Thank you for your thoughtful response. Perhaps I wasn't very clear in my prior post. I am not an anarcho-capitalist, nor are most Americans. It has actually become a common tactic among progressives in the United States (essentially American socialists, more commonly known here by the misnomer “liberals”) to knock down strawman caricatures of conservatives and libertarians by pointing out things the government does to which pretty much no one objects, so I am actually used to responding to these arguments. I did not say that we should not have government or regulations, and of course having government requires taxation to fund it. I do not oppose these things (although I’m not sure why you think taxation is not a confiscation of wealth. Are taxes voluntary in your country?). The difference is that the core of the philosophy of the American founding was the idea that "government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."
Even Milton Friedman allowed that different sets of laws/regulations must be put in place for natural monopolies like an electricity company, because there is no obvious competition, nor should there be one. However, that is different from, say, the government owning and operating the electric company, or otherwise socializing the cost of electricity. I also think I alluded to the fact that the government must be the entity that is primarily responsible for the enforcement of its own laws, and that those laws (and their enforcement) are necessary to safeguard the liberties of all citizens. So too with a military to defend the nation from threats from abroad, and other emergency service (such as fire). Along the same lines, I personally do think that the government has a place in building infrastructure (though I should note that the notion that the private sector cannot be trusted at all does not go unchallenged). But I don't think anyone could consider these things exclusively aspects of either "socialism" or a "welfare state."
You are welcome to your opinions of what makes for the optimal society, but the undercurrent that runs through your reply betrays precisely the statist philosophy I was talking about: You speak glowingly about the benefits and importance of an “efficient” society. This is what socialists of all stripes (including Fascists and Nazis, as well as American Progressives) have talked about since the late 19th century; central planning was necessary in order to make society run more efficiently. Indeed, you speak of statist intervention into the lives of all individuals as necessary so that “the citizens live a life worthy of a human being.” I can think of few phrases that more perfectly capture the totalitarian vision: without the state as our ever-present benefactor, we’re as good as sub-human. Indeed in some cases, those whom the state deemed incapable of life worthy of a human being were declared lebensunwertes leben: life unworthy of life.
Ensuring that citizens live lives worthy of a human being. Who could possibly object to that? What a noble sentiment! The problem is, a noble sentiment is pretty much all it is—it says nothing about how to best organize society, about the rights of man, about the proper role of government, or anything else. Tell me: what is a life worthy of a human being? Is it a life of selfless toil and noble sacrifice? Is it a life of pious study and worship of God? Is it a life in which the false constraints of superstitions and religious beliefs are thrown off? Is it a life free of worry and stress? Is it a life of optimal health and physical conditioning? In a society in which the state ensures that everyone lives “a life worthy of a human being,” who decides what constitutes such a life? Well, certainly not the individual, for neither is the state able to cater to the idiosyncratic whims of millions, nor is doing so efficient (efficiency being the ultimate goal, after all). In the worst case scenario, it is decided by unelected bureaucrats appointed by an authoritarian regime. In the best case scenario, it is decided by unelected bureaucrats appointed by elected officials. In either case the individual disappears—because the bureaucrats can’t manage individuals, they can only manage blocks or masses—and someone else inevitably decides for the individual what must be done to make his or her life worthy of a human being. This is absolutely necessary if the ultimate goal is to make society more efficient; a well-drilled military must be regimented and coordinated as a group and not as individuals, after all, and an effective assembly line does not leave room for individual improvisation. Now, you may be right that this is the finest way to arrange a society, but don’t try to pretend this is a vision of a truly free society.
