Comparative liberalisms: what should the government do about social and economic essay sample

Since America attained independence, the realization of individual goals has remained key among many of its citizens. The clamor for ‘ happiness’ as enshrined in the ‘ Declaration of Independence’ was taken to insinuate that individuals could obtain satisfaction by piling stacks of wealth for themselves. The Constitution upheld the ‘ Bill of Rights’, which safeguarded personal interests against violation by the central government. Decisions made by the Supreme Court in the initial years emphasized the enforceability of legally binding contracts. People who migrated into America had the notion that they would access the opportunities that came with the ‘ land of new opportunities’ for self-development. However, over the years, the role played by government in driving the nation towards a socially and economically state became appreciated.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the growth of business being more compact and huge trusts emerging to dominate established industries, it was agreed generally that promoting of individual enterprise was vital in expanding the economy of America. Among the most prominent proponents of these sentiments at the time was Adam Smith. Adam Smith and his followers believed that the market or economy for that matter should be left to self-regulate. Disturbances in the economy would be neutralized by automatic adjustment forces of demand and supply and that there should be no government intervention. This was the concept behind laissez-faire. However, it was observed that the upholding of laissez-faire benefited capitalists and industrialists to a large extent at the expense of public welfare. Reformers argued that majority of the people languished in poverty under this system and therefore public welfare is undermined. This meant that the economy experienced wide disparities in income and wealth. Opponents of laissez faire therefore argued that the government should step in the market to ensure that public welfare is upheld. Regardless, beneficiaries of the system continued to support it.
An individual is said to be ‘ poor’ if he is unable to sustain his human needs. This situation arises when a person’s level of production is far below his level of consumption. Sumner argues that a human society needs the active co-operation and productive energy of every person in its (qtd in Hewitt and Lawson 518). The improvement of the society’s welfare is a result of co-operation within members of the society and summation of individual attempts to improve their standards of living. Current consumption not attributed to any kind of production activity is considered burdensome to the society.
Those against laissez-faire argue that government should come in to protect the interests of the ‘ weak’ in society. The truth is however, according to Adam Smith and those who support his school of thought are that these categories of individuals represent the unproductive section of the society. These people undermine the efforts of capitalists and industrialists who are perceived to be the ‘ real’ productive agents of the economy. Opponents of laissez faire refer to the state of the ‘ poor’ in the society as unfortunate. They see great economic and social stratifications and divisions within the society by focusing on one side and tend to ignore the interests of the hardworking section of the economy (capitalists and industrialists). They advocate for economic and social justice within the society without taking into account the contributions of the different sections of the economy and the rightful reward that they deserve for their efforts. Consequently, there is an inferred poverty policy. There is a moral right on the part of industrialists and capitalists to support the poor members of the society.
With rapid industrialization in the United States, the large numbers of workers led to the formation of labor unions to represent the grievances of the workers. Labor relations no longer involved small firms handling the concerns of their few employees. There were imperfections in the market since the independent forces of labor demand and supply could not be relied upon to bring the labor market into equilibrium. Bellamy observes that the records of the period show that outcry about the concentration of capital was furious (Hewitt and Lawson 520). The subsequent accumulation of capital exposed the economy to threat of monopolies and this instilled fear among laborers and the general members of the society. However, it was argued that amassing of wealth was in itself not a bad thing.
Capitalists were regarded as people who simply held the society’s wealth and would distribute it to the productive members in the society. A distinction was made between charity and philanthropy. Charity was considered productive because it involved aiding productive people who lacked the means to support themselves. On the contrary, philanthropy entailed assisting people who simply consumed and produced nothing in the economy. Productive consumption was encouraged while unproductive consumption was discouraged because the latter did not contribute to the growth of the economy.
A look at America’s history reveals serious racial and gender discrimination issues over the years. Economic, political and social opportunities were determined on the basis of race and gender. This situation seemed to aggravate into the 1960’s and 1970’s when civil right groups were formed to address the problems of unequal opportunities to grow and develop among the people. The governments of the time adopted an affirmative action strategy to address the challenges that were encountered especially by the minority and disadvantaged groups of the population. Major amendments in the law were made particularly in the education sector where all schools that were sponsored by the federal government were expected to enroll students indiscriminately. Workers who were previously barred from entering certain professions were favored through a statistically determined mechanism.
The adoption of Affirmative Action to correct the social and economic injustices that existed in America was not received well by some antagonists of the policy. They argued that moving America towards a more economically and socially equitable nation does not necessarily mean that some sections of the society must be treated preferentially. Job opportunities should be awarded on merit. In the same way, university and college scholarships were to be awarded purely on academic grounds. Their argument was that social and economic equality would be best achieved by creating a fair playing ground for all individuals in the nation. Affirmative action, according to them, contradicted this notion. What this group of opponents failed to take account of is that a certain group of society had managed to get a privileged opportunity to enhance their welfare at the expense of other disadvantaged groups that the government now sought to favor.
In summation, the economic system of America has encountered significant changes over the years. It has moved from an individualistic system with minimal government interference to one that has continually embraced the important role that government plays in reducing the inequalities that come with purely laissez-faire systems. The government thus plays an important role in ensuring that public welfare is upheld.