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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > September 2017 > Books in brief

Books in brief

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.

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In Prospect’s September issue: Emily Andrews, Andrew Brown and Tom Clark assess what the reign of King Charles might look like. Andrews profiles Charles and questions whether he will be able to keep his opinions to himself. Andrew Brown look at the coronation—the world is a very different place now from when the last one took place. Tom Clark explains the results of our poll, conducted by ICM, into people’s view on Charles taking the throne—it turns out fewer people than ever before want the heir to become our monarch. Elsewhere in the issue Nick Cohen details his battle with the bottle and shows that Britain has a problem with drink that it doesn’t want to talk about, and Toni Morrison Also in this issue: Toni Morrison on America’s stubborn race divide, Brian Klaas on how Europe should deal with Trump and Jessica Abrahams explains everything you need to know about fourth wave feminism
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