The case for the welfare state

theGlobeandMail.com – Opinions/Letters
July 14, 2010.   Ed Broadbent

Neil Reynolds’ attack on the welfare state is a triumph of ideology over facts (The Disintegration Of The European Welfare State – July 12). Focusing only on Italy, he blames democracy for creating today’s welfare states and their allegedly deplorable conditions, which, he maintains, are leading to bankruptcy.

Now for the facts, as would be supported by most social scientists:

– The major European welfare states – Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany – over the past two decades have had highly efficient private-sector economies, as well as “responsible” fiscal and monetary policies. In recent decades, their productivity increases have equalled or exceeded those in the U.S. and Canada.

– It was the U.S. and the U.K., the weakest welfare states, who deregulated the financial sector, producing bankruptcies and a global economic crisis in the fall of 2008.

– Rather than making their citizens more “dependent,” as Mr. Reynolds claims, the advanced welfare states, according to the most rigorous empirical studies, have done just the opposite with their mix of progressive tax policies and strong social programs. They have higher levels of class and gender equality, fewer teenage pregnancies, less violence, more citizen participation and significantly better health outcomes than other democracies.

– At the other end of the scale are the U.S. and the U.K. After years of dismantling the state and with regressive tax policies, they have higher crime rates, more poverty, lower levels of citizen participation, more teenage pregnancies, lower levels of trust and less upward social mobility than the Nordic countries.

– Canada, as shown by the data, is somewhere in the middle. However, after years of cuts by many provinces and federal slashing of taxes and transfer programs, as the OECD has said, we’re moving backward and becoming more unequal. If things continue as they are at the federal level, we may join our Anglo-Saxon relatives at the bottom of the democratic heap.

Ed Broadbent, former federal NDP leader, Ottawa

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