My interest in public social provision can be traced to the late 1970s, when three close friends were stricken with serious, lengthy illnesses. In each case, treatment cost more than limited insurance and moderate incomes could bear. Under these circumstances the anxieties of illness can wreak as much damage to the soul as illness does to the body; it is particularly difficult to retain a sense of self-respect when some of the authorities to whom one turns for healing act as though it were morally reprehensible not to have sufficient savings to cover catastrophic medical bills. At the time, the Texas economy was booming, and this coincidence exacerbated my sense of the unfairness of my friends' plight. Furthermore, as a member of a political science faculty with an abiding interest in Western European politics, I knew that my friends and others like them would have suffered less severely had they been living in almost any other advanced industrial society.
The experiences of my friends were hardly unusual. Every day the lives of good people are shattered by social hazards over which they have little control: illness, disability, unemployment, divorce. Nonetheless, as a society we have yet to develop sufficiently thorough efforts to protect people from ineluctable social hazards. Thus responsible, productive citizens who might reasonably be viewed as assets to their communities sometimes find themselves in dire straits through nothing more than bad luck.
At the time of my friends' illnesses I was completing some work on the management and resolution of international conflicts. Thereafter, I tried my hand for a while at studying the variety of re-
sponses made by contemporary advanced industrial societies to common social hazards. But it was difficult for me to distract my attention at length from the American case. Was there no hope for improvement? I began to formulate a response to this question in late 1982. A leave during the 1983–84 academic year gave me a chance to put together a rough manuscript of this book.
In the autumn of 1984 I discovered Charles Murray's Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980 . Aspects of his interesting analysis of the relations between Americans and public social programs reinforced my own views, though in terms of policy prescriptions he and I stand a long way apart. Murray's suggestions would, I believe, make the plight of many vulnerable people even more difficult. But Murray's policy prescriptions are not the only conclusions one could reasonably derive from an analysis similar to his. There are ways of regaining the ground that we have lost. Thus while I have my differences with Murray, I greatly respect his book, and my obvious play on his title reflects these two distinct reactions.
I have learned a good deal about social policy over the last five years. I want to mention those who have helped me while absolving them of any responsibility for gaps in my learning. Early on in my work I benefited from the help and encouragement of two colleagues at Texas Christian University (TCU), Gregg Franzwa and Richard Galvin. I appreciate as well a leave TCU granted during the 1983–84 academic year. My leave was spent at the Harvard University Center for European Studies. I am grateful to Alexander George and Robert Jervis for their help in placing me there. Peter Hall went out of his way to assist me, and I owe the basic outline of this book to a series of conversations with him in the autumn of 1983. I am thankful as well for kindly assistance from Chris Allen, Jennifer Schirmer, and Rosemary Taylor. Abby Collins and Kirsten Morris of the Center's administrative staff were also extremely helpful. In the spring of 1984 I sat in on Hugh Heclo's seminar on the welfare state. I am extremely grateful for the experience, and I benefited immensely from interaction with seminar members including Jeff Rubin, Ronald Samuels, Steven R. Smith, Peter S. Stamus, and Adam Swift. Others in Cambridge who have been helpful then or since include Douglas Hibbs, Ellen Immergut, Eric Nordlinger, Theda Skocpol, and especially Margaret Weir.
In the several years since my return to Texas a number of people have been particularly helpful. Gary Freeman has been unstinting in his assistance and encouragement. And Jennifer Hochschild, whose work provided me with crucial inspiration earlier on, read the manuscript on multiple occasions. Others who have been generous in their assistance include John Ambler, Larry Biskowski, Charles Cardwell, Jim Fishkin, Jim Gerhardt, Russell Juelg, Julie Manworren, Marcia Melton, and Charlene Urwin.
Finally, I appreciate particularly the understanding I have received from my wife, Jean Giles-Sims. Working on this manuscript has meant much separation from both her and our daughter Andrea. I can only hope that the manuscript will contribute to good in excess of the difficulty that it has caused.