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Social Contracts Under Stress

Social Contracts Under Stress: The Middle Classes of America, Europe, and Japan at the Turn of the Century

Olivier Zunz
Leonard Schoppa
Nobuhiro Hiwatari
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 444
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  • Book Info
    Social Contracts Under Stress
    Book Description:

    The years following World War II saw a huge expansion of the middle classes in the world's industrialized nations, with a significant part of the working class becoming absorbed into the middle class. Although never explicitly formalized, it was as though a new social contract called for government, business, and labor to work together to ensure greater political freedom and more broadly shared economic prosperity. For the most part, they succeeded. InSocial Contracts Under Stress, eighteen experts from seven countries examine this historic transformation and look ahead to assess how the middle class might fare in the face of slowing economic growth and increasing globalization.

    The first section of the book focuses on the differing experiences of Germany, Britain, France, the United States, and Japan as they became middle-class societies. The British working classes, for example, were slowest to consider themselves middle class, while in Japan by the 1960s, most workers had abandoned working-class identity. The French remain more fragmented among various middle classes and resist one homogenous entity. Part II presents compelling evidence that the rise of a huge middle class was far from inclusive or free of social friction. Some contributors discuss how the social contract reinforced long-standing prejudices toward minorities and women. In the United States, Ira Katznelson writes, Southern politicians used measures that should have promoted equality, such as the GI bill, to exclude blacks from full access to opportunity. In her review of gender and family models, Chiara Saraceno finds that Mediterranean countries have mobilized the power of the state to maintain a division of labor between men and women. The final section examines what effect globalization might have on the middle class. Leonard Schoppa's careful analysis of the relevant data shows how globalization has pushed "less skilled workers down and more skilled workers up out of a middle class that had for a few decades been home to both." Although Europe has resisted the rise of inequality more effectively than the United States or Japan, several contributors wonder how long that resistance can last.

    Social Contracts Under Stressargues convincingly that keeping the middle class open and inclusive in the face of current economic pressures will require a collective will extending across countries. This book provides an invaluable guide for assessing the issues that must be considered in such an effort.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-572-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Olivier Zunz
  5. Introduction: Social Contracts Under Stress
    (pp. 1-18)
    Olivier Zunz

    When the British philosopher R. G. Collingwood set out in the midst of World War II to define a postwar “social contract” of “free participation in a joint enterprise,” he stressed first his cherished ideas of political consent. Calling his 1942 bookThe New Leviathan,he juxtaposed Hobbes’s consciousness of freedom against the imminent threat of German “barbarism.” Collingwood’s purpose was to reinvigorate the ideas of popular sovereignty and freedom inherited from the Enlightenment and combine them with the more recent commitments to social welfare and the reduction of inequality. After reestablishing a postwar order based on political consent, one...


    • 1 From Divergence to Convergence: The Divided German Middle Class, 1945 to 2000
      (pp. 21-46)
      Hannes Siegrist

      After the defeat of the Nazi Reich, the German middle classes were targeted by the Allies for de-Nazification, demilitarization, and decartelization. They were disqualified from social, economic, political, and cultural leadership, having proven themselves incapable of guaranteeing prosperity, democracy, human rights, and peace. During the Weimar Republic, they had shown a lack of republican political virtues and the foresight needed to balance particular and general interests for the good of society. During the Nazi Reich, they had either belonged to the ruling party or lent their services to its totalitarian and brutal program. Accordingly, the Western Allies decided to remake...

    • 2 Individuality and Class: The Rise and Fall of the Gentlemanly Social Contract in Britain
      (pp. 47-65)
      Mike Savage

      In 1949, towards the end of the postwar Labour government, which was popularly credited with introducing wide-ranging reforms that consolidated the welfare state, researchers associated with David Glass, professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, carried out a survey of popular attitudes to class. No fewer than 75 percent of the sample stated that they were working-class.¹ Fifteen years later, in the first national survey on voting behavior in Britain, 63 percent of the sample claimed to be working-class.² Nearly thirty years later, in 1991, the British Social Attitudes Survey found that 64 percent thought of themselves as...

