Ropke: The Dominating Motive Is Envy

“The modern welfare state, which appears an anachronism in the light of these reflections, would be incomprehensible if we failed to consider that it has changed its meaning. Its essential purpose is no longer to help the weak and needy, whose shoulders are not strong enough for the burden of life and its vicissitudes. This purpose is receding and, indeed, frequently to the detriment of the neediest. Today’s welfare state is not simply an improved version of the old institutions of social insurance and public assistance. In an increasing number of countries it has become the tool of a social revolution aiming at the greatest possible equality of income and wealth. The dominating motive is no longer compassion but envy.

Taking has become at least as important as giving. In the absence of a sufficient number of genuinely needy people, they have to be invented, so that the leveling down of wealth to a normal average, which satisfies social grievances, can be justified by moralistic phrasemaking. The language of the old paternal government is still current and so are its categories, but all this is becoming a screen that hides the new crusade against anything which dares exceed the average, be it in income, wealth, or performance. The aim of this social revolution is not achieved until everything has been reduced to one level, and the remaining small differences give even greater cause for social resentment; on the other hand, it is impossible to imagine a situation in which social resentment finds nothing to fasten on any more. In these circumstances there can be no foreseeable end to this development as long as the fatuous social philosophy which underlies the modern welfare state is not recognized and rejected as one of the great errors of our time.”

– Wilhem Röpke, A Humane Economy (p. 156-157)


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