What is a Liberal? And What is the Liberal View on Social Welfare?

3006600-election-themed-round-button-with-3d-effect-democratic-party-logo--clipping-path-includedSo what is the difference between conservatives, liberals, and progressives when it comes to the Welfare State? Since the New Deal Act of 1935, the political structure that provides for the welfare of its people referred to The Welfare State has been hotly debated. What I present here are some of my notes from Dr. Laura Curran’s Social Welfare Policy lectures at Rutgers University, summer 2012. As she observes, much of the vitriol results from differing beliefs and commitments concerning how political and economic institutions should interact or not. This post seeks to clarify some of the basic commitments and values that underpin liberal ideology and its social welfare policy. The same will be provided for conservative, and the progressive ideologies in posts 1 and 3.

Our current welfare state is based on the liberal ideology. Many conservatives and progressives consider the liberal ideology as it is embodied in today’s policies as the Great Welfare State Compromise.

Classic liberal ideology  upholds the ideals of capitalism and the free market, but argues that the state should intervene when necessary on behalf of disadvantaged groups, or to diffuse power when it becomes too concentrated in the hands of the few.

In contrast to conservative Laissez faire economics, liberal economics draw from Keynesian theory, which is derived from John Maynard Keynes, an economist philosopher whose views became very popular following WW II. Keynes viewed the capitalist marketplace as valuable in its promotion of economic growth, but also believed that it required judicious self-regulation and government control. Keynes was certainly not a radical leftist, but he did not believe the marketplace was by itself sufficient. Thus, the liberal “compromise” is precisely a compromise in that it calls for some free market regulations and interventions, but not nearly in the direction or to the degree that leftist or socialist ideologies call for. While liberal ideology values, favors, and endorses capitalism as the greatest means of economic growth and flourishing for both individuals and society, it also recognizes that even in times of great prosperity, many people are left behind and abused by the modes of production inherent to capitalism.

As a result, liberal ideology is committed to the notion that both federal and state institutions have a responsibility to promote equal opportunity and individual rights. In short, liberal democrats want to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance to participate in the marketplace to whatever extent and capacity they choose, whereas leftists or progressives are more concerned with ensuring the equality of circumstance and outcome.

Liberal ideology constructs social issues as what result from a complex network of intertwining factors. Like conservatives, liberals believe individual and family choices and behaviors are important contributors to homelessness, poverty, drug use, and criminality. But unlike conservatives, they also focus on how other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, or unequal education, contribute to poverty and other social issues.

Consequently, liberals believe that social welfare is necessary if the worst effects of the market economy such as poverty and unemployment are to be minimized. This generally means that social welfare should function to preserve minimum standards of living in terms of income, nutrition, health, housing, and education. In doing so, individual and community well-being will be sustained.

Like conservatives, they agree that private welfare institutions such as family, neighbors, community, and churches play an important role in combating social issues. They differ from conservatives in believing that the only institution strong enough to provide ongoing protection to less privileged Americans is the federal government.

Liberalism thus serves as the “great welfare compromise” between conservatives and progressives, and has formed much of what we understand today as our “welfare state.”

What have I missed or misconstrued?


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