Europe: Reassessing the Welfare State

A humanitarian dream becomes an economic nightmare

They are called welfare states, after the sense of collective compassion that inspired them in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II. Like Gothic cathedrals, they rose gradually across Western Europe, in dedication to a lofty goal: to create more humane societies, in which a solicitous state not only shielded the old and the sick but guaranteed a living wage and a cushion against the hardships of unemployment. The result—cradle-to-grave economic protection far beyond anything available in the U.S.—became European social democracy's proudest achievement. That accomplishment is now undergoing a...

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