The welfare state is training us to think there is no welfare without the state. That is a lie.
Yes, Virginia (and all 49 other states), people actually did care for the poor before government realized it was a huge political winner. Private citizens invested their own time and resources, and truly cared about the outcome.
A great article explaining this fact has been posted at the Cobden Center: “A World without a Welfare State.”
We live in an era in which few can even conceive of a world without the welfare state. Who would care for the old? How would people provide for their medical needs? What would happen to the disadvantaged and needy that fell upon hard times? In fact, there were free market solutions and non-government answers to these questions long before the modern Big Government Welfare State.
In fact, before the arrival of modern welfare state, voluntary, private-sector institutions had evolved to serve as the market providers for many of those “social services” now viewed as the near-exclusive prerogative of the government. Unfortunately, after nearly a century of increasing political and cultural collectivism, the historical memory of the pre-welfare state era has all but been lost.
Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries is an historical case study in how many of these problems were handled without political intervention in the private affairs of society.
Today, everyone loves allowing it to be someone else’s responsibility. Bureaucrats see it as a ticket to their personal sustenance, while politicians understand it’s the path to power, and captive voting blocks. Give the rabble a few baubles, stolen from their fellow citizen’s pockets, and keep the cities from burning (as much as possible… sorry, Ferguson, sometimes the plan doesn’t work).
[See also, “The Doomed Welfare State, Illustrated.”]
When the Welfare State totally fails, the question is whether there will be enough real faith left in the nation to restart the efforts of compassion that formerly worked, or if we’ll choose another easy way out through using lead and powder. At the moment, I fear the answer to that question.