Even before the present economic emergency, many Americans were struggling to deal with the consequences of a decades-long “risk shift”--an offloading of the responsibility for providing security and stability from government and employers to families and individuals--in health care, pensions, and unemployment. On April 30, 2009, the New America Foundation hosted a discussion with two of the nation’s leading social scientists, Craig Calhoun and Jacob S. Hacker, about the complex causes and consequences of risk privatization in the United States. They linked these long-term processes to more recent events in the still-unfolding economic crisis, and offered policy proposals for strengthening families’ economic and social stability. Many of the issues the panelists discussed are touched upon in a new book series published by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and Columbia University Press, the first three titles of which--Health at Risk; Pensions, Social Security, and the Privatization of Risk; and Laid Off, Laid Low--are now available.
Craig Calhoun, President of SSRC and University Professor of the Social Sciences at New York University, noted that, from financial sector risk management to medical insurance to retirement security, finding the right balance of public and private action is critical. The current economic calamity has highlighted the extent to which individuals are alone in facing risk; coordinating the right response, Calhoun believes, demands “real-time social science” with an eye toward current policy choices.
Jacob Hacker, Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center on Health, Economic and Family Security at U.C. Berkeley, followed up Calhoun’s thematic remarks with a more concrete discussion of America’s fraying social contract vis-à-vis health care. The dual developments of declining insurance coverage and exploding cost have decimated millions of families, but “unequal polarization” and gridlock in Washington have blocked critical updates to the social contract. Hacker outlined his Health Care for America proposal, which emphasizes shared risk, shared responsibility, and individual responsibility, and called for President Obama to begin the crucial work of convincing the public to accept a larger government role in mitigating risk over the next century.
In the question-and-answer session that followed, questions touched upon the challenge of bringing Republicans on board for health care reform, the future role of professional risk management, and the issue of state-by-state regulation under a federal insurance plan.
-- Event summary by Daniel Mandel, Program Associate, Next Social Contract Initiative, New America Foundation
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