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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: July 2020

9 - Conclusion: The Dangers of Upside-Down Populism


Sombart’s (1906) question continues to resonate politically more than 100 years after it was posed. Our effort has refocused the question away from socialism to ask, “Why is there such a meager welfare state in the United States?” Many explanations for American exceptionalism have focused on individualism, individual initiative, and the frontier spirit. While these offer plausible accounts for the resilience of American capitalism and the resistance to government ownership and interference in capital markets and production, they fall short in explaining the relative absence of social welfare benefits being provided by the American government. Other western democracies have managed to combine capitalism and private ownership of the means of production with an extensive network of guaranteed social welfare benefits in health, education, and general welfare. Yet, in the American context, the effort to provide universal social welfare benefits has met with mixed success.

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