Searching for a Postindustrial Ethic
The power of cultural categories is never univocal.1 However, in some cultures social policy categories are more inclusive and tolerant than in others. How can the power of cultural categorization be tapped so that social policy in the United States becomes less divisive and exclusionary? How do we undermine the persistent distinctions of deserving and undeserving and the economic inequalities these distinctions engender? How can we rework the existing categories of work and care, self-sufficiency and dependence, charity and contract, and in particular those of insurance and compensation in order to reduce the poverty and marginalization that afflict the poorest one-fifth of the families with children in the United States today? These are theoretical questions of practical significance for the current postindustrial period. They raise issues regarding the ethical grounds for social policy. In the following chapter I address these issues by focusing on the idea of a universalistic welfare state and its role in constituting a postindustrial social policy.
The national, industrial, political economy is a thing of the past. While changes associated with the shift to a more global postindustrial system are neither inevitable nor unalterable, those in power have succeeded in claiming that they are. Ironically, often their primary response is not to fashion a new ethic for organizing social provision but instead it is to argue that the old standards of work and family are even more important than ever and that social welfare entitlements need to be scaled back in order to be in consonance with the old verities.2 As a result, postindustrialism has given rise to the “contracting of America” and the welfare state has been retrenched in