of the author’s disappointment that his prodigious talents were being wasted on a ‘mere tidying-up exercise’. (Ernest Bevin, his political boss, asked him to write the report as a way of ‘getting rid of someone whom he had come to see as a pain in the neck.’). H.A.L. Fisher’s 1918 Bill to establish free schooling was prompted largely by military concerns, implicitly concurring with Bismarck’s view that the Prussian schoolmaster was the real architect of German unification. And Lloyd George’s national insurance proposals were a desperate attempt to secure the future of the Liberal Party by taking the wind out of the socialist sails (not to mention Churchill’s wish to make a name for himself).
Like his idol Margaret Thatcher, Bartholomew’s explanatory framework is thoroughly Marxian, albeit repackaged as ‘rational choice’ theory. Human behaviour is largely shaped by the economic infrastructure; ideology is an epiphenomenal and plays no causal role. Thus Thatcher didn’t waste time with communitarian waffle about the loss social capital, she just encouraged people to buy their own homes from the council. In a similar vein, Bartholomew claims that the cultural decadence that the Daily Mail (along with many readers of this magazine) sees as the cause of our modern malaise is in fact the consequence of the welfare state. As the Victorians discovered, get rid of welfarism and the result is moral regeneration.
Some historians claim that the Victorian revival was caused by the earlier evangelical revival, but Bartholomew would have no truck with that. The connection between traditional (non-state) welfare and religious charity is no coincidence and the relationship is mutually beneficial. Conversely, there is a direct correlation between the growth of the welfare state and the decline of the church. The decline of religion has nothing to do with modern scepticism; educated Victorians were a pretty cynical lot, yet they were still frantically building churches long after Darwin published his book, as the church played an essential role in welfare and education in Victorian Britain. Pace Callum Brown the decline of Christian Britain has nothing to do with cultural developments during the 1960s (although the Forsyte Saga certainly helped kill off Sunday evensong), otherwise the US would show an even greater decline in religious participation. Christian Socialism is an oxymoron in the sense that although it is possible for a Christian to be a socialist, state socialism sounds the death knell of Christianity. The one Western country where religion is still flourishing, the USA, is the only one to remain largely untouched by socialism.
The Welfare State We’re In is a bloody good book and deserves to sell by the truck-load. Everyone should read it – including Will Hutton (who kindly donated the title) and the Pollyanna Toynbees of this world. Bartholomew’s own banking apprenticeship shows in his clear presentation of financial data and statistics; his lucid prose-style – every sentence is carefully crafted for ease of understanding – owes a lot to his time as a leader writer at the Telegraph and Mail. Give the man a medal (and his courageous commissioning editor, Iain Dale).
Writers of critical reviews are obliged to find some fault with the work under consideration. In the case of a book as good as this, it’s a bit of a challenge! I’m reduced to the cheap jibe that the jacket illustration (fresh-faced youths in ‘hoodies’) might well have been lifted from a Next catalogue – the boys look remarkably like my son’s friends from his posh private school. And I might also complain that Gordon Graham’s comments on university education should be properly cited from his book Universities: The Recovery of an Idea (which I happened to publish).
In fact the author’s compelling presentation of the case against the welfare state is reminiscent of another of Professor Graham’s books, The Case Against the Democratic State. Both authors are left with the problem – OK doc, thank you for the diagnosis, but what about the cure? Gordon Graham concludes that even if an individual‘s vote cannot affect the outcome of an election, voting still provides an invaluable exercise in civic education. That may be good enough for a professor of moral philosophy but it’s not much help for those of us interested in constitutionalism and political science. Does Bartholomew have anything better to suggest as to how we might undo the appalling mess he uncovers in his book? He takes heart from the close parallel between our present condition and the report of the 1834 royal commission on the Poor Laws. Edwin Chadwick’s team reported that:
Moral character is annihilated, and the poor man of years ago, who tried to earn his money, and was thankful for it, is now converted into an insolent, discontented, surly, thoughtless pauper, who talks of ‘rights and income’.
As a result, the commissioners proposed that virtually all welfare benefits paid to people outside the poorhouses should be abolished and the regime of the poorhouses should be made far tougher. Parliament accepted the report and implemented its recommendations in the same year (1834). As a result the Victorian era was a period of dramatic economic growth, low unemployment, plummeting crime levels and the re-invigoration of both middle-class charitable giving and self-provision among working people. In 1885 the combined incomes of London charities came to more than the revenue of several European governments and the average middle-class household spent more on charity than on housing or clothing. Most of the workers covered by the 1911 National Insurance Act were already insured through their friendly society or trade union.
