Richard Titmuss versus the IEA: The Transition from Idealism to Neo-Liberalism in British Social Policy
Welfare and Social Policy in Britain Since 1870: Essays in Honour of Jose Harris
An influential strand of Jose Harris’s research has emphasised the importance of idealist political thought to the rise and fall of the British welfare state. Harris argues that the mid-twentieth century demise of political theory about social policy left the welfare state vulnerable because its defenders lacked a philosophical discourse with the depth of idealism. This chapter tests this argument by looking in more detail at a case study from the post-1945 discussion about the welfare state: the debate between the group of socialist social policy academics associated with Richard Titmuss and the neo-liberals at the Institute of Economic Affairs spear-headed by Arthur Seldon. The chapter demonstrates that while the defenders of the Beveridgean welfare state lacked theoretical firepower when confronted by a philosophical counterblast from the right, the major weakness of the left’s social policy analysis was in fact a failure to contest the neo-liberal appropriation of economic theory.