Roberta Pergher
INTS 4763
Paper # 1
The Welfare State-A Commitment Against Violence

While pointing to the harmful consequences of poverty in the introduction to her book Faces of Poverty, Jill Duerr Berrick refers to Mahatma Gandhi's conception of poverty as the worst form of violence. Accepting Gandhi's notion of poverty as an expression of violence implies a commitment to fight poverty in order to avert violence. Most state theorist argue that one of the state's main responsibilities lies in the protection of its citizen from various forms of violence. If poverty is understood as a form of violence, providing for the welfare of citizen becomes the state's responsibility.

The institution of welfare systems aims at shielding individuals from the primary risks of industrial life. To a large extent, the economic forces of capitalism are beyond the control of individuals who nonetheless can be or have been thrown into poverty by the operating of the market economy. While the welfare state is widely regarded as a means of containing the harms procured by the free market, it in turn transforms the face of advanced capitalism. Proponents of a neo-liberal regime blame the welfare state for inducing the same damages it is trying to correct, thus distorting the natural unfolding of capitalist processes. Karl Polany, on the other hand, asserts that the viability of capitalism itself depends on the protective rules and regulations which characterize a modern welfare state. As a matter of fact, people who advocate different market theories differ in their perceptions regarding the necessity and the competency of a welfare system.

According to socialist economic theory, the welfare states endorses the de-commodification of workers. In capitalism, workers transmute themselves into commodities by selling their labor power to property owners. The commodification of labor in turn produces class division and alienation. Under an ideal welfare system, citizen can opt out of working when they feel the need to do so. In guaranteeing the provision of basic social and economic rights, the welfare state de-commodifies its citizen. While the pursuit of de-commodification through the welfare state represents an unmistakably socialist idea, the welfare state in itself is not a purely socialist construction. Not only leftist, but also Catholic and liberal parties have promoted welfare programs throughout the development of modern democracies. Also authoritarian regimes on both the left and the right have pursued the advancement of various welfare policies. Many socioeconomic studies illustrate that welfare systems are an integral part of all political regimes once they reach a certain level of economic development, thus indicating the correlation between welfare-state development and economic and demographic growth independent of a state's political system. Different states employ a variety of welfare programs, but the essence of the welfare state is similar across countries and political regimes: "government-protected minimum standards of income, nutrition, health and safety, education, and housing assured to every citizen as a social right (Wilensky and others, 1)." This proposition per se does not define the extent or the content of welfare benefits. What are the forces accounting for the scope of different welfare regimes across nations? States which followed a similar path of economic and demographic development do not necessarily share identical welfare programs. Different political structures and strategies shape a nation's choices and resolutions regarding welfare provisions. In fact, each state has developed its own understanding and scope of welfare assistance. The historical forces which mostly affect the content of welfare are manifold. The power relations between business and labor, the structure of trade unions and political parties, the effectiveness of political and bureaucratic institutions, and the mechanisms of interaction and coalition between different interest groups create different welfare regimes. Hence, a cross-national analysis of welfare states needs to contrast welfare expenditures as well as the content of welfare programs. The arrangement, quality, availability, and efficiency of welfare policies can vary enormously across nations who aim at guaranteeing the same social rights. Welfare programs rooted in social rights are guaranteed to every citizen regardless of his or her wealth and income. The provision of these benefits is based on the notion of equality. Every citizen is equal and is guaranteed the same social rights which find their expression in distinct welfare programs. Most European nations guarantee the same health care benefits to all their citizen. Similarly, Sweden pays out an equal monthly amount to all Swedish families with dependent children regardless of family income. On the other hand, welfare programs can be based on notions of present necessity. The American Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) assists single parents and their children in need. Rather than constituting the articulation of a social right, the program aims at providing immediate aid to families suffering from economic hardship. A further criterion of welfare eligibility is merit. Some governments pay out scholarships to students who deserve assistance due to their academic performance. I think that a state's welfare system should not be based on one singular principle but encompass programs based on equality, necessity, and merit depending on the program's objectives. As Berrick rightly illustrates, some racial, ethnic, or religious groups within heterogeneous societies are more likely than others to live in conditions of poverty. Covert prejudices as well as outright discrimination have confined the members of these disadvantaged groups to the fringes of society. Biases and reservations against those who are different alter the scope and content of welfare policies which are supposed to assist precisely that group of people. Power relations between conflicting groups affect public policies to a significant extent. Social, racial, ethnic, or religious cleavages in society can influence the approval and the availability of welfare programs. In analyzing the structure of a welfare system, intersections of class, race, and gender need to be taken into account. Thus, a profound analysis of a nation's welfare state calls for an extensive study of the social relations of that particular society.

Some scholars argue that due to its close association with a society's structure, the welfare state acts as a system that perpetuates the stratification of society. In their understanding, the welfare state fortifies class society and undermines social mobility. Others, however, assert that the development of the welfare states induces the decline of class society. I think a welfare system has the capacity of generating both processes depending on the content of its policies. However, I believe that welfare programs should aim at weakening class society because class society impairs the striving towards equality and equal opportunity.

People's perceptions of welfare programs are often based on their interpretation of social relations and their understanding of morality, justice, and fairness. People's values determine their approval or rejection of the welfare state. The American values of individual entrepreneurship and personal achievement do not support the distribution of welfare benefits. The question of whether welfare recipients are victims of an unjust economic system or whether their poverty is self-induced is often answered with the latter alternative. I think that the welfare debate is emotional and controversial because it calls for value judgements. Also, thinking about the welfare state can entail considerable psychological implications for both beneficiaries and givers. People on welfare can suffer from feelings of guilt, inferiority, and incompetence while people paying for welfare can suffer from psychological barriers impeding their recognition of poor people's social, political, and economic destitution. The common perception of women on welfare can serve as a clarifying example. Many single mothers collecting AFDC benefits are divorced, separated, or have never been married. Their family practices do not comply with socially acceptable norms. Furthermore, a disproportionate percentage of women on welfare is African American. Racial fears accentuate the public contempt for unconventional family practices and affect welfare policies. In my opinion, many policies are aimed rather at the reassurance of wealthy conservatives than at alleviating the plight of the poor. Policies playing on prejudices in turn perpetuate and intensify public fears. Welfare relies on public support. Intolerance and misunderstanding can induce the withdrawal of vital support to the needy.

The reasons for impoverishment are complex. Welfare policies aimed at averting poverty must address the different reasons for economic distress and offer diverse services so as to encompass multidimensional needs. Often, the economic well-being of the worst-off can improve through the provision of employment opportunities, the accessibility of higher wages, or the availability of subsidized child care rather than through welfare benefits. In this respect, welfare programs need to be implemented in accordance with full employment efforts and economic stabilization policies. Furthermore, the ability of reducing poverty is not grounded solely in the redistribution of income. A wider concept of resources allows for the inclusion of health, housing, and educational concerns as well as an individual's political involvement and effectiveness. Complementary measures to welfare help to undermine poverty and to establish a more humane capitalism. Policies based upon an extended concept of welfare will lift people out of poverty and emancipate them from the risks inherent in the market economy, thus protecting them from the violence of poverty.

Jill Duerr Berrick, 1997, _Faces of Poverty: Portraits of Women and
Children on Welfare_ (NY: Oxford University Press).
Gsta Esping-Andersen, 1990, _The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism_
(Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Charles Noble, 1997, _Welfare As We Knew It_ (NY: Oxford University
Karl Polany, _The Great Transformation_.
Harold Wilensky and others, 1985, _Comparative Social Policy_ (Berkeley:
Institute of International Studies, UC-Berkeley)./.

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