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Social policy, freedom and individuality. Prepared for the National Social Policy Conference, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 4-6 July 2001.



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Yeatman, A. (2002), ‘Social policy: freedom and individuality’, in T. Eardley and B. Bradbury, eds, Competing Visions: Refereed Proceedings of the National Social Policy Conference 2001, SPRC Report 1/02, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 1-11.

Social Policy, Freedom and Individuality

Anna Yeatman Sociology Macquarie University

1 What is the Rationale for Social Policy?

What is the rationale for social policy? By what values and vision should it be oriented? It would seem that almost everyone who has a role in leading public opinion conspires to tell us that such a fundamental debate cannot be afforded at this time of scarce public resources. That we do not need vision because we cannot afford it. This is a strange conception of public policy. It is actually saying we should not have a vision. It proposes that we allow the means to establish the ends of public policy, rather than ask what ends should public policy follow, and with what consequences for a public revenue base, and its justification.

Why is it that we are not encouraged to think about the ends of public policy at this time? My answer is that it is because we live in an era of laissez-faire. Laissez-faire is a framework for public policy that is designed to free up the market to be self-regulating. The rules for operation of a market economy of any kind derive from government. Government policy of the kind that favours a self-regulating market economy is no less interventionist than any other kind of government policy. Laissez-faire government policy leads to a particular approach to social policy. It is one that privileges the freedom of property right over other kinds of right, especially the right of each person to an equality of regard.

When laissez-faire is allowed to control the policy settings, we find ourselves in a position where wealth-seeking, or economic growth, is established as a goal in and of itself. ‘The economy’ comes to dictate our action. We lose policy literacy in being able to discuss and determine how the economy can serve human development.

We also live at a time of unparalleled wealth where there is no sign of the dynamics of capitalist growth becoming tired, or technical change slowing. It this context, it is even more striking that the public policy agenda should have been highjacked in this way because the simple logic of doing things for the economy makes sense only as long as one does not ask the fundamental question: ‘what do we need wealth for' (Levine, 1995: 19)?

Those who have thought about this question argue that the pursuit of wealth makes sense only to the extent that it serves human freedom. Two contemporary political economists eloquently make this argument. I am thinking of Amartya Sen (1999) and David Levine (1995). Each of them is aware of their debt in thinking about this question to the classical economists, especially Adam Smith who saw wealth as the condition of what he called civilisation. Sen (1999: 3) says simply: ‘Development can

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be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy’. Levine (1995: 19) proposes that economics has been much better at explaining how market economies encourage the growth of wealth (a focus on means) than it has been in answering the question ‘what we want wealth for’ (a focus on ends). He goes on to say ‘We need to know this not because it might reinforce our commitment, if any, to the system - capitalism - that brings about the expansion of wealth but because we need to know when we have enough and when our quest for wealth might end' (Levine, 1995: 19).

For Sen, wealth-seeking makes sense if it expands the freedoms that people may enjoy. For Levine (1995: 177), wealth-seeking makes sense only to the extent that it achieves two things: firstly, the ‘capacity to secure material well-being'; and, secondly, the creation of ‘choice and opportunity'. Both of these achievements can be ascertained only if we (to borrow Sen's idea of capability) examine what it is that people can be and do. By people we mean individuals. Are individuals secure? Do they have both choice and opportunity to explore their individuality and to act in self-determining ways? Security and self-determination go together. An individual cannot risk self-determination if s/he does not have a reasonably secure access to means of livelihood, health, and longevity (see Levine, 1995: 29-30). It is wealth that has provided the material base of human security. It is also wealth that has opened up the multiplication of wants and life choices that make the conception of living one's own life possible (for instance, in the exploration of one's talents, choice of occupation and choice of way of life). The ability to lead a civilised sort of life follows upon access to the enjoyment of these opportunities for security and autonomy.

