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Capitalists and Social Security: What Did They Really Want? A Reply to Amenta and Parikh
American Sociological Review
  • J. Craig Jenkins, Ohio State University - Main Campus
  • Barbara G. Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Apparently Amenta and Parikh (henceforward AP) are defensive about their thesis that businessleadership and social protest were irrelevant to the formulation of the Social Security Act; so defensive that they have ignored the main thesis of our article. Therefore, we restate our thesis again. Our paper argues that: (1) economic crisis and a sustained wave of protest (including significant electoral instability) created a sense of impending political crisis among political leaders and led to intracapitalist divisions over political solutions to the Great Depression; (2) liberal capitalists were key leaders in the formulation of several of the policy proposals that were incorporated into the Social Security Act; and (3) liberal capitalist policy leadership coupled with a sustained political upsurge (including protest over unemployment, industrial strikes, and electoral instability) placed the central reform proposals of the "Second New Deal" (including Social Security) on the political agenda and led to major social reforms. AP misleadingly remove our discussion of liberal capitalists from its context and mistakenly claim that our interpretation stems from a "business dominance" theory of policy formulation. But quite clearly our argument was defined as a "political struggle interpretation" because it emphasized the interaction of intracapitalist hegemonic competition and interclass conflicts. In this respect, our theoretical stance was closer to the political conflict theories of Korpi (1989) and Shalev (1983), except that we emphasized the central leadership role played in the American case by liberal business leaders. In their comment, AP make three contentions that clearly show their misreading of our article: (1) Business as a whole opposed the Social Security Act; (2) the bill was formulated by a coalition of middle-class reformers, policy intellectuals, and "progressive" politicians; and (3) working-class protests (especially industrial strikes) were irrelevant because these also peaked during nonreform periods.
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Citation Information
J. Craig Jenkins and Barbara G. Brents. "Capitalists and Social Security: What Did They Really Want? A Reply to Amenta and Parikh" American Sociological Review Vol. 56 Iss. 1 (1991) p. 129 - 132
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