This paper will take an in-depth look at the institution of welfare in the United States. Proceeding from a brief history of modern welfare programs, this essay will then review many of the issues that have arisen concerning this form of public policy as well as the ongoing attempts in Congress to correct these issues. Indeed, while the notion of using public funds to help the destitute get back on their feet is a noble concept for left-leaning idealists, in practical application, it has generated more controversy from both sides of the American political aisle than it has addressed poverty in the United States. In the latter twentieth century, this controversy became even more heated in light of two recessions, unpredictable economic development and subsequent budget austerity.
Introduction Standard theory views government as functional: The analogy rests on the market economy: But surely it is strained to say that, in the same way, a demand for postal services will spontaneously give rise to a government monopoly Post Office, outlawing its competition and giving us ever-poorer service for ever-higher prices.
Indeed, if the analogy fails when even a genuine service e. When the government, in short, takes money at gun point from A and gives it to B, who is demanding what?
The cream cheese producer on the market is using his resources to supply a genuine demand for cream cheese; he is not engaged in coercive redistribution. But what about the government's taking from A and giving the money to B?
Who are the demanders, and who are the suppliers? One can say that the subsidized, the "donees," are "demanding" this redistribution; surely, however, it would be straining credulity to claim that A, the fleeced, is also "demanding" this activity.
A, in fact, is the reluctant supplier, the coerced donor; B is gaining at A's expense. But the really interesting role here is played by G, the government. For apart from the unlikely case where G is an unpaid altruist, performing this action as an uncompensated Robin Hood, G gets a rake-off, a handling charge, a finder's fee, so to speak, for this little transaction.
G, the government, in other words, performs his act of "redistribution" by fleecing A for the benefit of B and of himself.
Once we focus on this aspect of the transaction, we begin to realize that G, the government, might not just be a passive recipient of B's felt need and economic demand, as standard theory would have it; instead, G himself might be an active demander and, Welfare and society essay a full-time, paid Robin Hood, might even have stimulated B's demand in the first place, so as to be in on the deal.
The felt need, then, might be on the part of the governmental Robin Hood himself. Why The Welfare State? Why has government increased greatly over this century? Specifically, why has the welfare state appeared, grown, and become ever-larger and more powerful?
What was the functional need felt here? One answer is that the development of poverty over the past century gave rise to welfare and redistribution. But this makes little sense, since it is evident that the average person's standard of living has grown considerably over the past century-and-a-half, and poverty has greatly diminished.
But perhaps inequality has been aggravated, and the masses, even though better off, are upset by the increased income gap between themselves and the wealthy? But it should also be evident from one glance at the Third World that the disparity of income and wealth between the rich and the masses is far greater there than in Western capitalist countries.
So what's the problem?
Another standard answer more plausibly asserts that industrialization and urbanization, by the late 19th century, deprived the masses, uprooted from the soil or the small town, of their sense of community, belonging, and mutual aid. Certainly it is true that the welfare state emerged during the same period as industrialization and urbanization, but coincidence does not establish causation.
One grave flaw in this urbanization theory is that it ignores the actual nature of the city, at least as it had been before it was effectively destroyed in the decades after World War II.
The city was not a monolithic agglomeration but a series of local neighborhoods, each with its own distinctive character, network of clubs, fraternal associations, and street corner hangouts.
Jane Jacobs's memorable depiction of the urban neighborhood in her Death and Life of Great American Cities was a charming and accurate portrayal of the unity in diversity of each neighborhood, of the benign role of the "street watcher" and the local storekeeper.
Large city life in the United States by was almost exclusively Catholic and ethnic, and both the political and social life of Catholic males in each neighborhood revolved, and still, to an extent, revolves, around the neighborhood saloon.
There the men of the neighborhood would repair each evening to the saloon, where they would drink a few beers, socialize, and discuss politics. Typically, they would receive political instruction from the local saloonkeeper, who was generally also the local Democratic ward heeler.
Wives socialized separately, and at home. The beloved community was still alive and well in urban America. On deeper historical inquiry, moreover, this seemingly plausible industrialism explanation falls apart, and not only on the familiar problem of American exceptionalism, the fact that the United States, despite industrializing more rapidly, lagged behind European countries in developing the welfare state.
Detailed investigations of a number of industrialized countries, for example, find no correlation whatsoever between the degree of industrialization and the adoption of social insurance programs between the s and the s or the s.
The earliest massive social welfare program in the United States was the dispensing of post-Civil War pensions to aging veterans of the Union Army and their dependents.
Yet, these post-Civil War pensions were more likely to aid farmers and small townsmen than residents of large industrial cities. County level post-Civil War pension studies in Ohio in the late s, the peak years for these pension payments, demonstrate a negative correlation between the degree of urbanism, or percentage of people living in homes rather than on farms, and the rates of receipt of pensions.
The author of the study concluded that "generally, pensions were distributed to predominantly rural, Anglo-Saxon areas," while the major city of Cleveland had the lowest per capita rate of receipt of pensions.
This thesis has been summed up boldly by one of its adherents. Everywhere, he says, the welfare state has been the product of a highly centralized trade union movement with a class-wide membership base, operating in close coordination with a unified reformist-socialist party which, primarily on the basis of massive working class support, is able to achieve hegemonic status in the party system.
But setting that aside and concentrating on the United States, there has been, for one thing, no massively supported socialist party, let along one which has managed to achieve "hegemonic status.
But here, historians, almost uniformly starry-eyed supporters of labor unions, have wildly exaggerated the importance of unions in American history. When we get past romantic stories of strikes and industrial conflicts in which the union role is inevitably whitewashed if not glorifiedeven the best economic historians don't bother informing the reader of the meager quantitative role or importance of unions in the American economy.1.
Harold Wilensky put it baldly and succinctly: "Economic growth is the ultimate cause of welfare state development." Harold Wilensky, The Welfare State and Equality (Berkeley: University of California Press, ), p.
2. Thus, Flora and Alber find no correlation between levels of industrialization and social insurance programs of 12 European nations between the s and the s.
S arah – let’s call her that for this story, though it’s neither the name her parents gave her nor the one she currently uses undercover – is a tall, fair woman in her midtwenties who’s.
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I 18 October To the Citizens of the State of New-York.
When the public is called to investigate and decide upon a question in which not only the present members of the community are deeply interested, but upon which the happiness and misery of generations yet unborn is in great measure suspended, the benevolent mind cannot help feeling itself peculiarly interested in the result.
Creating a better society for future generations The two typical arguments against the very concept of social welfare that began this essay are meant to show that much of the antagonism and support for the abolishment of social welfare is a cultural prejudice that completely ignores the nuances of the economy and the lives of citizens /5(3).