Work, Consumerism and the New Poor

By Zygmunt Bauman | Go to book overview

3
The rise and fall of the welfare state

The concept of the 'welfare state' conveys the idea that it is the duty and the obligation of the state to guarantee the 'welfare' (that is, something more than sheer survival: survival with dignity, as understood in a given society at a given time) of all its subjects. The concept imposed upon the state-run and state-financed institutions the responsibilities implied by a wider idea of public welfare1 – that of a collective guarantee of individual dignified survival. Public welfare could be seen as a form of collective insurance drawn jointly and extended over every individual member of the collectivity; an insurance policy which promised compensations propor- tional to the scale of individual need, not to the size of individually-paid premiums. The principle of public welfare in its pure form is equality in need, which overrides inequality in the ability to pay. The idea of the welfare state charges state organs with the responsibility for implementing this principle of public welfare.

The idea of public welfare in general and the welfare state in particular has an ambiguous relationship with the work ethic. Indeed, the idea of welfare relates to the core ideas of the work ethic in two opposite ways that are difficult to reconcile, which makes it a topic of a long-standing con- tention, so far without a resolution acceptable to all sides.

On the one hand, the advocates of a collective guarantee of individual welfare recognized the normality of life supported by work; they pointed out however that the norm is far from being universally upheld because of the lack of permanent employment for all, and that to make the precepts of the work ethic realistic one needs to bail out those who fall by the board. One needs also to see the temporarily unemployed through hard times, keeping them ready to 'behave normally', i.e. to enter employment, once the economy recovers and jobs are again available. By this argument, the welfare state is needed to uphold the power of the work ethic as the norm

-45-

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Work, Consumerism and the New Poor
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Issues in Society Series Editor: Tim May iii
  • Work, Consumerism and the New Poor iv
  • Contents vi
  • Series Editor's Foreword vii
  • Introduction to the First Edition 1
  • Part I 4
  • 1: The Meaning of Work 5
  • 2: From the Work Ethic to the Aesthetic of Consumption 23
  • Part II 44
  • 3: The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State 45
  • 4: The Work Ethic and the New Poor 63
  • 5: Work and Redundancy in the Globalized World 87
  • Part III 104
  • 6: Prospects for the New Poor 105
  • Notes 121
  • Index 129
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