Most readers of this journal would agree that the 1834 quotation is also an accurate description of our current malaise. But is it conceivable that a modern parliament would act with same radical decisiveness? The Great Reform Act of 1832 extended the franchise, but in no conceivable sense were the beneficiaries of welfare ‘represented’ in Parliament. By contrast thirty-eight per cent of voters are now in receipt of means-tested benefit and nine out of ten families are able to claim the (means-tested) children’s tax credit. Governments of all persuasions compete with each other to provide ever more generous benefits, by bribing electors with their other people’s money.
In the light of gerrymandering on this scale it’s inconceivable that any parliament would be able to act as decisively as the Parliament of 1834. Some of us were gullible enough to believe New Labour slogans about ‘thinking the unthinkable’ in welfare reform but remember what happened to Frank Field. The sad truth is that a revolution in the welfare state will only happen after equally dramatic constitutional changes. To the barriers!
Keith Sutherland is author, The Party’s Over: Blueprint for a Very English Revolution.
[he above is the unedited draft of the review. I am grateful to Keith Sutherland for emailing it to me.]
The system that destroyed civility
Peter Lilley reviews The Welfare State We're In by James Bartholomew
Twenty years ago a radical critique of the war on poverty was published in America. Its conclusions were unacceptable to the liberal intelligentsia. They were rejected by all political parties. Its author was vilified. But, ultimately, it became one of the most influential books on social policy of recent decades. It sparked off a wave of welfare reform that even Bill Clinton had to endorse. That book was Losing Ground by Charles Murray. It catalogued how the war on poverty, far from reducing it, had helped to generate an important new source of poverty – fatherless families.
James Bartholomew's lucid, well-illustrated book reaches equally unacceptable conclusions. It will probably suffer similar treatment by the liberal media, but it may prove just as influential in Britain as Losing Ground was in America.
The Welfare State We're In is broader in scope. Bartholomew covers the whole welfare state including health, education and housing, not just social security. And he traces the history well beyond the post-war period when most people assume the welfare state began.
He shows the extraordinary vitality and extent of social provision – most of it voluntary and funded by individual subscription or charitable giving – that existed long before Beveridge. Many young people I talk to assume that the NHS built most of our hospitals after the war. In fact, nearly all were built long before the NHS, which simply nationalised them, closed many small ones and built no new hospitals for years. Still fewer people are aware that school attendance may well have been higher before it was made compulsory in 1870 than it is now – given current truanting levels.
More significant than what existed before 1948 is the failure of each component of the welfare state to live up to its founders' admirable intentions. Bartholomew has unearthed the pamphlet setting out the "Labour Party's Post-War Policy for a National Service for Health", which based the case not primarily on the inadequacy of provision for the poor but on the need for "efficient" central planning to replace the "unplanned… medley of public and voluntary institutions". Neither lengthy waiting lists nor poor hygiene then merited a mention. It took a centrally-planned NHS to achieve the longest waiting times and most infectious hospitals in Europe.
The author's most controversial thesis is that the welfare state is largely responsible for the decline in civility and rise in crime since it came into being. He argues that the voluntary arrangements which preceded the welfare state fostered self-reliance and self-respect. And he links the decline in both the two-parent family and the extended working-class family to the combined impact of benefits and brutal rehousing on soulless council estates. I suspect secularism and affluence also played their part. He is weaker in explaining why the destruction of civility has been so much greater here than in other countries that have adopted welfare states. Maybe our system is more comprehensive, centralised and hostile to the family than even the more lavishly funded welfare states abroad.
The unacceptable implications of this book are that we should never have established the welfare state and should now dismantle it. It is impossible to tell whether the extensive voluntary and limited state provision which predated the welfare state would have evolved successfully to ensure better provision for all – particularly the least well-off – than we currently offer. Even if it had, I am sure many on the Left would find inferior state provision morally preferable to more generous voluntary provision.
If you are persuaded that, had the welfare state not existed, we would now have much better provision for all, it still does not follow that dismantling it will result in the same nirvana. Hysteresis in social affairs, as in physics, means that a system once distorted does not necessarily return to its previous shape when the distorting force is removed. If the welfare state has damaged the national character as badly as Bartholomew argues, it will be all the harder to restore a situation which requires the virtues of generosity and self-respect.