I prefer to call the “welfare state” the transfer state, because that characterization leaves open the question of whether a government which engages in large-scale transfers of money from one group to another actually increases human welfare. I am skeptical, mostly because the transfer state is always in danger of creating a polity dominated by faction. It can in fact sustain the war of all against all—the very phenomenon that the state is supposed to prevent.
Our nation is in peril today, in no small part due the transformation of the United States from a nation dedicated to self-reliance to one where many are dependent on government. That change creates divisions because finite resources can support only so many dependents. The popularity among the young of Bernie Sander’s plan of free tuition, now largely adopted by Hillary Clinton, stems in no small part from youth’s recognition that they will be transferring a large portion of their earnings to elderly with little prospect of getting the same deal when they become old. It makes perfect sense to get something from the government now when the getting is good. Transfers to others beget the demand for transfers to oneself.
The infamous sign at one Tea Party Rally, “Hands off my Medicare,” is yet another sign of the inevitable conflict in the transfer state.