Welfare state

A state whose government devotes a very large proportion of its activities and expenditures to the direct provision of personal benefits to be consumed by qualifying individuals or families (as contrasted with such more traditional and less individually divisible government activities as national defense, law enforcement, controlling the money supply, economic regulation, maintaining transportation and communications nets, administering the public lands, etc.). Welfare benefits to individuals may be in the form either of bureaucratically supplied professional services of government employees or in the form of government-issued stipends or allowances or subsidies (transfer payments) to help qualifying households pay for general subsistence or for specific categories of state-favored expenses (merit goods). Examples of such social welfare programs would include old age and disability pensions, unemployment benefits, aid to families with dependent children, income supplements for the poor, public housing and housing vouchers, health care provided in state hospitals or clinics and reimbursement for the costs of privately-provided health care, government-funded drug abuse rehabilitation programs, food stamps, public education and child care, etc. Advocacy of extensive "welfare state" programs was at first associated mainly with socialist movements, but in most Western industrial societies today many welfare state programs are endorsed as well by non-socialist parties that nevertheless still continue to reject the socialists' traditional demands for much more extensive state ownership, state planning, and state administration of industry and commerce.