During the period of the welfare state the Western European population grew to enjoy an unprecedented degree of wellbeing. Never in the course of history did so many Europeans have access to a dignified life. The middle class grew larger and larger through the welfare state. However, within it a tumour grew.
This cancerous body is called the taxpayer: a miserly, short-sighted, contemptuous figure devoid of any sense of patriotism, vision, or civilization. The taxpayer is despicable not for his concern with wasteful spending, but because of his basic attitude of mistrust.
The generation who built the welfare state was one which “had experienced poverty, a deep sense of loss, the anxieties engendered by the near collapse of capitalism, and a consequent war of inhumane proportions” as Yanis Varoufakis wrote. The generation which followed was spared these miseries and brought forth the first great mass of taxpayers.
Many things have caused the downfall of the welfare state, but the politicians who carried out its dismantling could not have come to power without these pathetic little taxpayers which it brought into existence. This is also why one shouldn’t mourn the ending of the welfare state and wish for its return as many do. As the late French philosopher Andre Gorz explained:
[The welfare state] has not given rise to a different public space, to other forms of sociality, other forms of life and work governed by an autonomous rationality ad values.
Instead of expanding the power social individuals have over their lives, over modes and outcomes of their social co-operation, the welfare state, running parallel in this with capital, subjects them to its own power and deprives them of their space of autonomy in exchange for the forms or security they are guaranteed.
Society should ideally produce the opposite of the taxpayer, the citizen. A citizen demonstrates civic virtue through a commitment to civic duties and the general wellbeing. That which a citizen wants to build up a taxpayer wants to tear down.
The welfare state traded self-determination for security. Lacking a sense of control over his environment the taxpayer demanded the welfare state. Now that this has nearly been accomplished it seems that the diminishing of security has not brought back self-determination. Nor do we have more citizens.
New ways to balance security and self-determination need to be found if a society with a stronger commitment to civic virtue is to be achieved. Any such proposals will have to take into account on the inherent mistrust of the taxpayer. For new arrangements to succeed, the taxpayer must die.