Saturday, November 05, 2005

The People

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Porto Allegre In Situ Blog

While in Davos the rich, famous and fatuous debate their respective civilizing missions, real people are meeting in Porto Allegre, Brazil, for the 5th World Social Forum.

Le Monde is running a blog on daily events by Julie Chancel. If you don't read French, I'll try to publish the most interesting pieces here.

The Market and the Welfare State

In his January 15th radio address, President Bush said it was a moral obligation to reform Social Security. Of course he means eliminate the program. But why should its reform be a moral issue?

An Italian historian, Giovanni Aldobrandini, wrote an article on The Market and the Welfare State in 1988 which woke me up to certain realities:

Within Laissez Faire are embedded the Reformation and Protestantism, with its emphasis on personal responsibility, sense of duty, work ethic and capacity for self-reliance. The defenders of Laissez Faire believe poverty is an affliction or a shameful reluctance to work. Workhouses are the manifestation of the overturning of ancient Catholic charity. For the bourgeoisie of the 1800's, the market is the perfect and spontaneous allocator of resources to everyone according to their means, their purposes and their luck, without regard to the final outcome. It was important to establish the rules of the game and in particular, The Rule of Law, i.e., the State, whose sole responsibiity is the maintenance of domestic and international order...The market doesn't allow collective projects for the benefit of society but only imposes a series of abstract conditions which pre-determine certain outcomes, which the individual must more or less accept.

The Welfare State is not "rampant socialism" or a "giveaway" but was founded out of a feeling of guilt over the social dislocation caused by the harsh rationality and utilitarian calculations of the market but most important, to protect individuals against the violence of Laissez-Faire, which has no use for infants, the elderly, the handicapped, the mentally ill, etc.. A program like Social Security came about out of the notion of pursuit of happiness--translated into the right to a dignified existence guaranteed by the government. It's worth fighting for.