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Work and Welfare:

Work and Welfare:

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 112
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  • Book Info
    Work and Welfare:
    Book Description:

    The Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow directs his attention here to one of today's most controversial social issues: how to get people off welfare and into jobs. With characteristic eloquence, wit, and rigor, Solow condemns the welfare reforms recently passed by Congress and President Clinton for confronting welfare recipients with an unworkable choice--finding work in the current labor market or losing benefits. He argues that the only practical and fair way to move recipients to work is, in contrast, through an ambitious plan to guarantee that every able-bodied citizen has access to a job.

    Solow contends that the demand implicit in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act for welfare recipients to find work in the existing labor market has two crucial flaws. First, the labor market would not easily make room for a huge influx of unskilled, inexperienced workers. Second, the normal market adjustment to that influx would drive down earnings for those already in low-wage jobs. Solow concludes that it is legitimate to want welfare recipients to work, but not to want them to live at a miserable standard or to benefit at the expense of the working poor, especially since children are often the first to suffer. Instead, he writes, we should create new demand for unskilled labor through public-service employment and incentives to the private sector--in effect, fair "workfare." Solow presents widely ignored evidence that recipients themselves would welcome the chance to work. But he also points out that practical, morally defensible workfare would be extremely expensive--a problem that politicians who support the idea blithely fail to admit. Throughout, Solow places debate over welfare reform in the context of a struggle to balance competing social values, in particular self-reliance and altruism.

    The book originated in Solow's 1997 Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University. It includes reactions from the distinguished scholars Gertrude Himmelfarb, Anthony Lewis, Glenn Loury, and John Roemer, who expand on and take issue with Solow's arguments.Work and Welfareis a powerful contribution to debate about welfare reform and a penetrating look at the values that shape its course.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2264-5
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    Like the right to vote, paid work has been seen by Americans since colonial times as “a primary source of public respect.”¹ But unlike the right to vote, which was eventually extended to African-Americans and women, paid work is not generally viewed as an effective right of every able-bodied American citizen. Some people suggest that every able-bodied American who is willing to work hard and play by the rules can earn public respect and a wage adequate to support a family, but the best analyses of the American economy suggest something completely different. The American economy does not guarantee paid...

    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. LECTURE I: Guess Who Likes Workfare
    (pp. 3-22)

    I am sure that some of you are bemused by the almost oxymoronic character of the occasion. No doubt you recall Edmund Burke’s gloomy thought that “the age of chivalry is gone, that of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.” You feel, wearily, that you know what he meant; it’s that bad. A lecture—no, two lectures—on “human values” by an economist: one might as well invite a turkey buzzard to lecture on table manners. How would the poor beast know where to start?

    I have to admit that many of...

  6. LECTURE II: Guess Who Pays for Workfare
    (pp. 23-44)

    It is one thing to say, as I did in the first lecture, that the replacement of welfare by work would be a good thing for recipients, for taxpayers, and for the general reputation of public assistance to the poor. It is quite another question whether that transformation can actually be accomplished, and what it would then take to accomplish it. In particular, one is entitled to ask: what jobs will former welfare recipients find, and how will they find them?

    This elementary distinction between desirability and feasibility is often neglected in political debate. During the rhetorical maneuvering that led...

    (pp. 45-54)

    For my purposes it will be helpful to summarize Professor Solow’s argument as follows: in thinking about public policies dealing with the poor, a conflict exists between two important human values—self-reliance and altruism. In the context of welfare, establishing a quid pro quo rooted in work can help to resolve the conflict between these values. Both those who give (taxpayers) and those who receive (welfare dependents) feel better about the transaction if recipients work for their benefit. Yet, there are problems with this resolution. Among the recipients there are young children to be cared for, the level of work...

    (pp. 55-62)

    Professor Solow mentioned the Peter Edelman article in theAtlantic Monthlydescribing harsh effects of the 1996 welfare legislation and criticizing President Clinton’s role in it.¹ When I wrote a column about the Edelman piece, I had an angry letter from a reader in Long Island. His parents came to this country as refugees after World War Two with just $10 in their pockets. If they had been given welfare, he said, they would have “remained in a terrible state.” Instead they worked hard and made it into the middle class. He concluded, in capital letters: “Welfare and food stamps...

    (pp. 63-76)

    Professor Solow’s lucid and sensitive presentation is a hard act to follow. I have little to criticize in his analysis, and shall therefore concentrate my attention on things he only touched upon, or left unsaid. In particular, I shall try to evaluate, in a broad-brush way, the economic and political feasibility of one of the two alternatives to “welfare as we know it” that he referred to, an employer subsidy program; and I shall then offer a few remarks on equality of opportunity.

    First, then, to an analysis of what employer subsidies could do. I must preface these remarks by...

    (pp. 77-84)

    If Professor Solow’s colleagues find the theme of his lecture, economics and human values, oxymoronic, it can only be because they have strayed so far from their roots. Adam Smith, they might recall, held the chair not of Political Economy but of Moral Philosophy, and established his reputation, long beforeThe Wealth of Nations, withThe Theory of Moral Sentiments;indeed, his last work before his death was the preparation of the sixth edition ofMoral Sentiments. And when Smith’s friend Edmund Burke made that famous statement, “The age of chivalry is gone, that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has...

    (pp. 85-94)

    It is a pleasure to thank my four commentators for their courtesy and, even more, for the relevance and seriousness of their thoughts. It is all too easy, in these circumstances, to ignore what the benighted lecturer has said and pursue one’s own, much more interesting, ideas. My colleagues have resisted the temptation. I think it will make for clarity if I return the favor and reply to each of them in turn, instead of trying to restate my arguments in a way that takes account of theirs.

    Anthony Lewis and I are pretty clearly on the same general wavelength...

    (pp. 95-96)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 97-100)