The Welfare State In The Eyes Of Micklethwait And Wooldridge

“Her genius was to make the unthinkable seem thinkable and the revolutionary seem evolutionary - and to do it on a global scale”1. The authors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write about the phenomenal influence that Beatrice Webb has on the state. This paper is a summary and critical analysis of Chapter 3 in “The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State” titled “Beatrice Webb and the Welfare State”.

First of all, the paper outlines a summary of the evidence that the authors use for their main argument. Second of all, the paper discusses the effectiveness of elaborating on British and the American governments in contribution to the authors’ arguments. Lastly, the paper explores the unconvincing content of the authors’ argument. Overall, despite some weak substance in the chapter, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s writing, effectively prove their main argument in Chapter 3: Beatrice Webb and the Welfare State.


In chapter 3 of “The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State”, the argument that authors - John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, claim is that Beatrice and Sidney Webb’s beliefs of collectivism expanded the abilities of the state to handle a large government. This expansion of government activism begins in Britain where their ideas first evolved in and further onto the global stage such as a country like the United States. The authors 1 John Micklethwait and Adrian Woodridge, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent The State (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), chap. 3, iBooks. 2 support their point on collectivism through the Webbs’ belief that the state must prioritize its people through aspects such as state ownership when applicable, taxation, regulatory bodies and as well as equal opportunity

The Webbs’ ideologies on collectivism were later adopted by the British government in which collectivism became a broad political theory (accepted to different parties) that normalized the taxation of people to fund for social services and end the stigma surrounding social welfare3. Webbs’ ideology presents itself in the British government in the ability for different parties in the British government in power to sustain their welfare, such as the Education Act, the National Insurance Act and the National Health Services act4. Even outside of Britain, the United States agreed to Webbs’ beliefs and started bureaucracies to enhance their capitalistic state while providing welfare for the less fortunate

The United States had a large well functioning government by having public and private corporations to fit their capitalistic needs

Underlying this fusion is Webbs’ idea of collectivism. Furthermore, all around the world, government spending increased, international organizations, and jobs in the public sector were made

Through all these supporting points, Micklethwait and Wooldridge highlight Beatrice and Sidney Webb’s beliefs on collectivism and credit the expansion of a welfare state to them. Critiques of Micklethwait and Wooldridge’s Argument Micklethwait and Wooldridge refer to the British government for most of the chapter. The evidence of change in the British government after the Webbs’ theories raises attention on how influential their ideas were. The British government developed were more equal opportunity for schooling and the ability for different parties to come together with the broad ideology of collectivism - just to name a few

To begin with, they shared their ideologies through the education in the London School of Economics and it became a nationwide phenomenon. The authors argue that because they are influential in their own nation, then this evidence supports the idea that the Webbs have the capability to open the minds of how governments behave. Another effective premise that Micklethwait and Wooldridge bring to light in this chapter is the United States’ ability to interpret the leftist thinking of the Webbs. For instance, the authors outline that in the early 1900’s, the United States developed the Bureau of Corporations to control the market and for the consumer protection, they put into law the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure and Food Drug Act

The core of the author’s overall thesis is that there is Beatrice and Sidney Webb provide an underlying influence to the world. Even though the United States do not exactly follow what the Webbs’ criteria of collectivism and nationalizing all of the companies in the state, this premise chosen by the authors highlights the fundamental thinking in regards to the Webbs’ developing the state’s power through government intervention. Nevertheless, this chapter also has its shortcomings in attempts to strengthen the argument that Beatrice and Sidney Webbs created a foundation for the capabilities of the state in terms of government intervention.

To illustrate, the chapter describes how selective breeding and town planning was a practice that Stalin encouraged and a practice that the Webbs’ praised because it justified one of their ideologies of meritocracy - where the intelligent are encouraged to breed

There is credit to be given to the authors because this evidence ensures that the Webbs are not entirely romanticized. However, in terms of their argument, this was a weak portion because the article mostly explores the control of the government over economic affairs rather than controlling the demographics.


To summarize, Chapter 3: Beatrice Webb and the Welfare State, the authors effectively argued that the Webbs’ influence on collectivism redefined government activism beginning in Britain and to the global masses. Even though there were flaws in some of the content, the strengths of the argument outlined in this paper focused on Micklethwait and Wooldridge’s explanation of Webbs’ influence on the British government and then the American government. Towards the end of the chapter, the authors mention Barry Goldwater who wanted to revert back to a smaller government

On the other hand, the authors writes that the voters believed “the state was on the side of progress”

For most, it is very difficult to imagine a life without these social welfares or reverting back to the way things were. Take in Canadian society; A portion of Canada’s federal revenues go towards welfare such as a health care system, subsidies for post-secondary and protection from unemployment

When the state is progressing, there’s no stopping its growth and there is no imagining a life without the progress it has made.

29 April 2020
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