The Passionate Economist

How Brian Abel-Smith Shaped Global Health and Social Welfare

Sally Sheard

The Passionate Economist
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Sally Sheard

Distributed for Policy Press at the University of Bristol

576 pages | 40 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Cloth $55.00 ISBN: 9781447314844 Published February 2014 For sale in North and South America only
Brian Abel-Smith was one of the most influential figures in the shaping of social welfare in the twentieth century. A modern day Thomas Paine, the British economist and expert advisor was driven to improve the lives of the poor, working with groups like the World Health Organization, International Labour Organization, and the World Bank to help bring health and social welfare services to millions across the globe. The Passionate Economist is the first biography to chronicle his life and the many programs he helped create.
Sally Sheard details Abel-Smith’s work as an economist and advocate, setting it against the backdrop of the larger history of health and social welfare development since the 1950s. She analyzes these developments and the effects that long-running welfare debates have had on both poverty and state responses to it. She compares welfare implementation in different developing countries and examines how it was administered by the agencies for which Abel-Smith worked. The result is an accessible book on a leading humanitarian and, through him, a history of exactly how we have cared for each other in the globalized era.
Kate Bradley, University of Kent | LSE Review of Books
“Deserves to find its way onto many people’s shelves . . . not just the historians of health and welfare but anyone interested in questions of social justice.”
Journal of Social Policy
“This clearly written and wide-ranging volume provides powerful evidence as to why Brian Abel-Smith, through his incisive and influential contributions to the development of health and social welfare policy both in Britain and further afield, should be regarded as one of the titans of post-1945 social administration.”
Social History of Medicine
“Here was a character so rich and complex that the life itself would illuminate much about British and international health and welfare. Sheard has amply fulfilled this promise. . . . A very full biography with much fine detail. . . . The Passionate Economist stimulates salutary reflection for all of us concerned to make history more policy relevant. What politicians really need, on this evidence, is first pragmatic advice on the framing and costing of policies, and then the nous to help steer them into law. The historian’s temporizing and reflexivity is rarely a prime requirement. However, if the adviser’s guidance is historically informed, as it clearly was in Abel-Smith’s case, then so much the better. Perhaps these are the figures we should address.”
Ann Oakley | University of London
“How 'academic' knowledge and research actually impact on policy has always been a challenging question. Brian Abel-Smith's career as a scholar, networker, entrepreneur, and shaper of global health and welfare systems provides a fascinating and important case-study. In skilfully weaving together the evidence from personal and professional archives, Sheard's book allows us to understand much more about a man who had an extraordinary influence on public policy.”
Anne Mills | London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
“This fascinating book brought Brian Abel-Smith alive again for me. I knew him only in the later stages of his career, but the text made me recall his warmth, personal support, and incisive mind.” 
Lord David Owen
“As the dismantling of the National Health Service as we have known it proceeds apace, this biography brings alive a pivotal figure in its development since the 1950s. It reminds us of the strengths of the health and social welfare systems, which we have taken too much for granted. Hopefully it will help inspire their reinstatement.” 
Julian Le Grand | London School of Economics
“This book has many of the qualities possessed by Brian Abel-Smith, its subject: lively, stimulating, and committed. Brian was a citizen of the world, one who not only bridged international boundaries but also those of policy, politics, and academe. And Sheard has done this remarkable man justice by producing a remarkable biography.”
Daniel M. Fox | Milbank Memorial Fund
“As a result of her exhaustive research and with insightful writing, Sheard brings readers the life and work of an influential activist intellectual. Brian Abel-Smith set standards for conducting research on health services and systems, advising policy makers, governing healthcare organizations, and participating in an international network dedicated to improving the human condition.”
Ted Marmor | Yale University
“Sheard’s biography is a pleasure to read and a fascinating account of the public intellectual role that Brian Abel-Smith played in welfare state policy and politics both at home and abroad.”
List of illustrations and sources
Sources and abbreviations
Part 1: Inheritances and duties, 1926-51
1   Inheritances: 1926-46
        Smiths and Abel-Smiths
        An English education
        After Haileybury
2  A wider world: 1946-51
        National Service
        Austria: Brian's cold war
        A political education
        The British Council universities debating tour
Part 2: The politics of policies, 1951-79
3  Beveridge's Britain: 1951-55
        The new British welfare state
        Useful academics: the London School of Economics
        Social science and social policy
        Richard Titmuss
        Peter Townsend
        The Fabians
        Tony Crosland and The Future of Socialism
        The Reform of Social Security
        Costing the National Health Service
        Too political for research?
4  Political ambitions and private passions: 1955-59
       An independent life
       New Pensions for the Old
       Dalton's heir
       Whose Welfare State?
       National Insurance
       National Assistance
       Reconceptualising poverty
5  Health and happiness: 1956-64
       Judgements and predictions: health and medicine in Britain
       Funding health service research: collaborations and conflicts
       Bedpans and balance sheets: managing the NHS
       Friendships and partnerships
       A natural historian: The Hospitals 1800-1948
       In the public's eye
Lingua franca: 1956-67
       Health economics
       Mauritius: three is the magic number
       Paying for Health Services
7  Distractions and diversions: 1964-68
       The disappearance of national superannuation
       The professors of poverty
       Child Poverty Action Group
       The new Supplementary Benefits Scheme
       Managing the Poverty Survey
       A legal interest
       (Only) Just Men
8  Values: 1968-70
       Policy from the inside: advising Richard Crossman
       Health enquiries
       AEGIS and the Ely scandal
       Restructuring the National Health Service
       The LSE, 1967-69
       The end of the titmice
       'The Poor Get Poorer Under Labour'
9  Patriarchy and authority: 1970-74
        Health and social policy: theory and practice
        Enquiries: abuse of social security, NHS management,
        'Quite like old times;' pensions
        International interests: health economics
        Development, poverty and population control
10 'Such marvellous fun': 1974-76
        Chocolate soldiers: the rise of the special adviser
        Private concerns
        'One of us': advising Barbara Castle
        Labour's policy machine
        National Health Service: 'The ark of our covenant'
        Pay beds
        Resource Allocation Working Party
        Mental illness, mental handicap and disability benefits
        Pensions: third time lucky
11 Disillusionment: 1976-79
        Ennals, 'Deep Throat' and the Cabinet papers leak
        The Castle Diaries
        The Royal Commission on the National Health Service
        The 30th anniversary of the National Health Service
        Inequalities: the Supplementary Benefits Review and the Black Report
        Peter Shore and the Department of the Environment
        Labour in 1979: assessments and strategies
12 International commuting: 1975-79
       Value for Money in Health Services: A Comparative Study
       Return to Mauritius
       The European Economic Community
       A new European advisory role
Part 3: Shifting the balance of power, 1979-96
13 In and outers: 1979-91
       Health for All by the Year 2000
       HFA2000: health, wealth and health economics
       Making a Financial Master Plan
       Special adviser to Mahler
       Health promotion
       HFA2000: targets and assessments
       The rise of the World Bank
       The Commission on Health Research for Development
14 The end of the party: 1979-90
        Labour in opposition
        Reform or dissolution? The National Health Service in Conservative Britain
        London's health services
        The new academia: a business of knowledge
15 On the move: 1990-96
        Reform: the progressive rise of health insurance
        LSE 'retirement'
        Cost Containment and New Priorities in Health Care
        Tanzania, Indonesia and Thailand: personal and professional interests
        The new language of health and social welfare
        Health: political and personal
Epilogue: Stories, histories and biographies
Bibliography of Brian Abel-Smith's publications
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