Right now you are perhaps thinking that I am being obtuse; obviously you are not advocating such a totalitarian dystopia. After all, you are merely advocating (or at any rate, defending the socialist who advocates) for the government to control and distribute those most basic necessities of life, such as food, water, shelter, and health care (and possibly electricity and transportation and time off of work). “Far from limiting individual liberty,” the argument goes, “by providing these things the state increases individual liberty by freeing people from worrying and stressing about them.” I admit, on the surface that all sounds fantastic, but when you get to actually implementing these ideas in terms of policy you find that in many ways “health care” is as ambiguous as “life worthy of a human being.” Does “health care” simply mean paying for visits to the hospital and various medical services? Does “health care” include footing the bill for the treatment of chronic diseases caused by years of unhealthy living? Does “health care” include the prevention of such chronic diseases by encouraging more healthy living? Does “health care” include prevention of such chronic diseases by only providing “healthy food” (since the optimal socialist society controls and distributes such a basic necessity) and outlawing unhealthy things like tobacco and alcohol? Does “health care” include mandated daily exercise to prevent such chronic diseases? With the elderly person in need of an expensive operation to live, the success of which is perhaps 50/50, does “health care” include covering the cost of the operation because the elderly person wants to live a few years longer to see the birth of his/her first grandchild, or does “health care” instead include “end of life counseling” because those few more years do not constitute life worthy of a human being? “Surely,” you may respond, “nobody would be so cold and heartless as to deny this individual the operation on these grounds!” But the bureaucrats in charge of granting expensive operations do not see the individual, they see statistics—they see masses.
You see, if the state controls the most basic needs of the individual, then the state controls the individual. It may sound wonderful to be able to give up these responsibilities and be free of these burdens, but socialism is a Faustian bargain. This brings me to my primary point. You said, “I disagree with your saying that a "socialist" state (that's how you call it, I wouldn't) fails when things start going poorly. In fact, it's the crises when the importance of the State becomes even more obvious.” I’m afraid you did not understand what I was saying. I did not say that the socialist state “fails” when things start going poorly; I said that when things start going poorly you begin to understand just how much power the socialist state has, and how little freedom the individual has. The government running health care is great as long as there is plenty of money and plenty of doctors and plenty of medical facilities. When these things start running low, you start to see people slowly lose their freedoms. Usually, health care costs start to get too high for the government to handle first, so they start to pay doctors less and less over time to compensate. Gradually, more and more doctors stop accepting government compensation and only accept fee for service. As society starts running low on “affordable doctors,” outraged politicians give fiery speeches about the abuses of these “price-gouging” doctors and pass laws prohibiting private medical services; the medical professionals are thus the first to lose their freedoms. Frustrated older doctors choose to simply retire, and young students, seeing that there is less benefit to going through the many years of training and hard work to become a medical doctor, are less likely to choose that path. As doctor shortages gradually become more acute, excessively long waits to see doctors—especially for things requiring specialists but also for more routine things—become the norm. As the government’s money problems worsen, cost-cutting becomes necessary and the greatest medical expenses are targeted first: chronic illness and care for the elderly. Prevention becomes the watchword, and the government starts with harmless things like encouraging everyone eat broccoli and jog twice a week. Then they start banning the sale of soda larger than 16 ounces. Then… well, I think you can see where I’m going with this. My point is that socialism is essentially a statist position, and as things start going poorly—far from “failing,”—the socialist state tends to become more statist.
It is almost certainly true that healthy and stress-free workers are more productive than unhealthy and stressed workers. It is probably true that encouraging childbirth is a good thing. It is certainly to the benefit of society to have a skilled and literate populace. It does not follow, though, that socialist solutions are the best, or indeed the most efficient means of bringing about these ends. The reason the Soviet Union collapsed, Europe has persistently lagged behind the U.S. in growth, Chili is in such better shape than its far more richly resourced neighbors Argentina and Brazil, and China asked Milton Friedman of all people to help with reforms is that central planning tends to be terribly inefficient. It is the ultimate statist’s fallacy to assume that if something is worth doing, the government should do it. So as to your charge of selfishness, just because I don’t think the government should be doing certain things does not mean I think those things simply shouldn’t be done.
My point here is not to debate the efficacy of socialism versus the free market, though, nor to champion the supposed virtues of Americans. America does indeed have poor people; I know because I’ve spent years working with them. I think socialism is a flawed system that gradually bankrupts its people both economically and morally. Even if socialism was really as great as its advocates proclaim it to be, however, I would still oppose it because it is invariably statist, and at its core it is antithetical to freedom.