Social Democratic America

Social Democratic America

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For decades, scholars and commentators have differentiated the US from Europe by pointing to the relative weakness of the American social welfare state. European social democracies-particularly the Nordic ones-have erected broad and deep social insurance systems to buffer the effects of the capitalist marketplace, and as consequence virtually all citizens have access to housing, health care, and transfer payments that alleviate the effects of unemployment/underemployment. In combination, these policies have made Northern European societies among the most comfortable and egalitarian in human history. In contrast, conventional wisdom holds that America's patchwork welfare state, which only grudgingly redistributes income to the least wealthy, is miserly in comparison, more wedded to free market individualism than social solidarity. In Social Democratic America, the eminent scholar Lane Kenworthy has crafted the most definitive rejoinder yet to champions of American exceptionalism. He shows that in fact, the US is well along the path toward becoming a social democratic society. Certainly, it has moved in fits and starts, and our nation's peculiar federal structure has generated a number of cumbersome solutions for delivering social insurance. But over time it has delivered, and for every step backward, policymakers have crafted and passed policies that have moved the nation two steps forward toward social democracy. Built in bits and pieces, the modern US welfare state, while still less encompassing than European counterparts, is not only massive but expanding its reach. The evidence, which has accumulated over three quarters of a century, is now overwhelming: Social Security, national unemployment insurance, AFDC (later replaced by TANF), Medicare and Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and-most recently-the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). What's more, almost every conservative effort to undo these programs has failed ignominiously. Along with tracing the evolution of the American social welfare state, Kenworthy stresses throughout that America is bending ever further toward a social democratic path. This is a difficult argument to make for two reasons. First, Americans are deeply invested in the idea of American exceptionalism, Second, Republican policy successes in the 1980s and 2000s reinforced the notion that America is at base a center-right nation, inhospitable to European-style social insurance schemes. The combination of Obama's first-term legislative successes and his recent re-election has caused observers to think twice about these arguments, but Kenworthy shows that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Drawing from his unparalleled knowledge of social policy in the advanced industrial world, he shows how the US has been (and continues to be) progressing slowly but steadily toward a clear endpoint: genuine social democracy. Social Democratic America will attract a great deal of criticism, but even the most incorrigible doubters will have to take stock of his powerful and well-substantiated more

Product details

  • Hardback | 248 pages
  • 162.56 x 236.22 x 27.94mm | 430.91g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0199322511
  • 9780199322510
  • 1,399,908

Review quote

"It's too bad for Lane Kenworthy that his new book, Social Democratic America, was published on Jan. 3, 2014, because otherwise I'd be comfortable calling it the best public policy book of 2013... it's a fantastic book and I hope everyone reads it." --Matthew Yglesias, Slate"This is a great book, and an important one. If our policy makers took Lane Kenworthy's advice we'd have a better, more equitable economy, with more opportunity and fewer of the distortionary imbalances that threaten our future." --Jared Bernstein, former Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden"Lane Kenworthy's Social Democratic America is a serious, sobering look at the challenges facing the United States as the share of children raised in stable two-parent families shrinks, and as the labor market position of less-skilled workers deteriorates. It is also a spirited case that only a larger, more expensive, more ambitious government can meet these challenges. Whether you are inclined to embrace Kenworthy's arguments or not, you would do well to reckon with them." --Reihan Salam, Fellow, R Street Institute, and contributing editor, National Review"A breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale economic debate, Social Democratic America shows that more generous and better-designed government policies could improve opportunity, security, and the living standards of most Americans. But perhaps most remarkable in this age of pessimism, Kenworthy believes not only that America can do better, but that it will. Agree or disagree, you will see America's economic possibilities in a powerful new light." --Jacob S. Hacker, Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, and co-author of Winner-Take-All Politics"If you wish to read the case for a big increase in social welfare spending, this is the very best place to go." --Tyler Cowen, Holbert C. Harris Chair of Economics, George Mason University"Well-argued and fact-driven... a reasonable, worthwhile addition to the national debate over government's role in social policy." --Publishers Weeklyshow more

About Professor of Political Science and Sociology Lane Kenworthy

Lane Kenworthy is Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Arizona. He is author of Progress for the Poor and Jobs with Equality. His writings have appeared in The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Affairs, and on his blog, Consider the more

Table of contents

1. Toward the Good Society: An American Path ; 2. What's the Problem? ; 3. How Can We Fix It? ; 4. Objections and Alternatives ; 5. Can It Happen? ; Acknowledgments ; Notes ; References ; Indexshow more

Rating details

58 ratings
3.39 out of 5 stars
5 14% (8)
4 31% (18)
3 36% (21)
2 19% (11)
1 0% (0)
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