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Social Policy Section
the late 1990s, the idea of welfare dependency influenced Australian debates
over social policy. The idea of welfare dependency is that long-term reliance
on income support payments can weaken a person’s character or create a ‘culture
of dependency’ that can spread across communities and pass from parents to
children. Character is understood in terms of ‘self-discipline or
self-control.’ A ‘culture of dependency’ is understood as an attitude of fatalism
to this idea, dependent individuals become resistant to economic opportunity
and are likely to remain on income support payments even when jobs are
available. From this perspective, the problem of welfare dependence cannot be
solved simply by providing income support recipients with opportunities for
education, training and work or access to services designed to overcome
barriers such as lack of access to childcare or transport.
paper explores the historical context of the idea of welfare dependency. It
does not attempt to settle debates over whether welfare dependency is a real
problem, or its merits as a guide to policy making.
term ‘welfare dependency’ was popularised in the United States and spread to
other English-speaking countries during the 1980s and 1990s. However, the underlying
idea is much older. While commentators sometimes link the idea of welfare
dependency with neoliberalism and economists like Friedman and Hayek, ‘welfare
dependency’ is a new name for ideas that predate the influence of economic
liberals like Friedman and Hayek on social policy debate.
over welfare dependency revive 19th century ideas about pauperism and
reinterpret 1960s ideas about a culture of poverty. US thinkers like Irving
Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Marvin Olasky draw
explicitly on 19th century ideas about poverty and pauperism. Thinkers like
Lawrence Mead adapt 1960s theories of a culture of poverty to inform their
recommendations for welfare reform policies.
current debate over welfare dependency reproduces many of the themes of earlier
debates, such as that dependency is like an addictive drug; a poison or a
contagious disease that can spread through communities; or a way of life that
is passed from parents to children.
the term welfare dependency is sometimes used to refer narrowly to the receipt
of certain income support payments, it cannot be easily separated from the
broader idea of dependency and can imply a particular position on issues of
causation and moral responsibility.
The idea of welfare dependency
When is dependency a problem?
Two kinds of dependency
Public policy and the rediscovery of
A culture of poverty?
Welfare dependency—the history of an
The idea of pauperism
The destruction of character
Like an addiction
From pauperism to poverty
From pauperism to poverty—reframing
AFDC and the problem of dependency
Cultures of poverty and tangles of
Poverty and opportunity
Immune to opportunity
Conservative use of the culture of
Changing social norms
Moynihan and the Family Assistance
The negative income tax
From poverty to welfare dependency
Redefining the problem
A moral problem
Welfare as a drug
Welfare as a contaminant, toxin or
Beyond left and right?
Influence on the Australian debate
The problem with ‘welfare dependency’
Since the late 1990s, the idea of welfare dependency has
reshaped Australian debates over social policy. In the late 1980s and early
1990s there was growing concern about people who spent long periods of time on
working age income support payments. The proportion of working age people
receiving an income support payment grew significantly during this period and
peaked at around 25 per cent in 1996.
However, prior to the late 1990s policymakers and commentators tended to frame
concerns about this group in terms of ideas like poverty or long-term
According to American writer, Charles Murray, welfare
dependency is ‘a state of mind as much as it is an economic plight’.
The idea is that long-term reliance on income support can damage a person’s
character or foster a ‘culture of dependency’ that can spread across
communities and be passed from parents to children. According to the idea,
dependent individuals become resistant to economic opportunity and will remain
on income support payments even when jobs are readily available.
In the seemingly never-ending debate over the causes of
social disadvantage, supporters of the idea of welfare dependency focus on individual
rather than structural causes.
They reject the idea that opportunity alone can solve problems like poverty.
However, there is a twist. They argue that the ultimate cause of entrenched
disadvantage is bad institutions. They claim that by creating income support
systems that free people from obligations to employers, neighbours and family
members, progressive policymakers have created and sustained the problem of
welfare dependency. Their attempts to help have led to harm.
The idea of welfare dependency was popularised in the United
States and spread to other English speaking countries such as the United
Kingdom and Australia.
In Australia it was taken up by the Australian Institute of Family Studies
(AIFS) which received funding from the Commonwealth Department of Family and
Community Services (FaCS) to investigate whether there was a ‘culture of
dependency’ transmitted from parents to children.
In 1999, the Australian Government took up the idea explicitly, commissioning a
review to look at ways to prevent and reduce welfare dependency. Ahead of the
review Jocelyn Newman—the Minister for Family and Community Services—released a
discussion paper titled The Challenge of Welfare Dependency in the 21st
Debate over the idea of welfare dependency has continued in recent years. In
2018 the then Minister for Social Services, Dan Tehan, announced a Select
Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence.
