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Essay: Comparing the American Welfare State with the European Welfare State

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  • Subject area(s): Sociology essays
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  • Published: February 27, 2021*
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  • Comparing the American Welfare State with the European Welfare State
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French sociologist Emile Durkheim defined collective conscience as a belief system of ideas held in common by average members of society. This dominant belief system provides basis of social order in any society. A purely economic component such as capitalism can function in very different ways depending on the collective conscience of a society. On the same note, something universally accepted as evil such as racism could also have a different meaning depending on the society’s collective conscience. The United States and Western Europe, both of which are high-income capitalist societies are stark examples of this. The social theories of Karl Marx and Durkheim mold the parameters of contemporary social policy and the welfare state in Europe. Pure, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism is generally accepted to be harmful to social welfare. This is because, “The primary goal of capitalist production is to produce commodities that are exchangeable at a profit”,which reads catastrophe. The major flaw of this system is that if society needs something useful which cannot be produced at a profit, it will not be produced under pure laissez-faire conditions. According to Marx, “They [people] create it [the market], yet claim it to be an independent force controlling their life”. He relates the market to God, both of which Marx claims to be manmade, yet often overpowering man himself. The United States on the other hand fetishizes capitalism. This is party because it is the only economic system that gives the government leeway to openly disenfranchise any group of people they want to exclude through coercion and consent. This seemingly “neutral” and Godlike market also works as an justification to the masses as to why African Americans are unable to succeed in a democratic society. The results produced by the European social democratic model magnifies the fact that the United States being a racial state intentionally chooses to stay away from egalitarianism.

Social policies are not modern concepts and have existed since the hunter-gather ages where the capable men would go out and gather essential goods which were distributed to all members of the society according to their need. European capitalism is the result of a long struggle between feudal traditionalism and the growing informal market system. While capitalism won the test of time, it was forced to incorporate many cultural influences of Catholicism which exercised a strong cultural influence in the economic system. In Europe, modern social insurance was introduced as early as 1883 by Bismarck to protect workers against sickness, old age and injury. Bismarck himself, a keen conservative created this program as conscious effort to counter the rising socialist movement at that time. The United States on the other hand has neither traditional feudal past nor challenges by communism and socialism. What it does have is the history of slavery and oppression which has been incorporated into the current social and economic models. Violently grabbing land from the indigenous population and outnumbering them was all the early settlers had to do in order to spread their economy built on slavery from Atlantic to the Pacific. In fact Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution states that, “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due”. The founding fathers came from the early industrialist parts of Europe where capitalism was in its earliest developing stages and simply brought it along with them. This proves that the emergence of a relatively pure, unhindered capitalism was built upon elements of exclusion, unfairness and free labor. The American state in its earliest form fell into a racial contract which established a racial polity, a racial state, and a racial juridical system, where the status of whites and nonwhites is clear demarcated, whether by law or custom. In addition, the purpose of the state, by contrast with the neutral state of classic contractarianism, in inter alia, specifically to maintain and reproduce this racial order, securing the privileges and advantages of the full white citizens and maintaining the subordination of nonwhites. It is not enough for just the government to create a racial order. There needs to be leadership at top which actively engages in maintaining this order with the help of social rules such as legitimating ideologies and a nationwide racist rhetoric to enable the smooth functioning of the racial state.

The first settlers in the United States were Protestants who held a Calvinist—not Augustinian— interpretation of predestination. The Calvinist notion is that it is in the hands of people whether or not they will reach heaven and the rich, by working hard are the chosen ones. Augustine on the other hand claimed that man is predestined before birth and has no control over his salvation or damnation. This eventually shaped the dominant culture in the United States to see the poor as responsible for their economic and social fate. In more conservative parts of the country, some might even go as far as to say the poor are undeserving of aid since their failure is nothing but a sign of their unworthiness. An example could be the President’s reference to developing nations in Africa as “shit hole” countries because of their low economic status and Norwegians as more deserving because of their wealthy nature. This is ironic because Haitians work twice as many hours and have half the vacation days as Norwegians. Europeans on the other hand believe that richness and poorness don’t stem from birth and are based solely on the equality of opportunity and outcomes one is exposed to.

