A Forgotten British Libertarian: William Bailward on Welfare

The more things change, the more they stay the same.That certainly is a dictum to keep in mind as we see the beginnings of the unraveling of the welfare State under our current government

But the horrendous mess the Democrats and Republicans have created in America is no surprise, given the history of welfare in the English-speaking world since Queen Elizabeth I.

In reading William Bailward’s book of essays on what Americans would call welfare, one was struck by how similar the situations and the mentality of Bailward’s day were, circa 1905-1912, with those of present day America.

Bailward’s “The Slippery Slope and Other Papers on Social Subjects” gives a clear picture of the problems that confronted British welfare from 1601 until Bailward’s day, and those problems are indistinguishable from those we now find in America, with 47 million on food stamps, the dollar buying a quarter of what it did in 2000, and 51% of the population receiving a check from the government every month — the exact percentage by which Obama was re-elected. Bailward had obviously not only thought about government welfare a great deal, but he also served as Chairman of a Board of Guardians, which was the body of people who would hear welfare cases directly from the applicants, and then make a dispensation. Bailward must have heard thousands of applicants in his career, which also included election to the British Parliament, and serving on a Board in one of the poorer sections of London. He knew welfare, both in theory and practice, and the insights in his essays should be carefully pondered by both Libertarians and members of the Bipartisan Party who want to raise the standard of living in America.

Bailward traces the history of British welfare back to the days of Elizabeth I, who, in 1601, instituted the Poor Law, which basically said that everyone who was “impotent” (i.e. unable to work or support themselves) should receive aid, while those who were able-bodied should be found work. Sounds a lot like modern America, don’t it.

The results of this were disastrous. For centuries England struggled with terrible poverty amongst its masses, and for many decades virtually everyone in the countryside was on a parish dole. The care of the “impotent” came to be the main function of the Poor Law, and the bit about finding work for the able-bodied was generally ignored. “Pauperism”, a concept Bailward talks much of, was rampant, and a multitude of British thinkers and artists, from John Locke to Lord Byron, wrote out their own schemes for raising the appalling standard of living

This sorry state continued until 1834, when the poor law was revised, and the equal eligibility of the impotent and the able-bodied was changed to make the working man eligible first for aid. This led to a large drop in the number of paupers.

There are several concepts that Bailward discusses which most American Libertarians probably overlook when considering welfare.

Firstly, there was the divergence between “indoor” and “outdoor” relief. Indoor meant the workhouse or poorhouse, where the recipients had to live in the institution to receive aid. Once “outdoor” aid got popular — aid which one could go and pick up and then go home — the number of paupers greatly increased.

Secondly, Bailward makes the very important distinction between “poverty” and “pauperism”. Poor people, or people living in poverty, who worked, lived frugally, and though poor managed to support themselves, are distinguished from “paupers”, who lacked any ambition to get off the dole, often drifted around, spending the days chatting or lounging on the parish lawns, and generally made a career out of cadging money, food, or clothing from various charities or government bodies. “Pauperism” sounds a lot like many of America’s homeless, although their ranks have been greatly swelled since the Bank Bailout Bill under Bush which Obama and most Democrats and Republicans voted for, and which has inflated the cost of necessities three or four times for Americans (and foreigners). Many of the homeless under Obama do not have pauperistic attitudes, but were overwhelmed by his and the Fed’s Inflation.

Bailward is a great believer in private charities giving aid, instead of Boards of Guardians dispensing goverment tax monies. And as in America, the tax rates did nothing but continuously go up in his day.

As Bailward was writing these essays, England was in the process of shifting away from the Poor Law and its 1834 Revision, into a system where each type of welfare had its own branch. For example, they began an old age pension scheme which gave everyone over 70 a pension. Then they had a school feeding program. And then various other programs were introducted. Bailward laments that the various bureaucracies that handled each new type of welfare had no coordination with each other, so that many people were receiving multiple benefits under multiple programs, and there was no central statistical bureaucracy that could keep track of it all. With the coming of the computer, that problem should theoretically be gone.

All in all, William Bailward’s “The Slippery Slope” is a work which all Libertarians should peruse, especially those interested in welfarism. Its discussions will broaden your understanding.

Hooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwww! — Silverwolf

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