How Capitalism Creates the Welfare State

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.

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  • Sam Renee
    • mannyfurious

      For a thorough beat down, please see: https://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/andrew-sullivan

      • Gordon

        On the SHAME sister site, Exiled, you’ll find a link to a great story on the true origins of capitalism (http://exiledonline.com/tag/the-invention-of-capitalism/)

        This article actually reiterates many of the same things Sullivan’s article says above. Can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater….

      • rtb61

        Oh my, lame arse number two, either make an effort to comment or just go away with pathetic attempts to up your advertising revenue by dumping links all over the place.

        • sonicbphuct

          they may very well both be doing that, however, those beat downs seem pretty deserved. Of course, in this instance, he’s right. Capitalism (as we implement it) has no room for alternative cultures. But i’d like to see the link where he deals with his “transformation”. I’ll give him a listen to – not everyone is a cardboard cut out.

          • mannyfurious

            The problem is that Sullivan is trying to pass himself off as something he’s not because there’s more money and praise to be made from doing so. He may not be a cardboard cutout, but he is a fake, a phony, a poser. He’s never taken responsibility for what he wrote in the past. Instead he pretends it never happened.

          • sonicbphuct

            So, after another re-read, with these other things in context, this just seems to tailgate on more of the “i’m a libertarian” that Beck and others are doing – some effort to right the rebulican ship or something. Yet, somehow, after reading some of his other works, I have to wonder just what his agenda is. Is it purely so schmarmy, or like his march into war with Iraq, is it part of some larger “mission”? Surely this guy has an audience in the Tea Baggers, what is his purpose now?

          • sonicbphuct

            So, after another re-read, with these other things in context, this just seems to tailgate on more of the “i’m a libertarian” that Beck and others are doing – some effort to right the rebulican ship or something. Yet, somehow, after reading some of his other works, I have to wonder just what his agenda is. Is it purely so schmarmy, or like his march into war with Iraq, is it part of some larger “mission”? Surely this guy has an audience in the Tea Baggers, what is his purpose now?

          • mannyfurious

            He’s really smart in a way. When it was popular and profitable to be a war-mongering, Islamaphobe “journalist,” that’s how he made his name. Now he’s hedging his bets by ringing the Libertarian bells and by, apparently, criticizing capitalism. If Libertarianism loses steam, he’ll always be able to point toward articles like this one, saying he was always “concerned” or “skeptical” or “questioning” of the Capitalistic process. If Libertarianism continues to be fairly popular, he can always act like this article never happened.

        • mannyfurious

          Ad revenue? I’m sharing an article that I enjoyed. I suppose I could’ve passed the info along in that article as my own, but I’m too fucking lazy. Get a life.

      • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

        Wow, this guy is shadier than Malcom Gladwell!

      • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

        Wow, this guy is shadier than Malcom Gladwell!

        • mannyfurious

          I concur. Have you read the Shame takedown of Gladwell by any chance?

          http://shameproject.com/profile/malcolm-gladwell-2/

          Gladwell’s a better writer than Sullivan, though.

          • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

            Yeah, I think that was probably the first one I read.

      • Sam Renee

        Thanks mannyfurious, I appreciate the link.
        There’s some really good info there, will have to forward away. Didn’t actually realize the extent of his failures and such.
        It’s another shame all-together that some people don’t look this stuff up themselves and subsequently disavow anything outside their left-right paradigm.
        Makes me wonder how many times their father touched them to get to that point.
        EEEEEWWWWW!!!

      • Sam Renee

        Thanks mannyfurious, I appreciate the link.
        There’s some really good info there, will have to forward away. Didn’t actually realize the extent of his failures and such.
        It’s another shame all-together that some people don’t look this stuff up themselves and subsequently disavow anything outside their left-right paradigm.
        Makes me wonder how many times their father touched them to get to that point.
        EEEEEWWWWW!!!

