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Welfare Reform and Political Theory

Welfare Reform and Political Theory

Lawrence M. Mead
Christopher Beem
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Welfare Reform and Political Theory
    Book Description:

    During the 1990s, both the United States and Britain shifted from entitlement to work-based systems for supporting their poor citizens. Much research has examined the implications of welfare reform for the economic well-being of the poor, but the new legislation also affects our view of democracy—and how it ought to function. By eliminating entitlement and setting behavioral conditions on aid, welfare reform challenges our understanding of citizenship, political equality, and the role of the state. In Welfare Reform and Political Theory, editors Lawrence Mead and Christopher Beem have assembled an accomplished list of political theorists, social policy experts, and legal scholars to address how welfare reform has affected core concepts of political theory and our understanding of democracy itself. Welfare Reform and Political Theory is unified by a common set of questions. The contributors come from across the political spectrum, each bringing different perspectives to bear. Carole Pateman argues that welfare reform has compromised the very tenets of democracy by tying the idea of citizenship to participation in the marketplace. But William Galston writes that American citizenship has in some respects always been conditioned on good behavior; work requirements continue that tradition by promoting individual responsibility and self-reliance—values essential to a well-functioning democracy. Desmond King suggests that work requirements draw invidious distinctions among citizens and therefore destroy political equality. Amy Wax, on the other hand, contends that ending entitlement does not harm notions of equality, but promotes them, by ensuring that no one is rewarded for idleness. Christopher Beem argues that entitlement welfare served a social function—acknowledging the social value of care—that has been lost in the movement towards conditional benefits. Stuart White writes that work requirements can be accepted only subject to certain conditions, while Lawrence Mead argues that concerns about justice must be addressed only after recipients are working. Alan Deacon is well to the left of Joel Schartz, but both say government may actively promote virtue through social policy - a stance some other contributors reject. The move to work-centered welfare in the 1990s represented not just a change in government policy, but a philosophical change in the way people perceived government, its functions, and its relationship with citizens. Welfare Reform and Political Theory offers a long overdue theoretical reexamination of democracy and citizenship in a workfare society.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-389-0
    Subjects: Economics, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Lawrence M. Mead and Christopher Beem

    This project began when the two editors met at a Wingspread conference on welfare reform in Wisconsin in December 1999. Christopher Beem remarked that somebody ought to study the effects of reform on politics. After all, PRWORA represented a revolution in social policy. There had to be implications for politics and citizenship, but these had received almost no attention. Lawrence M. Mead was startled by this insight. He sensed that rare thing—a good research question! The conversation grew into a project, and the eventual result is this book.

    Our agreement surprised us. Our politics are often at odds, and...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)
    Christopher Beem and Lawrence M. Mead

    In 1996, under increasing pressure from a Republican Congress, President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) into law, bringing a dramatic shift in welfare policy toward the indigent. The previous policy, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), had supported poor families largely on the basis of entitlement, meaning that eligibility was based almost exclusively on financial need. Few questions were asked about whether the parents could support themselves. And, for poor mothers without spouses, AFDC had seemed to many to the dissolution of low-income families and communities. Accordingly, PRWORA replaced AFDC with Temporary Assistance...

  6. Chapter 1 A Summary of Welfare Reform
    (pp. 10-33)
    Lawrence M. Mead

    In this chapter I summarize both the meaning of welfare and welfare reform as political issues and the effects of reform in recent years.¹ I concentrate mainly on the United States, especially the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 and its aftermath. More briefly, I also summarize the New Deal in Britain, to which some of our authors refer. I try to avoid saying anything that well-informed observers would dispute, whatever their politics.

    Welfare connotes support provided by government to people who, for whatever reason, cannot support themselves.² Aid or assistance are close synonyms. The terms...

  7. Chapter 2 Another Way Forward: Welfare, Social Reproduction, and a Basic Income
    (pp. 34-64)
    Carole Pateman

    In the United States, as many commentators have noted, welfare had an extremely narrow meaning. In the 1980s and 1990s it came to refer not merely to residual, means-tested programs but to one such program in particular, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which provided benefits to single mothers with children. Welfare is separated from social insurance, which in other countries is treated as part of welfare, and divorced from other claims on the public purse that provide assistance to private individuals, whether tax allowances for mortgages or subsidies to private business. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation...

  8. Chapter 3 Making People Work: Democratic Consequences of Workfare
    (pp. 65-81)
    Desmond King

    The shift to workfare is one of the most significant changes to the welfare state observable across advanced industrial democracies. By workfare I mean broadly the range of measures that impose work, training, or educational requirements on some groups of recipients of public assistance.

    The reform coincides with the end of the golden age of the social democratic welfare state, meaning the social benefits and services that developed in European countries after World War II, a system that provided generous support for the vulnerable based largely on their need. Work-fare now demands that those in need work, or prepare for...

