The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations

By Lawrence C. Dodd; Calvin Jillson | Go to book overview
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panied the Depression. Once the crisis passed and the need for cheap labor increased, assistance programs became more restrictive, according to Piven and Cloward, who go on to characterize relief-giving as a countercyclical process that next erupted during the War on Poverty.

However, the cycle of expansion and contraction can be interrupted, as Piven and Cloward explain in The New Class War. If these authors are right, the development of public assistance is cumulative. Entitlements become permanent by virtue of the political support they enjoy, and attempts to bring about a contraction will fail. If -- and it is a big if -- the same process applies at the state level, then the history of public assistance in states with individualist political subcultures ought to follow a similar path. However slowly and fitfully, ADC and other forms of social welfare policy should continue expanding over time, breaking the cyclical pattern of relief -- unless fears of becoming "welfare magnets" become too strong, and prevent further liberalization.

Such fears may be set aside in counterfactual analyses by theorists who wonder what the course of social welfare policy in the United States might have been if individualist, and not traditionalist, states set the pace of development. A pattern of cumulative development or expansion, such as that implied in Piven and Cloward's revised thesis, suggests that public assistance would be more generous than it is, albeit less generous that it might have been under a regime of moralist values. That is, it seems very likely that the American welfare state would be less exceptional, if only it were more thoroughly liberal in character.


NOTES

I thank Larry Dodd and Cal Jillson for their support and encouragement, and for their editorial suggestions.

1
Old-age pensions were introduced in Germany in 1889, in Britain in 1908, in Canada in 1927, and in France in 1930. Unemployment insurance was introduced in Britain in 1911, in France in 1914, in Germany in 1927, and in Canada in 1935 (though the law was declared unconstitutional and was replaced by another in 1940). Compare King ( 1973a:300, table 3).
2
Hartz is only the best-known exponent of liberalism's hegemony in America. For a more recent statement of the position, see Huntington ( 1981), whose description of a prevalent "American Creed" parallels Hartz's characterization of "Lockean liberalism." A more subtle description of the American culture of liberal individualism is given by Merelman ( 1991), who mentions countervailing tendencies, but goes on to assert their weakness, compared to similar tendencies in other liberal cultures, for example, in Canada and, especially, in Great Britain.
3
The correlation is imperfect, as may be seen in Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky ( 1990), but the differences between Wildavsky and Elazar need not detain us here. Ellis ( 1991a) provides an incisive evaluation of Elazar's theory of political culture and criticism of his choice of descriptive labels.

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