Various reference books will define ‘statism’ in different ways. Statism is the notion that whichever question or need or problem a citizen may have, the state has the answer, or the state is the answer.
Statism begins with sentiments about what the government can do for citizens, but gradually morphs into questions about what the citizen can do for the government. President Kennedy famously encouraged people to think about “what you can do for your country” - statism conceptually reverses that phrase into “what you can do for your government.”
In statist thinking, Lincoln’s “government for the people” meets it opposite: “people for the government.”
Because statism begins, however, by presenting itself as a benign or even beneficial effort to help people by means of government action, its true nature is not immediately seen. People of honest good will embrace social programs which are designed to help the poor.
But as the nature of the world works its inevitable way, sincere efforts to help society’s vulnerable members are exploited by cynical bureaucrats who understand that they can receive steady paychecks for administering social programs, whether or not those programs actually help anyone.
The Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition of statism:
The theory or system of social organization in which the State has substantial centralized control over a nation's social and economic affairs.
While an effort to offer social benefits is almost always part of the justification offered for giving ever more controlling power to state - which is the same as taking power away from the people - , the anticipated benefits are often replaced with outright harm to the very social classes which one hoped to help by means of some statist scheme.
The programs which were introduced as ways to help the poor reveal themselves to be programs which actually hurt the poor, and take freedom away from all social classes, rich or poor.
Taxation in any form is, in the final analysis, a reduction of individual civil liberty. Mark Levin, who served as chief of staff for the United States Attorney General, writes:
In the name of “economic justice” and “equality” the Statist creates the perception of class struggle through a variety of interventions, including the “progressive” income tax. In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote, “In the most advanced countries the following will be pretty generally applicable: a heavy progressive or graduated income tax.”
Decisions about funding are observable and quantifiable. If the foundational purpose of a government is to protect the lives, freedoms, and property of its citizens, the defense programs would be seen as a priority. Instead, however, defense spending fell from 70% of federal outlays in the mid-1950s, to 46% at the height of the Vietnam War, to 28% during the so-called “Reagan Buildup,” to 19% during the “war on terror.”
Meanwhile, spending on programs which verifiably harm the poor - those would be programs which claim to help the poor - has increased. The language surrounding such programs has moved from unintentionally ironic to Orwellian doublespeak. A range of social programs have increased both urban and rural poverty.
Programs like food stamps, now part of EBT, have decreased nutrition for the poor and created “food deserts” in major urban areas. Medicare and Medicaid have decreased both the quality and the quantity of healthcare available to senior citizens and to low-income families, and has trimmed their ability to make independent decisions about their medical treatments.
The more the government funds programs to help the poor, the more the poor are harmed. This dynamic has a twofold root: good intentions gone wrong, in which a sincere desire to help the poor has been stymied by administrative incompetence, and cynical bureaucrats, who merely see a chance for a steady paycheck.
Scholar William Voegeli documents how funding is directed largely to programs which do not, and cannot, help their intended beneficiaries:
That amount has increased steadily, under Democrats and Republicans, during booms and recessions. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, federal welfare state spending was 58 percent larger in 1993 when Bill Clinton became president than it had been 16 years before when Jimmy Carter took the oath of office. By 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated, it was 59 percent larger than it had been in 1993. Overall, the outlays were more than two-and-a-half times as large in 2013 as they had been in 1977. The latest Census Bureau data, from 2011, regarding state and local programs for “social services and income maintenance,” show additional spending of $728 billion beyond the federal amount. Thus the total works out to some $3 trillion for all government welfare state expenditures in the U.S., or just under $10,000 per American. That figure does not include the cost, considerable but harder to reckon, of the policies meant to enhance welfare without the government first borrowing or taxing money and then spending it. I refer to laws and regulations that require some citizens to help others directly, such as minimum wages, maximum hours, and mandatory benefits for employees, or rent control for tenants.
Government-organized social programs are necessarily subject to inefficiencies, incompetence, and corruption. These characteristics plague any public-sector endeavor.
While the programs to help the poor are necessarily ineffective, statist tax schemes are quite effective at harming citizens. Mark Levin writes:
A recent study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that when measuring household taxes (income taxes and employee Social Security contributions), the United States “has the most progressive tax system and collects the largest share of taxes from the richest 10 percent of the population,” placing a heavier tax burden on high-income households than other industrialized nations do. The latest Congressional Budget Office figures show that the top 1 percent of income earners in the United States paid 39 percent of the federal income taxes while earning 18 percent of the pretax income and the top 5 percent of income earners paid 61 percent of federal income taxes while earning 31 percent of pretax income. Indeed, the top 40 percent of income earners paid 99.4 percent of federal income taxes. The bottom 40 percent of income earners paid no federal income tax and received 3.8 percent from the tax system. And the middle 20 percent of income earners pay only 4.4 percent of federal income taxes.
Citizens of good will see the fairness in paying taxes for the communal good. A reasonable voter
does not object to wealthier individuals paying more to finance the legitimate functions of government, the government has grown well beyond the limits placed on it by the Constitution, particularly since the New Deal. Redistributing wealth is a central objective of the progressive income tax.
But there is another purpose to graduated or progressive tax structures: to emphasize different levels of wealth among the citizens, and to pit them against each other in class struggle. Bureaucrats and elected politicians can, if they forego ethical considerations, profit from creating divisiveness among the citizens:
For the Statist, there must be a class struggle and it must be a never-ending struggle, for it is perhaps his most valuable weapon in his war against the individual, the free market, and ultimately the civil society. The Statist, therefore, not only opposes efforts to eliminate the progressive income tax, including such alternatives as the FAIR tax (a national sales tax) of the flat tax (a flat-rate income tax), he opposes most any income tax reductions that might weaken the “class structure.”
There is an alternative to the statist nightmare, in which the government takes wealth from citizens to fund programs which do not benefit those who most need help, and in which the government controls ever larger segments of private life which pitting groups of citizens against each other.
A more humane, and more effective, option is private-sector charity. Organizations across the United States operate effectively, without government funding, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, scholarships for needy students and daily care for low-income senior citizens.
Such private-sector charity routinely has much less corruption and inefficiency. Overhead is also lower, and in many cases, reduced to near-zero levels when individuals volunteer and donate their time and effort, as well as their money.
Private sector charities are not only a measurable and significant way to benefit the poor, but they can also preserve our civil liberties.