Tonight a very short muse flowing from Indi, Mirabella & the decline of the welfare state. There I said in part:
The underlying idea of the growth of the welfare state is quite popular. However, I think that it's also wrong. The welfare state as envisaged at the end of the Second World war died during the 1970s. We actually live in a post-welfare state world in which the fight is no longer over the concept of cradle to the grave security, that's dead, nor even over the idea of a proper safety net for the poorest; that's dead too.
In 2006, I explored some of these issues in a series of post on changing approaches to public administration since the Second World War. I didn't have time this morning to go back and check that earlier writing. I will do so later. I think that it's helpful to put some of these discussions in an historical context. Sophie Mirabella is actually a good example of the nature of the ideological changes that have taken place.
Some of my past writing that I looked at I find to be very good; useful explorations of the changing patterns of ideas.S ome I find confused.
One confusion, and it has a certain relevance today, lies in the conflation of ideas about the welfare state with ideas about the role of Government. In that past thinking, I mixed together under the welfare state rubric ideas from the left about things such as government ownership or the broad role of Government in the economy with very different ideas connected with welfare.
The meaning to be attached to the words welfare state is not the same as big government, nor an activist role for government in the broad sense. You can accept the idea of a welfare state without supporting either, although welfare state certainly implies a bigger government than would otherwise be the case.
In reflecting on train and bus, I was drawn back to intellectual and political debates of the first half of the 1970s, to the distinction between equality and opportunity. We were Country Party radicals wishing to reform the Party.In doing so, we drew a distinction between equality, a Labor View, and equality of opportunity, a Country Party position. In bias terms, I didn't see the Liberals as supporting equality of opportunity. How could they?, for in practical terms the outcome of their positions was the protection of privilege, of the majority, the advantaging of those who at that point were big and had an edge.
But what was equality of opportunity? What did it actually mean in terms of policy stances?
This is a debate that's largely dead, that's gone. We do talk, for example, about bridging the gap where a particular group has become really disadvantaged. But we don't talk about equality of opportunity and what it means, of the role of government in bringing it about. That belongs to a past age.
I think that its time to bring it back.
In a tweet, NSW National MP Jenny Gardiner wrote:
@JimBelshaw Indeed. Maybe what John Anderson did re Maths skills for country kids & Piccoli's agenda hark back to equality of opportunity?
Wikipedia defines welfare state in these terms:
A welfare state is a "concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The general term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organization.
The difficulty I have with this definition, the cause of what I see as the confusion in my earlier writing, lies in the way it mixes different things together; protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens; equality of opportunity and equitable distribution of wealth (equality); and the minimal provisions for a good life (safety net). I have bolded the ands to draw out very different threads that can conflict.
In a comment, anon drew my attention to this cartoon that, he suggested, provided a conservative view of equality of opportunity. I have saved it primarily as an example illustration to use in some of my management writing.
Now this cartoon actually says nothing about equality, rather that different people have different skills.