People in most parts of Europe receive their income as social wages rather than individual wages. This means they receive free access to many government provided goods and services which are consumed in common by the whole community. Unlike Europe, social equality is never a goal of social policy in the United States. Even progressives like Senator Sanders only do so much as to offer colorblind anti-poverty and welfare solutions so as to not antagonize the average white voter who resents race-conscious programs. With the rise of right wight nationalism, even the progressive millennial fears race conscious programs as being morally wrong and even racist in nature. This would be against the goal of maintaining white supremacy which the state and its citizens aim for. This is probably why income inequality is 29% higher in the United States than the mean European income inequality. Workers receive relatively more of their income in the form of individual wages; and pay lower income taxes for fewer social benefits. Childcare, healthcare etc. are considered private expenses which one needs to obtain from the free market. As developed nations, neither the United States nor Western Europe have high numbers of absolute poverty determined by the United Nations. Poverty in these regions are understandably calculated by relative methods in comparison to the rest of their nation known as relative poverty. The United States tops the list of relative poverty in developed nations. Poverty rate reached 15.1% in 2010 in the United States where 17% of households live on less than 50% of the median income of the country. The poor are marginalized into urban ghettos and isolated households that are socially excluded. Social isolation is best ignored and welcomed as a justified punishment for those who didn’t work hard enough which is on par with the dominant American thought. While the European average of money income rates of relative poverty is 30.3% (higher than the United States), disposable income poverty rates crumble down to a mere 9%. This shows the considerable success of the numerous state poverty reduction programs. In essence, while the European governments in average are able to save 7 in 10 people from going into poverty before they do, the American government is only able to prevent 4 in 10 people from the same fate. In fact, American conservatives believe that the government should focus on growth of private economy rather than antipoverty measures. Their reasoning being that, ignoring those in poverty would, “Reform the poor of their defects in motivation and educational preparation so as to enable them to compete effectively in the market”.But when it comes to the New Deal and Great Society years, white majorities overwhelmingly supported activist governments because it was helping people like themselves— decent, hardworking people who needed a nudge. Once again, the government wants to set the agenda by arguing for and maintaining the popular image of minorities as lazy and solely responsible for their social status.

Due to aging populations, The United States and Western Europe are facing imbalances between who draws from the welfare state program and who pay into it. They have an interest in increasing birth rates. The general European feeling is that all adults need to share some of the costs of raising society’s children because society as a whole benefits from having these children. But the individualism-oriented consensus across the Atlantic is that child raising is exclusively the responsibility of individual families; and communal societal responsibilities actually weakens self-reliance of families. The racial state in the Unites States maintains the low income nature of minority children to ensure they don’t get the opportunity to mingle and integrate with white children. Measures such as redlining are conveniently used to achieve this goal. All Western European countries match or exceed the paid maternity leave weeks mandated by the UN which the United States has even failed to reach since its conception. Parents in European countries also receive on average 10% of their wages as cash payments to cover childcare costs in addition to pre-school programs which are subsidized unto 75%. Average rate of child relative poverty in Europe is 10.9%, less than half of the American rate of 21.2% due to greater public investment and subsidies. Improving the lives of all citizens is possible if strategically targeted.

Studies of Harvey Brenner found that unemployment rates are connected to early death in the United States and United Kingdom. Claes-Goran Stefansson found the same relationship in Sweden where long term unemployed had a 37% higher death rate. Reason for this being in the United States, loss of employment results in loss of healthcare and people simply put off going to the doctor. This is not a worry for Europeans who continue to receive universal healthcare. The statistics could also be due to anomic consequence which results in heart disease, strokes etc which applies to a more general population. The American government takes a minimalist approach to unemployment and treats it as a temporary issue and shies away from giving too generous of a support in fear that people won’t return to work. Unemployment rates in Europe are 3% higher than the United States but this might be because the latter counts part-time workers as employed, and since Americans receive little to no support, they take any job they can get their hands on. European unemployment benefit systems have backup income replacement programs which prevents long-term unemployed from sliding into poverty (which one must prove in the United States in order to continue receiving benefits after 26 weeks). Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer touch on the difficulty of even gaining access to welfare in the United States in their book, “$2.00 A Day”. The little help New Deal and Great Society offered was plagued by the negative racial stereotypes since Reagan turned his focus to the system. The main concern for European governments when it comes to unemployment is that it leads to social exclusion which leads to depression. To combat this, unemployed have free access to theaters and museums in almost all European countries which lets them participate in the public sphere.

