Welfare State Essays - StudentShare
Unlike the more rigid European welfare states, the American welfare state continues to promote individual responsibility. Rather than the federal government controlling health care and education, as in France and England, American welfare takes a more decentralized approach, the federal government assuming leadership and providing funding for state and local programs. Even liberal Democratic presidents like Johnson used federal resources more for funding localized programs like CAP and Head Start than for assuming direct federal control. Consequently, the American welfare state is much less liberal than its European counterparts, and the debate over its continued usefulness is primarily a political issue—a question of how much direct federal influence is needed to solve the problems of poverty in America.
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Designed as a safety net to protect people from the economic insecurity of the capitalist system, the American welfare state began with the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt’s coordinated response to counteract the Great Depression. Despite considerable fluctuations in popularity, the welfare system continues to this day. The 1935 Social Security Act—and the social-relief programs of the following decades, like the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program—are the best examples of the early American welfare state; the Great Society—the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, with its accompanying programs of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO)—is the best example of the liberal 1960s welfare state; the 1996 implementation of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) is a good example of the recent conservative welfare state. The American welfare state is a fluid system and the subject of much debate and criticism. Nevertheless, the basic idea that the government has a responsibility to prevent reasonably well-intentioned Americans from extreme economic and social debasement meets with enough support to make the welfare state is a significant aspect of American social policy.
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Intended as a way to help the poor function within mainstream society, a welfare state is created when the government accepts responsibility for providing support for its citizens. The American concept of the welfare state differs from that of other nations in that the United States continues to promote individual responsibility; America has never adopted a system of federally controlled education or health care (for example) comparable to those of France or Great Britain. In America the conception of a welfare state is less rigid than it is in Europe, and the primary role of the American government is seen as providing aid to both public and private organizations that function on the local level. This decentralized approach ensures that the federal government does not become too domineering, acting, in theory, as a safeguard to protect democracy.
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Choosing welfare as the relevant value is only the first step towardsanswering the distributive questions. Welfare-theorists must alsospecify the welfare function. The welfare functions proposed varyaccording to what will count as welfare and the weighting system forthat welfare. Economists defending some form of welfarism normallystate the explicit functional form, while philosophers often omit thisformality, concentrating on developing their theories in answer to twoquestions: 1) the question of what has intrinsic value (‘whatcounts as welfare’), and 2) the question of what actions orpolicies would maximize the intrinsic value. Moreover, philosophershave tended to focus on an extremely small subset of the availablewelfare functions. Although there are a number of advocates ofalternative welfare functions (such as ‘equality ofwell-being’), most philosophical activity has concentrated on avariant known as utilitarianism. This theory can be used to illustratemost of the main characteristics of welfare-based principles.
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Utilitarians face a greater problem than this theoretical one indetermining what material distribution, or institutional structure, isprescribed by their theory. Those who share similar utilitariantheoretical principles frequently recommend very differentdistributions or structures to implement the principles. This problemoccurs for other theories, with recommendations for distributions oreconomic structures to implement commonly varying among advocates withsimilar theoretical principles. But the advocates for otherdistributive principles tend to cluster significantly with respect towhat they recommend. This is much less the case with respect toadvocates for utilitarian and welfare-based distribution principleswith advocates dispersed in their recommendations across the fullrange of possible distributions and economic structures. For instance,many preference utilitarians believe their principle prescribesstrongly egalitarian structures with lots of state intervention whileother preference utilitarians believe it prescribes a laissezfaire style of capitalism.