Many social policies of the 1960s and 1970s, designed to overcome poverty and provide a decent minimum standard of living for all Americans, ran into trouble in the 1980s—with politicians, with social scientists, and with the American people. Nathan Glazer has been a leading analyst and critic of those measures. Here he looks back at what went wrong, arguing that our social policies, although targeted effectively on some problems, ignored others that are equally important and contributed to the weakening of the structures—family, ethnic and neighborhood ties, commitment to work—that form the foundations of a healthy society. What keeps society going, after all, is that most people feel they should work, however well they might do without working, and that they should take care of their families, however attractive it might appear on occasion to desert them.
Glazer proposes new kinds of social policies that would strengthen social structures and traditional restraints. Thus, to reinforce the incentive to work, he would attach to low-income jobs the same kind of fringe benefits—health insurance, social security, vacations with pay—that now make higher-paying jobs attractive and that paradoxically are already available in some form to those on welfare. More generally, he would reorient social policy to fit more comfortably with deep and abiding tendencies in American political culture: toward volunteerism, privatization, and decentralization.
After a long period of quiescence, social policy and welfare reform are once again becoming salient issues on the national political agenda. Nathan Glazer’s deep knowledge and considered judgment, distilled in this book, will be a source of advice, ideas, and inspiration for citizens and policymakers alike.
The Limits of Social Policy is must reading for the domestic policy makers, regardless of party, who will presume rather rapidly after they capture the White House that their capacity to mold American society knows no bounds if only they can pull the right political levers in Washington.
[This] is a book about the policy process itself, about the necessary shortcomings of grand proposals and the influences on policy. And, characteristically for Mr. Glazer, it is pragmatic, thorough and evenhanded… The Limits of Social Policy will be discouraging reading for all those people—liberal, moderate or even conservative—who fondly believe that it is possible to devise and implement a national social policy that will sharply reduce poverty and distress. That is precisely why they should read it.
A theoretical work of surpassing practicality. This will be the text on social policy for the eighties. Yes, there are limits, but they are well beyond our present horizons. Glazer summons us to try once more, and to do better this time.
These essays confirm Nathan Glazer’s role as one of the most prominent and provocative social thinkers. His views ought to be heard by all sides of the public policy debate.
Nathan Glazer’s long-held distinction in the study of social policy in America is once more reaffirmed in this fascinating volume. The book sparkles with fresh material and also fresh, coruscating insights.
- 224 pages
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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