Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation.
Few conservative misconceptions are more deeply rooted than the idea than the welfare state competes with the market for resources. In fact, modern business and the modern welfare state have grown up together –and both have grown at the expense of the family.
Before the industrial revolution, most production as well as most care-giving was performed within the farm household, by family members. You churned your own butter and you cared for your children, your elderly parents and your sick spouse at home.
Thanks to the development of machinery powered by mined or collected energy—be it coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear or renewable energy—most production has long since moved out of the household into mechanized factories. You now buy your factory-produced butter in a store.
At the same time, thanks to the mechanization of agriculture, the number of Americans working on farms has gone from 9 out of 10 around 1800 to fewer than 2 in a hundred today. The surplus labor freed from the agricultural sector by technology-driven productivity growth has been forced to find employment as wage-earners, in industry or services....