The recent increase in people receiving unemployment
payments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to concern that some
recipients will become habituated to joblessness and fail to take advantage of
job opportunities once the economy recovers. A recent newspaper opinion piece
raises the prospect that unemployed young workers could end up ‘dependent on
welfare their whole lives’ as a result of the pandemic.
To better understand the idea of welfare dependency and its
influence on policy debate, this paper examines how the idea emerged during US
debates over welfare reform from the 1960s to the 2000s and outlines the
history of the idea. While it is sometimes portrayed as a novel way of
understanding the problems of the income support system, welfare dependency is
an old idea. The paper further discusses the 19th century ideas about charity,
the poor laws and pauperism that inspired American reformers in the late 20th
The paper considers how American ideas about welfare
dependency and welfare reform have influenced debates in other English-speaking
countries and the policy implications of this way of understanding the problems
associated with income support systems.
Welfare dependency can be a vague and ambiguous term. As a
number of Australian researchers have noted, those who use the term rarely provide
a clear definition.
Australian social work academic Peter Travers notes that the term is also
The paper begins by explaining why this is.
In Australia the term welfare dependency has long been used
in debates over the role of income support in Indigenous communities,
particularly those in remote Australia. Indigenous leader Noel Pearson has had
a prominent role in these debates. These debates have their own history and are
beyond the scope of this paper.
The aim of this paper is not to take sides in debates over
whether there really is a problem of welfare dependency; it is to develop a
better understanding of an idea that has influenced policymaking in the past
and continues to influence policymaking today.
The idea of welfare
Social policy experts and bureaucrats often use the term welfare
dependency in a neutral way. However, as US academics David Ellwood and Mary Jo
The term dependency is used quite loosely in public
discussion and in most academic work. It is sometimes nothing more than a
synonym for long-term welfare use. But dependency is commonly applied to
situations in which people who could conceivably provide for themselves fail to
do so, and as a result it often has a pejorative connotation.
Sometimes a term’s connotations are so strong that they
become inseparable from its ordinary meaning. An example is the term spinster. While
the term has been used in a narrow technical sense as the female equivalent of
bachelor, it would be anomalous to refer to a young woman as an eligible
spinster. The term comes with connotations that the woman is older and unlikely
The term ‘welfare dependency’ is similar. As the Oxford English Dictionary notes,
the term usually comes with negative connotations.
Some of these connotations relate to the reasons a person is receiving income
support rather than working.
dependency a problem?
In a strict sense, almost everyone is economically dependent
on others. In the past landless workers who depended on wages were often
contrasted with independent, landowning farmers who provided for their own
Today dependence is more likely to be contrasted with
self-reliance through wage labour. While self-reliance is not always clearly
defined, in its most common use a person fails to be self-reliant if they
obtain an income or material support but fail to give back something in return.
On this view, a person who lives on charity or a means-tested income support
payment has failed to be self-reliant but a person who works in return for
wages is self-reliant because they have contributed their labour to the broader
A more problematic situation is the so-called ‘idle rich’
who derive an income in exchange for the use of their land or capital rather
than as a return from their own productive work. Socialist thinkers such as George
Orwell argued that the idle rich are ‘parasites’ rather than contributing
members of society.
However, most modern critics of welfare dependency do not regard the dependency
of the idle rich on the labour of others as a public policy problem. For
example, then AIFS research manager Peter Saunders argued that ‘the only issue
is that you should not unnecessarily rely on the state to provide you with a
living, and the idle rich do not do this.’
Dependency is not necessarily a problem. Most critics of
welfare dependency distinguish between acceptable dependency and unacceptable
dependency. For example, Irving Kristol, a strong advocate of welfare reform,
argued that it was perfectly appropriate to create programs that ‘throw money’
at people who were unable to work because of age or disability. He called this
‘natural’ dependency and contrasted it with the ‘unnatural’ dependency of
welfare recipients who were dependent because of their own behaviour.
Two kinds of
According to American scholars Nancy Fraser and Linda Gordon,
dependency can have a number of different meanings including economic
dependency where ‘one depends on some other person(s) or institution for
subsistence and moral/psychological dependency which refers to ‘an individual
character trait like lack of will power or excessive emotional neediness.’
A number of writers have made a similar distinction and
argued that economic dependence on income support is often conflated with psychological
dependency. In 1960 social work educator Helen Harris Perlman noted: ‘people
who are economically dependent on public assistance are assumed to be less
self-reliant, more lazy, less responsible, more weak, simply by virtue of their
need for money which they do not earn.’
