The contemporary welfare state’s origins go back to 19th-century Germany, but some of its biggest expansions in Europe occurred after 1945. Given Europeans’ yearning for economic security after two devastating world wars and the Great Depression, this wasn’t a surprising development.
What was surprising is just how quickly European politicians recognized that the state’s ability to provide social programs and subsidies was a potent way for them to build reliable voting constituencies. Governments of all stripes realized they could attract support by making promises regarding pensions, retirement ages, subsidies, unemployment benefits and government jobs. This was paid for by increased taxation.
And when that didn’t cover costs, debt became the means to meet the shortfalls.