The collapse of the state

I finally got round to reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens last week, and it was quite a good read in general, although I thought the chapters were of varying quality.

There was one bit that felt really weird and dated, however, and the book is only seven years old (on p.402 in the paperback edition):

You are no longer dependent on your family or your community. We, the state and the market, will take care of you instead. We will provide food, shelter, education, health, welfare and employment. We will provide pensions, insurance and protection.

To be fair, it was probably a fair description until recently, but the Tories have been busy dismantling all of these state functions ever since they got into power, building upon changes that New Labour had introduced when they were in power: Lots of people are either unemployed or underemployed (so the state is not providing employment for all); and those people often fall through gaps in the welfare system, which means that they don’t necessarily get food and shelter. In England, students have to pay enormous tuition fees to go to university, and the NHS is under immense strain. The age at which you get a pension is rising all the time, and the British state pension is very small anyway. And so on.

According to Harari, people gave up relying on their families and their communities for these things because the state stepped in, so if the state is now retreating again, it will become necessary to turn back time in that regard. In other words, we’ll have to live in large close-knit families that will look after us because the state won’t help us.

My dad and his siblings.

Will we all start having five to ten children like people used to in order to ensure that somebody will look after us when we grow old? Are we ready for that?

The Tories are doing this deliberately, and the richest amongst them might have the resources to cope without a strong state. For the rest of us, however, it will be rather annoying to have to recreate ancient family structures to take over where the state steps back.

Wouldn’t it be easier simply to stop rolling back the state?

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