Social policy in the United States hardly ever meets the needs of the populace. The government is ever reluctant to institute measures that would eradicate poverty, and welfare programs are designed to address the immediate needs of beneficiaries rather than both the long-term and short-term needs. In this paper, the potential role played by the country’s economic model in undermining social welfare will be explored. The paper will begin with an exploration of different authors’ input on the topic. The second section will provide a synthesis based on the knowledge acquired from the readings. As the discussion will reveal, social welfare policy is a mechanism for sustaining capitalism, promoting inequality, and maintaining the status quo, rather than a means for providing equal opportunities for all. Thus, as long as the United States continues to use economic models that promote capitalism, it will hardly be possible for the nation to promote social justice.
It is widely misconceived that social policy in the United States is inconsequential. Blau (2013) challenges this contention by arguing that while social welfare programs promote undesirable behaviors and attitudes, they constitute a major fiscal expense. Proponents of this social policy recommend that adjustments be made to the programs to make them useful to beneficiaries, while opponents suggest that the programs should be scrapped altogether. Blau (2013) demonstrates that these programs are not as inconsequential or detrimental as they may seem. He argues that they play a critical role in sustaining the economy, chiefly profiting the stakeholders of the programs while reinforcing the work ethic of the American populace (Blau, 2013). Indeed, the relief provided to individuals in need is so minimal that it barely helps them to survive.
Owing to its market-oriented nature, social policy in the United States can hardly facilitate social justice. Blau (2013) demonstrates this point of view with his succinct dissection of neoliberalism. He demonstrates that while the economic model attempts to cut away those elements of policy that contradict the marketplace, the marketplace itself is hierarchical, unequal, and incurs massive human costs. Thus, the concepts that underpin neoliberalism, namely privatization, deregulation, and lower taxes, are hardly effective in promoting social justice (Blau, 2013). Blau (2013) suggests that an ideal system would promote democratic control over the economy while offering social support for individuals regardless of income. The contention that the country’s social policy can hardly facilitate social justice is supported by Piven and Cloward. The authors suggest that the core function served by relief programs is to regulate labor. One strategy used to achieve this end is to initiate relief efforts in the event of disorder resulting from mass unemployment. Using this strategy, the government is well-placed to regulate the masses and restore order. The other strategy entails enrolling the disabled, aged, and insane, among others who cannot contribute to the labor force to relief programs. According to Piven and Cloward, the idea behind the second strategy is to treat the recipients of aid in such a degrading manner that the working class will dread receiving aid for failure to work. The authors further argue that for a capitalist system to survive, it is necessary to maintain a surplus of unemployment workers. With this condition in place, the flow of labor is eased, and the bargaining power of workers is lessened. These factors ascertain the unfeasibility of the country’s social welfare programs in upholding social justice.
The discussions by Blau (2013) and Piven and Cloward offer an important foundation for comprehending the basis upon which the government creates social welfare programs. Mullaly and Dupre (2019) extend this knowledge by presenting an in-depth analysis of liberal and neoliberal paradigms. The authors demonstrate that classical liberalism was developed in the same period in history when early capitalism emerged. It is for this reason that classical liberalism is aligned with the interests of capitalism and, in turn fosters individualism, inequality, and guaranteed freedoms while opposing corporate taxes, minimum wages, and workplace legislation (Mullaly & Dupre, 2019). Reform liberalism sought to improve classical liberalism by sustaining the status quo while acknowledging the social interests of the masses. Thanks to reform liberalism, the state is tasked with providing a welfare state for those hurt by capitalism. Additionally, reform liberalism called for the employment of Keynesian economics, which was designed to regulate capital while keeping private ownership. On the other hand, Neo-liberalism revoked the Keynesian economic policy and facilitated a return to a free-market in order to provide resources for social welfare programs (Mullaly & Dupre, 2019). The latter paradigm also called for a reduction of the scope and level of assistance of social programs owing to the need to reduce the financial burden shouldered by the state.
Mullay and Durpe’s descriptive account reveals that liberalism, in its multiple forms, is hardly ideal in fostering social justice. In spite of the attempts to modify liberalism at various points in history, the basic tenets of the paradigm have been sustained, namely the absence of regulation and a focus on profitability (Iacono, 2016). The pursuit of profitability by businesses accounts for the multiple factors that render liberalism contradictory to social justice because if all members of the public are financially empowered, businesses would lack access to affordable labor (Karlin, 2018). The ready market for products and services provided by the state through social welfare programs would also be lost. Furthermore, if the government intervenes in an effort to foster the attainment of collective benefits for the masses, the welfare of businesses would be at stake (Iacono, 2016). By fostering individualism and freedom, therefore, liberalism protects the interests of the social groups that it has traditionally accorded benefit.
