And correctly implies that Labour—including the current leader Jeremy Corbyn—is more the product of David Ricardo and Jeremy Bentham than Karl Marx and William Morrisby Jon Cruddas / August 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Bread For All: The Origins of the Welfare State
by Chris Renwick (Allen Lane, £20)
Chris Renwick begins with a revealing anecdote. On 16th February 1943, William Beveridge listened to parliamentarians discussing his famous report that sought to establish a “comprehensive policy of social progress,” before travelling to deliver the annual Eugenics Society Lecture in memory of the Victorian statistician Francis Galton.
Bread for All anchors the creation of the welfare state deep within 19th-century science. The post-war reforms to social insurance, health, education and local government need to be understood in terms of philosophical concerns regarding progress and human rationality that informed generations of thinkers and practitioners across all political parties for over a hundred years. (Later, the welfare state was upended by “neo-liberalism.” But that is another story.) Renwick’s study offers us a history of applied utilitarianism from the 1830s to the 1940s. Intermittently other philosophies appear but are subsequently crowded out so as to ensure—in a peculiarly British way—political, economic and social order.
For some on the left this might be dispiriting news. For it correctly implies that Labour—including the current leader Jeremy Corbyn—is more the product of David Ricardo and Jeremy Bentham than Karl Marx and William Morris. The British Labour tradition was always concerned more with efficient resource allocation than a reordering of economy and society.
This is a brilliant book, full of little revelations—my personal favourite is that Britain’s leading eugenicist also invented the dog whistle. It is written with real agility in an accessible style, and is bound to figure in “books of the year” lists—it will in mine.