The Welfare State Neutralizes Opponents by Making Them Dependent on Government

December 16, 2011

Political analysts have noted that because the number of those in the ruling elite amounts to only a small fraction of the number in the ruled masses, every regime lives or dies in accordance with public opinion.  No matter how powerful or pervasive a regime is, it can still be overrun by the sheer superior numbers of the people it governs.  However, this traditional political framework has been undermined by the development of the modern welfare state, says Robert Higgs, a senior fellow with the Independent Institute.

While the original framework would dissect the country into two populations, the gladly ruling and the reluctantly ruled, the welfare state has created a third group: dependents.  Though they are most certainly ruled, they are often fierce defenders of the regime and its advocated status quo, thereby breaking ranks with the rest of the ruled who only tolerate it.  They do this because the welfare state allows the current regime to be the primary provider for an ever-growing body of dependents, and this dependency engenders loyalty.

  • An index of dependency developed by the Heritage Foundation found that the metric increased from 19 in fiscal year 1962 to 272 in fiscal year 2009.
  • The Heritage researchers found that in 1962, 21.7 million persons depended on the government-run programs included in their index, yet this same figure for 2009 had grown to 64.3 million.
  • Adding dependents not included in the Heritage study might easily increase the number to more than 100 million people, or to more than a third of the entire population.

The handouts of the welfare state exploit this large swathe of the population and earn their repeated and unwavering votes by perpetuating the status quo.  As greater portions of the population come to rely on the government for their livelihood, the more clout it will inherently have as its number of detractors dwindles.

An additional symptom of this growing trend, which can be seen in the current political sphere, is that the creation of a status quo-supporting population inherently causes increased resistance to change.  This conservativeness manifests itself in a lack of radical policy and in the loss of personnel turnover in Washington.

Source: Robert Higgs, "The Welfare State Neutralizes Opponents by Making Them Dependent on Government," Independent Institute, December 8, 2011.

For text:

http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=3199

 

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