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Is America Ready for a Welfare State?

Several leading Democratic candidates in the 2020 US presidential race favor introducing elements of a modern welfare state in health care, childcare, and education. Whether a Democrat wins or loses in 2020, social democracy has re-emerged in American politics for the first time since the 1930s.

MEXICO CITY – As a foreigner currently writing a book about Americans, I am encouraged by some signs I see as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up. In particular, with the race for the Democratic nomination fully underway, many of the candidates are advocating bold policies that address some of the most important challenges the United States has faced in decades.

Their most striking proposals would create elements of a modern American welfare state in areas such as health care, childcare, and education. It remains to be seen whether these proposals will survive the heat of a presidential election campaign. But whether a Democrat wins or loses in 2020, social democracy has re-emerged in American politics for the first time since the 1930s.

This is a potentially momentous development. For much of its history, and certainly since Alexis de Tocqueville traveled through the republic in the 1830s, the United States was a middle-class country. Or, perhaps more accurately, it denied the rights of a majority of the population – including African-American slaves and Native Americans, as well as white women – while affording unprecedented equality to the rest.

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