Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2007


Published in GREAT PLAINS RESEARCH 17:1 (Spring 2007). Copyright © 2007 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


Every society possesses a social contract establishing the obligations its members assume toward one another. By and large, this implicit contract governs how a society allocates responsibility for achieving its social and economic goals to the major forms of social organization; in particular, how it divides responsibilities between the public ordering process, represented, in the main, by the government, and private ordering processes, represented by the market but also by families and community organizations. As is well documented, over the past 25 years the terms of the social contract have changed dramatically in most Anglo-American countries, including Canada. The role of government has narrowed, while an emphasis on allowing markets to allocate resources and on individual choice and voluntary action has increased. Describing, explaining, and defending or lamenting the 'nuances of this shift in the social contract - from what is often referred to as the Keynesian settlement to neoliberalism - have preoccupied political scientists.