A CENTURY OF BUSINESS INVOLVEMENT
IN SOCIAL PROVISION
IN STORIES of welfare state development, business usually plays the role of villain: the force in society that derails the good fight of labor movements or disrupts the cautious plans of government bureaucrats. These stories, as it turns out, are more fiction than fact. Business managers throughout the century and throughout the world have backed a wide range of social programs.
History is constantly redrawing the boundaries between the social and economic realms. Every age has its own vision of peace and prosperity and its own version of the social conditions necessary for economic growth. Peasants obviously had very different educational needs from those of computer-aided-design technicians. When families routinely numbered in the double digits, infant mortality did not pose the economic threat that it does today. A society that depends on women working has had to address work-family issues that would seem bizarre when mothers were expected to tend the home fires.
Within each economic era, social policies have also varied enormously across countries. In some countries health and retirement benefits are universally offered to just about everybody; in others benefits are meanstested, or available only to those whose incomes fall below a certain level. Government budgets for social spending span a wide range, and policy instruments take many forms. Some governments administer programs directly, while others finance programs through social insurance but do not actually offer services.1
This chapter takes a historical look at the successive logics connecting social policies to economic growth and considers the contribution of business politics to national divergence in social development. The chapter scans the changing historical connections between growth and social policy, concluding with the current debate over policies for human capital investment, and describes business's involvement in prominent debates. Managers across the industrial world have taken a surprisingly wide range of positions on social provision. While employers elsewhere have often favored the policy pillars of their nation's welfare state, U.S. manag-____________________