From Welfare as Handout to INVESTMENT...

Over the course of the last few months of discussions across Europe — one thing has become increasingly apparent: we are rapidly approaching a tipping point as to the politically and culturally perceived role of “welfare” in developed societies.

We are tittering towards misunderstanding Welfare as the minimum Viable Social Contract to maintain the massive accumulation of Private Wealth.

In many states, the political debate around the future of welfare has become rapidly reductive and increasingly short-term to match election cycles; Driving a increasingly vocal silent concenscious of viewing welfare as a “cost” (as accounted in state books) — a price that needs to be reluctantly paid by politicians and citizens— tolerated by the paying “clubs of voter” as necessary to obtain “license to operate” and maintain a grudging peace.

Our media led perspective of the welfare system has regressed all the activities traditionally connected to welfare to the most lowest and perhaps the most regressive form - targeting “the deserving poor”.

Welfare & social policy is no longer viewed an effective tool to drive innovation, labour market liquidity, reduce inequality and boost sustainable demand and economic growth, but instead a tool to hide, mitigate, or manage the political effects of issues at stake (the visibility of homelessness, street begging, queues in hospitals). Welfare is been reduced to a political Elastoplast, as opposed to care, cure, prevention and fundamentally Investment.

But we know there are more viable high order positions and roles to be occupied by welfare in the societal pyramid — the first of which is to see Welfare as a mitigating social investment, an effective way to manage and mitigate future social liabilities & costs. This model understand welfare as a system, and tries to avoid future social costs by putting in place measures to prevent social ills from happening — a true preventative investment at a system level. For instance investment into the energy efficiency of a house is seen and pursued not only as a way to reduce carbon emissions, but also as a method to ensure saving for the healthcare system in terms of mitigating. the cases of pneumonia itself at source etc.

This particular social investment welfare model presents an architecture designed to address our “needs”, both current and future, and the associated social liabilities/costs both present & into the future. Whilst impressive and a step forward the above only really presents a world of mitigating liabilities and conserving our future and present.

A further evolution of the way we conceive welfare, is to consider it as a a mechanism to unlock the potential & capacity of citizens, creating the conditions for individuals to thrive — enabling & unlocking those disadvantaged — to make a positive contribution to the development of our civilisation. This view of welfare sees not only future liabilities but the opportunities unleashed by investing in those disadvantaged. This is future which sees Welfare as social investment for citizens to thrive.

The next and a potentially higher form of welfare policy model — Universal Welfare — sees welfare as a system investment for Democratising innovation and capacity to make society. This future sees welfare as a structural investment to unleash the innovative capacity of society as a whole — recognising welfare as the pre-condition of a society “thrive-ability”. This means thinking about welfare not as a “last resource” to rescue the poor or as a tool to ensure future savings for the State by preventing people to become poor — but as the shared social infrastructure that provide each and every citizen with the freedom to invent, innovate, explore and take risks — thereby creating. real long terms societal value.

Now, only if we can start to imagine welfare as a interdependent system of strategic societal investments and continuous preventative investment — meeting our needs whilst structurally accelerating our freedom & thrive-ability — will we be able to achieve the material and societal returns we need, to build a civilisation fit for the 21st century along with the 22nd century and along with a fundamentally a viable welfare model.

This transition demand not just a transition in our mindset and our political descriptors — it requires us to change how we account for welfare as whole and how our welfare institutions become interdependently accountable, systemically collaborative and interoperable.

This future requires us to structurally remodel our welfare services/products and platforms, leading the shift from cost-efficiency to efficacy focused on unlocking our collective human capacity instead of merely addressing the politically unpalatable visual effects of social ills.

This model of welfare sees it as a structural building block for unleashing human potential  and building a new 21st Century Human Capital Economy. — whilst this has been intuitively recognised for over 150 years — is now increasingly understood, evidenced, and necessary for our new emergent economy.

This future also means that we need to be able see how welfare becomemore than the sole responsibility of the state, but the enlightened interdependent responsibility of a broad range of actors, cooperating to unlock all our potential, shared wealth and our capacities to innovate.

Maybe, just maybe despite everything, we are finally ready to move beyond our legacy & incumbent lock-ins and transcend vested interests to structurally build an evidence & data driven, enlightened welfare system for the 21st century — one beyond the black swan dependencies of political & media headline leadership or the extraordinary pilots of the Citizens Wage emerging, to one which systemically extends the 20th century Norwegian vision of welfare and that makes it fit for the future of the whole of us.


Indy Johar