As The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein declared shortly after voters re-elected President Barack Obama, one of the major winners last week was health-care reform. With Democrats holding on to the Senate and the White House, Republicans will be unable to repeal the law before all of its provisions go into effect in 2014—after which, the theory goes, the public will come to accept that government has the responsibility to ensure health care is available for all.
This is the end of a long battle for progressives: Health care has been the major missing piece of our welfare state for nearly a century, and for decades making it a part of our system of social insurance has been a primary goal of politicians, think tanks, and activists. With this piece of the progressive puzzle in place, the natural question to ask is, What’s next for the welfare state?
One useful way of thinking broadly about what the welfare state should provide comes from Lane Kenworthy, a sociologist and political scientist at Arizona State University. According to Kenworthy, the welfare state should accomplish three things: It should act as a safety net, providing a basic level of security for the poor and protecting citizens from sharp declines in income or unanticipated expenses; like a springboard, it should create opportunities for upward mobility; and, like an escalator, it should ensure that living standards rise across the board as the economy grows. Below are ways that liberals could fix the holes in the current safety net, expand opportunity, and make sure a growing economy benefits everyone.