When we ask the question, ‘What is wealth for?’ social policy no longer appears as a supplement to the main game, public policy in service to the self-regulating market economy. Rather, social policy turns out to be the main game. Social policy is the appropriate name for what we are doing by way of public deliberation when we engage both rationally and inclusively in asking the question how can wealth serve human development? Or, the alternative way of asking the question, how can wealth serve individual self-determination? I return at the end of this address to the question of what a social policy that serves human development and individual self-determination involves. I do this in dialogue with T.H. Marshall's idea of social citizenship.

However, social policy that is oriented to making the economy serve human development and freedom is not the favoured approach at this time. The public policy of laissez-faire dictates an approach to social policy that adapts it to the needs of the economy. This approach to social policy is expressed in the two ideas of protection and reciprocity (mutual obligation). Let us briefly examine these ideas and think about how they measure up in terms of the values of human development and individual autonomy.

2 Social Policy as the ‘Protection’ of the Poor

The conception of social policy in terms of protection is social policy designed not for everyone, but for a marginalised group, the poor. It is a very different approach from social policy for human development and individual autonomy. The protection approach is structured by an opposition between those who are self-reliant and who

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do not need protection, and those who are not or cannot be self-reliant, and who therefore need protection. Freedom is the privilege of those who are self-reliant, and the idea of freedom narrows to the kind of contractual freedom that is associated with market exchange. Freedom turns out to be the freedom associated with the exercise of property right. For those who are not or cannot be self-reliant, they forfeit freedom by becoming dependent on the largesse of property owners either directly or through the taxation they contribute to the state. The provision of public welfare is designed so as to punish the able-bodied non-working poor for their failure in self-reliance. The punishment is the deprivation of their freedom of action, and their subjection to the state's coercive controls in order to make the labour market a more attractive option than welfare dependence. T.H. Marshall's (1977) remarks on the New Poor Law of 1834 could have been designed to apply to today's version of social policy as protection.

The Poor Law treated the claims of the poor, not as an integral part of the rights of the citizen, but as an alternative to them - as claims which could be met only if the claimants ceased to be citizens in any true sense of the word. (Marshall, 1977: 88)

Marshall also discerns the true aim of this type of social policy orientation. Speaking of the first era of laissez-faire, the second half of the nineteenth-century, he remarks: ‘The common purpose of statutory and voluntary effort was to abate the nuisance of poverty without disturbing the pattern of inequality of which poverty was the most obvious unpleasant consequence’ (1977: 105). This conception of social policy - social policy as the protection of the poor through offering them a ‘safety-net' - belongs to a laissez-faire policy context where it is difficult for most people to think about what should social policy do as distinct from what should the poor be made to do.

When poverty is associated with subjection to state coercion, and when the only real security for freedom of choice and opportunity resides in market-oriented action, then all who can participate in the market economy will exhaust the major part of their energies in so doing. Their mental and physical energy for doing anything other than follow the demanding and exploitative work ethic of the self-regulating market economy will be minimal. Most will be driven by an acute anxiety to work hard and save enough to create a private investment fund to protect themselves against the insecurities of ill health and old age. The answer to the question of what we need wealth for will seem so self-evident to them as to make the question redundant. Yet the question they are asking and answering is not what do we need wealth for. Rather, it is what do I need wealth for given the context is one in which insurance against risk has been privatised at least for those who are able to enjoy such freedom as is on offer, that is, the freedom of property right. When people think like this, they are unable to think about the society that they share. By society I mean that people are interdependent with each other in many and different ways, and that when they think about who they are as individuals, and what it is that they want and need as individuals, they do so always in reference to others. Private decisions make sense as long as private action effectively serves the integrity of individuals, but often this is not possible when the private action of one impacts negatively on the opportunities or well-being of another. It is when we are able to think about our interdependencies and

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about shared objectives and purpose that we enter into the sphere of public goods, and into thinking about what should be the balance between public and private goods.