Similarly, Australian academics Susan Goodwin and Kate Huppatz write:
It appears, then, that by being dependent financially on
income support, claimants also exhibit moral and psychological dependency. This
reference to the pathological mode of dependency invokes the term’s other most
common contemporary use: drug dependency.
Even when a speaker does not mean to evoke associations
such as addiction, this is often what people will hear. For example, during
public hearings of the Australian Parliament’s Select Committee on
Intergenerational Welfare Dependency, Malcolm Baalman of the Public Health
Association of Australia argued that using the word dependence evoked an
unhelpful metaphor of drug addiction. 
One of the Committee members, Kevin Andrews, responded by challenging the
‘modern tendency to apply a particular connotation or meaning to words and then
to criticise the use of the word because of that connotation.’ Andrews argued that
the term was not necessarily meant to be pejorative.
The term welfare dependency can be used to refer to economic
dependency alone. Researchers and administrators will often explicitly define
welfare dependency in terms of the payments or other support the person
receives, how long a person has received this support, how much of their income
comes from this support, and whether the person is engaged in paid work. These kinds
of definitions make welfare dependency measurable.
An example is the definition used by the US Department of
Health and Human Services. This lists the programs that are treated as welfare
and stipulates that a family is dependent if more than half their income in a
year comes from these programs and that this income is not associated with work
These kinds of definition are country specific because income support systems
in different countries target different groups.
While the researchers and administrators who create these
definitions may not intend to evoke negative connotations, the definitions are
not necessarily value free. For example, as a 1996 US Department of Health and
Human Services report explains, policymakers do not treat all types of
dependence as problematic:
This report focuses on the core of the perceived dependence
‘problem’—that portion of cash or nutrition assistance programs that is not
conditioned on work and that is directed at families with children for whom
employment is a viable option. For other participants—the working poor, the
elderly, and the disabled—receipt of benefits is not necessarily perceived as a
dependence ‘problem’ and as a result, this report does not emphasize issues
regarding their receipt of assistance.
According to Fraser and Gordon, the idea of dependency as a
character trait began to emerge in the 18th century as societies industrialised
and market relationships developed. The term pauper came to refer to people who
depended on relief rather than wages. ‘Paupers were not simply poor but
degraded, their character corrupted and their will sapped through reliance on
Moral/psychological dependency is part of the language of
morality and common sense rather than the language of social science. It forms
part of what psychologists like Adrian Furnham call ‘lay theory’. According to
Furnham, one of the features of lay theory is that it tends to explain
behaviour in terms of individual traits rather than as the product of
This differs from explanation in economics which tends to explain behaviour in
terms of incentives and disincentives present in the environment (for example,
if a person can receive more money by claiming income support than by working,
they will, all things being equal, claim income support).
policy and the rediscovery of character
The idea of character has been central to debates over
welfare dependency. In the mid-1980s American political scientist James Q
Wilson observed a ‘growing awareness that a variety of public problems can only
be understood—and perhaps addressed—if they are seen as arising out of a defect
in character formation.’
Wilson referred to this as the ‘rediscovery of character.’
Like a number of other conservative and communitarian
thinkers during the 1980s and 1990s, Wilson argued that policymakers should not
be afraid to use moral language. He rejected the value-free approach of economic
policy analysis that explained all behaviour in terms of incentives and
rational self-interest: ‘It is as if it were a mark of sophistication for us to
shun the language of morality in discussing the problems of mankind’.
According to Wilson, solving public problems such as crime
and welfare dependency was about encouraging people to act virtuously.
He argued that:
Moral virtue is the same as good character, and good
character is formed not through moral instruction or personal self-discovery but
through the regular repetition of right actions. These habits are chiefly
formed in the family.
As Wilson notes, this way of thinking goes back to Aristotle
who argued that: ‘legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them.’ 
A number of think tank scholars have explicitly linked the
idea of character to the issue of welfare reform. For example, in 1996 Douglas
Besharov and Karen Gardiner wrote:
Aristotle is credited with the aphorism. ‘Virtue is habit.’
To him, the moral virtues (including wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage),
what people now tend to call ‘character,’ were not inbred. Aristotle believed
that they develop in much the same way people learn to play a musical
instrument, through endless practice. In other words, character is built by the
constant repetition of divers good acts. These new behavior-related welfare
rules are an attempt, long overdue in the minds of many, to build habits of
responsible behavior among long-term recipients; that is, to legislate virtue.
A culture of
While some commentators argue that psychological dependency
is the result of the income support system, an alternative view is that
long-term reliance on income support is the product of cultures or sub-cultures
that perpetuate attitudes and behaviours such as helplessness and passivity.
