The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Nanny State vs. Welfare State

Posted by rantingkraut on November 3, 2008

Reporting on Alan Bennett’s decision to donate his personal archives to Oxford University Library, the Economist quotes Bennett with the following words: ““I felt in a way it’s a recompense for the education I was given,” the writer told The Economist. “I went to a state school in Leeds. I went to Oxford on a scholarship. I benefited at every stage from the nanny state, as it is disparagingly called. It would be unimaginable now to be a student and free of money worries. But I was lucky in my time and I’m grateful to be nannied.”” (source)

Bennett seems to equate the nanny state with the welfare state –is this correct? I am not aiming here, to discuss the pros and cons of having a welfare state or of how extensive it should be. Instead I’d like to make a simple observation: A welfare state is not the same as a nanny state. Sure, most welfare states have authoritarian elements. It is also true that those benefiting from re-distribution are partially relieved from the burden of responsibility for their own lives. But unless the welfare state approaches an overall socialist system, the similarities may well end there.

I am old enough to remember the welfare state of the 1970s and 1980s. There certainly was plenty of redistributive and egalitarian intervention then. I have no recollection, however, of extensive state campaigns and prohibitions aiming to tell people what to eat (how much fruit, salt etc.), what to drink or where to smoke. In short, could it be that today we have less of a welfare state and more of a nanny state?

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