The Welfare State We're In, The website of the book by James Bartholomew
September 26, 2008
American professor to lead reading group discussing 'The Welfare State We're In'

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

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March 19, 2007
I considered myself a socialist before...

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.

Dear Sir,

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.


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February 07, 2007
In The Wall Street Journal online

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.

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March 25, 2006

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."

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October 02, 2005
Customer Reviews on the Amazon website

Customer Reviews on the Amazon website as at 2nd October 2005

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October 01, 2005
Old Cliftonian magazine review of The Welfare State We're In

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.

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June 20, 2005
Wall Street Journal Europe - commentary by Russell Lewis


Unruly Britannia

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.

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Jenifer Ziegler, Cato Institure

"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.

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May 05, 2005
Right Now magazine - review by Keith Sutherland

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.

Not so.

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March 24, 2005
Review by Peter Lilley

The system that destroyed civility
(Filed: 09/01/2005)

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.

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