The Welfare State Is Broken. Here’s How to Fix It.

A social entrepreneur in Britain shows the way.

I met Cottam in London last week and she made the point that welfare systems are often designed to manage needs, but they are not designed to build capabilities so that families can stand on their own.

Moreover, most Western systems were not designed to confront the kind of poverty prevalent today. When these systems were put in place in the 1950s and ’60s, unemployment was more often a temporary thing that happened between the time you got laid off from a big employer and the time you got hired by a new one. Now, economic insecurity is often a permanent state, as people patch together different jobs to make ends meet. Health issues for people in the welfare system are often chronic — obesity, diabetes, many forms of mental illness.

Our legacy welfare structures are ill suited to today’s poverty.

For example, Ella was asked if she would like to lead a “life team” that would help her family turn around. She agreed. She was given the power to select the eight people from across agencies who would comprise the team. She chose people from social work, the housing authority and the police force.

Members of the team spent 80 percent of their time with the family and only 20 percent on administration. Ella and the team worked together to stabilize her most immediate issue — negotiating away eviction notices. Then the team worked to improve inter-family dynamics so there wasn’t so much violence and screaming.

Cottam has designed other programs with a similar collaborative ethos. Backr is a program that takes people who are detached from the labor force and helps them join extended social networks where they can connect one another to job openings and develop skills. Circles is a program for the elderly. It brings together lonely seniors into small groups that are part social club, part concierge service and part self-help cooperative. Wellogram is a similar social structure for the chronically ill.

Basically, Cottam’s programs create villages within the welfare state. Her systems are not designed around individual clients, but around relational networks. People tend to have better outcomes when they are held accountable by a network of peers. Three-quarters of the smokers in Wellogram successfully quit, 44 percent lowered their blood pressure, 64 percent started work or went back to school.

The old legacy welfare programs were designed for people enmeshed in thick communities but who had suffered a temporary setback. Today many people lack precisely that web of thick relationship. The welfare state of the future has to build the social structures that people need to thrive. This is one way government can build community.

What a sex worker can teach us about human connection | Nicole Emma | TEDxSaltLakeCity

“In a society that values strong, stoic alpha males, where can a man find space to be vulnerable? Nicole Emma, a sex worker with 18 years of experience, gives a unique perspective on men’s need for connection. About the speaker: Nicole Emma is a relationship and intimacy coach, and sex worker.” What can the people at the edges of society teach us about ourselves? About Love? Cultivated through a life of connecting with people at the edges of our community, Nicole shares a message of unconditional love and acceptance. She has an insatiable curiosity about people, how we think and how we work, especially those outside the boundaries of cultural norms and programming. It’s this desire to truly SEE people that led Nicole to a vibrant career in the sex industry. Drawing from 18 years in sex work, Nicole observes noteworthy patterns of human behavior, especially those of the most vulnerable demographics, while providing a space for them to experience authentic connection without judgment. Bringing to the public dialog a call to shift societal expectations and address our own biases, Nicole speaks out about how we unintentionally create a fearful and angry society, and how we can shift back into curiosity, balance, and love. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx
9:30 Healthy Manhood is about:
  • facing fears
  • overcoming challenges
  • living with compassion

Does Social Connectedness Explain Trump’s Appeal?

So what factor distinguishes Trump and non-Trump voters? My answer is social connectedness or, to use Robert Putnam’s term in “Bowling Alone,” social capital. Socially connected people have strong family ties and wide circles of friends, are active in churches and voluntary organizations and work steadily.

Putnam’s thesis is that social connectedness has declined sharply since the 1950s. But as Charles Murray notes in “Coming Apart,” that decline is uneven. Whites in the top third of income and education scales still have plenty of social capital. But there’s been a precipitous decline among whites in the lowest fifth of those scales. They work less steadily, attend church less often and participate very little in voluntary organizations.

Looking over the election returns, I sense that Trump’s support comes disproportionately from those with low social connectedness. My first clues came from the Dutch. Heavily Dutch-American counties in northwest and central Iowa and western Michigan, around Grand Rapids, were Huckabee and Santorum territory in past years.

This year, unlike surrounding territory, they voted for Ted Cruz, with Trump a poor third. Dutch-Americans have dense networks of churches and civic groups — unusually high social connectedness.

I saw something similar in strong Huckabee/Santorum southern Missouri. Southeast Missouri voted heavily for Trump, but southwest Missouri for Cruz. Southeast Missouri has high rates of disability insurance, an indicator of low workforce participation and low social connectedness. Southwest Missouri, headquarters of the Assemblies of God, has dense networks of civically active churches.

Similarly, exit polls show Trump doing worse with evangelicals who attend church weekly than with those who don’t. This helps explain why Trump carried South Carolina and lost Oklahoma, where church attendance is higher.

Then there is majority-Mormon Utah, whose Mormon majority has higher social connectedness than any other American group. Only 14 percent of Utah Republicans voted for Trump.

Putnam reports that social connectedness is highest in states with large Scandinavian- and German-American populations and in Utah. It’s lowest in — no surprise — Nevada, one of Trump’s best states.

In the 13 states highest in social connectedness, Trump has gotten just 21 to 35 percent in primaries and caucuses. In the 11 states lowest in social connectedness (except for Cruz’s Texas), his percentages ranged from 33 to 47 percent.

In states with medium social-connectedness but many retirees voting in Republican primaries – Florida and Arizona –Trump has run in the high 40s. He ran similarly in Massachusetts, where only a sliver of voters there are registered Republicans and their social connectedness may be limited to listening to Howie Carr on talk radio.

 

Your Loyalties Are Your Life

In 1900, there were two great philosophers working side by side at Harvard, William James and Josiah Royce. James was from an eminent Boston family and had all the grace, brilliance and sophistication that his class aspired to. Royce, as the historian Allen Guelzo points out, was the first major American philosopher born west of the Mississippi. His parents were Forty-Niners who moved to California but failed to find gold. He grew up in squalor, was stocky, lonely and probably knew more about despair and the brooding shadows that can come in life.

James and Royce admired and learned from each other, but their philosophies were different, too. James was pragmatic and tough-minded, looking for empirical truth. Royce was more idealistic and tender-minded, more spiritual and abstract.

They differed on the individual’s role in society. As David Lamberth of Harvard notes, James’s emphasis was on tolerance. We live in a pluralistic society and we each know only a fragment of the truth. People should give one another enough social space so they can be themselves. For Royce the good life meant tightly binding yourself to others — giving yourself away with others for the sake of a noble cause. Tolerance is not enough.

James’s influence is now enormous — deservedly so. Royce is almost entirely forgotten. And yet I would say that Royce is the philosopher we need today. In an age of division, fragmentation and isolation, Royce is the philosopher we don’t know we have. He is the philosopher of binding and connection.

Royce argued that meaningful lives are marked, above all, by loyalty. Out on the frontier, he had seen the chaos and anarchy that ensues when it’s every man for himself, when society is just a bunch of individuals searching for gain. He concluded that people make themselves miserable when they pursue nothing more than their “fleeting, capricious and insatiable” desires.

So for him the good human life meant loyalty, “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.”

A person doesn’t have to invent a cause, or find it deep within herself. You are born into a world of causes, which existed before you were born and will be there after you die. You just have to become gripped by one, to give yourself away to it realizing that the cause is more important than your individual pleasure or pain.

You’re never going to find a cause if you are working in a bland office; you have to go out to where the problems are. Loyalty is not just emotion. It is action.

“The loyal man serves. That is, he does not merely follow his own impulses. He looks to his cause for guidance. This cause tells him what to do,” Royce wrote in “The Philosophy of Loyalty.”

In such a community, people submit themselves to their institution, say to a university. They discover how good it is by serving it, and they allow themselves to be formed by it. According to Royce, communities find their voice when they own their own betrayals; evil exists so we can struggle to overcome it.

Royce took his philosophy one more crucial step: Though we have our different communities, underneath there is an absolute unity to life. He believed that all separate individuals and all separate loyalties are mere fragments of a spiritual unity — an Absolute Knower, a moral truth.

That sense of an ultimate unity at the end things, shines back on us, because it means all our diverse loyalties are actually parts of the same loyalty. We all, he wrote, “seek a city out of sight.” This sense of ultimate unity, of human brotherhood and sisterhood, is what is missing in a lot of the current pessimism and divisiveness.

Royce’s philosophy is helpful with the problem we have today. How does the individual fit into the community and how does each community fit into the whole? He offered a shift in perspective. When evaluating your life, don’t ask, “How happy am I?” Ask, “How loyal am I, and to what?