Since the early 1970s, debate has raged over the "crisis of the welfare state." As the United States successfully exported its bootstrap brand of capitalism and an ever-broadening range of public activity came to be viewed through the prism of profit and loss, social welfare policies were closely scrutinized worldwide. Welfare was no longer seen as a means to remedy the inherent flaws of capitalism, but rather was recast as part of the very problem it was designed to solve. At the same time, the glaring systemic deficiencies of extant welfare systems-and the psychological toll of welfare dependency-became increasingly apparent, even to welfare's supporters. How much has really changed in the world of welfare? A great deal, according to Neil Gilbert, one of our most deeply engaged and thoughtful analysts of social welfare policy. In this panoramic inquiry, Gilbert spans the globe to assess, in provocative yet dispassionate fashion, what welfare looks like in a free market world. From Sweden to the U.S.,
Gilbert finds a fundamental transformation in the welfare state-a turn away from broad-based entitlements and automatic benefits to a new, "enabling" approach defined by policies designed to promote privatization and labor force participation. He provides tangible evidence of how these new systems promote work and responsibility over protection and how they thicken the glue of civil society by diluting the pervasive role of government. Translating the new language of solidarity, activation, and social inclusion that has accompanied these changes, Gilbert reveals that these shifts have had surprisingly broad-based support. Traditional welfare supporters on the left are silently implementing reforms long associated with the policy agenda of the Right. Gilbert concludes with policy recommendations intended to temper the harder, unforgiving edges of this new social protection mentality with pragmatic assistance for those left behind. Illuminating a fundamental shift in the design of modern welfare systems, this landmark work is a must-read for anyone concerned with social policy today.
Neil Gilbert is Chernin Professor of Social Welfare and Social Service at the University of California, Berkeley. His publications include: The Enabling State: Modern Welfare Capitalism in America and, most recently, Welfare Justice: Restoring Social Equity.