Libertarians and conservatives as a whole tend to agree that dismantling the welfare state is vital in order to achieve a truly free and prosperous society. In order to realize this goal as a unified front, welfare must be thoroughly defined.
A characterization of welfare I believe all libertarians and conservatives can get behind is as follows: the forcible extortion of wealth for the purpose of either redistribution or for the victim of the extortion’s benefit, which will be manifest at some later time.
The versions of these that are most commonly thought of are food stamps, unemployment insurance, medical assistance programs, and Social Security. Versions of Welfare less frequently considered are policies such as our empire building policy and protectionist policies. If we accept the inclusive definition of welfare previously asserted, then we must accept that the welfare inherent to the modern state extends far beyond the forms of welfare typically considered as subsidizing irresponsibility. If welfare is antithetical to a prosperous and free society, it must be eliminated in every form in which it manifests itself.
If welfare is the result of violently extorted wealth being redistributed or used for the victims’ benefit in a way he did not seek, then it must extend to the state’s engagement of war. Wars in the last 72 years have been waged in order to subsidize either, or arguably both, the citizens of a foreign nation by attempting to provide US approved governments or the military industrial complex. This has created an empire for the United States, but not like the empires of the ancient world where satellite states paid tribute to the government that ruled them, but rather a modern empire in which the United States places the countries under its domain on a military welfare program. This enables these countries’ irresponsible lack of domestic military forces through subsidized protection provided by the international arm of the United States’ welfare program.
Rothbard often said that it is important to judge a program based, not off of its intention, but its result. With regards to modern wars, this means that the widely disseminated excuse for this welfare program must be discounted as ludicrous given the repeated results. The justification is often stated to be the increased safety of domestic citizens, as well as the promulgation of peace on a global scale. Given the only partial success of the Korean War as well as the outright failures of nearly all subsequent conflicts, it is abundantly clear that this justification is not the entirety of the rational. The subsidization, through blood and stolen money of the military industrial complex is the other branch of the international welfare program the US has created.
This is not a conspiracy theory, but rather the unfortunate fact as stated by politicians on both sides of the isle such as Dwight Eisenhower and Jim Webb. The US goes to war in order to create lucrative contracts for defense contractors and favorable industrial conditions in the state in which the war is being waged. This is welfare for entire industries that thrive off the manipulation of the inherent violence of the state. Their inefficiency in a global free market requires this in order to sustain their current levels of income. They require subsidization and sacrifice from the taxpayers, in the forms of contracts funded on stolen funds and sacrifices of blood for their bottom line.
On an individual level, war is welfare even when properly declared for the protection of the people of the US. Rather than individuals insuring themselves against aggression initiated by another state to the extent that each individual sees fit for himself, everyone is forced to pay for the same protection. Protection that annually incurs insatiably increasing rates for a marginal return not in line with the utility many individuals seek. There is no doubt that during WWII the citizens of California would have desired a much higher level of protection due to Japan’s proximity that the citizens of Wisconsin, yet the federal government subsidized the citizens of California at the greater than utility costs for citizens of Wisconsin. This is fundamentally a welfare program, as it is the forcible extraction of wealth for a centrally determined benefit for the victim, regardless of his own preference.
Another form of welfare that divides libertarians and conservatives is that of protectionism. If welfare is the forcible extraction of wealth for some centrally determined benefit to the victim, then protectionism is necessarily included in this. Typical forms of protectionism like tariffs and trade deals may not seem to require tax revenue and therefore can neither involve neither redistribution nor extortion. This fails to take into account a truth about government action; it cannot act in any way without the citizens subsidizing its inherent insolvency through forced taxation. The trade agreements and tariffs require man-hours, and that requires wealth to be extorted. It is then by definition welfare for this reason.
The argument that protectionism is welfare is also realized when the economic implications of welfare are considered. Proponents of protectionism do not bother to pretend that is doesn’t increase prices for consumers. Protectionism is welfare for industries that have failed to adapt and improve their efficiency, as the consumers are forced to choose from a selection of higher priced goods. This brings about a lower standard of living for those not subsidized by the protectionist policy, as they are forced to spend more money to maintain the same standard of living they previously enjoyed. This is money being forced out of the consumer’s pockets and into insolvent businesses, which is simply wealth redistribution from consumers to failed industries. Therefore protectionism is welfare whichever way you cut it.
Another form of welfare that is far more divisive is the popular policy of publicly funded roads. Roads are a monopolized resource funded by all, regardless of the respective marginal utility each individual receives from them. The arbitrary nature of funding roads by means of any system outside individual utility based off use imposes a form of welfare to subsidize those who wish to use it more than they have paid for. This forces those individuals whose utility is below the tax cost respective to them to subsidize those with whom their utility is equal to or greater than their use. Managing roads in terms of welfare is not only inefficient, but is fundamentally a form of welfare as wealth forcibly taken for a later benefit, in this case one that may not even equal its cost.
All libertarians and conservatives speak of how they wish to end welfare. The logic of such a statement, when boiled down to its conclusion, actually ends government services all together. Every government service, no matter how obscure, either fundamentally redistributes wealth or takes it for a good to be received by all, despite their individual utility and how much wealth they have given relative to their use. Libertarians and conservatives actually give merely hardliner rhetoric to their demands to end welfare, when in reality they simply want welfare reform. If libertarians and conservatives truly wanted to end welfare, they would demand the end of all government functions and transitivity the government itself.