Even a decade ago, I used to ask myself serious questions about the welfare state. One, why hasn't it ended poverty? It's had plenty of time to do it. Two, why do many welfare-state proponents fail to practise what they preach about caring for the poor and needy? Why don't they put their money where their mouths are?
Three, in exchange for the large sums of money which have been taken from me over the years, why have I never had even a single word of thanks or appreciation from any welfare recipient? Not even from one of them, not even once. Ungrateful bastards.
Four, why do the politicians all offer the same solution to the problems of the welfare system – to throw more and more tax money into the pot? Five, why isn't there a social stigma attached to receiving benefits? Why isn't failing to pull your weight in the economy looked on as shameful?
Recently, my questioning has become more radical. What, I began by asking myself, is the moral basis, which justifies expecting people to help those in need?
I can see three possible answers to this question. The first is mutual aid. Accident, illness or disability can hit anyone, as can unemployment. And old age hits everyone who doesn't die young. I see no reason why people should not invest in schemes of mutual aid or insurance, which provide benefits, in proportion to their contributions, to those who need them when they need them. Such schemes existed before the welfare state – for example, the friendly societies. And, by and large, they worked reasonably well.
But if a scheme is set up in such a way that the dishonest can take out more than they are entitled to, it is no longer a mutual aid scheme. It is simply a mechanism for re-distribution of wealth from the honest to the dishonest. Nor can any scheme be mutual aid, if it requires some to pay more than others for the same level of benefits. Yet this is exactly what has happened with the welfare state. So the basis of the welfare state, whatever it may be, is not mutual aid.
The second possible moral basis for helping the needy is solidarity. But solidarity with whom? Plainly, I should feel solidarity with those who share my culture and my values. But what of those that don't share my values? And what of those that behave in ways I disapprove of, or even do things actively hostile to me?
Surely I have no obligation to show solidarity with, or to do anything to help, those that behave as my enemies? Particularly if they despise the things I hold dear – like individual freedom, civil liberties, independence, honesty, common-sense justice, tolerance, work ethic, earned prosperity, dynamism, human progress and striving for excellence?
Why, indeed, should I care about those that don't even try to earn an honest living and to be a nett benefit to me and to other good people? Why should I waste my resources on those that are nothing but a drain on me? And why should I give anything to those that dishonestly milk the system?
I can be sympathetic towards those who cannot earn because of old age, or disability, or accident or illness, or if their opportunities to earn are limited for reasons outside their control. But not if their failure to earn is due to laziness or dishonesty. Nor, indeed, if they are hostile to business. From where do those, that hate and despise honest business, get any claim to any of the wealth it creates?
What of those that have supported re-distribution of my earnings towards others – or towards themselves? They have taken from me without asking me. They have not shown me goodwill. They have not behaved as my fellows. So why should I have any solidarity with them? They owe me compensation; I don't owe them anything.
And what of those, that urge or approve of political policies that annoy or inconvenience me? If, for example, they call for or support draconian speed limits on the roads? Why should I give a single penny to any bastard that wants to slow me down or try to catch me out? Or if they support Labour's bad "law" called IR35, designed to ruin my career and the careers of tens of thousands of other independent consultants? Why should I feed those that bite my hand?
Come to that, why should I help anyone that takes part in any kind of politics? Politics is a dirty game, that no self-respecting human being should ever attempt to play. Why should I help those that don't share my disgust for politics and politicians?
I feel no solidarity with the lazy, with the dishonest, with the political, with business-haters, with those that favour re-distribution of my earned wealth. And yet, the welfare state forces me to pay for all of them. So I must conclude that, whatever roots the welfare state may be based on, solidarity is not one of them.
The third possible moral basis for helping people in need is charity. When people's lives are devastated by an event outside anyone's control, such as the Asian tsunami of December 2004 or Hurricane Katrina in 2005, then it makes sense for all of us to do something to help them. It is very reasonable to give enough to help them back to their feet, back to their independence. And that is the end of the matter.
But the welfare state doesn't stop when people have been helped out of the worst of their troubles. Quite the opposite, in fact. The welfare state offers incentives for people to become dependent on it. It sucks people down into dependence. It sucks them down into permanent trouble.
No, the welfare state isn't based on charity, either. Which leaves me scratching my head, with the question: If the welfare state isn't about mutual aid, or solidarity, or charity, then what in hell can it possibly be about?