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|Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis; Mises, Ludwig von|
13 paragraphs found.
3 Compulsory Social Insurance
The essence of the programme of German etatism is social insurance. But people outside the German Empire have also come to look upon social insurance as the highest point to which the insight of the statesman and political wisdom can attain. If some praise the wonderful results of these institutions, others can only reproach them for not going far enough, for not including all classes and for not giving the favoured all that, in their opinion, they should have. Social insurance, it was said, ultimately aimed at giving every citizen adequate care and the best medical treatment in sickness and adequate sustenance if he should become incapable of work through accident, sickness or old age, or if he should fail to find work on conditions he considered necessary.
German social insurance and the corresponding institutions of other states are constructed on a very different basis. Maintenance is a claim which the person entitled to it can enforce at law. The claimant suffers no slur on his social standing. He is a State pensioner like the king or his ministers or the receiver of an insurance annuity, like anyone else who has entered into an insurance contract. There is also no doubt that he is entitled to look on what he receives as the equivalent of his own contributions. For the insurance contributions are always at the expense of wages, immaterial of whether they are collected from the entrepreneur or from the workers. What the entrepreneur has to pay for the insurance is a charge on labour's marginal productivity, it thus tends to reduce the wages of labour. When the costs of maintenance are provided out of taxes the worker clearly contributes towards them, directly or indirectly.
To the intellectual champions of social insurance, and to the politicians and statesmen who enacted it, illness and health appeared as two conditions of the human body sharply separated from each other and always recognizable without difficulty or doubt. Any doctor could diagnose the characteristics of "health." "Illness" was a bodily phenomenon which showed itself independently of human will, and was not susceptible to influence by will. There were people who for some reason or other simulated illness, but a doctor could expose the pretence. Only the healthy person was fully efficient. The efficiency of the sick person was lowered according to the gravity and nature of his illness, and the doctor was able, by means of objectively ascertainable physiological tests, to indicate the degree of the reduction of efficiency.
Now every statement in this theory is false. There is no clearly defined frontier between health and illness. Being ill is not a phenomenon independent of conscious will and of psychic forces working in the subconscious. A man's efficiency is not merely the result of his physical condition; it depends largely on his mind and will. Thus the whole idea of being able to separate, by medical examination, the unfit from the fit and from the malingerers, and those able to work from those unable to work, proves to be untenable. Those who believed that accident and health insurance could be based on completely effective means of ascertaining illnesses and injuries and their consequences were very much mistaken. The destructionist aspect of accident and health insurance lies above all in the fact that such institutions promote accidents and illness, hinder recovery, and very often create, or at any rate intensify and lengthen, the functional disorders which follow illness or accident.
A special disease, traumatic neurosis, which had already appeared in some cases as a result of the legal regulation of claims for compensation for injury, has been thus turned into a national disease by compulsory social insurance. No one any longer denies that traumatic neurosis is a result of social legislation. Overwhelming statistics show that insured persons take much longer time to recover from their injuries than other persons, and that they are liable to more extensions and permanent functional disturbances than those of the uninsured. Insurance against diseases breeds disease. Individual observation by doctors as well as statistics prove that recovery from illnesses and injuries is much slower in officials and permanent employees and people compulsorily insured than in members of the professions and those not insured. The desire and the necessity of becoming well again and ready for work as soon as possible assist recuperation to a degree so great as to be capable of demonstration.
To feel healthy is quite different from being healthy in the medical sense, and a man's ability to work is largely independent of the physiologically ascertainable and measurable performances of his individual organs. The man who does not want to be healthy is not merely a malingerer. He is a sick person. If the will to be well and efficient is weakened, illness and inability to work is caused. By weakening or completely destroying the will to be well and able to work, social insurance creates illness and inability to work; it produces the habit of complaining—which is in itself a neurosis—and neuroses of other kinds. In short, it is an institution which tends to encourage disease, not to say accidents, and to intensify considerably the physical and psychic results of accidents and illnesses. As a social institution it makes a people sick bodily and mentally or at least helps to multiply, lengthen, and intensify disease.
Social insurance has thus made the neurosis of the insured a dangerous public disease. Should the institution be extended and developed the disease will spread. No reform can be of any assistance. We cannot weaken or destroy the will to health without producing illness.
The reasoning which brought about unemployment insurance was the same as that which led to the setting up of insurance against sickness and accident. Unemployment was held to be a misfortune which overwhelmed men like an avalanche. It occurred to no one that lack of wages would be a better term than lack of employment, for what the unemployed person misses is not work but the remuneration of work. The point was not that the "unemployed" could not find work, but that they were not willing to work at the wages they could get in the labour market for the particular work they were able and willing to perform.
The value of health and accident insurance becomes problematic by reason of the possibility that the insured person may himself bring about, or at least intensify, the condition insured against. But in the case of unemployment insurance, the condition insured against can never develop unless the insured persons so will. If they did not act as trade unionists, but reduced their demands and changed their locations and occupations according to the requirements of the labour market, they could eventually find work. For as long as we live in the real world and not in the Land of Heart's Desire, labour will be a scarce good, that is, there will be an unsatisfied demand for labour. Unemployment is a problem of wages, not of work. It is just as impossible to insure against unemployment as it would be to insure against, say, the unsaleability of commodities.
Unemployment insurance is definitely a misnomer. There can never be any statistical foundation for such an insurance. Most countries have acknowledged this by dropping the name "insurance," or at least by ignoring its implications. It has now become undisguised "assistance." It enables the trade unions to keep wages up to a rate at which only a part of those seeking work can be employed. Therefore, the assistance of the unemployed is what first creates unemployment as a permanent phenomenon. At present many European states are devoting to the purpose sums that considerably exceed the capacity of their public finances.
It is the history of Marxian Socialism which shows most clearly that every socialist policy must turn into destructionism. Marxism described Capitalism as the inevitable preliminary to Socialism, and looked forward to the new society only as the result of Capitalism's fruition. If we take our stand on this part of Marx's theory—it is true that he has put forward other theories with which this is completely incompatible—then the policy of all the parties that claim Marx's authority is quite non-Marxian. The Marxians ought to have combated everything that could in any way hinder the development of Capitalism. They should have protested against the trade unions and their methods, against laws protecting labour, against compulsory social insurance, against the taxation of property; they should have fought laws hindering the full working of the stock and produce exchanges, the fixation of prices, the policy which proceeds against cartels and trusts; they should have resisted inflationism. But they have done the reverse of all this, have been content to repeat Marx's condemnation of the "petty bourgeois" policy, without however drawing the inevitable conclusions. The Marxians who, in the beginning, wished to dissociate themselves definitely from the policy of all parties looking to the pre-capitalist economic idea, arrived in the end at exactly the same point of view.