State-Provision of Socio-Economic Rights

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4245.htm)

Collectivists believe that society should grant socio-economic rights as entitlements to its citizens, and that they should be publicly funded.  They might use several arguments:

  • Public funding of a service can ensure complete and equal availability to everyone, irrespective of their wealth (or their parents’ wealth) and can deliver continuity of support.
  • Charities hadn’t ensured an adequate level of health in the population at the end of the 19th century. An education paper, entitled what was the impact of war on public health in the 20th century?, noted that “40-60% of volunteers to the British army, mainly from working class backgrounds, were rejected on medical grounds” at the time of the Boer war. Government intervention subsequently rectified this.
  • Public funding gives people a meaningful mechanism to claim their rights. It would be impractical and unfair for a needy person to randomly select a wealthy individual and try to make a claim.
  • It avoids the problem of people restricting the giving of charity to those whom they feel to be deserving, which might only cover those in the same ethnic group as themselves.[1]
  • Taxation provides a fair mechanism for sharing the cost of socio-economic rights, because the burden can be spread according to people’s ability to pay and it allows for some measure of economic reciprocity (3.5.1).
  • Those who receive benefits can retain their dignity as members of a society which has conferred rights upon them, particularly when they and their families have paid tax (or National Insurance, in Britain). This, it is argued, is preferable to the recipients being positioned as dependent on private charity– because to depend upon the arbitrary power of another person is a form of servitude;[2] this makes the recipients feel inferior and can even make them resentful.  Such feelings weaken social cohesion.
  • Private giving can lead to absurd disparities. For example, The Guardian published an article on 23 April 2008 entitled Britons give more to donkey sanctuary than abuse charities giving the following details:

“more than 7 million women have been affected by domestic violence but … Refuge, the Women’s Aid Federation and Eaves Housing for Women have a combined annual income of just £17m.  By contrast the Donkey Sanctuary, which has looked after 12,000 donkeys, received £20m in 2006.”

  • Charities compete for donors, so some spend much of their revenue on marketing, and some have high administration costs. On 6 August 2013, The Telegraph published an article entitled How much charities spend on ‘charitable activities’ which reported that, for some prominent British charities, the proportion of their revenue that was actually spent on charitable activities varied from 42% to 96%.
  • Private charities are fundamentally different from private companies which provide services that people pay for. Competition keeps commercial organisations efficient and customer-focused (3.3.2), but charities need donors more than they need recipients. Charities might also look after their own employees better than they care for beneficiaries.
  • Although wealthy people might give charity voluntarily, many don’t. Taxation can ensure that people contribute to the needs of society in accordance with their wealth.
  • Critics of Welfare States forget that private charity faces the same problems: undeserving people can free-ride on private charity as easily as on the State, and private systems are equally challenged by people’s increased longevity and new expensive cures.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014



[1] In his book Fault Lines, Professor Rajan referred to the American preference for charitable giving, rather than paying tax towards a publicly-funded service, as perhaps being “because they have more control over who the recipients are” (p.  95).  He cited Fighting Poverty in the U.S. and Europe: A World of Difference, by Alberto Alesina and Edward L.  Glaeser, which referred to the impact of ‘racial heterogeneity’ on charitable giving and which was available online in March 2018 at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/SAFETYNETSANDTRANSFERS/Resources/281945-1123255153992/1525234-1123255179743/Glaeser_FightPovUS.pdf.

[2] Professor Quentin Skinner expressed the view that dependence upon the arbitrary power of another person is a form of servitude, in a CSD interview in 2000 with John Keane entitled “Against Servitude”, which was published in the CSD Bulletin, vol.  7, no.  2, pp.  10-13; it was available in March 2018 at http://johnkeane.net/wp-content/uploads/2000/06/jk_bullet_skinner.pdf.