The New Social Question: Rethinking the Welfare State

The New Social Question: Rethinking the Welfare State

The New Social Question: Rethinking the Welfare State

The New Social Question: Rethinking the Welfare State

Synopsis

The welfare state has come under severe pressure internationally, partly for the well-known reasons of slowing economic growth and declining confidence in the public sector. According to the influential social theorist Pierre Rosanvallon, however, there is also a deeper and less familiar reason for the crisis of the welfare state. He shows here that a fundamental practical and philosophical justification for traditional welfare policies--that all citizens share equal risks--has been undermined by social and intellectual change. If we wish to achieve the goals of social solidarity and civic equality for which the welfare state was founded, Rosanvallon argues, we must radically rethink social programs.Rosanvallon begins by tracing the history of the welfare state and its founding premise that risks, especially the risks of illness and unemployment, are equally distributed and unpredictable. He shows that this idea has become untenable because of economic diversification and advances in statistical and risk analysis. It is truer than ever before--and far more susceptible to analysis--that some individuals will face much greater risks than others because of their jobs and lifestyle choices. Rosanvallon argues that social policies must be more narrowly targeted. And he draws on evidence from around the world, in particular France and the United States, to show that such programs as unemployment insurance and workfare could better reflect individual needs by, for example, making more explicit use of contracts between the providers and receivers of benefits. His arguments have broad implications for welfare programs everywhere and for our understanding of citizenship in modern democracies and economies."For more than two decades Pierre Rosanvallon has been analyzing the development and the crisis of the 'welfare state,' combining precise, specific knowledge with philosophical and historical depth in a way that is rare among social policy analysts.... [A] subtle and informed book."--From the foreword by Nathan Glazer

Excerpt

For more than two decades Pierre Rosanvallon has been analyzing the development and the crisis of the “welfare state,” combining precise, specific knowledge with philosophical and historical depth in a way that is rare among social policy analysts. He has written several important studies on the history of political ideas in France, as well as influential books on the French welfare state. But he is fully aware of developments in the other countries of Europe and in the United States, which gives his work a unique range.

It has been common for analysts of social policy to speak of the “backwardness” of American social policy, of the “incompleteness” of American social policy, compared to the advanced welfare states of Europe. We are used in the United States to such stories as one that appeared in the New York Times while I was reading this book, “Child Care Sacred as France Cuts Back the Welfare State.” It describes a creche, a municipal day care nursery, in Paris, of a lavishness in facilities and staffing that would put any public institution of the sort in the United States to shame: “To care for her 88 children, [the director] has a staff of 25 trained employees, a ratio appproaching that of a luxury hotel” (New York Times, December 21, 1997).

It is undoubtedly true that European countries began ensuring a degree of common protection for their working populations and providing a wide range of social services much earlier than the United States, and have gone further in guaranteeing that protection and those services. The forms of social provision have varied considerably from country to country. The role of insurance and common taxation has varied from program to program, and the degree of uniformity in benefits and protection varies from country to country. It is also true, as the story reminds us, that the welfare states of Europe are under severe financial pressure, as costs rise for pensions, health care, unemployment compensation, and a great range of social services. These problems of the welfare state are familiar, and a host of politicians and analysts ponder them every day.

Yet the crisis of the welfare state reflects larger problems than simple fiscal exigency. The large view developed in The New Social Question . . .

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