The Juxtaposition of a Capitalistic Welfare System

The following guest post was written by Kwantlen CRIM 3305 Zahra Sunderani

“While the pivotal point in the rule of law is ‘equality of all before the law’, the provision of formal equality in the legal sphere does not extend to the economic sphere. Thus the law maintains only the appearance of equality, because it never calls into question the unequal and exploitative relationship between capital and labour.”

I find that the above quotation is one which reveals the way that the law can function in a capitalistic society. Karl Marx explains that capitalism is a system which maximizes persons’ labour in order to achieve surplus value. This surplus value is attained through the labour that persons invest into what they are crafting, which then can be sold at a higher price as a result. This unequal relationship between the labourers and the capitalists must take place in order for this system to flourish. Marx expresses how corrupt this system is by stating that “capitalists exploit workers to the detriment of all: ‘The more the worker produces the less he has to consume; the more value he creates the more worthless he becomes.’” (Pavlich, 90) Since capitalism is a system which must create inequality in order to function necessarily, the most equal the law can become within the confines of a capitalistic society is to simply hold its appearance.

The case study I choose to use in order to argue with Comack, is that of the social assistance (a.k.a. welfare) system in Canada, explored by Mirchandani and Chan in their text: Criminalizing Race, Criminalizing Poverty: Welfare Fraud Enforcement in Canada. This system has been scrutinized as being completely inadequate for those who are most in need. The policies are made to be strict in order to avoid welfare fraud, but the reality is that they are systematically disabling those who most need them. The authors reveal how welfare policies and procedures stigmatize recipients, and through welfare enforcement, the process of criminalization in an attempt at social justice, simply furthers economic inequality. (Mirchandani & Chan, 62)

In particular, the authors note the unlawful surveillance techniques that are used in order to detect welfare fraud in Canada. At any time, if a person is suspicious of committing fraud, an eligibility agent can visit the home of a recipient in order to make sure that what they are claiming on paper is the actuality of their situation. What is more, is that most recipients have expressed their discomfort with this invasion of privacy, but also feel pressured to comply for fear of not receiving a cheque from the government. In comparison with criminals, if police officers cannot simply barge into a criminal’s home if they suspect them of committing criminal activity, then how is it legal for an eligibility agent to carry such rights? (Mirchandani & Chan, 70)

There is also a “big brother-esque” surveillance technique called the Hot Line. This is a twenty four hour call centre which is set up in the case that a person wants to report the possibility of welfare fraud by a welfare recipient. There are no restrictions to who can call this line, which then leads to a home visit from an agent. This line then can be used as a threat to welfare recipients, forcing them to live in fear of being cut off from their assistance. This intense invasive treatment of welfare recipients may arguably be infringing on their right to privacy. It is dehumanizing, harsh, and ineffective, which once again exemplifies Comack’s statement. (Mirchandani & Chan. 73)

The idea that law tries to assert in supposedly treating everyone as equals under the law, cannot absolutely do so when it is working within the confines of a capitalistic society. Due to the inherent inequality that is the essence of a capitalistic society, the law tries to operate for all different persons of various economic situations, but is impaired in doing so equally.

Lastly, I want to offer a link to a sketch about the issues regarding capitalism. The sketch is done over top of a talk that was held by a Marxist geographer: David Harvey. It is very informative and definitely relates to what we have learned about in class. Also, it is thoroughly entertaining.

RSA Animate. “Crises of Capitalism.”June 2010. Web. 10 October 2014.


Mirchandani, Kiran & Chan, Wendy. Criminalizing Race, Criminalizing Poverty: Welfare Fraud

Enforcement in Canada.Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2007. Print.

Pavlich, George. Law & Society: Redefined. Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.


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One response to “The Juxtaposition of a Capitalistic Welfare System

  1. This is a good post, and an effective example. In fact, Comack’s (2006) edited volume includes a chapter, by Janet Mosher, on ‘The construction of “welfare fraud” and the wielding of the state’s iron fist’. Mosher emphasizes the symbolic power of ‘crackdowns’ on welfare fraud in the context of neoliberalism, with the underlying message being that “the good, neo-liberal citizen is self-reliant and independent, providing for his needs throughout the market, and zealously guarding what he has earned through his market participation” (p. 210).