Welfare capitalism is a private employer based social welfare provisions system that gained momentum in the US first from 1880s through to the 1920s. Business leaders promoted welfare capitalism at a time that was marked by widespread economic insecurity, labor unrest and reform activism.
It owed its basis on the idea Americans shouldn’t look to labor unions or the government but rather the workplace benefits that are provided by employers in the private sector for protection against market economy fluctuations. This type of capitalism includes social welfare policies that are comprehensive. It is also the practice of companies/businesses to provide welfare services to employees.
In modern age, welfare capitalism is mostly associated with models of capitalism that are found in Northern and Continental Europe like the Social Market model, Rhine capitalism and Nordic model. There are other instances when welfare capitalism exists within mixed economies but welfare can and does exist independent of policies that are common to mixed economies like extensive regulation and state interventionism.
During the 17th century, some companies (mostly manufacturers) started offering new benefits to employees. This started in Britain during the early 19th century and in other European countries like Germany and France. The companies sponsored established social clubs, sports team and provided cultural and educational activities for workers. There are some that even offered housing as part of the package as well.
Among the first attempts of offering philanthropic welfare to workers was at the New Lanark mills in Scotland by Robert Owen, the social reformer. He became part owner and manager of the mills in 1810 and was encouraged but his success in management of the cotton mills in Manchester and hoped to conduct New Lanark on high principals and not focus so much on commercial profit.
The broad condition of workers was unsatisfactory as most of them were steeped in drunkenness and theft. There were other vices which were also common. Sanitation and education was mostly neglected while families lived crammed in one room. The country people who were respectable also refused to be part of the demoralizing and long hours of the mills.
Majority of the employers operated through the track system where they made payments to workers in part or by tokens which were of no use outside the ‘truck shop’. Owen opened his own store where people were able to buy quality goods and soon the principles he upheld spread through other cooperative stored throughout Britain. By 1910s and the 1920s, welfare capitalism was an organized movement with diversifying base for social, business, political and scientific support.
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