One of the leading advocates of this position is political
science academic Lawrence Mead who argues that the poor have conventional
values but feel unable to live by them.
history of an idea
The term welfare dependency came to Australia from the
United States (US). In the US context, ‘welfare’ usually meant the Aid to
Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, a program created as part of
Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. Most recipients of AFDC were non-working
While the term welfare dependency appeared occasionally in
Australian media reports and political debates during the 1970s, it did not
become commonly used until the mid- to late-1980s.
Welfare dependency was not just a new name for the Australian idea of the ‘dole
bludger’, it was a separate idea. As Australian researcher Benno Engels notes,
the welfare dependency label:
… did not focus all the blame for rising welfare expenditure
levels on individuals as the dole bludger label had done in the past. Instead,
the cause of welfare dependency was to be found in a well-intentioned but
mis-directed government run welfare system, one that prevented individuals from
being sufficiently motivated to act in their own interests.
In the US, use of the term welfare dependency increased
during major attempts at welfare reform. The first major attempt at welfare
reform was in the late 1960s when the Nixon administration unsuccessfully tried
to replace AFDC with a guaranteed income scheme—the Family Assistance Plan
(FAP). Debate over FAP and similar schemes continued through the early- to mid-1970s.
The second, successful, attempt at reform took place in the
1990s. Throughout the 1980s conservative intellectuals, commentators and
politicians pushed for sweeping reforms to America’s welfare system. During the
1992 presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Bill Clinton promised to ‘end
welfare as we know it.’ In 1996 a Republican controlled Congress passed
legislation to abolish AFDC and replace it with the Temporary Assistance to
Needy Families (TANF) program.
The chart below shows how often the term ‘welfare
dependency’ appears in the scanned texts that make up the Google Books corpus (adjusted
for the number of texts in each time period).
Graph 1. Word frequency shares of
‘welfare dependency’ in English language Google books corpus, 1955–2019
Source: Google Ngram Viewer
The term welfare dependency featured much more prominently
in the second attempt at reform than in the first. This reflects an important
shift in the intellectual landscape between the late- 1960s and the mid-1990s.
In the 1980s and 90s, the conservative policymakers were
able to draw on a broad network of policy experts and public intellectuals.
Some were based in universities and others in think tanks. These experts and
commentators were supported by donations from philanthropic foundations and members
of the business community. However, in the 1950s and 60s the pool was much
shallower. In 1949, literary critic Lionel Trilling went so far as to claim
‘nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general
circulation.’ While he acknowledged conservative impulses were strong in
America they were not expressed as ideas ‘but only in action or in irritable
mental gestures which seem to resemble ideas.’
From the 1940s until the 1970s, the conservative
intellectual network was small and dominated by economists. These economists
argued for free markets over government planning and opposed Keynesian demand
management. As former director of the John M Olin Foundation, James Piereson,
notes, this phase of conservative philanthropy was ‘guided primarily by the
doctrine of classical liberalism.’
This focus on economic issues left conservative
administrations with few experts on poverty and income support policy outside
of the bureaucracy.
Economic liberals like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman had little interest
in welfare dependency as a policy problem. Friedman framed welfare reform as an
economic rather than a social or cultural issue. His major proposal for dealing
with poverty was to give poor people money by replacing existing government
payments and services with a negative income tax (NIT). The NIT would be
designed to ensure recipients would always be better off working than relying
on government payments.
The policy experts behind the Nixon administration’s FAP were influenced by
Legislation for Nixon’s FAP proposal did not pass the
Senate. Political scientist Lawrence Mead argues part of the reason it failed
to win support from conservatives was because it did not seriously require
recipients to work as a condition of receiving support.
From the 1970s on a new set of foundations, think tanks and
public intellectuals emerged that focused more heavily on social and cultural
issues. As Piereson notes, this new group of foundations looked towards a group
of intellectuals and commentators known as the neoconservatives.
Neoconservatives like Gertrude Himmelfarb, Irving Kristol and James Q Wilson
saw welfare reform as a moral issue. Over time they were joined later by a
number of religious conservatives such as Marvin Olasky.
This new group gave the conservative movement the intellectual capacity on
social policy that it lacked during the earlier period. While the economic
liberals were mostly economists, the neoconservatives and others were drawn
from disciplines such as sociology, political science and history.