3 Social Policy as Reciprocity

The current policy set-up encourages us to behave as though we were rats on a sinking ship: it is every man and woman for him or herself. In this context a particular kind of ressentiment develops. Ressentiment is the righteous anger the good feel in relation to those who seem to be taking advantage of their goodness, those who are seeking a free ride at their expense. In this case, the good are those who see themselves as having made the necessary degree of sacrifice, through hard work and private investment decisions, to take care of their own futures by way of private insurance. They readily resent those who do not seem to be taking responsibility for themselves in this way. From this it is a small step to assume that if individuals are able to take care of themselves, both now and in the future, it is because they have worked hard, and they have earned their share of privately distributed wealth.1 They forget about the unearned wealth of those who have inherited property assets, and they are unable to critically assess the ease of acquisition of vast wealth by those who have the assets, the connections, and the capacity to take advantage of de-regulated money markets. Instead the focus turns to the easiest target of their rage and depression: the non-working poor. At this point, the argument that the non-working poor should do something ‘in return for’ public income support assumes a self-evident quality. This is the argument that White (2000) calls ‘welfare contractualism’. White’s defence of what he calls the reciprocity principle (or, in this country, mutual obligation) is one of the better argued conceptions. The policy is directed against what is seen as the free-riding of the non-working poor on those who are making a contribution to ‘the social product’.

It is intrinsically important that citizens who share in the social product make a reasonable effort to ensure that others also benefit from their membership of the productive scheme and, as the flip-side of this, that they do not burden their fellow citizens, making others worse off than they would be in their absence, when they can reasonably avoid it. (White, 2000: 513)

White's argument makes sense if we assume as given policy parameters a self-regulating market economy that is accompanied by a state that functions on behalf of the freedom of private property. As we have seen, the freedom of private property requires that the state coerces the non-working and able-bodied poor into work if they are dependent on public income support. In this framework, the community to which we belong is not a citizen community but an economic or productive community. We have rights only to the extent that we participate in productive or wealth-creating, action.

The assumptions of the reciprocity approach to social policy, then, are not independent of the protection approach to social policy. Both follow from the policy framework settings of laissez-faire. Contrary to the implication of the reciprocity

1 For a critique of the idea that earnings are equivalent to contribution, see Levine, 1995, chapter 8.

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approach that it is revisiting the idea of the Social Contract, it does not do this. If we revisited the idea of the Social Contract, we would find that we start with the question of what it is that government understood as the public authority should do for us in order to secure the integrity of our personhood.

4 Social Policy and Freedom

Properly understood, the social contract is an account of how the public authority has to be conceived or designed so as to secure the rights of everyone to be an individual. In its classical liberal version, the public authority (Locke's phrase) is established to secure the private property right or freedom of individual householders. By freedom Locke (1960, 324, para. 87) meant the right to life, liberty, and estate of the householder. In more contemporaneous and inclusive language, it is the freedom of each individual to live his or her own life. In the classical liberal conception of private property, the role of property is to make personality possible.

However, from Locke's time onwards, property becomes confused with investment in capital. There thus develops a profound tension between the conception of property that functions on behalf of individual autonomy and the conception of property as privately owned capital.

The point to hold onto is that in classical liberalism property functions on behalf of the autonomy of the citizen, his right to be a distinct and individual personality. This starting point, and the limitation of individualised personality to male household heads, makes it possible for us to open up a more general enquiry into the conditions for autonomous or, as we might call it, individualised citizenship.

For the classical liberals such as Locke, autonomous citizenship rested on two interlocking conditions. The first of these is that there be a public authority that secures the freedom of individuals from the domination of other individuals.2 The second of these is that the public authority itself be so constructed and monitored that it functions impartially, without fear or favour, and, as we would put it nowadays, that it adopt a principle of non-discrimination. Otherwise, if the public authority comes to embody the private judgment of particular individuals or interests, it can be no longer impartial, non-discriminatory and procedurally just.3 Instead, it will be all too likely to represent private interests who use public power to advance their particular interests and dominate those whom they consider inferior for one reason or another.

