Social Policy in Canada. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

Article excerpt

Ernie Lightman, Social Policy in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003, 294 pp.

For too long, social policy had to cope with sub-status as an aspect of economic policy or public policy. Social policy deals with the arrangements human beings invent in their several relationships. Ernie Lightman shows that policies of the economy, politics, the family, education, employment, gender, welfare and so forth are ALL social policies.

Lightman believes "there is much room for manoeuvring and incremental progress within existing social structures" and that he desires a welfare society reliant on the state (preface), so we know he is likely liberal-social democrat in approach. His discipline is economics, though this is not a book about welfare economics. It examines programs, services and their resources as well as their costs and financing. He looks at taxing to fund social welfare and shows the relationship with private and volunteer services.

Lightman gives clear, edifying examples. The richest quintile of the Canadian population earned $17.60 for every $1 earned by the lowest quintile in 1998. The follow-up is presented as information, not opinion. The income gap between top and bottom widened between 1989 and 1998 from a ratio of 7.2 to 8.6 (income after all taxes and government transfers.) The discussion of gini coefficients is both palatable and understandable. The few mathematical equations are stated in words.

This book grapples successfully with difficult and sometimes ambiguous concepts -- equity vs. equality, fairness, justice, consensus, and the integrative function of welfare policy. Residual and institutional approaches to social welfare deserve a judgement call. Which is better? Residualism is an ideology. Responsibility "resides" with the person and the family (thus the name.) Lightman' s recognition of the need for state intervention to effect any successful social policy leads directly to the institutional approach. Social policy and public welfare are "institutions" of a society with an effective citizenry and community life (thus that name.)

Lightman reviews the social welfare privatization fiascoes of recent decades. The chapter on allocating benefits is especially valuable for social policy veterans and the beginning student. Lightman, as an economist, might have made more of the discussion of the insurance principle. Benefits as citizen right is more equitable than benefits arising from paying premiums for insurance, but Lightman does not comment on the portion of the population that is not covered by social insurance. Insurance schemes are more expensive and complicated, usually have to allow for profit to be skimmed off, and are subject to manipulated actuarial calculations upon which they are based.

Lightman begins his short history of Guaranteed Annual Income in the USA with the writings of Milton Friedman, the right-wing ideologue credited with bringing down the welfare state, giving economic advice to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (as well as others) and fueling the anti-statist political and economic drives of the 1970s to present. …