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The Literature of the Welfare State
We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical
from the ideal, and in so doing, we are fashioning an instrument
of unimagined power.—Franklin Roosevelt, Second Inaugural
Address, 27 January 1937
In his State of the Union address of 1935, Franklin Roosevelt re-
affirmed his commitment before Congress and the American people
to make it his ‘‘first and continuing task’’ to provide for the ‘‘security
of the men, women and children of the nation.’’∞ Such a commitment
was necessary, he reasoned as he signed the Social Security Act into
law, because ‘‘the civilization of the past hundred years, with its star-
tling industrial changes, has tended more and more to make life inse-
cure.’’≤ Acknowledging that it was impossible to ‘‘insure one hundred
percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards
and vicissitudes of life,’’ he expressed the hope that Social Security
would give ‘‘some measure of protection to the average citizen.’’≥ Two
years after Roosevelt signed the act, Wallace Stevens embraced Social
Security in ‘‘Insurance and Social Change.’’ Surrounded by insurance
agents, Stevens defended the Social Security Administration to his co-
workers at the Hartford Fire and Indemnity Company by rebutting the
claim that the welfare state incursion into insurance practice would
fragment an already diminished market. Stressing the fact that the
private industry looked to offer ‘‘insurance for everything,’’ as op-
posed to the government’s ‘‘insurance for all,’’ Stevens argued that
federal insurance, far from competing with private insurance, pro-
vided the precondition for the latter’s efforts to ‘‘perfect’’ insurance
coverage. ‘‘To be certain of a regular income, as in the case of social
security,’’ reasoned Stevens, ‘‘is not the same thing as to be able to
repair any damage, or to meet any emergency.’’∂ It is only when
Americans were certain of a regular income that they could afford the
‘‘insurance for everything’’ offered by the private industry.
Social Security was seen in this way to offer one legislative solution
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