by Gunnar Myrdal,
one of the lesser embarrassments of left politics is a traditional one: too much talk and too little thought. It only takes a competent stylist or publicist to turn out a suitable-sounding half-truth, to distil a more less correct insight in a glittering slogan; and years of careful analysis go by the board. Instead of digging into the structure of society, we snap up some glib and half appropriate phrase and pound it into a cliché. When we’ve drained it of all effective meaning we look round and see the unpersuaded multitude still unpersuaded. In just such a way in recent months we’ve saved ourselves from the business of actually thinking by living on “affluent society”, “private opulence, public squalor”, “I’m-all-right-Jack-attitudes”, “positive neutralism”, “the irresponsible society”, and a dozen other happy shorthand syntheses. And only when we find a Jo Grimond or an Aidan Crawley babbling in the same idiom do we realise just what a disservice we do ourselves in snapping up other people’s deft verbal afterthoughts. The valuable part of Professor Titmuss’ Fabian pamphlet was the analysis of a particular concentration of economic power, not the title. But you wouldn’t think so from the sort of woolly talk that goes on in the coffee bars. Even the leader—at the time of writing—of the Labour Party would pontificate against the “irresponsible society”: what we want to know is what he plans to do about the insurance empires.
A great deal is said about the need to “develop” the Welfare State these days. Indeed, on the right of the Labour Party this process of development tends to become synonymous with socialism itself. But when we look at what is in fact envisaged here, it turns out to be a matter of providing merely a little more of the same—a cheaper health service, more realistic pensions, a fairer balance in the distribution of educational opportunities—maintenance work rather than development—in fact, the perfecting of existing central machinery. Against this modest view of the future of social justice, however, Myrdal argues that the implications of “welfare” politics should by now be leading us into new areas of public planning and policy; areas as yet unimagined by the Labour Party. He argues, and argues persuasively that, important as it may be to consolidate and expand existing services, one should, both in conscience and logic, having embarked on the creation of a welfare economy and society, now be finding oneself committed to still more important projects. The extension of welfare that he envisages involves drawing out strands of the welfare concept hitherto ignored. It means projects of a radically new quality.
Myrdal discusses the growth of welfare politics as a matter of stages. The first decisive advance, he suggests, comes at the point where “intervention” turns into “planning”. This is the point at which the advocacy of specific legislative controls or specific social services gives way to a conception of the need for an overall co-ordination of social resources and energies in the interests of a general vision of society. The acceptance of planning is, he suggests, essentially part of the logic of events once one has embarked upon the process of reform by piecemeal intervention. Recognition of the next stage of advance is no less necessary on an objective appraisal of the social situation created by the achievements of planning. This, in Myrdal’s phrase, is the advance from welfare politics to a “Welfare Culture”. The policies required for a progressive movement at this stage would be policies designed as an attack on the structure of power while preserving the structure of welfare, transferring more and more issues of planning, “to be settled by the people themselves, in their local communities and through bargaining between their organisations”, the object being to—
“promote the coming into being of a more co-operative national community, with more identifications, solidarity and participation on the part of the individual citizen who will then come to feel freer—and he will actually be more free. As I see it, this is the inherent ideal which the developing democratic Welfare State is reaching towards”.
He has a developed sense of the texture of a welfare culture and proceeds to a discussion of its lineaments. Nor does he imagine that the gulf between our present situation and the ideal that he finds implicit in our professed adherence to the welfare concept is less than enormous, or that the business of “activating the people to take care of their own interests”, will be anything but long and arduous. What he does do is to make clear the relevance of his vision of a welfare culture and of detailed policies designed to promote it, if we are even to hold off the counter attack and hang on to the rudiments of social welfare we have so far achieved. And yet there are precious few signs—even among those who now think an extension of Welfare is all we need—that this could and should mean an extension of the quality of our very co ception of welfare. Despite the tediously repeated phrases at Scarborough about young people, and being up-to-date, and being on the edge of a social revolution, there was in fact hardly a hint of a new social policy, no suggestion that planning might be carried into new fields as the means of constituting a social structure within and through which a more actively democratic community could emerge. It took a world war to shift the Labour Party from the stage of “intervention” to that of “planning”. If the Party is left to itself it will probably take a world revolution of the underdeveloped countries to force the next breakthrough.