Economics/Class Relations

Welfare, Minus the State

By William Schnack

The Evolution of Consent


Upon learning about anarchism for the first time, many questions pop into the head of the initiate; questions about law, money, and general civility. That is, questions about the welfare of society spring up. Who will build the roads? The hospitals? Who will deal with criminals? Will there be law to define criminal activity in the first place?

In this essay, I hope to dispel the myth that government, a state, is necessary to induce cooperation and mutual aid. I will demonstrate the evolutionary origins of cooperation and examples of cooperative organizing throughout history, before turning the discussion toward the non-necessity of government intervention in our lives.

Conflict Over Welfare

Welfare carries differing meanings for various people, but upon hearing the word, it generally brings to mind its application in today’s society, as a government program, rather than carrying its intrinsic meaning, which exists much deeper than attempts to apply it politically: the general well-being of a person or society. The overall meaning of welfare has been distorted. It has been corrupted by the state. In most people’s eyes, welfare is a question about taxes, representing ways money can be spent wisely, or wasted, depending on the holder of the perspective and their opinion about the program in question.

Welfare, the well-being of individual and community— something which should be celebrated by all according to the laws of happiness—has created divide in our society. Some on the right want social welfare to be abandoned completely, and desire a society of “everyone for themselves.” On the left, the sentiment is largely reversed, and many would abandon the sovereign individual’s liberty to look after their own welfare, desiring instead a society of “everyone for each other.” This kind of division is unnatural, as social interests are the creations of individuals.

The divide springs forth from arguments of where tax money should be spent, not from the individuals naturally being in conflict. There is no reason people who like to share can’t coexist beside people who don’t. It happens all of the time. We all have friends who like to share, and others who don’t, those who invite themselves to our pantries because they expect the same from us, and those who are rather uptight about their things, and expect similar in return. This is often a result of the nature of possessions and use-value to the owner. Some people, for instance, read books purely for fun, and are happy to pass them along when they are through.

A person like me, however, can be stingy about the rare books they have sought after, and want to keep them around for future citations in works like this one. The degree to which we can be friends with both kinds of people, and hold both traits ourselves, is the degree to which we are dynamic individuals. No one is completely dynamic, or not at all. At times it may be necessary to draw the line, and tell a friend they have invited themselves to too much, or that they can invite themselves to something in the first place. Conflict occurs, however, when individuals who like to share and those who don’t, or like to do so in different ways, both have their resources stolen from them—taxes—and are left then to decide what is to be done with the money together. Everyone knows a household works best upon shared interests, and becomes ridden with conflict when left to be managed between parties that don’t share ideas or concerns. Imagine being forced to pool your paycheck with your coworkers; naturally, conflict about its spending would ensue. Imagining the freedom of abstention does not imply non-participation in group spending, as such absoluteness is the denial of freedom, but instead implies participation only in that group spending which is beneficial to the individual spender.


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