Andrew Sullivan writes:
The two concepts are usually seen in complete opposition in our political discourse. The more capitalism and wealth, the familiar argument goes, the better able we are to do without a safety net for the poor, elderly, sick and young. And that’s true so far as it goes. What it doesn’t get at is that the forces that free market capitalism unleashes are precisely the forces that undermine traditional forms of community and family that once served as a traditional safety net, free from government control. In the West, it happened slowly – with the welfare state emerging in 19th century Germany and spreading elsewhere, as individuals uprooted themselves from their home towns and forged new careers, lives and families in the big cities, with all the broken homes, deserted villages, and bewildered families they left behind. But in South Korea, the shift has been so sudden and so incomplete that you see just how powerfully anti-family capitalism can be:
[The] nation’s runaway economic success … has worn away at the Confucian social contract that formed the bedrock of Korean culture for centuries. That contract was built on the premise that parents would do almost anything to care for their children — in recent times, depleting their life savings to pay for a good education — and then would end their lives in their children’s care. No Social Securitysystem was needed. Nursing homes were rare.But as South Korea’s hard-charging younger generations joined an exodus from farms to cities in recent decades, or simply found themselves working harder in the hypercompetitive environment that helped drive the nation’s economic miracle, their parents were often left behind. Many elderly people now live out their final years poor, in rural areas with the melancholy feel of ghost towns.
The result is a generation of the elderly committing suicide at historic rates: from 1,161 in 2000 to 4,378 in 2010. The Korean government requires the elderly to ask their families for resources if they can pay for retirement funding – forcing parents to beg children to pay for their living alone – a fate they never anticipated and that violates their sense of dignity. Hence the suicides.
We can forget this but the cultural contradictions of capitalism, brilliantly explained in Daniel Bell’s classic volume, are indeed contradictions. The turbulence of a growing wealth-creating free market disrupts traditional ways of life like no other. Even in a culture like ours used to relying from its very origins on entrepreneurial spirit, the dislocations are manifold. People have to move; their choices of partners for love and sex multiply; families disaggregate on their own virtual devices; grandparents are assigned to assisted living; second marriages are as familiar as first ones; and whole industries – and all the learned skills that went with them – can just disappear overnight (I think of my own profession as a journalist, but it is one of countless).
Capitalism is in this sense anti-conservative. It is a disruptive, culturally revolutionary force through human society. It has changed the world in three centuries more than at any time in the two hundred millennia that humans have lived on the earth. This must leave – and has surely left – victims behind. Which is why the welfare state emerged. The sheer cruelty of the market, the way it dispenses brutally with inefficiency (i.e. human beings and their jobs), the manner in which it encourages constant travel and communication: these, as Bell noted, are not ways to strengthen existing social norms, buttress the family, allow the civil society to do what it once did: take care of people within smaller familial units according to generational justice and respect. That kind of social order – the ultimate conservative utopia – is inimical to the capitalist enterprise.
Which is why many leaders in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, conservatives as well as liberals, attached a safety net to such an unsafe, bewildering, constantly shifting web of human demand and supply. They did so in part for humane reasons – but also because they realized that unless capitalism red in tooth and claw were complemented by some collective cushioning, it would soon fall prey to more revolutionary movements. The safety net was created to save capitalism from itself, not to attack capitalism.
Read more here.