By the late 1980s the US conservative movement was an
alliance that included small government liberals like Friedman and Hayek (often
called neoliberals) and civil society focused conservatives like the
neoconservatives and religious conservatives. Some of the most influential
thinkers and commentators like Charles Murray, managed to combine elements of
It was the conservatives rather than the economic liberals who
pushed the idea of welfare dependency onto the policy agenda. Where the NIT and
Nixon’s FAP were designed to deal with the problem of poverty, the policies proposed
by conservatives were designed to deal with dependency.
Today commentators often link the idea of welfare dependency
with neoliberalism and economists like Friedman and Hayek.
However, this obscures important aspects of the idea’s history. As a number of
scholars have noted, welfare dependency is a new name for an old
While pauperism was a concern of classical economists, interest in the idea dropped
away as economics developed as a discipline.
As noted earlier, neither Friedman nor Hayek seem to have
been concerned about welfare dependency as a problem. The idea of welfare
dependency did not enter the current debate through the work of neoliberal
Neoconservatives and Christian conservatives revived 19th
century ideas and deliberately framed the debate over welfare reform in moral
terms. They eschewed the value free language favoured by most policy experts.
In the late 19th century the idea of pauperism informed the
work of Charity Organisation Societies in England, the United States and
Australia. It was also taken up by some sociologists.
And it was used in a political context by US president Franklin Roosevelt during
the Great Depression when he insisted relief was ‘a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit’.
While the idea never went away, it became less prominent by
the turn of the century as progressive reformers focused more heavily on
environmental causes of poverty and on the economic problem of unemployment.
When the idea of pauperism re-emerged as the problem of
welfare dependency, a number of commentators explicitly drew on the experience
of the 19th century. Writing in 1998 historian Gertrude Himmelfarb noted:
It is only in the last few decades that we in the United States
have started to worry about the ‘culture of dependency,’ a culture in which
welfare replaces work as the normal, acceptable way of life, not for
individuals alone but for entire communities and successive generations. The
Victorians worried about it all the time, and made it a prime goal of social
policy to deter such dependency by encouraging individuals to internalize those
virtues that promoted independence, thus enabling them to police themselves as
it were. This was a prime tenet of Victorian liberalism: the more effective the
internal exercise of morality, the less need there would be for the external,
coercive instruments of the state.
This was the same argument Daniel Patrick Moynihan made to
President Nixon in a January 1969 letter about the crisis in American cities
like New York. Moynihan passed on the observations of Harvard academic Paul
Weaver from a meeting organised by the journal Public Interest:
His central point—an immensely disturbing one—is that the
social system of American and British democracy that grew up in the 18th and
19th century was able to be exceedingly permissive with regard to public
matters precisely because it could depend on its citizens to be quite
disciplined with respect to private ones. He speaks of ‘private sub-systems of
authority,’ such as the family, church, and local community, and political
party, which regulated behavior, instilled motivation, etc., in such a way as
to make it unnecessary for the State to intervene in order to protect ‘the
public interest.’ More and more it would appear these subsystems are breaking
down in the immense city of New York. If this should continue, democracy would
Moynihan argued that the problem was ‘more a moral and
cultural crisis than a material one.’
Later that January in another memorandum to the President, he called for reform
of the welfare system, arguing that ‘the system destroys those who receive it,
and corrupts those who dispense it …’.
To make the point that the problem was not new, he quoted from an 1817 journal claiming
that Philadelphia’s system of poor relief was creating a problem of dependence.
Moynihan was one of a number of American commentators who
argued that policymakers should learn from the experience of the 19th century. In
1971, Irving Kristol, one of the founders of The Public Interest and
husband of Himmelfarb, cited Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 memoir on pauperism
to argue that despite the best of intentions, America’s welfare system was
making the dependency problem worse.
In a 1995 piece for the Wall Street Journal, Himmelfarb
looked back to the English poor law reforms of 1834 and the moralised rhetoric
of the Victorian era to argue that Americans needed ‘to relegitimize morality
as the basis of social policy and restore the language of virtue and vice.’
Christian conservative Marvin Olasky, also looked back to
the 19th century for inspiration. In his 1992 book The Tragedy of American
Compassion he called for a return to the ideas of Charity Organisation
Society leaders like Stephen Humphreys Gurteen and Josephine Shaw Lowell. The
Charity Organisation Societies preferred personal involvement in the lives of
the poor to the distribution of aid.
As Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution noted in his
2006 book Work Over Welfare, Republican members of Congress embraced 19th
Beginning as early as the 1960s, Republicans extolled the
virtues of work as the antidote to welfare dependency. In doing so, Republicans
were squarely within a tradition of welfare reform going back at least as far
as Victorian England, in which conservatives held that work was redemptive.
