Friday, September 9, 2011

Webb, Churchill and the Birth of the Welfare State: Sylvia Nasar

I just discovered the author of "A Beautiful Mind" is about to come out with a book on the history of "the welfare state":

Illusration by Bryan Dalton

By Sylvia Nasar Sep 7, 2011 8:00 PM ET 13 Comments

“You are young, pretty, rich, clever, what more do you want?” Beatrice Potter’s poor relation asked her with a trace of exasperation. “Why cannot you be satisfied?”

Like the heroine of Henry James’s 1881 novel, “Portrait of a Lady,” Beatrice had been brought up with an unusual freedom to travel, read, form friendships and satisfy her “great desire for knowledge.” Born in 1858 as the ninth daughter of a railway magnate and political liberal, she was “brought up in the midst of capitalist speculation” and “the restless spirit of big enterprise.”

She longed for a “real aim and occupation.” Her early mentor was Herbert Spencer -- the libertarian philosopher who coined the term “survival of the fittest” -- who encouraged her to pursue a career as a “social investigator.” She took the advice to heart, and by the time that career was over, Beatrice had invented the think tank, supplied the young Winston Churchill with a reform platform, and conceived the modern welfare state decades before the New Deal.

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