Paul Lachine

Voters vs. the Welfare State

Only time will tell if recent elections in the UK, the US, and Canada, together with next year's presidential election in France, signal a retreat from the growth of the welfare state or just a temporary respite. But comparing the four countries economic performance reveals that the stakes are immense.

STANFORD – Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, by winning an outright majority of seats in his country’s parliament for the first time since assuming office, continues a remarkable series of national election victories, backed by voters demanding at least a pause, and perhaps some reversal, of the growth of the welfare state.

Moreover, Harper’s victory follows the Republican Party’s resounding 2010 triumph in the United States’ mid-term election, a campaign largely fought on the size and scope of government, following the massive expansion of public spending in the wake of the financial crisis and recession. British Prime Minister David Cameron (who leads, as Harper did until recently, a center-right coalition government), likewise won on a platform to roll back the excesses of the welfare state.

Next up is French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s anticipated re-election bid. France has higher taxes and social-welfare benefits than the United Kingdom, Canada, or the US. Sarkozy, despite initial attempts to roll back some French entitlements, has thus far produced less reform than Cameron or Harper, let alone Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s.

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