Is the Welfare State Justified?

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In this book, Daniel Shapiro argues that the dominant positions in contemporary political philosophy - egalitarianism, positive rights theory, communitarianism, and many forms of liberalism - should converge in a rejection of central welfare state institutions. He examines how major welfare institutions, such as government-financed and -administered retirement pensions, national health insurance, and programs for the needy, actually work. Comparing them to compulsory private insurance and private charities, Shapiro argues that the dominant perspectives in political philosophy mistakenly think that their principles support the welfare state. Instead, egalitarians, positive rights theorists, communitarians, and liberals have misunderstood the implications of their own principles, which in fact support more market-based or libertarian institutional conclusions than they may realize. Shapiro's book is unusual in its combination of political philosophy with social science. Its focus is not limited to any particular country; rather it examines welfare states in affluent democracies and their market alternatives.
• Argues that supporters of the welfare state should, following their own premises, actually oppose it
• Does comparative institutional analysis: compares real welfare state institutions with real market-based alternatives
• Combines focus on basic principles in political philosophy with social science analysis of institutions

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a marvelous, unusual book. It's one of the few attempts in political philosophy that go beyond examining what principles of justice require, by investigating whether contemporary institutions designed to produce those outcomes actually do better than realistic alternatives. I suspect it will have a large audience not only among normative political theorists, who will find stimulating its challenges to welfare state institutions they have taken for granted, but among policy analysts and public-administration specialists with a reflective bent. It's a fresh and welcome approach to political theory that could prompt a long-overdue movement to bring theory out of the clouds."
-Jeffrey Friedman, Editor of Critical Review

"This book is an important addition to the debate about the welfare state. The book's distinctive character is a very strong focus not on the philosophical duel between competiting normative principles, but, rather, on empirical studies about how the institutions under assessment work. Shapiro adds a new twist to the a debate, which, among philosophers, usually involves dueling principles which cannot really inflict wounds upon one another. Shapiro's method for breaking out of the deadlock of dueling principles accounts for the most striking features of his manuscript, its extensive and quite remarkable survey of the social science literature on the operation of the relevant institutions and his integration of this material into arguments for and against the welfare state."
-Eric Mack, Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University

"I can only hope that our policymakers will read Dr. Shapiro's book. His insight on the philosophy of the welfare state outclasses anything that I have read prior."
-David Allen, The State Journal

"The strengths of Shapiro's approach are twofold. First, he develops his analysis by integrating the insights of two disciplinary traditions...Second, Shapiro explicitly addresses the distinctive normative concerns of egalitarian liberals and communitarians, particularly their insistence that income transfer programmes should prioritize the normative requirements of "social" justice .... In drawing our attention to the possibility that collectivist aims and values can be pursued through a well-designed combination of public and private retirement provision, Shapiro's book represents an important contribution to the literature, reinforcing the growing recognition among pensions scholars that privatization can be consistent with the normative requirements of justice."
-Mark Hyde & John Dixon, Poverty and Public Policy, 2009

Professor Daniel Shapiro was a Senior Research Scholar of the Social Philosophy and Policy Center during the 2005-2006 academic year and a Visiting Scholar there for the 1995-1996 academic year. The Center's support enabled him to research and complete this book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521860659
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/2007
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Shapiro is Associate Professor of Philosophy at West Virginia University. A specialist in political philosophy and public policy, he has published in Public Affairs Quarterly, Social Philosophy and Policy, Journal of Political Philosophy, and Law and Philosophy. In the spring of 2003, he was a Distinguished Visiting Humphrey Lecturer at the University of Waterloo.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction; 2. Central perspectives in political philosophy; 3. Health insurance, part I; 4. Health insurance, part II; 5. Old-age or retirement pensions; 6. Welfare or means-tested benefits, part I; 7. Welfare or means-tested benefits, part II; 8. Conclusion.

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