A Good State is an Inclusive and Caring State
By Ooi Kee BengSeptember 2022 EDITORIAL
DEAR CITIZEN, who cares for you?
Or more succinctly, who should care for you?
When we talk about the Care Industry (as we are doing in this month’s magazine), we consider the “clients” in each case, be it in healthcare, childcare, eldercare and so on. But looking only at the Care Industry in separation from society at large provides us with too narrow a focus on human relations, and too constricted an understanding of what a caring society can be today.
It seems to me that the caring of obviously needy individuals in society works most effectively—and works most sincerely—if society as a whole is an inclusive one, in which its clients, in the final analysis, are simply its “citizens”.
Let us call this theoretical entity whose aim is to care—and therefore “empower” all its citizens according to their needs—The Good State. Obviously, what an ideal state is will vary from person to person, be it Aristotle or Confucius.
In today’s practice of governance, a legalist understanding of The Good State would be more or less as expressed in Law Insider[i], a site that helps lawyers and companies formulate contracts. For its purposes, The Good State is “a democratic state whose authorities can properly and efficiently govern the collective labour relations, in such a manner so as to ensure achievement and maintenance of social peace via social dialogue between the social partners representing the collective interests of workers and employers.”
From Market to Home
In countries that are more clearly welfare states, peace and prosperity in the labour market pave the way for peace and prosperity in the homes, and this is done via strong state intervention towards that purpose.
It is, however, that path itself—from market to home, that decides how well a state functions and how well it deserves the accolade “Good”.
To guarantee broad peace and deliver stable prosperity, the state has to maximise social justice, collective security and individual empowerment. And to do that, it would help if it considers all citizens to be under its care, that all are its clients. That, it appears to me, is the raison d'être of statehood.
The Good State, in short, is one that seeks to create and maintain a caring—and inclusive—society.
And so, we come to the word “Care” itself. What is that exactly? According to dictionary.com, to care is to be in “a state of mind in which one is troubled”. This is short and simple. When one cares, one worries and one feels anxious and concern.
In the longer term, caring for someone would require a search for solutions that stop or at least minimise the need to worry or be troubled. And so, it appears to me, that a good state puts into place collective solutions to minimise its own anxieties about its citizens.
That is the larger context of considerate governance that is needed, within which the Care Industry would function best.
On one side, we have the provision of immediate solutions for the neediest citizens. But these are made difficult if the state does not, at the same time, provide the physical, legal and cultural infrastructure that concretises caring as the basic aim of governance.
The key discussion then is about what this infrastructure is and what it involves.
A Caring Environment
Care afforded by a government should naturally be a consistent technocratic undertaking, and though compassionate, it should not be a sentimental, and certainly not a short-term vote-buying enterprise. It needs to be troubled about its citizens and not about itself.
The classic duties of the government remain relevant. The state’s job is to provide infrastructure that empowers, and this must include the fields of eldercare, childcare and healthcare.
But much more than that, it must generate an environment of empowerment for all. This boils down largely to thought and investment in town and physical planning, in legal security and in wealth distribution mechanisms.
Good public transport, good education system, good legal system, good jobs, et cetera. A caring state delivers individual empowerment.
Ooi Kee Beng
is the Executive Director of Penang Institute. His recent books include The Eurasian Core and its Edges: Dialogues with Wang Gungwu on the History of the World (ISEAS 2016). Homepage: wikibeng.com