Mullay and Durpe (2019) confirm that liberalism is non-egalitarian, which suggests that in an effort to sustain the status quo, liberals oppose the idea of according equal rights and opportunities for all. While liberalism advocates for freedom, the concept of freedom is understood as the liberation from governmental influence, rather than the principle of liberating individuals from discrimination based on gender, race and/or class (Mullay & Durpe, 2019). Abramovitz (1996) sheds light on the perception of the welfare state from a feminist point of view. This author confirms that liberalism, like Marxism, is gender-blind as it is basically founded on the understanding of patriarchy. From a liberal feminist point perspective, Abramovitz observes that liberalism denies equal opportunities to women while causing differential treatment on the basis of gender because liberalism is designed to overlook the individual wishes, interests, abilities, and merits of women. As a result, women fail to pursue economic interests and lack the opportunity for full political participation.
The other feminist perspectives (radical and socialist) challenge liberalism for facilitating the oppression of women by way of class domination and male domination. As with Marxists, socialist feminists oppose liberalism for its oppression of women who are traditionally viewed as the property of men in the patriarchal social structure (Abramovitz, 1996). In the modern set up, there is undeniable evidence to suggest that social arrangements are structured to secure the interests of men, in turn giving men control over women. For this reason, socialist feminists perceive patriarchy and capitalism as inseparable and express the need to overcome both.
Different authors demonstrate that the choice of social policy governing the United States is motivated by the need to sustain a capitalist market system. Based on the observations made in this analysis, it emerges that although social welfare is often the subject of reform agendas, the need to sustain an economic system that is based on liberalism is equally important if not more critical. This contention is justified by the fact that one of the basic tenets of liberalism is that the state ought to liberate the market of any influence that may hamper the capacity for businesses to operate in a profitable manner. Liberalism also upholds the concepts of individualism and inequality, thus contradicting the socialist view of community and equality. Individualism promotes a capitalist mindset, which basically entails enriching oneself, while inequality sustains the status quo, thus promoting a consistent supply of labor. In a liberalist structure, the role of the government is limited to the protection of capital, property, and national security.
Following the realization that liberalism is not necessarily ideal for fostering the general welfare of society, labor movements have come up to challenge the oppressive system of capitalism. This occurrence was most evident during the 1960s and 1970s when a series of social welfare reforms occurred in the country under the pressure of labor movements as well as waves of social activism (Blau, 1989; Blau, 2013). However, such structured revolutionary reforms are not only uncommon but have also proved ineffective in challenging capitalism. A range of factors has made it possible for a capitalist market system to not only exist but to survive for centuries unchallenged. Firstly, capitalism was synonymous with classical liberalism, with which it shares a history and economic doctrine. This factor was significant in influencing the United States government to adopt a liberalist economic framework, which, in turn, favored the proliferation of capitalism (Mullay & Durpe, 2019). Secondly, with liberalism giving businesses power and influence over the functioning of the government, businesses have the opportunity to influence social policy (Mullay & Durpe, 2019). As such, it possible for businesses to maintain the status quo in a manner that favors their profitable ends. Thirdly, the adjustments that have been made to liberalism in the past have done little to promote social justice. Instead, such policies have developed new ways of helping businesses to attribute benefits from social programs that ought to benefit the general public.
The most significant way in which capitalism influences social policy and social services is by ignoring the welfare of the general public and instead focusing on creating a profit for businesses. By upholding patriarchy and segmentation based on gender, race, and class, capitalism constantly improves the welfare of those in situations of privilege while ridding other members of the society of various rights and benefits (Abramovitz, 1996). Denying various social groups equal rights and privileges is essential in sustaining the economic and political conditions that are deemed desirable by business owners. Capitalism also influences social policy by ensuring that there is always a surplus of unemployed individuals, which eases the flow of labor while lessening the bargaining power of employees. Social policy and social services support capitalism by creating the need for the government to purchase the services and products meant for relief from corporations. These services are restricted to those who can hardly contribute to the labor force and are barely sufficient to help them survive. This strategy discourages members of the public from resorting to poverty with the hope that the government can help them.
This discussion confirms that social welfare policy is a mechanism for sustaining capitalism, promoting inequality, and maintaining the status quo, rather than a means for providing equal opportunities for all. The key explanation for this situation is that the United States relies on an economic model that promotes the interests of businesses, which in turn prioritize profitability over the welfare of the public. The capitalist market structure is rooted deep in the history of the nation, which adopted liberalism at around the same time that capitalism was emerging. As long as the United States continues to rely on economic models that promote capitalism, it will be hard for the nation to promote social justice. The country ought to adopt social policies that promote democratic control over the economy. Social welfare programs should be made available to those that need them without seeking to realize a profitable end for businesses.
Abramovitz, M. (1996). Chapter 1: A feminist perspective on the welfare state. From Regulating the lives of women: Social welfare policy from colonial times to present. South End Press.
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Iacono, C. (2016). Neoliberalism: the left’s eternal boogeyman. Foundation for Economic Education. Retrieved from https://fee.org/articles/neoliberalism-the-left-s-eternal-boogeyman/
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Piven & Cloward, chapter 1 – Relief, labor and civil disorder. From Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare.