Progressivism and the World of Reform: New Zealand and the Origins of the American Welfare State

In this major reinterpretation of the Progressive era, Peter Coleman argues that the American welfare state had its origins in what he calls the world-wide crisis of capitalism. Here and abroad, reformers, no longer content to treat the symptoms of distress, sought to achieve social, political, and economic justice by abandoning laissez faire in favor of governmental intervention. This study thoroughly documents the external forces that shaped the American Progressive movement and shows that the reformers' agenda for change drew heavily on foreign ideas and models as well as the American reform tradition. Tracing the international cross-currents of reform ideas, Coleman demonstrates that for nearly three decades American reformers of every stripe regarded the Australasian colonies, especially New Zealand, as examples of what the United States could become. Thus inspired, American reformers worked for such goals as wage-and-hour legislation for women, abolition of child labor, workmen's compensation laws, compulsory arbitration of labor disputes, land reform, cheap loans for farmers, old-age pensions, and infant and maternal care programs. Through these and other measures that touched all aspects of the nation's life, the role of government was enlarged. By placing progressivism within an international context, Coleman deepens our understanding of a phenomenon previously seen as distinctively American, thereby clarifying both the substance and process of change in this country. He also argues that in the Progressive era can be seen the origins of the regulations and mixed economy of the modern welfare state.