Progressivism and the World of Reform

New Zealand and the Origins of the American Welfare State

Peter J. Coleman

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.

“Coleman thoroughly explores an aspect of the American Progressive movement that has not received the scholarly attention it deserves. . . . This book will appeal not only to historians of the period but also to comparative historians and to sociologists and political scientists who are interested in the rise of the welfare state in the western world. . . . A significant work.”

—Arthur Mann, author of The One and the Many: Reflections on the American Identity

“This painstaking study of reform movements in New Zealand and the United States focuses on the evolution of two forms of the modern welfare state. Coleman’s argument is not that twentieth-century American progressivism derived from the Antipodean connection, but that progressivism takes on added significance when set in an international context. Published now, at a time of significant change in the global economy, this book provides an important part of the background needed to understand problems confronting the United States in the world today.”

—Paul W. Glad, author of Progressive Century

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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.