The Great Society
Changes in the political and institutional environment opened a third window in the 1960s, and liberals responded. The results were dramatic: a War on Poverty, the extension of medical care to the aged and the poor, the liberalization of public assistance, the expansion of social security. But rather than narrow the differentiation between the U.S. and European welfare states the gap widened: instead of building institutions that might support a commitment to full employment or developing social policies to help working families, the United States embraced a conservative version of Keynesianism that privileged tax cuts for business and the affluent and adopted a limited set of income-maintenance and social-service programs narrowly targeted on the very poor.
Proponents of the state-centered account have suggested that the Great Society, was undone by the legacy of the New Deal. When presidents John Kennedy and L yndon Johnson looked in the 1960s for new approaches to economic insecurity, they found ample precedent for expanding income-maintenance programs and using fiscal policy to promote economic growth, but little experience with or institutional support for creating the kinds of labor-market policies (including education, training, and relocation services for displaced and unemployed workers) popular in Europe. 1 Moreover, building on the two-track system introduced by the Progressives and deepened by the New Deal's bifurcation of social security and public assistance programs, reformers were led to adopt a targeted approach to poverty rather than rely, on more universal economic or social policies.
But the New Deal's legacy was ambiguous: reformers could have also decided to expand the universalistic unemployment-insurance and old-age-pension programs established by the Social Security Act (SSA). Nor was administrative underdevelopment determinative; the decision to expand social services to fight poverty also meant that new institutions would have to be built. To understand the trajectory taken by the Great Society we need to look not only at the institutional inheritance, but at the continuing impact of class and