Work required consistency, schedules, alarm clocks, routines, cooperation,
self-discipline—all the traits, in short, that conservatives believed would
rescue welfare recipients from the companions of sloth, including booze,
idleness, illicit sex, and hanging out.
Conservatives argued that worklessness lay at the heart of
the problem. Idleness eroded character and weakened character led to a host of
other social problems. Welfare was a problem because it enabled worklessness.
According to conservatives like Himmelfarb, the problem
was not the financial cost of welfare. America could ‘afford to sustain a large
welfare population’ if it chose to, she argued. ‘What we cannot afford is a
large demoralized population, a population that exhibits all the symptoms of
the “social pathology”—or “moral pathology,” as I would prefer to call it—associated
with chronic welfare dependency’.
The US welfare reform debate of the late 1980s and 1990s
attracted attention internationally, including in Australia. During the late
1990s newspapers ran articles debating the pros and cons of undertaking similar
reforms in Australia.
The idea of pauperism
Character was an important idea in 19th century and early 20th
century thought and forms an important part of the context for ideas about
pauperism. Towards the end of the 19th century arguments for social reform
became more openly moralistic.
Reformers argued that relief could damage the character of able-bodied
recipients. They likened the effect to the wasting away of an unused muscle, an
addiction, and a contagious disease. They argued that an ill-formed character
could be passed from parents to children. This was often what 19th century
writers meant by pauperism and pauperisation. However, like welfare dependency,
the term could also have a narrower, more technical meaning.
Sometimes the term pauperism referred to anyone receiving
relief while at other times it implied something more. Nineteenth and early 20th
century writers were aware of the ambiguity. For example, in an 1890 paper on
pauperism the Reverend Henry Latimer Jackson specified that he was using the
term ‘in its purely technical sense. The “pauper” is that individual who,
deservedly or undeservedly, is actually in receipt of relief.’
In his 1904 book Poverty American social worker and
socialist Robert Hunter noted the term’s technical definition but went on to
explain the way it was normally used:
In a legal sense a pauper is one who depends upon public
charity for support, but pauperism, in its accepted sense, is a far more widespread
and subtle thing than that expressed by these words. Men or women, who have the
ability to obtain for themselves the necessaries of life and yet who, from some
social or other cause, cannot do so, are often enticed into pauperism by relief
given them during a time of temporary need. In nearly all cases, he who
continually asks aid becomes a craven, abject creature with a lust for
gratuitous maintenance. And he who becomes an habitual pauper undergoes a kind
of degeneration. He loses his self-respect, the backbone of character; he
develops a fawning and solicitous manner. In some cases he becomes almost
incapable of self-support; he loses all capacity for sustained effort.
Like many other writers in early 20th century America, Hunter
recognised that the poverty that led people to seek relief could have economic
causes. He argued that workers without property had little security and were at
the mercy of economic conditions.
destruction of character
Most 19th century and early 20th century thinkers regarded
character as malleable. They believed it could be developed and strengthened
through habitual action but also that it could be destroyed through neglect. If
a person was able to live without work, their character could degenerate.
In a 1906 book titled The Manufacture of Paupers,
John St Loe Strachey likened character to a muscle:
The surgeons tell us that there is always a great danger, if
you bind up a muscle too well and give it too much artificial support, that it
will strike work and become degenerate. So with a man. If the State does for
him the work that he ought to do for himself, his moral fibre is certain to be
This idea that character or ‘moral fibre’ could be
undermined by relief goes back at least as far as the 1830s and arguments
against the English Speenhamland system of wage supplementation. The
Speenhamland system emerged in the late 18th century as a response to growing
poverty amongst rural labourers and the threat of social unrest.
The system made up for inadequate wages by paying allowances based on the price
of bread and the size of the labourer’s family.
In his 1825 work: Suggestions for Restoring the Moral Character and the
Industrious Habits of the Poor, English physician George Pinckard wrote:
The baneful measure of granting out-door relief to
able-bodied applicants, as practised, of late years, in almost every parish of
the kingdom and the short-sighted expedient of causing part of the wages of the
industrious labourer to be defrayed out of the parish-rates, have deteriorated
the character of the poor, broken down their independent spirit, destroyed
their habits of industry, and become a premium upon idleness and vice. But,
degraded and profligate as great numbers of the poor are found to be, at the
present day, the fault does not rest with them: their altered condition has
been forced upon them.
