The Welfare State Nobody Knows: Debunking Myths about U.S. Social Policy. By Christopher Howard. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. 260p. $29.95.
Welfare Discipline: Discourse, Governance, and Globalization. By Sanford E. Schram. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. 208p. $64.50 cloth, $21.95 paper.
These two books on the American welfare state seek to challenge conventional understandings of redistributive policy and politics in the United States. Christopher Howard does so by looking at the many tools of social policy that, he argues, have been downplayed or ignored in most academic research. In addition to the well-known social insurance and transfer programs such as Social Security and public assistance, he argues, tax expenditures subsidizing private welfare provision (e.g., child tax credit), regulatory policies, minimum wage laws, tort laws, housing loan guarantees, and entities such as the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation should all be included within the definition of the welfare state. Doing so reveals that the American welfare state is not a “chronic underachiever” but, in fact, “large and far-reaching” (p. 1). Howard cautions, however, that this heterogeneous mix of social policy tools does not make the American welfare state particularly effective. On the contrary, given enduringly high rates of poverty and widening income inequality in this country, the welfare state is paradoxically both extensive and limited in its ability to address some of the greatest social problems in the United States.
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