  9. Chapter 4 Is Conditionality Illiberal?
    (pp. 82-109)
    Stuart White

    Is welfare reform a repudiation of liberalism? For welfare reform’s critics, such as Desmond King, the shift toward increased conditionality in welfare programs, by which eligibility for benefits is made conditional on satisfying prescribed behavioral standards, is a symptom of a new and worrying kind of illiberal social policy (see King 1999 and chapter 3 in this volume). By allegedly subjecting welfare recipients to disciplines from which others are free, conditionality demeans them. For welfare reform’s supporters, such as Lawrence Mead, recent reforms also mark a break with liberalism. But this is to be welcomed. Liberalism is defined, in Mead’s...

  10. Chapter 5 Conditional Citizenship
    (pp. 110-126)
    William A. Galston

    My point of departure in this chapter is the proposition that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) brought about two fundamental changes in the U.S. welfare system. First, it shifted the basis of that system from entitlement to benefits conditioned on specific behavior. Second, it officially ratified the view, which had been gathering support since the mid-1980s, that full-time employment—coupled with work-conditioned benefits—should enable workers to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Government has a responsibility to supplement market wages, if necessary, to meet that standard, as the Clinton administration indeed...

  11. Chapter 6 An Ethic of Mutual Responsibility? Toward a Fuller Justification for Conditionality in Welfare
    (pp. 127-150)
    Alan Deacon

    The abolition of a “right to welfare” has been at the heart of welfare reform in the United States. Entitlement is no longer determined by an assessment of financial needs, but is instead conditional on the willingness of claimants to meet specific requirements regarding their behavior. Such conditionality has also been a central theme of the New Labour government’s attempts to restructure the British welfare state. In both countries, it is a tenet of public policy that welfare can best serve the common good not only by relieving hardship, but also by shaping the lives of those who receive public...

  12. Chapter 7 Restoring the Civic Value of Care in a Post—Welfare Reform Society
    (pp. 151-171)
    Christopher Beem

    In liberal political theory, citizenship, politics, even society itself begins with labor. For John Locke, mixing one’s labor with nature creates property and the need to preserve that property is the reason why humans leave the state of nature and create political society.¹ To labor is thus to create a status and a claim within liberal society. Labor is the point of entry into citizenship and its accompanying political rights.

    But this political conception has always had to deal with a host of complicating realities. First, the claim of human equality confronts differences, both natural and cultural, that surround gender....

  13. Chapter 8 Welfare Reform and Citizenship
    (pp. 172-199)
    Lawrence M. Mead

    Welfare reform has changed the meaning of citizenship and democracy in America. By enforcing work on the adult recipients, reform dramatized that citizenship entails obligations as well as rights. Here I show what work enforcement meant and that it occurred at several levels, not all related to welfare. I suggest how work operates to integrate the poor and to reshape politics. Work demands tend to narrow government aid to the poor, but they may also move political outcomes to the left.

    I also consider philosophical objections to work enforcement. These arguments have some weight, but they are made at too...

  14. Chapter 9 The Political Psychology of Redistribution: Implications for Welfare Reform
    (pp. 200-222)
    Amy L. Wax

    Following decades of attempts to overhaul the federal system of poor relief, President Clinton signed a bill in 1996 that repealed the New Deal program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and replaced it with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Although the revised statute left some welfare programs untouched,¹ it transformed poor relief for most families by incorporating strict time limits and mandatory work requirements. The lifetime limit on federal cash assistance for families is now fixed at sixty months. Recipients must engage in part-time work and move toward full-time employment to remain qualified for benefits (see...

  15. Chapter 10 PRWORA and the Promotion of Virtue
    (pp. 223-248)
    Joel Schwartz

    The personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) is, I maintain, theoretically significant both because it promotes human virtue, and because its implementation suggests that our capacity to promote it is limited. In this essay, I propose that the act is justifiably seeking—with some success—to encourage the virtues that correspond with work, and contend that it can and will do little to encourage the virtues that characterize spouses and parents. PRWORA’s successes and failures both have implications for our understanding of the proper scope of liberal democratic government in the United States.

    By imposing a...

  16. Chapter 11 The Deeper Issues
    (pp. 249-270)
    Lawrence M. Mead and Christopher Beem

    Welfare reform represents a sea change in American and British domestic policy. This volume demonstrates that political theory offers valuable resources for understanding that change and the controversy surrounding it. Each of our authors appraises the shift and asks how it affects our understanding of citizenship and democracy. Here we identify eight issues that seem to cut to the heart of the debate, and we summarize what our authors say about them. These disputes seem to capture what is most deeply at stake in welfare politics. They explain why it is so profoundly divisive for political actors and interpreters alike....

  17. Index
    (pp. 271-284)