English commentators were advancing much the same idea in
the early 1900s. For example, John St Loe Strachey, the editor of The
Spectator, argued that pauperism deprived men and women of ‘the qualities
of independence, self-reliance, responsibility, self-control,’ and
In the United States, social reformer Josephine Shaw Lowell made
the same kind of argument in 1884:
… the unhappy recipients of alms become dependent, lose their
energy, are rendered incapable of self-support, and what they receive in return
for their lost character is quite inadequate to supply their needs; thus they
are kept on the verge almost of death by the very persons who think they are
relieving them, by the kindly souls who are benevolent, but who will not take
the trouble to be beneficent, too.
Shaw Lowell acknowledged that part of the problem was that
charitable ‘doles’ were too inadequate and unreliable to support the recipient
properly. However, she went on to argue that the problem could not be solved
simply by replacing these ‘doles’ with adequate and reliable pensions. She
insisted that: ‘no amount of money scattered among people who are without
character and virtue, will insure even physical comfort’.
However, she did allow that some people in poverty could receive pensions
without ill effects. For example, old people without children who fell into
poverty through no fault of their own.
By the early 1900s reformers began to pay more attention to
the social and economic causes of poverty. However, this did not convince them
that relief was harmless. For example, Robert Hunter noted dangerous trades and
inadequate housing as causes of sickness and disability:
It would be impossible to question the responsibility of
society for such common and widespread causes of poverty. After the economic
independence of the family has been destroyed, so-called charity undermines the
character of the poor either by private alms or by public outdoor relief.
Charity has meant to be kind; private charity in particular uses every effort
to prevent pauperism, but in the great mass of cases where relief is given it
results in the degradation of the family and in the loss of self-respect. It is
difficult to realize how much the loss of self-respect means. With it gone,
there is little or no hope for the family to be anything but paupers for the
rest of their days.
As with welfare dependency today, it is a mistake to think
that social commentators during this period embraced the idea of pauperism
because they were unaware that poverty could have structural causes.
It is common for commentators today to talk about ‘welfare
Late 19th and early 20th century reformers used the same metaphor. For example,
in 1900 Frederic Almy of the Buffalo Charity Organisation Society argued that
relief treated only the symptoms of poverty:
We must have alms for the hungry and naked, though with the
ordinary giver it is ten to one that alms will do more harm than good. Alms are
so easy, and so immediate in their first effect, that even the short-sighted
can see they have done something to help. The long-sighted see that the alms
are like drugs which relieve distress temporarily but create an appetite more
dangerous than the pain they relieve. Pauperism means a sick will, a diseased
character. Alms are a form of relief to be given sparingly and with caution;
charity is the care and skill of the nurse and physician, comforting and
healing (and sometimes severe as a surgeon's knife); while the modern social
work is akin to the services of the board of health and the biological
laboratory. It attacks the germ, so to speak, of pauperism.
According to Shaw Lowell, ‘the presence in the community of
certain persons living on public relief, has the tendency, to tempt others to
sink to their degraded level’.
Almy made the same point by likening pauperism to fire or a contagious disease:
If a man sets his own barn on fire his neighbors will not do
much to relieve his poverty and help him to rebuild. They may even arrest him
instead, for fire is dangerous to the community and often spreads like a
pestilence. Fire is not more dangerous, however, or more contagious, than
pauperism, for a willingness to ask for alms runs from room to room in a
tenement and from house to house in a street; and kills character wherever it
Almy likened effective charity to building regulations that
prevent fires from spreading and argued that prevention was better than cure.
Nineteenth century reformers also worried that pauperism was
passed on from parents to children. In an 1839 report
to the English Poor Law Commissioners Edward Carleton Tufnell wrote:
Under the old system of poor laws, it is well known how
frequently a family which once became pauperised remained so ever after: pauper
parents reared pauper children; and thus habits of dependence on the poor-rates
seemed to descend, as part of their natures, from generation to generation. To
stop this hereditary taint would be to annihilate the greater part of the
pauperism of the country; and that this maybe done—that the children thus
situated may be so brought up as to make it a moral certainty that they shall
never in after life become dependent on the rates, but always maintain respectable
and independent stations—may, I think, be proved to demonstration.
The ‘old system’ Tufnell referred to was the pre-1834 poor
law. This was replaced by the new poor law, a system designed to deter claims
for relief by making it conditional on admission to a workhouse. Tufnell was
concerned about the children who grew up in these workhouses. He argued that
they needed an education to prepare them for work and prevent them from
becoming permanently pauperised. This suggests that he saw character as
malleable and that the children of pauper families could be saved.
