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date: 16 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

United States political institutions provide a compelling account of American exceptionalism in social policy: why the United States has a social insurance system that was late to develop and remains incomplete; spends relatively little on direct social policy; and relies on indirect and private social policy that is relatively ineffective in addressing poverty, insecurity, and inequality. Formal political institutions—including the tardiness of universal suffrage, many institutional veto points, federalism, the underdevelopment of domestic administrative authority, and a political party system founded on patronage and skewed to the right—go far to explain the formation of this unusual welfare state. Feedbacks from policies, political institutions themselves, help to explain why a few U.S. social programs, notably Social Security, remain strong, and why the U.S welfare state generally remains mired in the residual liberal model and is subject to drift. Feedbacks related to the world’s most extensive military and imprisonment policies also harm social policy.

Keywords: political institutions, veto points, institutionalism, party systems, policy feedbacks, social policy, welfare states, American exceptionalism

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