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Why Not Equal Protection? Explaining the Politics of Public Social Spending in Britain, 1900-1911, and the United States, 1880s-1920

Ann Shola Orloff and Theda Skocpol
American Sociological Review
Vol. 49, No. 6 (Dec., 1984), pp. 726-750
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095527
Page Count: 25
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Why Not Equal Protection? Explaining the Politics of Public Social Spending in Britain, 1900-1911, and the United States, 1880s-1920
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Abstract

Britain was a pioneer in launching a modern welfare state. Before World War I, it instituted workers' compensation, old age pensions, health insurance, and the world's first compulsory system of unemployment insurance. By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States had expanded Civil War pensions into de facto old age and disability pensions for many working- and middle-class Americans. However, during the Progressive Era, as the Civil War generation died off, the United States failed to institute modern pensions and social insurance. Conventional theories of welfare-state development-theories emphasizing industrialization, liberal values, and demands by the organized industrial working class-cannot sufficiently account for these contrasting British and U.S. patterns. Instead, a macropolitical explanation is developed. By the early twentieth century, Britain had a strong civil service and competing, programmatically oriented political parties. Patronage politics had been overcome, and political leaders and social elites were willing to use social spending as a way to appeal to working-class voters. However, the contemporary United States lacked an established civil bureaucracy and was embroiled in the efforts of Progressive reformers to create regulatory agencies and policies free of the "political corruption" of nineteenth-century patronage democracy. Modern social-spending programs were neither governmentally feasible nor politically acceptable at this juncture in U.S. political history.

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