Many historical studies, some of them comparative, have explored the foundations of welfare states and the birth of unemployment policies in Europe in the late nineteenth century. Nearly all have focused on political debate at national level. This paper bases its analysis on labour market reforms initiated in Strasbourg and Liverpool in the decades preceding World War I. It explores how bona fide unemployed workers, the proper clients of official help, were distinguished from the mass of the poor and indigent. The labour market had to be defined and organized before policies for the unemployed could be put in place. The object is to demonstrate not only how this was done, but also how different perceptions of social justice and economic efficiency influenced both the process and the outcomes of public interventions, in this instance undermining attempts to transfer specific policies from one country to another
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