4.2.4.5 State-Provision of Socio-Economic Rights

Collectivists believe that society should grant socio-economic rights as entitlements to its citizens, and that they should be publicly funded.  They can put forward numerous arguments to support their case.

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.  The Nottinghamshire County Council Director of Public Health’s Annual Report 2017, noted in its conclusion that:

“During the Boer war (1899-1902) 40-60% of volunteers to the army, mainly from working class backgrounds were rejected on medical grounds. In some towns nearly all young men were turned away. …The impact of this was significant in shaping the role of the state in improving population health as the argument was made that a malnourished and unhealthy nation could not rule the biggest empire in the world.” [p. 31 of the PDF]

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.

Private charitable giving might be biased towards people who are in in the same ethnic group as the donors, whereas public services can avoid unfair discrimination.

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; it 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, a Guardian article, Britons give more to donkey sanctuary than abuse charities, gave these figures:

“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.  A Telegraph article, How much charities spend on ‘charitable activities’, 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.

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This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4245a.htm