    • 3 The Middle Classes in France: Social and Political Functions of Semantic Pluralism from 1870 to 2000
      (pp. 66-88)
      Christophe Charle

      In French, the term “classes moyennes” (middle classes) is semantically peculiar. In its commonly used plural form, the term serves to unite a multiplicity of middle classes. This does not hold true in other languages. For instance, in English the singular and plural forms have rival meanings, depending on the context, while in German (Mittelstand, Kleinbiirgertum) the singular form is dominant. The French singular form (classe moyenne) was also dominant during the first half of the nineteenth century, when it was generally equivalent to the notion of “bourgeoisie.” This term also referred to the “grande bourgeoisie,” a concept similar to...

    • 4 Could Postwar France Become a Middle-class Society?
      (pp. 89-107)
      Patrick Fridenson

      Like many other industrial nations, France has undergone extensive social change since the end of World War II. Its population almost doubled (from 37 million to 60 million), through internal growth as well as through immigration. The tertiary sector expanded considerably and now accounts for 70 percent of the working population. The size of the working class peaked in the late 1960s and subsequently declined in relative, then in absolute, terms. All of the old industrial regions suffered major economic and social crises. Since 1960, women have become wage-earners in greater and greater proportions. Given the scope of these changes,...

    • 5 The Short Happy Life of the Japanese Middle Class
      (pp. 108-129)
      Andrew Gordon

      A provocative headline lament—“Sayonara, Middle-Stream Consciousness!”—greeted readers of the Sunday “Weekend Economy” page of theAsahinewspaper on November 13, 1997. The reporter argued that the prolonged recession and corporate restructuring had made once-secure jobs unreliable, while crashing land and stock prices and microscopic interest rates had eroded the assets of the middle-class population. The article related the nightmare of the forty-nine-year-old Mr. A., employed at a company that sold electronic equipment. He had been transferred to the “market development section,” a posting widely understood by coworkers to be a dead-end dumping ground for those targeted by the...

    • 6 Inflation: “The Permanent Dilemma” of the American Middle Classes
      (pp. 130-154)
      Meg Jacobs

      Since the country’s earliest days, the American belief in a permeable class system, allowing for and encouraging an ethos of social mobility, has constituted the guiding national myth. For decades after the Revolution, that myth was grounded in the reality of a large property-owning class. Late-nineteenth-century industrialization, rather than obliterating the middle classes, resulted in the rapid growth of a new middle class, redefined as white-collar salaried workers. In the middle of the twentieth century, blue-collar wage-earners saw an increase in income that provided them with access to living standards comparable to those of white-collar workers. By the end of...


    • 7 Public Policy and the Middle-class Racial Divide After the Second World War
      (pp. 157-177)
      Ira Katznelson

      The same year the psychologist Kenneth Clark opened his searing analytical study of Harlem by averring that the country’s “dark ghettos are social, political, educational, and-above all-economic colonies,” and that “their inhabitants are subject peoples,” President Lyndon Johnson addressed the June 1965 graduating class at Howard University.¹ Calling for a “move beyond opportunity to achievement,” he chronicled “a widening gulf” between black and white Americans and assayed “the facts of this American failure”:

      Thirty-five years ago the rate of unemployment for Negroes and whites was about the same. Today, the Negro rate is twice as high. In 1948 the 8...

    • 8 The American Middle Class and the Politics of Education
      (pp. 178-203)
      Margaret Weir

      In the fall of 1994, just weeks after the first Republican Congress in a generation was elected, President Bill Clinton floated the idea of a “Middle-class Bill of Rights.” The initiative proposed tax deductions for college tuition payments and other postsecondary educational training. For Clinton, who had failed in his high-risk bid to enact comprehensive health reform, the turn to education and the middle class signaled a retreat to safer ground. His move reflected what every American politician knows: when the battleground is the middle class, education represents the higher ground.

      Long distinguished by its tradition of universal public schooling,...

    • 9 Changing Gender and Family Models: Their Impact on the Social Contract in European Welfare States
      (pp. 204-231)

      In the industrialized countries of Europe, the family is increasingly the subject of social policy debates that focus on two critical issues. First, changes in family and individual behavior are modifying the way societies reproduce themselves. Second, welfare restructuring in many countries involves a redrawing of the line between state and family responsibilities and redefining expectations, particularly family obligations.¹ Thus, the “family question” is at the center of the policy decisions and theoretical debates that underlie the restructuring of the welfare state that was created as part of the postwar social contract.

      According to Colin Crouch, this social contract included...

