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Economics, Social Policy and Social Administration: The Interplay between Topics and Disciplines*

  • A. J. Culyer

The article uses a distinction between topic and discipline to argue that social administration, like economics, is characterized by both, but that social administration has the special advantage, in treating the topic of social policy, of being multi-disciplinary. An account is presented of why economics is underrepresented among the disciplines of social administration, and three important contributory roles are outlined for economics to play in the development of social administration.

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1 Williams, Alan, ‘One economist's view of social medicine’, Epidemiology and Community Health, 33 (1979), 37.

2 Cahnman, W. J. and Schmitt, C. M., ‘The concept of social policy (Sozialpolitik)’, Journal of Social Policy, 8 (1979), 4759.

3 Titmuss, R. M., Social Policy: an Introduction, Allen and Unwin, London, 1974.

4 Ibid. pp. 30–1.

5 Titmuss, R. M., The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy, Allen and Unwin, London, 1970.

6 See Edgeworth, F. Y., Mathematical Psychics, C. Kegan Paul, London, 1881.

7 See Dickinson, F. G., Philanthropy and Public Policy, National Bureau of Economic Research, New York, 1962; Phelps, E. S. (ed.), Altruism, Morality and Economic Theory, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 1975; Collard, D., Altruism and Economics, Martin Robertson, London, 1978.

8 In emphasizing the idea of caring as an integrating concept of social science I am not, of course, implying it is not substantiively important in the analysis of actual policies.

9 Lafitte, F., Social Policy in a Free Society, Birmingham University Press, Birmingham, 1962.

10 Marshall, T. H., Social Policy, Hutchinson, London, 1967.

11 See the introduction in Jones, K. (ed.), Yearbook of Social Policy in Britain 1973, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1973.

12 Donnison, D., ‘Social policy since Titmuss’, Journal of Social Policy, 8 (1979), 145–56.

13 The reason, for this may lie on the ‘supply side’: the vast expansion in sociology teaching in universities since the war and the limited employment prospects for the better graduates may have led them to offer themselves relatively more frequently than others – including social administration graduates, who came later, were fewer in number, and had considerable employment potential elsewhere. (I am grateful to Brian Abel-Smith for this point).

14 Economists, sociologists, etc. are identified by their discipline. The discipline is identified by its theory. Hence theoreticians are ‘disciplinarians’ – in quotation marks to avoid confusion with the more usual meaning of the word. A social administrator may be a ‘disciplinarian’ in this sense or a ‘multi-disciplinarian’.

15 See Culyer, A. J., The Political Economy of Social Policy, Martin Robertson, Oxford, 1980.

16 Pinker, R., The Idea of Welfare, Heinemann, London, 1979.

17 A superb review for those unfamiliar with this territory is Mueller, D. C., Public Choice, Cambridge University Press, London, 1979.

18 Warham, J., ‘Social administration and sociology’, Journal of Social Policy, 2 (1973), 193207.

19 Smith, J. H., ‘The human factor in social administration’, Journal of Social Policy, 8 (1979). 433–48.

20 Titmuss, R. M., Commitment to Welfare, Allen and Unwin, London, 1968, p. 22.

21 In a paper for the Social Administration Association's meeting in Leeds 1981.

22 Godfrey, L. G., Theoretical and Empirical Aspects of the Effects of Taxation on the Supply of Labour, OECD, Paris, 1975; Atkinson, A. B. and Flemming, J. S., ‘Unemployment, social security and incentives’, Midland Bank Review, Autumn (1978), 616; Feldstein, M. S., ‘The welfare loss of excess health insurance’, Journal of Political Economy, 81 (1973), 251–80; Lindsay, C. M., ‘Demand with zero-priced care’, in C. M. Lindsay, National Health Issues: the British Experience, Roche, New Jersey, 1980; Evans, R. G. and Walker, H. D., ‘Information theory and the analysis of hospital cost structure’, Canadian Journal of Economics, 5 (1972), 398418; Culyer, A. J., Wiseman, J., Drummond, M. F. and West, P. A., ‘What accounts for the higher costs of teaching hospitals?Social and Economic Administration, 12 (1978), 20–9; Layard, P. R. G. and Verry, D. W., ‘Cost functions for university teaching and research’, Economic Journal, 85 (1975), 5574; Jones-Lee, M., The Value of Life: an Economic Analysis, Martin Robertson, London, 1976; Le Grand, J., ‘The distribution of public expenditure: the case of health care’, Economica, 45 (1978), 125–42; Boskin, M. J. and Hurd, M. D., ‘The effect of social security on early retirement’, Journal of Public Economics, 10 (1978), 361–78; Mincer, J., ‘Unemployment effects of minimum wages’, Journal of Political Economy, 84 (1976), S87-S104; Needleman, L., ‘The comparative economics of improvement and new building’, Urban Studies, 6 (1969), 196209.

23 Barry, B. M., Political Argument, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1965.

24 Culyer, A. J., Lavers, R. J. and Williams, Alan, ‘Social Indicators: healthSocial Trends, 2 (1971), 3142.

25 Bradshaw, J., ‘A taxonomy of social need’ in Mc, G.Lachlan (ed.), Problems and Progress in Medical Care, 7, Oxford University Press, London, 1972.

26 See Bebbington, A. C. and Davies, B. P., ‘Territorial need indicators: a new approach’ Parts I and II, Journal of Social Policy, 9 (1980), 145–68 and 433–62.

27 Williams, Alan, ‘Need – an economic exegesis’, in Culyer, A. J. and Wright, K. G. (eds), Economic Aspects of Health Services, Martin Robertson, Oxford, 1978.

28 Weale, A., Equality and Social Policy, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1978.

29 Culyer, A. J., ‘Need, values and health status measurement’ in Culyer, A. J. and Wright, K. G. (eds), Economic Aspects of Health Services, Martin Robertson, Oxford, 1978.

30 Sen, A. K., ‘Planners' preferences: optimality, distribution and social welfare’ in Margolis, J. and Guitton, H. (eds), Public Economics, Macmillan, London, 1969. This is set out in a simplified version in Culyer, A. J., The Political Economy of Social Policy, op. cit. chapter 4.

31 Rawls, J., A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1972.

32 Nozick, R., Anarchy, State and Utopia, Blackwell, Oxford, 1974.

* This article grew out of an invitation to present a paper at the 1981 Social Administration Association's conference on the role of economic theory in social administration. It reflects an attempt to clear some preliminary ground before tackling in greater detail the issues posed by this more specific topic. I have benefited greatly from the comments of Brian Abel-Smith, Jonathan Bradshaw, Kay Jones, Ken Judge, Alan Maynard, Albert Weale and Jack Wiseman on a draft. I did not expect them to agree with all I have said but was delighted to find there was much with which they did agree and grateful to be put right at several points. None, of course, can be held entirely responsible for the final outcome.

Professor of Economics and Deputy Director, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of York.

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Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
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