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George F. Will on the welfare state.

10:59 AM, Apr 27, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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These are great days for George Will fans. His classic baseball book, Men at Work, has been reissued. (Will's friend and colleague Charles Krauthammer mentioned Men at Work in his own baseball column last week.) Will's speech at CPAC was the best of the conference. His columns are as good as ever; Sunday's piece, on a Japanese American who fought for his country even as his family lived in internment camps, contained several great passages, such as this:

Such cheerful men, who helped to lop 988 years off the Thousand Year Reich, are serene reproaches to a nation now simmering with grievance groups that nurse their cherished resentments. The culture of complaint gets no nourishment from men like these who served their country so well while it was treating their families so ignobly. Yet it is a high tribute to this country that it is so loved by men such as these.

Best of all, subscribers to a National Review newsletter, "NR Originals," recently received a classic Will essay in their inboxes. Titled "The Welfare State: Boob Bait for McGovernites," the piece is more than 35 years old, yet it holds up extremely well. Here's the lead:

George McGovern advocates fundamental change in American government. This is common knowledge. But like most new knowledge, it is false. True, McGovern has a radical foreign policy ("Resolved, the United States should get out of Arizona"). But his principal domestic philosophy is depressingly familiar. His proudest boast is that his government will get involved in redistributing wealth. What makes this more depressing than menacing is the fact that the government today does very little else but redistribute wealth.

We have a welfare state, soggy with redistributionist policies. McGovern accepts in principle a government that is up to its jowls in redistributing wealth. Thus he accepts the primary principle of the status quo. All he really wants to do is redirect the redistribution.

And here's Will on the welfare state:

[T]he real significance of the welfare state is that it represents a distinctive political style. It is primarily an instrument by which the politicians cope with the strong and organized; it is not primarily an instrument for coping with the weak and disorganized.

Were the welfare state primarily the instrument of generous motives, it would still be a failure. There are some desirable goals which a government should not pursue because government action usually exacts a toll in freedom lost. But the important point is that if the welfare state were primarily an instrument of generous impulses on behalf of the disadvantaged, there would be less widespread criticism of it. After all, I know of no significant political figure of any persuasion who does not acknowledge that it is the clear moral duty of a society to provide decently for those who cannot provide for themselves.

Perhaps a generous concern for the disadvantaged was the original motive for creating the welfare state, and thereby abandoning our healthy fear of comprehensive government. But it is now clear beyond peradventure that the disadvantaged are not the chief beneficiaries of this welfare-state ethos which sanctions government activism throughout the economy in the interest of distributing privileges and redistributing wealth.

The chief beneficiaries of the welfare state ethos are the organized interests on whose behalf most government interference with the economy is undertaken. These interests receive the lion's share of the subsidies which, drawn from general tax revenues or imposed by government-enforced restriction of competition, are our major means for redistributing wealth. As a result, the net effect of government manipulation of the economy is negative for the poor. That is, one clear result of the expansive activism of our expanded government is a lower living stand for the poor.

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