Professor David Garland on how semantics impact public perception of the welfare state
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Professor David Garland on how semantics impact public perception of the welfare state

So these days, maybe always, politics
is framed in rhetoric and rhetoric’s framed in sound bites and names come to have connotations. The welfare state, particularly the notion
of welfare, in this country has a negative connotation, and the connotation is doubly
negative in the USA. First of all, people don’t like the idea
of welfare because they think it’s welfare for the poor, that it’s a hand out, that
somehow or another it’s creating dependency. They don’t like the idea of the state because,
it seems like big government and bureaucracy and all the things that Americans are taught
to dislike. But the welfare state’s not a good description
of the reality that it kind of points to. First of all, most welfare is really, most
of the welfare state does is not provide welfare, it’s to provide a social insurance and social
rights and social provisions and most of that goes to family’s unemployment and in fact
often to the well-to-do in this country. So welfare’s a bad description for social
security and social insurance. Secondly, it needn’t be the state that provides
this. The state has to be involved; it has to pass
laws, it has to regulate, it has to tax. But in many countries, including this one,
the providers of welfare, the providers of social insurance, of education, of health,
housing, can be civil society non-state organizations. They can be religious or voluntary groups
as they are in Germany for example, the Netherlands. So to think about the welfare state is often
to frame the issue in a negative way right at the start. What I want to do in this book is to try to
get people thinking about what are the institutions and how do they work. The fact that they work, not just to enhance
the welfare of the poor, but actually to keep market capitalism in business and to ensure
that it’s compatible with democracy. I think that’s a very different way of thinking
about the issues.

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