Transformation of the Welfare State: The Silent Surrender of Public Responsibility

Transformation of the Welfare State: The Silent Surrender of Public Responsibility

Transformation of the Welfare State: The Silent Surrender of Public Responsibility

Transformation of the Welfare State: The Silent Surrender of Public Responsibility

Synopsis

Since the early 1970s, debate has raged over the "crisis of the welfare state." As the United States successfully exported its bootstrap brand of capitalism and an ever-broadening range of public activity came to be viewed through the prism of profit and loss, social welfare policies were closely scrutinized worldwide. Welfare was no longer seen as a means to remedy the inherent flaws of capitalism, but rather was recast as part of the very problem it was designed to solve. At the same time, the glaring systemic deficiencies of extant welfare systems-and the psychological toll of welfare dependency--became increasingly apparent, even to welfare's supporters. How much has really changed in the world of welfare? A great deal, according to Neil Gilbert, one of our most deeply engaged and thoughtful analysts of social welfare policy. In this panoramic inquiry, Gilbert spans the globe to assess, in provocative yet dispassionate fashion, what welfare looks like in a free market world. From Sweden to the U.S., Gilbert finds a fundamental transformation in the welfare state--a turn away from broad-based entitlements and automatic benefits to a new, "enabling" approach defined by policies designed to promote privatization and labor force participation. He provides tangible evidence of how these new systems promote work and responsibility over protection and how they thicken the glue of civil society by diluting the pervasive role of government.

Excerpt

This profound book has a special quality to it, rarely achieved by any other: after it was written (albeit before it was published) its analysis was fully vindicated by the 2001 assault on America and the new sense of community and, above all, respect for the role of government that grew out of it. History rarely tests paradigms so quickly and in such a dramatic fashion—and leaves them confirmed. There are, however, two issues on which there is roomfor additional dialogue. One concerns the relationship between rights and responsibilities.

As communitarians see it, at least this one, a good society combines respect for individual rights with the expectation that members will live up to their own responsibilities to their families as well as to the community at large. One of the greatest achievements of the communitarian approach is the curbing of the language of rights, some of which had turned many wants and interests into legal entitlements and had fostered unnecessary litigiousness. “Rights talk, ” which fostered a disregard of social responsibility, was dominant in the 1980s, the days of rampant individualism. By now it has been largely replaced by a wide recognition that both individual rights and social responsibilities must be respected.

Basic individual rights are inalienable, just as one's social obligations cannot be denied. However, it is a grave moral error to argue that there are no rights without responsibilities or vice versa. Thus, a people who evade taxes, neglect their children, or fail to live up to their social responsibilities in some other way are still entitled to a fair trial, free speech, and other basic rights. There may be fewer rights than some claim, but our constitutionally protected rights are not con-

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