The modern European welfare state accepts this outlook but asks, “Why should this ideal be attainable only by a privileged few? Why can’t we democratize aristocracy and give everyone the right to pursue a life of leisure?” Of course, the privilege gets thinner the farther out you spread it, so we can go only part of the way. Let’s start with six weeks of summer vacation and build from there.
The Swiss referendum was an attempt to go the rest of the way, to induct all Swiss citizens into an aristocratic leisure class entitled to live comfortably off of the work of others. The unavoidable contradiction is that if you extend this sense of entitlement to everyone, there will be no one left to pay for it. And the attempt to get closer and closer to the goal of everybody-consuming-and-nobody-producing merely piles the prospect of economic disaster on top of an insufferable sense of entitlement.
The guaranteed basic income may be a better way of distributing welfare looked at from within very narrow economic blinders. But the principle behind it and the cultural precedent it sets are disasters. Traditional welfare distributes money to people for specific needs and may involve a lot of bureaucracy, fraud, and paternalism; but at least it preserves the idea that money from the government should be an exception, a response to some special emergency. Yet that’s never what welfare advocates really had in mind, and the guaranteed minimum income brings this out into the open. It reveals the endgame of the welfare state: welfare as a way of life, a neo-aristocratic privilege of living without working.