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William Roth, The Assault on Social Policy.

New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. $49.50 hardcover, $22.50 paper coven

I am proud of William Roth for writing this book. It takes courage to author a book in the year 2002 that suggests a replacement for capitalism. While the economic system of capitalism is conquering the world, Roth describes capitalism as an uncaring economic system that should be replaced by something he calls "democratic socialism." With the purpose of describing the true etiology of social policies, the book is reminiscent of the only classic in the social sciences written by a social worker, Piven and Cloward's, Regulating the Poor.

Roth convincingly explains how social policy construction and existence favor the interests of those persons in power, particularly corporate representatives, over the interests of the poor and the disadvantaged. Assuming that Roth started writing the book at least a year before the publication date of 2002, his criticisms of the capitalistic system reveal his clairvoyant abilities. Who could have guessed that shortly after Roth had the book published, that the world would bear witness to the collapse of corporations as powerful as Enron and WorldCom and the demise of the most respected accounting firm in the world, Arthur Andersen. All this in the name of greed and poor "accounting practices." If Roth could have only known, his expressed outrage at capitalistic markets and "corpocracy" would have undoubtedly been even more intense.

Roth claims early in the book that each of the 10 chapters is "substantially different in its emphasis and approach (p. 5)." There is no question that the author's claim is fulfilled in the book. Chapter one is about policy. Policy is defined, policy is described, and a link is made to how policy, social policy in particular, is tied to the market place. The reader cannot help but realize after reading the first chapter how central the ideas of economy, marketplace, and "market capitalism" will be to the entire book. A well-developed idea in the first chapter is that "market capitalism is a construction, not some natural law (p. 15)." Chapter 2 is about the impact of corporations and globalization on social policies. Roth makes a convincing claim that corporations need social policies to be congruent with the needs of the business community. Chapters 3 through 8, even though each has a different presentation perspective, focus on traditional social policy issue areas, poverty, welfare, disability, social security, health, and children.

Chapters 9 and 10 establish the true character of the book. Chapter 9, titled "Outsiders," focuses on Roth's musings about the constructed categories of insiders and outsiders (e.g., sick people with no medical insurance) and the resultant categories of the haves and the have-nots. The claim is that corporate power and social policy development are primarily congruent with the interests of economic insiders and the haves. In Chapter 10, the reader is provided a synopsis of the social policy analyses contained in the previous chapters. Philosophy rules supreme, however, in Chapter 10 as Roth attempts to convince the reader that conceivable alternatives to capitalism exist. He concludes first with the observation that socialism is the best alternative to capitalism. He then concludes, with considerable detail, that his personally favored form of socialism, democratic socialism, is the best.

Roth is true to his claim that "the book is not meant to be an exhaustive examination of social policy, nor is it bipartisan, nonpartisan, or even impartial (p. 5)." Roth lets everyone clearly know what is his thinking about social policy. Current social policies are described as inadequate, undemocratic, and even disgraceful.

While the message is clear, herein lies the difficulty with the book. While no one will disagree with Roth that "bureaucracy is a means of domination, a way to grind people up, and affects out lives outside the bureaucracy" or that "corporations are complex organizations of dominance, in which haves control have-nots (p. 158)," what would he have us do? Roth's proposal that bureaucracy as a structural form of organizations should be resisted creates a sense of surrealism for the book. The idea that life as we know it can be re-constructed and that the impact of the capitalistic economic system, as expressed by the existence of the corporate model, can be diminished leaves the same feeling hanging in the air.

As noted at the beginning of the review, the author is clearly worthy of praise for writing a book suggesting an alternative to the current corporate-based model of capitalism. At the same time, the book reads as if it was written in another era, quite possibly for readers reared in another era. The book has the ring of the liberal rants of the 1960s. Does the book have any application in the year 2002? The question is not whether the book is well written. It is. The question is not whether the author has been able to express his views in a cogent manner. He has. The question is not whether a reader committed to a socially constructive analysis of current social policies will be better informed after reading the book. They will. Of these things, there can be no doubt. Any reader committed to the traditional liberal position and wanting to know more about social policies will learn a great deal about the philosophical foundation of social policy in the United States. Will a reader with a political position other than the traditional liberal one be able to maintain interest in the book as bureaucracy as a structure is condemned and corporations are recommended for reconstruction? Of that, I'm not so sure.

Larry Nackerud

University of Georgia
COPYRIGHT 2003 Western Michigan University, School of Social Work
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Author:Nackerud, Larry
Publication:Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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