2 Locke makes it clear that freedom is not the liberty of individuals to do as they please (choose) but is the freedom to live within and abide by the rule of law: ‘Freedom of Men under Government, is, to have a standing Rule to live by, common to every one of that Society, and made by the Legislative Power erected in it; A Liberty to follow my own Will in all things, where the Rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, Arbitrary Will of another Man’ (Locke, para. 22: 284). Philip Pettit (1998) elaborates the case for a liberal-republican polity that is so constructed as to protect the freedom of especially vulnerable individuals from the domination of others.

3 ‘And thus by all private judgement of every particular Member being excluded, the Community comes to be Umpire, by settled standing Rules, indifferent, and the same to all Parties’ (Locke, para. 87: 324).

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In other words, autonomous personhood depends on government conceived as a public authority. The social contract is an account of how the public authority is conceived or designed so as to secure the rights of everyone to be an individual: That is, a person who is conceived as the subject of his or her own life, who therefore has the right to be treated as an autonomous centre of initiative (to use Levine's, 1995, useful phrase). Private property right is valued but only as it secures individuality.

This point is easier to appreciate once we are talking about all individuals and not just individual householders. When the classical liberal social contract theorists assumed that the subject of freedom was the male head of a household, his individuality was still embedded within the individuality of the household and that of his dependants. In order to be an independent householder, the individual had to be a man of means, to own property in land or something that counted as an equivalent. To free this individual could seem to be the same thing as freeing up private property for market-oriented competition by getting rid of traditional and customary kinds of regulation (see Laski's, 1936, historical account of the rise of liberalism). Thus, in the tradition of liberal accounts of freedom, there is a profound confusion between the emergence of individuality as a legally recognised unit of social action and the freeing up of private property for modern market rules of competition. The consequence of which is that instead of market action being required to serve individuality, individuality too often is made to serve market action.

It is for this reason that in his historical narrative of the development of modern citizenship, T.H. Marshall sees a tension between what he calls civil rights and social rights. Leaving aside his gendered language, it is clear that for Marshall social citizenship refers to the right of each individual to be accorded an ‘equality of status’ as a citizen. By this Marshall meant that each individual is conceived ‘of equal moral worth’ and as entitled to live the life of a free person, that is someone who has access to the civil, political and social rights that make self-determination possible.

In the historical context Marshall operated within, inherited class differences combined with market-based inequalities of wealth to make it difficult for working class people to get effective access to the civil and political rights of citizenship. For instance, working class people did not have the means to buy the equal protection of the law (civil rights) or to get the education that would build their capabilities for freedom (Sen's language). In this context Marshall felt compelled to argue for social rights as rights that would ensure working class people got to enjoy the same political and civil rights as individuals of the propertied classes. The difficulty with this argument is that it makes social rights necessary for the poor (the protection conception again) but not for the propertied classes. Social rights thus become an add-on to fundamental rights, rather than a fundamental constituent of the individuality of all people. Not only do the propertied classes not need social rights (at best they are an optional extra for them) but, as they will see the situation, it is the redistribution of the income from their property that pays for the social rights of others.

We can understand why Marshall felt compelled to argue as he did. Social rights justified the public provision of health, education, housing, and legal aid services. Collective consumption of this kind could secure for individuals of the working class access to the civil and political rights that propertied individuals had been able to enjoy for some time.

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However, Marshall argues as though equality were an add-on to freedom. This is unfortunate, however necessary the argument was in its time. It is unfortunate because it suggests that there is a conflict between the two values of freedom and equality when in fact the opposite is true. Equality, in fact, is the value that secures the right of all individuals to be free.

Freedom can be enjoyed only as it is practiced as a universal and inclusive value. That is, freedom makes sense only as it is accountable to equality. Individuals can practise their freedom to live their own lives as autonomous individuals only as they respect this freedom for all others. If individuals cannot relate to other people as autonomous individuals, but instead treat them as in some way instruments of what it is they want to do and be, their individuality is symbiotic rather than autonomous.

When equality as seen as a supplement to freedom rather than as inherent in freedom, it is all too easy for the social settlement Marshall celebrated in the name of equality to be disestablished in the name of freedom. This is in fact what has occurred.

