Corporations and the American Welfare State: Adversaries or Allies?

Source: Mark S. Mizruchi, Studies in American Political Development, FirstView, Published online: February 18, 2019
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One of the most widely held views about American political life is that business is hostile to the welfare state. In the 1970s, David Vogel asked why American businessmen “distrusted their state.” Kim Phillips-Fein has written of the “businessmen’s crusade against the New Deal.” Jane Mayer and Nancy MacLean have recounted the efforts of the Koch Brothers and their wealthy allies to remake American politics in a more conservative direction. What could be more uncontroversial than the view that American business is broadly opposed to government social policies?


Ascertaining Business’s Interests and Political Preferences
Source: David E. Broockman, Studies in American Political Development, FirstView, Published online: February 26, 2019
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Medicare is one of the largest social programs in the world. Did organized industry favor Medicare’s passage in 1965? If it did, this would represent powerful evidence in favor of the theory that social programs typically require cross-class alliances to pass, such as alliances between business and labor. However, in a previous article in this journal, I argued that answering questions about political actors’ preferences—such as whether organized industry favored Medicare’s passage—can be surprisingly difficult due to the “problem of preferences”; that is, political actors might misrepresent their true policy preferences for many reasons. For example, when their ideal proposals are not politically feasible, political actors may wish to bolster support for a more politically viable alternative to a disliked proposal—even if they do not truly support this alternative to the status quo. To better understand political actors’ true policy preferences, I argued, scholars should trace how those actors’ expressed preferences change as a function of their strategic context—just as scholars seeking to understand the impact of any other variable trace the effects of changes in it.

Business Interests and the Shape of the U.S. Welfare State: From the Insurance Company Model to Comprehensive Reform
Source: Christy Ford Chapin, Studies in American Political Development, FirstView, Published online: February 18, 2019
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Peter Swenson’s excellent article is a welcome correction to the consensus argument so often found in welfare state literature. That interpretation depicts a never-ending, dualistic struggle between capitalists and “the people,” as represented by welfare reformers. Swenson sorts through the evidence surrounding post-1960 health care debates, particularly Medicare, to demonstrate that “business” is not a fixed, homogeneous group that conforms neatly to class-based analysis. He finds significant business backing for federal programming and also shows that where trade associations took conservative, anti-reform stands, they often did so without strong member support.