Welfare Without the State

When discussions about reducing government functions come up those advocating for the statist position usually decry eliminating state run welfare programs. They claim that eliminating such programs will lead to the poor dying left and right, children going hungry, and people living without health care coverage. As our society hasn’t always had state run welfare programs it does good to look back and how these situations were taken care of before the state got involved. I found an excellent article that talks about how mutual aid societies were used before the welfare state to care for those without means:

Many people think life without the welfare state would be chaos. In their minds, nobody would help support the less fortunate, and there would be riots in the streets. Little do they know that people found innovative ways of supporting each other before the welfare state existed. One of the most important of these ways was the mutual-aid society.

Mutual aid, also known as fraternalism, refers to social organizations that gathered dues and paid benefits to members facing hardship. According to David Beito in From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State, there was a “great stigma” attached to accepting government aid or private charity during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Mutual aid, on the other hand, did not carry the same stigma. It was based on reciprocity: today’s mutual-aid recipient could be tomorrow’s donor, and vice versa.

I’ve explained before that I’m against the existence of government welfare programs not because I hate the poor (I don’t) but because I despise violence and the government can only provide via money they obtain through their monopoly on the initiation of force. I refuse to support programs that require the use of violence, especially when there are methods of doing the same things voluntarily. Joining a mutual aid society is a voluntary act which allows groups of people to care for one another while nothing have a gun put to your head making you participate. Not only that but mutual aid societies had a history of providing good services that often surpassed those provided elsewhere:

Under lodge medicine, the price for healthcare was low. Members typically paid $2, about a day’s wage, to have yearly access to a doctor’s care (minor surgery was frequently included in this fee). Non–lodge members typically paid about $2 every doctor’s visit during this time period.

Low prices for lodges did not, however, necessarily translate to low quality. The Independent Order of Foresters, one of the largest mutual-aid societies, frequently touted that the mortality rate of its members was 6.66 per thousand, much lower than the 9.3 per thousand for the general population.

That isn’t the only example of a mutual aid society that provided cheap services that were also of high quality:

Many mutual-aid societies branched out and founded their own hospitals and sanitariums. The Securities Benefit Association, or SBA, charged $21 for an 11-day stay at their hospital in Kansas, while the average at 100 private hospitals was $72. Again, quality was not necessarily sacrificed for price. At the SBA’s sanitarium, the mortality rate was 4.5 percent, while the historical average for sanitariums was 25 percent. This is especially impressive considering that 30 to 50 percent of all cases admitted to the SBA’s sanitarium were “advanced.”

Likewise orphanages were created to not only house and feel those without parents but also educate them:

Mutual-aid societies also founded 71 orphanages between 1890 and 1922, almost all without government subsidy. Perhaps the largest of these was Mooseheart, founded by the Loyal Order of Moose in 1913. Hundreds of children lived there at a time. It had a student newspaper, two debate teams, three theatrical organizations, and a small radio station. The success of Mooseheart alumni was remarkable. Alumni were four times more likely than the general population to have attended institutions of higher learning. Male alumni earned 71 percent more than the national average, and female alumni earned 63 percent more.

That sounds like a pretty decent education without the need to put a gun to peoples’ heads and force them to pay for state provided child care and public schooling for the children in the state’s “care.”

Sadly although mutual aid societies were very effective they were also in the busy of providing for those without means which the government wanted a piece of. As with anything else the government involves itself with providing for those without means was something the state wanted no competition in. To ensure the state maintained a monopoly on welfare laws were enacted that first made life more difficult for mutual aid societies and eventually made it all but impossible for these societies to continue providing their services.

Regardless of the current situation providing for the poor is not something the state is needed for. The poor can be provided for through voluntary means just as they had been in the past. So if you’re like me and don’t believe the government should be providing welfare services remember this article. There is no doubt when you advocate the elimination of the welfare state that some statist punk is going to accuse you of hating the poor which likely isn’t true. Being able to provide an alternative to state run welfare will go a long ways in making your argument more legitimate and demonstrates you don’t hate the poor but instead love services that can be accomplished without the need of force and coercion.