The managerial welfare-state consumes the planet
By Mark Wegierski
It is the 52nd anniversary of the first Earth Day (1970).
Many people in Western societies today are rightly concerned with environmental issues. The locus of resistance to many negative current-day trends is likely to be found in ecology. Ironically, however, it could be argued that the Western managerial welfare-state so beloved by the Left is deeply anti-ecological, and possibly the main consumer of the planet. The managerial welfare-state is indeed very anti-ecological.
There exists today, in most Western societies, something that could be called the commodity-consumption/welfare-state. Despite the attempts of some boosters of the welfare-state to distinguish between the “bad” materialism of corporate consumerism, and the presumably “good” materialism of redistributive welfare-policies, the differences between what could both be seen as materialistic outlooks are minimal. It could also be pointedly asked, how much real wealth have massive government bureaucracies ever produced. One could also ask questions about the precise ratio between the costs of administration, and the amount of money delivered to the actual needy person.
Furthermore, a genuine sacrifice in the welfare-state administrators’ and propagandists’ consumption-lifestyle, on behalf of ecological concerns, is comparatively rare. Many of their ostensibly pro-ecological policies are designed so as to shift the maximum of costs onto other people, and to exponentially increase the permissible levels of government intrusion. One of the most obvious inducements to the conservation of such resources as electricity is to charge market prices for them, yet this is usually considered as leading to impermissible inequity.
Also, since boosters of the welfare-state typically absolve people of any responsibility for their individual actions, it thereby lessens the appeal they can make on behalf of individual conservation efforts. For example, why should anyone limit their water-consumption, if they are receiving it for free (or almost free), and know that even if they limit themselves, irresponsible others will use much more?
It could also be pointed out that the rather abstract allegiances of many sincere ecologists to “the planet” might not always make the most effective behavioural inducement. Some people tend to care most for their own nation, local community, and family. So, the ecological appeal might in some cases be better framed in terms of preserving the ecology of this country and this countryside. Indeed, it might be markedly more difficult to make arguments for sacrifices in one’s own consumption, if one’s national resources will invariably be drawn upon by ever-increasing immigration, and ever-increasing populations abroad.
It could be argued that the commodity-consumption/welfare-state as it exists in most of the West today, rapidly consumes the long-accumulated, once-carefully-shepherded wealth of a given state/society/nation like a ravenous, raging fire, in the end leaving only a burnt-out husk. The GDP is expected to always rise at least three per cent a year, and it seems that it is never enough. Extrapolating the possible ecological consequences of a compounding GDP increase (which is largely coterminous with ever-increasing consumption and resource-use patterns) over a period of a few hundred years is truly frightening. The maintenance of what are (by any world-historical measure) the comparatively very high living standards of a Western welfare-state can probably only occur with the intensifying despoliation of the natural environment; or with net negative population growth.
Ironically, the hypertrophy of immense wealth also actually results in the tendency towards the atrophy of authentic social standards and much of authentic social existence. Even as ever-greater wealth is generated, society loses many of its earlier good habits that would allow it to utilize and carefully conserve that wealth towards ensuring a long-term, sustainable existence. Indeed, there is waste at most levels of society, extending from the grotesque lifestyles of many celebrities, to the very comfortable lives of the managerial corporate and administrative elites, even to the careless resource-use habits of some welfare-recipients. It could be argued that older, lower-middle-class and working-class people live the most abstemious, self-sacrificing, “conservationist” types of existence. The latte-drinking “bourgeois bohemians” (described by David Brooks), who claim to be “progressive” and environmentally-sensitive, usually have far more conspicuous consumption habits than the lower-middle-class and working-class people whom they often disdain as unimaginative and hopelessly retrograde.
It is clear that Western managerial welfare-societies are the very opposite of premodern “stable-state” (or “steady-state”) societies. Had the resources offered by the consumptionist welfare-state over the last fifty years been carefully husbanded or shepherded, they could have possibly lasted for centuries — relative to previously available material standards of living for most of human history and humankind. Indeed, the Western-derived, socially-liberal, multiculturalist, consumptionist welfare-state might be only a very brief episode in human history, before some kind of massive dissolution into chaos, or, possibly, some sort of new re-integration, takes place.
It should be realized that ecological and environmentalist thinking may have elements that are very deeply traditionalist.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher. Earlier versions of this article have appeared in Enter Stage Right and Quarterly Review (UK).