The Public Interest

The idea of a Social Report

Daniel Bell

Spring 1969

ON January 20, the very last day of the Democratic administration, Wilbur Cohen, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, quietly released a document called Toward a Social Report, the first effort by any government to set up a set of social indicators for measuring the performance of the society in meeting social needs. Despite the awkward symbolism of the report being made public in the waning hours of “The Great Society,” it is clear that the “idea” of a social report is one whose time has come and that in the future the publication of a Social Report, whether by the Nixon administration and/or foundation and university groups will be an established feature of public-policy analysis. No society in history has as yet made a coherent and unified effort to assess those factors that, for instance, help or hinder the individual citizen to establish a career commensurate with his abilities, or live a full and healthy life equal to his biological potential, which define the levels of an adequate standard of living, and which suggest what a “decent” physical and social environment ought to include. The document Toward a Social Report is the first step in the effort to make that assessment.

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