A week after our meetup on libertarianism but with still a week remaining before election day, we'll have another meetup on political philosophy, this time on something that is in some ways the opposite of libertarianism.
The Britannica Online Encyclopedia defines the welfare state as a "concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The general term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organization." For an overview, see Wikipedia on "Welfare state".
In contemporary American political culture, the term "welfare state" is generally used pejoratively, although both major political parties express strong support for some elements of it, such as:
- universal schooling from kindergarten to 12th grade funded by general taxation, regardless of pupils' families' ability to pay;
- Medicare, which pays for health care for the elderly, and is funded by mandatory payroll taxes;
- Social Security, an old-age pension plan also funded by mandatory payroll taxes, with benefits depending on the amount an individual has paid in to the system.
Some other American welfare-state programs such as Medicaid and food stamps are targeted to the poor and are paid for by general taxation.
Any form of taxation is, by definition, the confiscation of resources from taxpayers by a government. When these resources are used to pay for welfare-state programs, it is a kind of redistribution, with the beneficiaries of the programs receiving either a share of the confiscated resources or benefits that have been purchased with them. Under what circumstances is such redistribution justified? And why?
- Christian Barry, "Redistribution", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition)
- Joseph Heath, "Three Normative Models of the Welfare State", Public Reason: Vol. 3, No. 2, Dec. 2011
Since this is a reading group, everyone who attends this meetup is expected to have done the reading. At the beginning of the meetup, we'll go around the table letting each person say what he or she thinks of the readings (but if you don't want to speak, that's OK, too). Then we'll open it up to general discussion.