State-Provision of Socio-Economic Rights

Unemployment benefits, welfare, sick pay, pensions, working conditions, health and education can all be regarded as socio-economic rights, as described earlier (  Collectivists believe that society should make these available to all 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, so State intervention became necessary.  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 – which allows for some measure of economic reciprocity (3.5.1).  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.

●  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.

These are strong arguments for the State bearing most of the burden of providing socio-economic rights.  Critics of Welfare States, whose arguments are summarised in the next sub-section (, forget that a system dependent on private charity faces some of 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.

One unavoidable criticism of State provision of socio-economic rights, though, is that it cannot anticipate all of people’s needs – so there will always be a role for private charity.

Poorer countries may be genuinely unable to meet all of people’s needs.  The economic arguments for them to receive international economic assistance were described earlier (3.5.8), and collectivists would argue that the wealthy also have a moral duty to help those in need through various forms of international assistance.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4245.htm