Translation of my originial work in catalan “Més que un liberal”.
In discussions, Liberals are often accused, wrongly, of being “selfish or” heartless. “It is true that at first glance it may seem that way. When liberals assert, for example, that it is not necessarily the State’s duty to protect those most in need, this can bring out anything from anger to bewilderment from the people around you.
The first of these two, anger, originates from a feeling which is as natural as our own survival instinct and that is, the desire for social welfare. Human beings are nature a hypersocial creature. All humans benefit from living in society due to the protection it offers,as well as the affection that only in it we can find. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that in our nature lies not only the desire for survival itself, but also the desire for the survival of the species, a clear concern for the good of others, although in most cases it will be superimposed to our own welfare. We identify with others and their suffering and try to minimize it. It is what is known as empathy.
Here’s why your friend seems ready to tear your eyes out right now. In his view, you just showed a completely atypical and antisocial behavior by saying the State should not “protect” the needy. A conduct which in its most extreme case is known as psychopathy i.e, a total lack of empathy.
But the truth is not that liberals do not have empathy. The anger thrown at the liberal doctrine is the result of a lack of understanding.
Because the aforementioned friend, probably, can not even envision an alternative to the State being responsible for providing social assistance. As occurs with health and education, he clings to the dogma that the State must be ultimately responsible for providing these services. For him, the State is welfare, and therefore less State means less welfare. Big mistake.
But why is this assumption so common?
Much of it, is a result of external influence, having been born in a world where the state takes up 50% of the economy, it is difficult to imagine how the private sector could develop in these areas. It is easier, on the other hand, to assume that things are just the way they are, and if they are so it’s for a good reason …
But ultimately, when it comes to social assistance, most people fall into one of the many contradictions of socialism. While although firmly believing in the moral obligation to help others, they cannot imagine this type of actions would take place in a truly free society. Only by using the State monopoly of force, will it be possible to coerce citizens into doing something, which apparently, we all consider an essential element of life in society.
On the other hand, Liberals know that precisely because we all know of the importance of helping others and have altruistic tendencies in our nature, social assistance and security would be provided in the absence of State intervention.
This is fundamentally much more logical than the former.
But if logic does not convince you, just have to look at the historical evidence on the matter.
Something that Juan Ramón Rallo does splendidly in Una revolución liberal para España.
Since the early twentieth century, in Britain, 3/4 of the population were covered by one, or more, of the more than 9000 friendly societies. These were mutual aid associations, created completely freely and voluntarily, which basically performed a very similar function to today’s social security. For a fee, these mutual aid societies, covered their insured against unemployment, sickness, death of a family member…
This form of assistance based on voluntary associations was very common, and not confined to the English-speaking world.
Furthermore, the nature of these made aid distribution fairer and more effective than our current failed welfare project known as social security.
Firstly, participation was voluntary. The most common is that such associations were formed between neighboring communities or factory workers. It is for this reason that these associations were of a truly benevolent nature.
It is very different,when the state forcibly snatches our money, and then distributes it in a completely impersonal way. From the perspective of the contributor, he has just been deprived of the pleasure of seeing their money put to good use. As for the receiver, there is an incentive problem because when you dehumanize the contributor, the receiver will not hesitate to try to extract as much “aid” as he can.
This did not happen with voluntary associations. Being able to clearly see the origin of the money (your neighbors), parasitic tendencies were much less likely to arise.
Moreover, these associations had a mechanism to ensure that aid was given to those who deserved it. Normally, you could only receive aid subject to conditions. For example, if you wanted to receive unemployment benefits, you had to be looking for work. Due to the fact that these groups were formed and managed by members of the same community, these control mechanisms proved very effective.
In other words, the exchange of information that arises naturally in a community served to assess and quantify the aid to be distributed. There is no way a State run system can process information in such a way.
In short, we can see how the state takes a function already provided by the private sector. What at first was a system based on empathy, kindness and desire to help others, the State turns into forcible extraction of wealth and an impersonal and inefficient distribution of “assistance”, leaving both the supplier and the receiver dissatisfied.
A system that instead of alleviating poverty and misery, perpetuates it, by funding it.
Being a classical liberal, goes way beyond understanding the failures of the State and the virtues of the free market. It is about understanding the nature of human beings. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that in a free world, we sacrifice equity for efficiency. It need not be so. A free society is more than capable of promoting equity and create a just world, which, after all, is in everyone’s interest.