Glenn Muschert, Brian Klocke, Robert Perrucci, and Jon Shefner (eds), Agenda for Social Justice: Solutions for 2016, Policy Press, 2016, 1 4473 3288 6, pbk, xiii + 134 pp, £9.99.
At first sight this might not seem the most obvious book to review in the Citizen’s Income Newsletter. The context is the United States and not the UK; and although numerous policy areas are discussed, benefits systems don’t get a mention ( – they don’t appear in the list of omitted policy areas either). But as we shall see, there are at least two good reasons for publishing this review.
All of the book’s chapters are written by members of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, which encourages research that addresses identified social problems. Most of the chapters contain four sections: a description of a social problem; a survey of relevant research results; a list of recommendations and solutions; and a list of resources. The ten social problems addressed are campus sexual assault, missing rights for sex workers, factory farming, food insecurity, healthcare, employment conditions in developing countries, homelessness, immigration, gun violence, and prisons. Two final chapters take a broader view. In chapter 11 Amitai Etzioni explores the relationship between sustainability and social justice – ‘I see great merit in shifting the focus of our actions from seeing ever-greater wealth to investing more of our time and resources in social lives, public action, and spiritual and intellectual activities – on communitarian pursuits’ (p. 114); and in chapter 12 Gary Marx argues that because social situations are complex and fluid, quick technical solutions to social problems might cause more harm than good. An afterward charts the rise of neoliberalism and the erosion of the social safety net, suggests that social movements are necessary to both democracy and social justice, and asks for comprehensive structural change that will address inequality.
All of the chapters are worth reading: but perhaps the most relevant to readers of this Newsletter will be chapter 5 on healthcare reform in the United States. The first section shows that even with the passing of the Affordable Care Act, far too many people still find themselves without healthcare. The culprits are the complexity of the funding of healthcare provision in the United States, and a mismatch between state and federal legislation. Then comes the research evidence ( – for instance, on differences between health insurance policy premiums in different states). A number of detailed recommendations and solutions follow: ‘Increase educational outreach …’, ‘Address the Medicaid coverage gap’, ‘Avoid further politicizing the issue’, ‘consider changing the underlying design of the system itself’.
The reader doesn’t get very far into this chapter before recognising the significant similarities between the US healthcare system and the UK’s benefits system, and the similarity between the first three recommendations in the chapter and recommendations that are frequently offered in relation to problems with our benefits system: public education; repairing coverage gaps; and cross-party agreement. The chapter’s final section contains a recommendation to change the US healthcare system into ‘a system of socialized medicine, such as that in the UK, [which] utilizes taxes to provide health care to all without the need for a health insurance system’ (pp. 55-6). A similar recommendation in relation to the UK’s benefits system would be ‘a system of socialized income maintenance, which utilizes taxes to provide an income to all without the need for means-testing’. Because such a solution would make it possible for many of us to ‘invest more or our time and resources in social lives, public action, and spiritual and intellectual activities – on communitarian pursuits’, it would fit nicely into Etzioni’s chapter on sustainability and social justice; and although a Citizen’s Income would be a ‘technical solution’, it would be one that recognised how complex our society and economy are, and that a radically simple solution would therefore be appropriate.
This is a good book, and well worth reading. What would be really interesting would be to see a book similar to this, but written for the UK context, and containing a chapter on income maintenance.