Daniel Bell en man som verkligen växte upp under ogynnsamma förhållanden men lyckades bli professor vid Harvard och ge ut böcker som var långt före sin tid. Han dog den 25 januari och uppmärksammas därför bland annat i The Economist.
Born in Brooklyn in 1919 to Jewish immigrant parents, Daniel Bell was raised in New York’s Lower East Side. Bell’s early childhood was difficult. His father died when he was six months old and Bell’s mother worked long hours in a factory to support herself and her son. She was forced to put Bell in a day orphanage. Bell’s childhood was spent in a world characterized by poverty and the hopes and frustrations of a Jewish immigrant population drawn largely from Eastern Europe. For a variety of historical and sociological reasons, this population maintained a clear and persistent association with Socialist politics.
Many of his other insights still bite. He argued that the old-fashioned class struggle was being replaced by other, equally vexatious conflicts: for example, between the principles of equality and meritocracy in higher education. He also anticipated the current debate about happiness by pointing out that material progress cannot eliminate the frustrations inherent in the zero-sum competition for power, prestige and the attention of the sexiest person in the room. The more people are free to rise on their own merits, the more they will race on the treadmill for status.
He was even more prescient about what might be called “the cultural contradictions of the welfare state”. This was the subject of passionate debate in the pages of the Public Interest, a journal he co-founded in 1965 with another poor-boy-made-good, Irving Kristol. The welfare state cannot last unless someone creates the wealth to pay for it. But interest groups demand ever more from the state, and politicians jostle to promise more goodies. As the welfare state expands, it can eventually undermine people’s willingness to take risks or look after themselves.