Bold Relief: Institutional Politics and the Origins of Modern American Social Policy

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Princeton University Press, 2000 - Political Science - 343 pages
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According to conventional wisdom, American social policy has always been exceptional--exceptionally stingy and backwards. But Edwin Amenta reminds us here that sixty years ago the United States led the world in spending on social provision. He combines history and political theory to account for this surprising fact--and to explain why the country's leading role was short-lived.

The orthodox view is that American social policy began in the 1930s as a two-track system of miserly "welfare" for the unemployed and generous "social security" for the elderly. However, Amenta shows that the New Deal was in fact a bold program of relief, committed to providing jobs and income support for the unemployed. Social security was, by comparison, a policy afterthought. By the late 1930s, he shows, the U.S. pledged more of its gross national product to relief programs than did any other major industrial country.

Amenta develops and uses an institutional politics theory to explain how social policy expansion was driven by northern Democrats, state-based reformers, and political outsiders. And he shows that retrenchment in the 1940s was led by politicians from areas where beneficiaries of relief were barred from voting. He also considers why some programs were nationalized, why some states had far-reaching "little New Deals," and why Britain--otherwise so similar to the United States--adopted more generous social programs. Bold Relief will transform our understanding of the roots of American social policy and of the institutional and political dynamics that will shape its future.

 

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Contents

Paradoxes of American Social Policy
3
An Institutional Politics Theory of Social Policy
18
An Indifferent Commitment to Modern Social Policy 18801934
54
Americas First Welfare Reform 19351936
80
Consolidating the Work and Relief Policy 19371939
122
Some Little New Deals Are Littler than Others
162
Redefining the New Deal 19401950
191
A Welfare State for Britain
231
CONCLUSION
250
AFTERWORD
270
NOTES
273
INITIALS OF ORGANIZATIONS AND PROGRAMS
331
SOURCES OF ILLUSTRATIONS
333
INDEX
335
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About the author (2000)

Edwin Amenta is professor in the Department of Sociology at New York University and at the University of California, Irvine. In 2005, he posted a .535 on-base percentage in the Performing Arts Softball League, while flashing some serious leather at second base.

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