I was reading about Welfare States and came across this on Wikipedia:

Emperor Ashoka of India put forward his idea of a welfare state in the 3rd century BCE. [...] The concepts of welfare and pension were introduced in early Islamic law as forms of Zakat (charity), one of the Five Pillars of Islam, under the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century... The taxes (including Zakat and Jizya) collected in the treasury of an Islamic government were used to provide income for the needy, including the poor, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled. (Wikipedia)

Beyond those two examples from pre-modern history, I wanted to know if there are more. And I also wanted to know the reasons why they (including the two examples already mentioned) stopped being welfare states. Was it just a regime change, or was it due to the model not being economically sustainable?

What were the earliest examples of welfare states, what qualities did they have, and why did the end?

  • 8
    I think it would help if you define better welfare states. If we call Zakat as welfare, we can arguably put many other religious or state taxes in this category, which then makes the answer very broad and useless.
    – Greg
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 1:51
  • 2
    Definition from the wiki article you linked - "The welfare state is a form of government in which the state protects and promotes the economic and social well-being of the citizens, based upon the principles of equal opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for citizens unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life." Pretty sure that caliphate might've qualified for the last principle, but not the first two. Besides, welfare isn't the only thing zakat money can be spent on - you'd need to check how the money was actually distributed. Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 3:38
  • 1
    @TheZ well, after reading up on Caliphate - I can't find any mention of actual income for the poor (besides the zakat). I did find that the government was to stockpile food to be distributed in case of a famine; that can be called a welfare program, I guess. Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 4:35
  • 5
    Having some humanitarian policies and being a welfare state is two different things.
    – John Dee
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 5:41
  • 6
    The Roman corn dole comes to mind. In antiquity, Rome distributed free or subsidised grain to the poorest ~200,000 of its citizens.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 6:17


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