Social Programs Debate

History and Debate of Social Programs

Welfare State Debates

A welfare state is generally one in which the state takes on the primary role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. The welfare state concept has its foundation in the principles of equitable distribution of wealth, public responsibility for those unable to adequately care for themselves and equality of opportunity. Although some might argue that there is a United States welfare state, this is actually a point of much debate and contention as some would contend that the United States is not a welfare state, but instead, is a welfare society because so much of the American welfare system is provided by private corporations, private charities and independent volunteers as opposed to by the government.

Social Program Criticism

Although some nations, such as those in Europe and Scandinavia, have embraced the idea of a welfare state, few would argue that, to the extent there may be a United States welfare state, it is not as comprehensive as those in other western developed nations. Until the implementation of the New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an American welfare state was virtually non-existent. Today, the main components of the United States welfare state are primary and secondary education, tertiary education, disability and unemployment insurance, housing and income subsidies, food stamps, guaranteed public pensions and public health insurance programs that cover only about 20% of the population. Most social insurance programs are encompassed in the American Social Security system, the most prominent part of the American welfare system.

In contrast to other welfare states in the developed world, the American welfare state extensively relies on the private sector and does not provide universal income support or universal health insurance to its citizens. Many of the services provided by the government in other developed nations are outsourced to the private sector in America. The cost of these private sector services are usually borne jointly by employees, employers and government agencies. Critics of this system contend that this method of providing these services results in a burden on American businesses and makes them less competitive in the global economy. Proponents of this system also argue that it reduces the amount of government interventions in the economy and, therefore, is in accord with the capitalist notion of a free market economy.

Public primary and secondary education, which is universal and mandatory in all 50 states, is free in the United States. Tertiary education is not free, but is highly subsidized. Nevertheless, tuition costs have risen at three times the median household income over the last 30 years. Concerned that many American students will be priced out of tertiary education, liberals have proposed subsidizing an increase share of these educational costs, increasing the availability of financial aid and even free tertiary education.

Much of the dialogue surrounding the social programs debate in the United States tends to break down along political party lines and between liberals and conservatives. Democrats are traditionally more liberal and support the expansion of governmental support of welfare programs for citizens at multiple levels, often as a natural rights issue. Republicans, on the other hand, tend to take a more conservative approach, warning of the dangers of increasing the role of government in the lives of citizens and of shifting responsibilities from the private sector to the public sector.

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