5 Freedom and Equality as Co-defining Values: the Emergence of the Individual as the Unit of Social Life

How then do we develop social policy as functioning on behalf of the self-determination of all individuals where these two values of freedom and equality can be seen as inherent in each other? Can we say that what made it so difficult for Marshall to do this has changed in ways that might free us up to develop this conception of social policy?

I think we can. Marshall (1977: 101) could see the way forward when he spoke of ‘the conception of equal moral worth' and could see the difference between this idea and the idea of natural right. The tradition of natural right ties freedom to householder status (see Yeatman, 1994) whereas the idea of social rights opens up the possibility of a personality that is not propertied in the householder sense.

What Marshall is groping for here is a post-liberal conception of individuality, but he did not possess the intellectual and cultural resources to open up this conception. Do we? I want to argue that we do. Firstly, the idea of human rights as I (Yeatman, 2000a) and others have interpreted it opens up a conception of a right to individuality that belongs to each unit of humanity regardless of their age, gender, and degree of property or lack of it. On this conception, property is not irrelevant, but it has to follow upon what is deemed to be the human rights of each individual. Thus, the argument may turn on what kind of economic security a child ought to have in order to enjoy the freedoms a modern society offers.

This will not take us beyond the add-on conception of social rights or equality. There is something else that has to happen. There has to be a disentangling of the individuality of the one from the individuality of his or her others. Or to use language I have already used, a symbiotic confusion between the personality of an individual and that of those who in some sense depend on him (or, in these equal opportunity times, her) has to become seen as unacceptable. The individual has to fully emerge as the unit of social life.

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In this context we are able to turn our intelligence to reflect on the questions: what is individuality? How does an individual come to be autonomous? What role do others have to play in the development of an individual's autonomy? And, what role do the institutions of the market and government have to play in the securing and development of an individual's autonomy? We then can see the role of social policy in providing for an institutional design for individuality.

6 Social Policy as Institutional Design for Individuality

Individuality means that each individual is valued and regarded as a centre of initiative, and that rights, relationships, procedures, institutional practices and policies are designed accordingly. Now many of us realise that an individual does not have to be able-bodied, adult, or cognitively independent, for this individual to be accepted by his/her relevant others as an autonomous centre of initiative. Nor do we find it paradoxical that these others have to engage in action that makes it possible for the child, or the intellectually disabled adult, or the physically disabled adult, to be autonomous. For instance, in providing support for choice-making of this individual or in providing assistance in getting around to an individual whose physical disability makes it impossible for them to do this alone.

Individuality means also that an individual is secure enough in his/her relationships with others to risk self-disclosure and thereby to explore who s/he is, a process that in some respects is lifelong. It is only through the development of capacities for self-disclosure, self-exploration, and self-reflection, that an individual can come to be aware of what it is that s/he thinks or wants as distinct from others may think of want for him or her (see Levine, 1995, Chapter Two).

What kind of institutional design is necessary for individuality understood in this way? What does government as the public authority have to do in order to ensure that each person is able to be an autonomous or self-determining individual?

The first thing that government in its role as the public authority has to do is to constitute the rights of individualised personhood, and to secure for them constitutional protection. We can term these rights the status of individualised citizenship. Without a status entitlement to be an individual unit of social life, the right of individuality does not exist.

If the status of individualised citizenship is to fully evolve, there is a good deal of work to be done in developing a coherent conception of it. Moreover, it is important that legislative specification of rights is not allowed to become an empty symbolic gesture, and that a constitutional authority ensures that they are implemented. Implementation also requires resources that are allocated to fund the services that make such implementation possible.

The second thing that government has to do is to provide the infrastructure of standards, professionalism, and services that underpin the recognition and the development of individual capabilities for self-determination. We can term this aspect of institutional design, the public provision of an infrastructure for human capability building and preservation. Central to such an infrastructure is the provision of education of a kind that cultivates in individuals the abilities to reason and think autonomously, to listen to others and to one's inner being, to name and explore

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feelings, to know what it is to take care of oneself, to respect the psychic and bodily integrity of others, and to use imagination and thought in forming a conception of the good.4

The third thing that government has to do is to ensure equality of opportunity with regard to participation in the economy. Government can ensure that there are no discriminatory barriers to market participation and to other kinds of socially valued work, and that individuals have access to the training and labour market preparation that enables them to enter the market economy or to pursue non-market-oriented vocations.

