Here is a secret I got to tell those of you who do not believe in social security, free college tuition, unemployment benefits, and the minimum wage: being a socialist does not have to be about being selfish and giving back to the community. No, these programs are, in fact, beautifully shrewd and pragmatic. I love ‘em. Do I do so because I like some bad apples coasting on benefits or because I want to join them? Do I do so because I enjoy a tax money subsidized affordable university education? Maybe. But here is why I think everyone should approve of these welfare programs: because they are so inherently, beautifully selfish. But first a history lesson before everyone thinks I’ve been replaced by a lizard person from the 5th dimension.
|The one step program of creating a welfare state: be selfish.|
Germany’s first social security program goes all the way back to that hippy beatnik Otto von Bismarck, first chancellor of the unified German Empire. He introduced the program during what is generally considered a challenging time for the working classes. The industrial revolution, which had come quite late to the young nation, left the country with huge changes in its economy, infrastructure, and society. The poor were getting exploited, families migrated to the cities, wage workers started outnumbering farmhands. Once you couldn’t work anymore your options were to rely on your family, which could barely sustain itself, or beg and die. Becoming sick or getting maimed during the dangerous work the era often forced people to do left you just as penniless and destitute. In stepped the Social Democratic Party of Germany back when they weren’t just Merkel’s lapdogs and actual social democrats, working to improve worker condition. Until the eve of the First World War the party managed to become the country’s biggest political party. Social security and healthcare were not invented by them. Otto von Bismarck, the iron chancellor, the man who forged the nation from, in his own words, blood and iron, the warmonger who taught Garak from DS9 how to fake a war (you didn’t think I could do a “normal” article without a geeky reference now, did you?) invented the modern welfare state. I love it and it when I found out why he did that that I came up with the thesis I provided above.
|Surprise obligatory geeky reference to reduce our credibility!|
Bismarck introduced these policies to undermine the popularity of the Social Democrats and the Catholic Church, against which he, the staunch protestant, fought another, harsh campaign during this time,and to give the working class no reason to support these organisations. By that logic, modern conservatives should also want to support these programs. Think about it: social security and healthcare are hugely beneficial to a functioning economy. Instead of sick workers, be it in body or mind, ruining their company’s stats through their illness inflicted unproductivity, the economy would have happier, more productive workers at its disposal, who would also not have to fear about their retirement benefits every single day. Happiness would go up, productivity goes up, profits go up. Win-win. Same with the minimum wage: sure, on the short-term it may seem smart for economically conservatives and business owners to keep wages down in order to be more cost-effective, making bigger margins or being more competitive in the same sector, but a country-wide minimum wage is also way more effective and once again in a beautifully selfish way for companies: if you actually provide your employees with a living wage that allows them to not only pay their rent and expenses with, they might actually still have some spending money left over. Working in tandem with social security and other benefits programs, they would also refrain from saving up the money for a rainy day, instead reinvesting it into the economy. Historical American president (because, let’s be honest, we all knew which country I was talking about, eh?: the Ford Motor Company under Henry Ford. Every single worker made enough money to afford a Model T, somewhat explaining how the motor car, helping the popularity of their product. Same for fast food workers making a decent wage: changes are the more they have to spend, the more they will spent at fast food joints and others. And even if it is not your own workers who buy your products, other workers making the same high wages will. Another example? Free public education. Any good service economy as the western nations have become slowly but surely over the last fifty years relies on well educated workers in every single imaginable field. Heck, even the social sciences and liberal arts that are always poo pooed are important for creating new teachers and creative types that create soft capital around the world. Not having to start with huge debt into the workforce is also a boon, increasing personal happiness, productivity, and once again spending money which will flow back into the economy.
Creating, or sustaining, a well-functioning welfare system isn’t easy, it can be annoying, and it most certainly is expensive, but see it from a selfish perspective, see it from the perspective of a Bismarck: it’s an investment into playing the long game. Bleeding your workforce dry for the minimum effort may be a great short-term idea but you wanna also make money tomorrow and the day after, you want your children to continue making money, you wanna keep that business of yours making huge amounts of money, or maybe you wanna start one. A welfare program is nothing but just another part of the infrastructure of a country, but instead of in roads, rails, broadband, and bridges you invest in human capital. Use that infrastructure to make a buck. Otto von Bismarck was not a socialist by any word of the imagination. He introduced these policies to undermine the socialist movement and to keep the workers sated. But, in the end, when people are suffering, it doesn’t matter. Be selfish. Be a socialist.
Disclaimer: this article has not been paid for by the campaign to resurrect and re-elect Otto von Bismarck. Otto von Bismarck will not be running for the Bundestag to become Chancellor in 2017.