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Is the Welfare State Justified? Paperback – September 27, 2007

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521677936 ISBN-10: 0521677939 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


"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.

Book Description

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 unique 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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (July 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521677939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521677936
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,838,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Fernando R. Teson on December 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
Daniel Shapiro has written a refreshing, penetrating book. In it he questions whether a legal system that coercively redistributes resources helps the very people it intends to help. His answer is NO. And what is stunning about this is that Shapiro shows that under any plausible political theory the welfare state is problematic. There has been a consensus in academic circles that if you care about the poor you must support the welfare state. Shapiro shows that this is a non sequitur. Whether or not the welfare state helps the poor must be decided by the empirical sciences, not by abstract principles of philosophy. And Shapiro does a great job in displaying relevant social science to show that welfare programs are, for the most part, counterproductive. His scholarly treatment of health care is particularly impressive. The lesson for political philosophers is simply this: if you want to defend redistributive institutions, get your facts rights. Show why markets fail, don't just assume it. This is a great effort that intelligently challenges the mainstream. Egalitarians from now on will have to respond to Shapiro's arguments. Kudos to Cambridge University Press for picking up this book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Cally on October 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a tremendous and unduly neglected book looking at the actual operation of state welfare programs, specifically state healthcare, social security, and unemployment insurance vs. non-state alternatives.
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3 of 31 people found the following review helpful By anon12345 on July 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Within the first paragraph of the introduction, Shaprio states "The aim of this book is to argue that this consensus is mistaken." The consensus he states as being that it is the government has a responsibility to provide for the sick, retired and needy (something all first world nations do to varying degrees). In the preface of his book he cites numerous papers he has written sharply criticising any form of welfare. He goes on to state that his intention is to bypass the philosophical nature of the debate on welfare and approach this book from a market alternative perspective.

Its not a scholarly work, or even a serious question, but over 300 pages of rubbishing anything but the tired old neo-liberal arguments, it makes sweeping statements that are the authors opinion rather than anything grounded in philosophical study (when he mentioned he planned to bypass from the beginning of his book), essentially making his book a rant. Much like the Glenn Beck show but with slightly more coherent ramblings and fancier words, but academically and intellectually useless.

The conclusion this book makes is so utterly forgone, there's little point in reading it. His sardonic scoffing at anything left of centre (he deliberately ignores socialist arguments for example) is thinly veiled under the prose of a false scholar, furthermore he distorts the notion of equality to the point of it essentially being the opposite.

Bottom line is that he is vehemently against any sort of welfare as it does not agree with his distorted version of utility, he also arrogantly dedicates his book to scholarly supporters of welfare for their having "misunderstood" how welfare works.

Definitely one to avoid.
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8 of 61 people found the following review helpful By MJS on November 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is an attempt to provide a theoretically sophisticated argument justifying the shifting of risk entirely to the individual, and away from shared risk. Such a risk shift has been faddish since Reagan, and is the orthodoxy of the second Bush administration. The result has been an increasingly stratified society; one in which fending for oneself is the official ideal for all but the elite. We can see the effects of such risk shift in the privatization of of essential services in Iraq, the aftermath of Katrina, and elsewhere.

Shapiro displays an essential misunderstanding (that's the kindest assumption; it may be pure misrepresentation) of social insurance programs. He alleges that they provide a "raw deal," that they infringe on liberty, etc. (tired arguments all). At the same time, he minimizes coverages, benefits, and the unparalleled efficiency of, say, America's Social Security system.

Shapiro does not hesitate to glorify Chicago School arrangements, such as Pinochet's scheme of privatization in Chile. Privateers also praised Thatcher's arrangments in the UK, as well, until the WALL STREET JOURNAL revealed to American readers the true "raw deal" that they provided to beneficiaries.

Rather than changing their minds and apologizing, the privateers merely ceased to tout Thatcherism and shifted almost entirely to assertions of the superiority of Pinochet's arrangement. Pinochet's army, of course, imposed privatization on Chile's people while his military conveniently remained in the public system. The army knew what it was doing. Military pensions in Chile are far higher, and more secure, than are those the public receives under Pinochet's privatization.

Chile now has recognized Pinochet's error, and conceded that privatization has been disastrous to beneficiaries. Its government has announced a movement back toward a public system.

Shapiro and his quasi-anarchist bedfellows at Cato must be embarrassed at the timing.
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