… is from pages 262-263 of George Will’s excellent 2019 book, The Conservative Sensibility:
[Welfare] states presuppose economic dynamism sufficient to generate investments, job creation, corporate profits, and individuals’ incomes from which come tax revenues needed to fund entitlements. But welfare states produce in citizens an entitlement mentality and a low pain threshold. That mentality inflames appetites for more entitlements, broadly construed to include all government benefits and protections that contribute to welfare understood as material well-being, enhanced security, and enlarged leisure. The low pain threshold causes a recoil from the rigors, insecurities, and dislocations inherent in the creative destruction of dynamic capitalism. The recoil takes the form of protectionism, regulations, and other government-imposed inefficiencies that impede the economic growth that the welfare state requires.
‘Redistribution’ requires the existence of something to be redistributed. And because cash, as such, can’t be used as food, clothing, shelter, or for any other human purposes beyond kindling for fires or flooring for the cages of pet hamsters, meaningful ‘redistribution’ requires the existence of real goods and services.
The existence of real goods and services, in turn, requires production. And production – to be worthy of its name – must be of real goods and services that are useful to human beings. ‘Producing’ chocolate-covered pine cones is, in economic reality, to produce nothing; it is instead to waste human labor and chocolate.
To ensure that toiling human minds and hands actually produce, rather than waste, requires that the toiling hands and minds have knowledge not only of what people want, but of what people want most – how people rank their consumption possibilities. To toil to produce goods and services ranked low at the cost of not producing goods and services ranked more highly is waste almost as bad as toiling to produce goods and services not wanted at all.
In short, toiling, in order not to be wasteful, must be guided by knowledge of what people wish most to consume. To the extent that toiling is not so guided, it is wasteful.
The best means that humanity has stumbled upon for both informing people what to produce and giving people appropriate incentive to produce what ‘should’ be produced is the competitive market system and the money prices that it generates. (And, yes, the market – no less than language – was indeed stumbled upon and crafted largely by evolution; it was not designed and consciously implemented.) Ironically, perhaps the biggest flaw in this system is the fact that it works so marvelously well. The material fruits that it generates are so magnificent in form and volume that they appear to those of us blessed to live in market-oriented societies as being automatic, a feature of reality like oxygen or rain. Seeming so, the material fruits of markets are far too seldom explored to discover their actual origins.
The resulting ignorance of the operation and benefits of markets is rather like a virus that is potentially lethal to the very markets which do too little to dispel this ignorance.