This article concentrates on the crisis in the historical system: the extent to which it has been replaced by arrangements based more on the command of law; and the limits that are being experienced by this command system. It also demonstrates at the end that the turn to command is in key respects both unexpected and dysfunctional; it arises from the unavailing struggle of social actors to cope with crisis. A key implication of the article is that agency has mattered less in these developments than accident, unanticipated consequences, and fate. It then presents changes in the British system of self-regulation by focusing on three key cases: financial regulation; the regulation of the school system; and the regulation of medicine. The command revolution has been attempted in circumstances where there are powerful functional pressures, and powerful economic interests, pressing for a different regulatory style.
This article addresses the broader sense of ‘welfare reform’. First, it briefly outlines political science writing about British social policy in the immediate post-war era in order to contrast it with the ‘new politics of welfare’ that some commentators see emerging internationally after the economic crises of the 1970s. It explores how far such a description fits the British case. Moreover, it presents a comparison of welfare reform, in its narrower sense, in the USA and the UK to show how different institutional traditions produce different responses to apparently similar social and economic changes. Changes in politics of welfare have taken place in the nature of state involvement as society has changed. Policy is significantly influenced by the historical legacy of institutions, as it can be seen in the comparison of American and British interpretations of ‘welfare reform’.