a1 Northern Illinois University
Frederick Ludwig Hoffman, statistician and insurance executive, was a formidable opponent of the emerging welfare state during the Progressive Era. As a vice president of the Prudential Insurance Company of Newark, New Jersey, Hoffman led a relentless campaign against proposals for government-ran compulsory health insurance between 1915 and 1920. While he acted in the interests of his insurance company employer, Hoffman's opposition also arose from his ardent beliefs about the nature of welfare states. Social insurance and other forms of state-organized assistance, Hoffman claimed, represented “alien governmental theories” based on “paternalism and coercion,” especially since they originated in autocratic Germany, where in 1885 Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had created the world's first sickness insurance system. “In so far as our right to oppose compulsory health insurance is concerned,” explained Hoffman, “it [is] the duty of every American to oppose German ideas of government control and state socialism.” In the anti-German atmosphere engendered by the First World War, his arguments had particular resonance.
Beatrix Hoffman is Associate Professor of History at Northern Illinois University and author of The Wages of Sickness: The Politics of Health Insurance in Progressive America (2001). She is currently working on a history of the right to health care in the U.S.