In 1946, Sweden and Britain established first centralized, government owned health-care systems — first noncommunist universal healthcare coverage. Thus, since the very beginning state was a major actor in development of western European healthcare system. Today, universal healthcare is the norm in Europe. On the other hand, Each year, 18,000 people die in the United States due to lack of health insurance coverage with 47 million American citizens lacking health insurance coverage. American healthcare system is the world’s most expensive health care system averaging $8,175/person while the EU average is $3,863, yet ranks below all Western European countries in terms of quality and coverage. This shows that a racial state although meant to punish minorities ends up hurting most Americans. While the overall quality of healthcare already being pathetic, black Americans get the worst of the worst. African Americans disproportionately work in low-pay, high-health risk jobs due to employment discrimination and limited educational opportunities. In addition to that, due to the unfair public planning policies by the racial state, they are also more likely to have toxic substances dumped in their communities. There is also a proven lack of fresh groceries in black communities which results in the exposure to higher medical risks which is clearly not a matter of individual choice. Black men live on average six years less than white men. Black men have shorter life spans than men in Chile, Barbados, Bahamas, or Jamaica. Black women live on average four years less than white women. Black women have shorter life spans than women in Barbados, Panama, Bosnia, and the Bahamas. Infant mortality rates are two times higher for blacks. What is easily identifiable is the discrimination involved in having access to healthcare and the well thought-out policies to make black Americans sicker which can be pointed to politicians. It is important to remember that there is also discrimination occurring in healthcare delivery, financing and even research. Title VI (with its implementing regulations) should be an effective tool for eliminating racial discrimination. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has held in Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287 (1985), that Title VI itself directly reached only instances of intentional discrimination. Once again, the noblest branch of the government provides judgement in a way that is meant to uphold white supremacy and secure the racial order. How could one measure intentional discrimination is a highly specialized and technical field where patients are mostly unaware of discrimination? For example, a study published earlier this year revealed that 50% of white medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biologic differences between black and white people (e.g., black people’s skin is thicker; black people’s blood coagulates more quickly). A Civil Rights State is thus needed which is committed to equality where state actively focuses on the recognition of various forms of discrimination as well as guaranteeing fines and regulation to combat the historical mistreatment of African Americans. Yet the racial state continues to view healthcare as a privilege for those capable enough to hold a decent job rather than a basic human right. In a way, captan punishment is given to those not worthy of holding on to a job.

Social egalitarianism is possible and has been achieved in the United States. As the New Deal unfolded in the face of the the Great Depression, black and white differences in standard of living not only persisted but deeply widened. In fact, life expectancy for blacks lagged that of whites by ten years in period between 1939 and 1941. By 1947, the gap had grown to eleven years. Widespread black death also occurred due to the fact that southern hospitals wouldn’t admit black patients which is the type of discreet discrimination Vernellia R. Randall argues to be prevalent in the operation of healthcare facilities today. While the New Deal’s rules and spending decisions came from Washington, to please the Southern Democrats, their execution was local knowingly placed in the hands of openly racist bureaucrats. They set an example for the following years that even seemingly unbiased national policies could be administered to suite racist preferences of a community. The largest and most effective social welfare policy left out of its jurisprudence over 65% of the African American population which extended to over 80% in the South. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that Black Americans started to experience the benefits of this widely popular program. In conclusion, the American Welfare is in fact as successful as the European welfare state if measured by goal achievement. The former acts as an instrument for racial discrimination with the goal to maintain white supremacy whereas the latter has the goal of social egalitarianism irrespective of race and ethnicity.

Integration is a multidimensional phenomenon with socioeconomic, legal, political and cultural dimensions. It is a two way street where dominant society must remove barriers that block integration and minorities must adapt to the practices and acquire skills that will allow them to be integrated. Through access to commonly shared social programs in retirement, childcare and like, effects of racial discrimination on standards of living will be lessened in the United States. A strong welfare state will prevent substantial types of consumption necessities from being affected by discrimination. Assimilation has been the experience of European immigrants to the United States. It is when minority members shed significant portions if their native distinguishing identities in order to be integrated and accepted as Americans. A third generation Polish person is more likely to self-identity or be identified as American first and Polish second even if he/she is very much tied to the Polish culture. A Mexican or Asian American on the other hand, is more likely to be identified as an Asian first irrespective of their self-identity. African Americans, although having been in the United States for centuries are still widely not considered “true Americans” which can be proven with the questioning of whether President Obama is an American. In all, the minimalist and racist American welfare state results in the United States having significantly higher rates of poverty, crime, social exclusion and other social problems.

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