Nanny State has had it good recently, what with the censorship of “disgusting” images of Piri Weepu bottle feeding his infant daughter; the blanking out of “horrific” footage of signage advertising Coca-Cola and fried chicken; and the hysterically defensive reaction following revelations fewer people have been out cycling, and more of them are suffering injury, since cycle helmets (i.e., knob hats) were made compulsory.
Thank goodness for people like James Bartholomew, who documents the far-reaching and almost unerringly negative consequences of state interference in our lives. Along with commentator Lindsay Mitchell, I had the pleasure of dining with James in Wellington a few weeks back during his brief visit conducting research for a new book he is writing. His pet topic is the welfare state in all its forms, and to prepare for James' visit I ordered a copy of his chronicle of Britain's decline from a once great nation to the 'sick man of Europe', entitled The Welfare State We're In.
It was a great, if sobering read.
Published in 2004, the volume traces the origins of the welfare state to the time of Henry VIII and his seizure of monasteries previously functioning as charity hospitals and emergency welfare providers. Bartholomew reveals the increasingly coercive nature of the State in funding and providing health care, unemployment and disability compensation, education, housing and social support.
Unfortunately, as is plainly evident to anyone who cares to look, in each and every area in which the government has intervened - albeit often with compassion and a desire to work side by side with private providers and charities - the result has been the crowding out of the voluntary sector, and an increase in death and misery for the intended beneficiaries.
In other worlds, state welfare is not welfare.
Neither is state education education. After decades of state-funded 'education' in the UK and more than a hundred years of compulsory education, one in four adult Britons is functionally illiterate (sound familiar?). Yet before the advent of government welfare and state education, about 85% of industrial workers in the UK were already members of friendly societies providing welfare and support for members and their families. Since that time, the working class has been taxed into poverty, with many of them unable to make provision for a pension and purchase unemployment insurance.
A pervasive and recurrent theme throughout the book is that the welfare state was not needed in the first place! Where people had the means and the necessity to provide for down times, they did so, and gave huge amounts of their disposable income to the less well-off.
Bartholomew likens the avoidable deaths in Britain's National 'Health' Service to 'a train crash every day,' estimating over more 15,000 souls dying annually than the mortality that would occur under a system of non-government hospitals and primary care. (Sound familiar?)
He documents the terrible results of laws that encourage broken families, and the often horrific consequences when the offspring of solo parents are placed in the care of non-biologically-related males. Most telling are the examples that highlight a general decline in public morality ('the falling off of decency') as a result of intergenerational unemployment and a breakdown in the passing down of values such as hard work, thrift and personal responsibility.
The author relates low levels of taxation to high rates of growth, using the example among others of the World's Greatest Ever Bureaucrat and his hand in creating the world's freest country. James' description of Britain's underperformance in every facet of human advancement - including medical research - since the rise of the welfare state, makes sad reading.
I recommend this book to all readers. It is packed with facts, memorable anecdotes and killer quotes, and is a valuable historical reference. One comes away with a much greater appreciation of the root causes of the United Kingdom's current malaise. In many senses, the origins date back centuries. But it was David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (who would have guessed?) that really got the ball rolling in the early twentieth century. Once Labour took power in 1945 Britain's fate was sealed, but the die was already cast.
Couldn't happen here, could it?
Dr Richard McGrath is a Masterton GP and the leader of NZ’s Libertarianz Party. When threatened with extreme violence he can sometimes be made to write a column.