Via Instapundit comes a discussion on whether the riots in France, and the general breakdown of law and order in some sections of other European countries, are primarily the result of Islamo-facism, runaway multiculturalism or the welfare-state. All three factors play into the problem but I think the primary driver is the welfare state.
One might ask, however, why should anyone riot when the welfare state provides all the basic material necessities of life? It’s not as if the residents of the suburbs of Paris are starving, exposed to the elements or deprived of medical care. By the standards of most of humanity, they live quite opulent lives. Why doesn’t the welfare state make them happy?
The short answer is that human beings are not cows. Cows are quite content if their material needs are met but people have hopes, dreams and aspirations. It is precisely these psychological benefits that the welfare state ultimately cannot provide. People are rioting not because they are deprived of material benefits but because they are wholly dependent on the whims of others for the benefits they do receive. They have no status and no control. It is these social, psychological and spiritual deprivations that they are ultimately striking out against.
Advocates of the welfare state are driven by an overwhelming need to provide economic security and stability. Unfortunately, they will not acknowledge the inherent inverse relationship between security and stability on one hand and economic growth, mobility and creativity on the other. Anything done to increase pay, benefits and job security for people who have jobs now makes it more difficult for people without jobs to get them. Over the course of decades, this situation creates enormous structural unemployment. High unemployment drives the expansion of the welfare state further, increasing taxes, which slows the economy which drives higher unemployment and the feedback loop is closed. By creating a stagnant economic system focused on the security and well being of those that have, it chokes off any hope for those that have not. The welfare state grants security today by sacrificing tomorrow. Sacrificing tomorrow kills hope and that is what ultimately leads to rioting.
In the modern developed world, the basic material needs of even the most poor are easily met. Even the most die-hard libertarian must give some attributes of the welfare state, such as universal education, some credit for getting us to this point. However, just because a concept met the needs of the past doesn’t mean it meets the needs of present or the future. The point of diminishing returns has long since been passed. What the poor now need, and what the welfare state cannot provide, is an environment that lets the individual gain control over their own destinies. The very degree of micromanagement that the welfare state requires to function means that it must strip the ability to choose from the individual. People in such situations do begin to feel like cattle, cared for but ultimately herded .
In the 80’s, a great shift occurred in American thinking about welfare. Americans grew less concerned about the material aspects of lives of the poor and instead began to pay attention to their psychological well being. We made the decision that long-term dependence on the state was destructive to both individuals and communities. Americans think it’s better for a community that 100% of people capable of work are able to get a job a $5 an hour than it is for only 50% of workers to get jobs paying $10 an hour. We have decided that giving people active control over their own lives is ultimately better than providing a higher level of material benefit. I believe that is why in recent years, when disasters like blackouts or massive hurricanes disrupted the functioning of centralized authority, America’s poor did not riot or prey on others. Instead, overall, they reacted with great civility, even when abandoned by the state.
Europe has not yet made the same conceptual shift from material to psychological welfare. For many historical and cultural reasons I think Europeans will find the transition much more difficult, yet it must occur. Much of the appeal of radical Islam is that it provides hope and self-respect for the most marginalized members of European society, something the welfare state is incapable of ever doing. The only long term solution is to create an economic and social environment were every individual believes they have the opportunity to better their lives through their own initiative. This will require a significant shift in European political culture.
I hope they have the time to pull it off.