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Gordon Brown's misplaced Smithian appeal : the eclipse of sympathy in changing British welfare norms

By Matthew Watson

Abstract

Gordon Brown has eagerly lauded his fellow Kirkcaldy citizen, Adam Smith, as his main policy inspiration. This article tests the rigour of such a claim by matching Brown's promotion of Smithian ‘sympathy’ as the centrepiece of his programme for government with the changes introduced by his Treasury to the British welfare model. In the 1970s, Thomas Wilson showed that the traditions of the post-war British welfare state were compatible with a modified form of Smithian sympathy socialised at the level of the state. New Labour has set about reforming the welfare model with respect to both its underlying institutions and the basic subjectivities of its recipients. I show that Brown's substantive preference for an asset-based system of welfare moves those subjectivities away from the ‘relational self’ of Smithian sympathy and towards a much more ‘autonomous self’. Consequently, I conclude that it is stretching Smith's concept of sympathy too far, even in a modified socialised form, to associate it with New Labour's asset-based system of welfare

Topics: HC, DA
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:1929

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