    • rtb61

      Talk about a pathetic lame arsed plug for a competing website. Your not even bothering to write up some bullshit and blather any more you are just linking to some bullshit and blather right wing propaganda site.
      Shit you advertising click count must be so low that you are now just sticking links in comments in more open sites.

    • rtb61

      Talk about a pathetic lame arsed plug for a competing website. Your not even bothering to write up some bullshit and blather any more you are just linking to some bullshit and blather right wing propaganda site.
      Shit you advertising click count must be so low that you are now just sticking links in comments in more open sites.

      • eric82

        American Conservative is not a “blather right wing site.” It’s one of the few Anti-Bush, Anti-War, Anti-Zionist right-wing outlets out there. Several of their writers (off the top of my head, Dr. Phil Giraldi, but I know there are more) also contribute for AntiWar.com and CounterPunch.

        There are a lot of “blather right wing sites” but American Conservative is not one of them.

    • David Howe

      Welcome to 2008 and …uh….Justin Raimondo…lol. did you have any comments about what Sullivan said or are you just here to be a dick??

  • BuzzCoastin

    just about anything with an ISM at the end of the word
    (capitalism, socialism, communism, libertarianism, etc etc etcism)
    creates inequity, disparity and poverty
    but these isms are all ideas born out of Western Kulture
    and not all societies are influenced by them the same way
    see hear: http://x2t.com/worldism

    • sonicbphuct

      kudos for the link.

      • BuzzCoastin

        I lived in a lot of “foreign” cultures & countries. So it was nice to see someone had noticed what I had noticed. The article & the paper do a great job articulating the effects of culture & language on perception.
        For example:
        My sense of space & a Chinese person’s sense of space is so different, it would take me several thousand words to describe it vaguely.

        • kowalityjesus

          this would be a supremely interesting read if you ever built up the gusto to make it so, you know you have reached a climax when people are signing up for disqus just to tell you how much they like your comment…see below, lol

          • BuzzCoastin

            Edward T Hall has 3 or 4 books
            on the subject of cultural differences
            it was Ed who taught me how to be aware of differences
            he’s a great source for this kind of thing
            Marshall McLuhan is also, but he’s harder to comprehend
            although The Media is the Massage &
            War and Peace in the Global Village are more accessible

            Oh & BTW: McLuhan converted to Roman Catholicism as a young adult.

        • mannyfurious

          I agree with kowalityjesus. I would read the fuck out of such an essay.

          • BuzzCoastin

            thanks but I’m lazy, read Ed Hall’s work

            I tired to type out some observations, but I think Ed Hall & McLuhan did it better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryan.harsh.52 Ryan Harsh

      Thanks for the link mate

  • Nonject

    I liked where this started – acknowledging the contradictions of capitalism and the toll it’s taken on humanity – but I didn’t like where it ended – the idea of “conservatives” tending to their garden, as if the commons were their own. The real tragedy, maybe, is that not only are we in this predicament to begin with, but that we don’t seem to be creative enough to find new models of government and economy that will be simultaneously more eco-friendly, more humane, and adequately productive. Yes, liberal economics (my preferred term, being outside the US) has had some awful consequences. But state control is not necessarily the answer, and is a Pandora’s box of terrors all its own. I think it befits us not to forget the historic link between traditionalism and fascism, and I’ll leave it at that.

  • “Big” Richard Johnson

    Did the assholes pick a fight with the retards, or am I reading this situation incorrectly?

  • loveleon2008

    Buzz constin nice thought i really like you comment …..

  • loveleon2008

    Buzz constin nice thought i really like you comment …..

  • charlieprimero

    Jebus. Now the tards are using “family values” for Appeals to Emotion. What do I know. The Kommie Kiddies probably lap up this nonsense like sweetened milk.

    • Andrew

      Criticizing Appeals to Emotion with Ad Hominem and Appeals to Ridicule… Nice!

