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Welfare Capitalism and the Social Security Act of 1935

Jill S. Quadagno
American Sociological Review
Vol. 49, No. 5 (Oct., 1984), pp. 632-647
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095421
Page Count: 16
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Welfare Capitalism and the Social Security Act of 1935
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Abstract

A central concern of political theorists has been the relationship between the state and the economy, or more specifically, how political power gets translated into economic power. Recent debates have been shaped around critiques of the corporate liberal thesis, which contends that class-conscious capitalists manipulate the polity so that government comes to pursue policies favorable to capitalism. Alternative theories suggest that the state is capable of transcending the demands or interests of any particular social group or class. The Social Security Act of 1935, which represented the beginning of the welfare state in the United States, was a conservative measure that tied social insurance benefits to labor force participation and left administration of its public assistance programs to the states. In this paper the Social Security Act is used as a case study to adjudicate between several competing theories of the state. The analysis demonstrates that the state functions as a mediating body, weighing the priorities of various interest groups with unequal access to power, negotiating compromises between class factions, and incorporating working-class demands into legislation on capitalist terms.

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