Fourthly, the government has to provide what Levine calls economic rights. He defines economic rights as ‘entitlements (to goods or money primarily) other than those we claim by claiming our property right; rights to work or to income whether we work or not, rights to welfare when we have no resources of our own' (Levine, 1995: 101). Levine argues that if welfare is not a matter of right, then it necessarily becomes a matter of charity.

Charity … places the recipient in a subordinate and dependent position because the initiative rests with the giver. It denies the agency and autonomy of those in need. Welfare rights shift the balance. The recipient can, in principle, demand his or her rights. (Levine, 1995: 100)

Fifthly, the government has to model procedures, protocols and processes that facilitate the recognition of autonomous individuality in the conduct of relationships. There is a host of such practical norms and techniques for what we might broadly term participative governance. These are norms and techniques for the conduct of relationships that facilitate individual voice and choice within them, and when necessary, exit from them ( these terms are Hirschmans, 1970).

The Five Aspects of the Role of Government in the Constitution of Autonomous Individuality

• The constitution of the status or rights of individuality, and the provision of constitutional protection for these rights and their implementation

• The provision of an infrastructure of individual capability building and preservation

• The provision of equal opportunity for participation in the economy and socially valued work

• The provision of economic rights (including the right to welfare)

• The provision of norms and techniques for the participatory conduct of relationships.

4 I am indebted for this last idea and for some other suggestions here to Nussbaum, 2000: 78-81).

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7 Freedom and Property Rights

T. H. Marshall was ambivalent about how to set up social rights. Are they in contradiction to the civil and political rights that have been already historically established? Or do civil and political rights need to be reconceived so that they constitute along with social rights a coherent bundle of rights?

The problem he had is the problem we have: how to situate property rights in relation to citizenship. Property rights ‘are the right to buy, sell, and use’ (Levine, 1995: 101). If we made economic rights in Levines sense more foundational than property rights, then we would conceive and limit property rights accordingly. They would have to operate so that they do not undermine economic rights.

If we developed this argument, we can propose that individualised citizenship is to be taken as both prior to and constitutive of market freedom. It follows that the exercise of market freedom must not undermine individualised citizenship. Rather the exercise of market freedom must be consistent with individualised citizenship.

This brings out the complexity of the individualised citizen’s identity. The individual is both a citizen-individual and a market-individual. That is, his individual interest turns out to be two different kinds of interest, his public interest as an individualised citizen, and his private interest as a market-individual. These two interests can readily conflict. The question turns on whether individuals are willing to be aware of this conflict and to take responsibility for resolving it.

8 Reprise and Finale

You will recall that I proposed that classical liberalism joins property to propriety or personality, the implication being that property right is to function on behalf of individual autonomy. Classical liberals got it right even though we want of course to revise their limited conception of who can get to be an individual. However, the dilemma of modern capitalist societies is that property rights acquire a power of their own. It is easy for wealthy individuals to forget that they owe their freedom of market action to government, and to claim instead a freedom for their privately interested action from government interference regardless of the harm it causes others and the environment. In this context, it is easy for governments to be persuaded that the best course of action is to design policy not so that property right functions on behalf of individual autonomy but so that individuals function on behalf of property right. This is not a freedom that all can enjoy, and therefore it is not a conception of freedom that satisfies the test of ethical universality. Instead it authorises a social policy that marginalises the poor and ‘undermines their integrity and their sense of full and equal citizenship' (Levine, 1995: 100). If we are to call this situation into question we have to re-develop our capability to discuss what is wealth for. If we agree that the goal of wealth is the freedom of individuals to be autonomous and secure, then we must develop a conception of individualised citizenship that is reconcilable with human rights. This would offer a powerful vision for social policy.

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