    • 10 At the Limits of New Middle-class Japan: Beyond “Mainstream Consciousness”
      (pp. 232-254)
      William W. Kelly

      It was one paradox of class in Japan through the second half of the twentieth century that class consciousness was high among academic social scientists but seemingly low among officials and the public. In this regard, class talk in Japan has the same standing as in the United States, the other advanced industrial society that is equally unwilling to formulate structured social inequality in the idiom of socioeconomic class. In both countries, social scientists share a central and sophisticated concern with class analysis, but public officials and ordinary people are disinclined to talk about themselves and others in terms of...

    • 11 Twelve Million Full-time Housewives: The Gender Consequences of Japan’s Postwar Social Contract
      (pp. 255-278)
      Mari Osawa

      On February 26, 1999, the Keizai Senryaku Kaigi, an advisory council on economic strategy chaired by Higuchi Hirotarō, submitted to Prime Minister Obuchi Keizō its report on strategies to revitalize the Japanese economy. The council demanded a transformation of the “Japanese-type system of society overvaluing equality and equity” into a “healthy and creative competitive society.” I It is quite clear from this report that the members of the council assumed that Japanese society is not only egalitarian but in fact one where equality in income and asset distribution prevails. This view is endorsed by the nearly 90 percent of the...


    • 12 Disinflationary Adjustment: The Link between Economic Globalization and Challenges to Postwar Social Contracts
      (pp. 281-318)
      Nobuhiro Hiwatari

      The most significant change in the global economy since the first oil crisis of the mid-1970s has been the drastic increase in the movement of capital across national borders, a change that dwarfs the increase in trade. The expansion of both capital movement and trade in recent years has been concentrated among the advanced industrial states.¹ The era of mobile capital coincides with an unequivocal convergence toward lower inflation rates among all industrial democracies. Indeed, recent inflation and capital mobility trends are closely interrelated (see figure 12.1). The quadrupling of oil prices known as the first oil crisis triggered high...

    • 13 Globalization and the Squeeze on the Middle Class: Does Any Version of the Postwar Social Contract Meet the Challenge?
      (pp. 319-344)
      Leonard Schoppa

      In the years since World War II, the nations of Western Europe, Japan, and the United States have all seen the emergence of large “middle classes.” The growth of the middle classes in these nations has come to be so taken for granted, in fact, that for twenty years scholars have been writing about the emergence of a new postmaterialist age in which class differences are coming to matter less and less.¹ Income gaps between rich and poor have closed, government policies have cushioned the effects of the business cycle on the overall economy and on individuals, and the extended...

    • 14 Europeanization of Social Policy: A Reopening of the Social Contract?
      (pp. 345-361)
      Bo Öhngren

      During the first three decades after World War II, the nations of Western Europe experienced a period of steady economic growth and low unemployment. New forms of the social contract were negotiated and put into force. As earlier chapters have shown, the expansion of the middle classes was both an important product and a key component of that process. These new social contracts varied in important ways from that developed in the United States during the same period. While the U.S. social contract rested to a great extent on the expansion of consumption and an inclusive middle class, the social...

    • 15 Europe from Division to Reunification: The Eastern European Middle Classes During and After Socialism
      (pp. 362-378)
      Maurice Aymard

      The new situation created in 1989 by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the socialist regimes in the eastern part of Europe has been analyzed by most Western scholars, not from a social point of view, but primarily from a political and economic one: the capitalist model won the competition, and the only solution for the former socialists was to adopt, as soon as possible, the rules of the game that have been proven in the West to be superior.

      For the experts, the only point of uncertainty was the rhythm of the transition, especially in...

    • 16 Upsetting Models: An Italian Tale of the Middle Classes
      (pp. 379-400)
      Arnaldo Bagnasco

      Is it possible to bind together economic efficiency, social cohesion, and political liberty? This is a tough nut to crack for societies in this era of economic globalization. For a long time, the social contracts of the postwar years managed to achieve effective combinations along these three dimensions, but now the balance is being upset. In today's world, according to Ralf Dahrendorf, the German model, which combines social cohesion with political liberty, lacks economic efficiency, whereas the Asian small dragon model, which combines social cohesion with economic efficiency, is short on political liberty.¹

      Declaring any country’s way of combining the...

  9. Statistical Appendix: Income Inequality in Seven Nations–France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States
    (pp. 401-410)
    Derek Hoff
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 411-420)
  11. Index
    (pp. 421-431)