      • charlieprimero

        Thanks! I try.

  • Sam Renee

    Error 404 – Site not found

  • kowalityjesus

    Yes, absolutely. The Social Darwinism of the Capitalist Barons in the 19th century was so irrespective of all the manifold elements which constructed and hoisted their success. (IMO the charitability of Christianity was always a force counteracting this selfish impulse.)

    I value the attention that the author paid to the origins of social security in late 19th and early 20th century Germany. I’ve been mining text to come up with these quotes:

    “Why should only he receive a pension who becomes unable to work through war or, as a civil servant, through age, and not the working ranks?” asked Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor. The social security laws of the 1880s were his reply.

    The demands to end joblessness, for provision against sickness, accident, and disability, for protection from arbitrary acts by employers, for job security – all this stems neither from England nor France let alone from the pages of the American Constitution.

    “Germany of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century made an important and enduring contribution to the development of the form of government and society which is commonly known as ‘western democracy’: the concept of social security” – E Fraenkel

    The Weimar Reich Constitution did not specify the right to employment; it did however state, “each German…should be given the opportunity to earn a living through gainful employment. Those able to prove lack of sufficient employment opportunity will be provided for”

  • kowalityjesus

    thanks, true anti-war conservatives are far too rare (or at least far too marginalized) in this day and age.

  • http://www.zoboprepublic.wordpress.com/ zobop republic

    *In regards to South Korea, I’m shocked to read this. I thought Korean society had its act together.
    *Wealth-creating free-markets of slavery disrupted African families, but I guess no one wants to acknowledge that.
    *If the welfare state was created to save capitalism, then why do Conservatives hate welfare so much?
    Conservatives are always talking about how they don’t want a government hand-out. Are these people in denial or hypocrites?

  • http://www.zoboprepublic.wordpress.com/ zobop republic

    *In regards to South Korea, I’m shocked to read this. I thought Korean society had its act together.
    *Wealth-creating free-markets of slavery disrupted African families, but I guess no one wants to acknowledge that.
    *If the welfare state was created to save capitalism, then why do Conservatives hate welfare so much?
    Conservatives are always talking about how they don’t want a government hand-out. Are these people in denial or hypocrites?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dino-Suric/821434105 Dino Suric

    The most idiotic thing I have ever read.. A Capitalist state (though we have never seen one) creates the opposite of a welfare state.. The author of this, as with many people in the world today, speaks with no understanding of history or economics. Its absolutely absurd to say that the forces free market capitalism unleash somehow undermine traditional forms of community and family; the free market (without government intervention) allows people the best chance to attain financial freedom in turn allowing more time to be devoted to their families.. The author (as the majority of the population along with the media and left wing lunatic college professors) confuses the causes of the welfare state. The welfare state is created by the GOVERNMENT, and has nothing to do with capitalism whatsoever. In fact, such a welfare state is quite contradictory of free market capitalism. When you create welfare programs you are in a way paying people to fail, in so much that as long as they fail you will continue to support them. I really don’t think you understand what a welfare state or capitalism truly is. Andrew Sullivan, I suggest you read up a little on the history of the world and economics, to avoid future embarrassment.

    • Andrew

      Ideological theory, with no real reference to historical specifics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dino-Suric/821434105 Dino Suric

    What a joke.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dino-Suric/821434105 Dino Suric

    cc

  • SRD

    This was a very interesting article. It left a lot of questions open. Like why would the elderly be willing to live off their families if they were all in the same town, but not if they are separated? Why aren’t families taking the elderly with them? Why haven’t the elderly planned to care for themselves if they didn’t want to live off their families?

    Also, is the traditional family unit that important to preverse. In the times of traditional family units where the community was your entire family, there was a lot more control over individuals, female suppression, and practices that we would consider barbaric today.

    Living on your own and developing an identity separate from your family can be very healthy. You never really know if they are lifting you up or bringing you down until you walk on your own.