Another, darker, perspective emerged later in the 19th
century as some social reformers turned to the new thinking about evolution and
put forward the idea that some children were born with an inherited
predisposition to pauperism or crime. In the US, Charity Organisation Society
leader Stephen Humphreys Gurteen wrote:
By an eternal law, the law of Environment, the children of
paupers themselves become paupers; and by a second eternal law, the law of
Heredity, paupers breed paupers till at length we meet with such terrible cases
as that of the Wood family in Indianapolis, or the Jukes family in the State of
New York, where whole families for generations back have been breeding
pauperism and vice till they have become an insufferable tax upon the community
and a curse to the country.
During the late 19th century there were a number of studies
that traced problem families through several generations. Two of the best known
were Richard Dugdale’s 1877 study of the Jukes family—The Jukes: A Study in
Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity—and Oscar McCulloch’s 1888 study
of the Ishmael family—The Tribe of Ishmael: A Study in Social Degradation.
According to these studies, environment and heredity
combined to produce generations of paupers, criminals and prostitutes marked by
weakened ‘physical, mental, and moral constitutions.’
In his study, Dugdale estimated that over a period of 75 years the Jukes cost
the community over US$1.25 million.
While writers like Dugdale and McCulloch argued that the
cycle of disadvantage could be broken by raising the children in a better
environment, others focused on the idea that a predisposition to pauperism and
crime was inherited and argued for an end to ‘pauper immigration’ and other
practices that allowed problem families to continue producing offspring.
Instead of treating pauperism as the temporary receipt of
relief, 19th century writers often treated it as a fixed identity. And
sometimes they portrayed people identified as paupers as something less than
fully human. For example, in his 1844 book Notes on Political Economy,
southern planter Nathaniel Ware writes:
The moment an individual is base and mean enough to beg, or
avail himself of public charity, unless in the shape of a hospital, he is
totally worthless, and sunk beyond all remedy. There is no foundation in his
case left upon which to build him up, no pride, no self-esteem, no ambition—in
short, the person is not a man, but sunk to the level of the brute; not a
biting, or venomous brute, but a mere eating brute. Humanity aside, it would be
to the interest of society to kill off all such drones, get rid of such
excrescences, and cast off such burthens.
In his 1835 Memoir on Pauperism French commentator
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the pauper: ‘looks at the future as an animal
does. Absorbed in the present and the ignoble and transient pleasures it
affords, his brutalised nature is unaware of the determinants of its destiny.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was common to
describe reliance on public relief or charity as a form of parasitism.
Congregational minister and Indiana charity leader Oscar McCulloch used the
metaphor in a particularly vivid and elaborate way. In his Tribe of Ismael,
he likened paupers to the sacculina, a kind of parasitic barnacle that attaches
itself to crabs. According to McCulloch, once the sacculina attached it:
… loses the characteristics of the higher class, and becomes
degraded in form and function. An irresistible hereditary tendency seizes upon
it, and it succumbs. A hereditary tendency I say, because some remote ancestor
left its independent, self-helpful life, and began a parasitic, or pauper,
life. Not using its organs for self-help, they one by one have disappeared, —
legs and other members, — until there is left a shapeless mass, with only the
stomach and organs of reproduction left. This tendency to parasitism was transmitted
to its descendants, until there is set up an irresistible hereditary tendency;
and the Sacculina stands in nature as a type of degradation through parasitism,
In the early decades of the 20th century some reformers
used the studies by McCulloch, Dugdale and others on problem families to argue
that a tendency to antisocial behaviour could be biologically inherited. For
example, eugenicist Charles Davenport used Dugdale’s work to argue that
criminality, sexual immorality and pauperism were passed from parent to child.
Some eugenicists argued for sterilization of the ‘unfit’. For
example, in 1933 medical doctor Theodore Robie cited Dugdale’s and other
researchers’ work to argue that an investment of $150 to sterilise the original
problem couple could end up saving over $2,000,000 in relief.
Eugenics deemphasised the idea of malleable character and
focused on fixed traits. However, eugenic arguments remained controversial and
even researchers sympathetic to them continued to focus on the idea of
malleable character. For example, sociologist Charles Ellwood argued that ‘psychological
defects’ were more common than ‘biological defects’. In a book chapter on
poverty and pauperism he insisted that ‘defective character is, on the whole …
best remedied by such means as education, religious influences, friendly
visiting, and the like’.
Eugenic approaches to pauperism eventually became
discredited by developments in science and also as a result of the association
with Nazism in Germany.
pauperism to poverty
From the early decades of the 20th century on, reformers
shifted their focus from the problem of pauperism to the problems of poverty
and unemployment, and governments developed new programs and services to deal
with these problems.
pauperism to poverty—reframing the problem
According to historian Robert Bremner, reformers became more
aware of the economic and social conditions that led individuals to seek
The new school of reformers did not deny that individual
frailties contributed materially to want and insecurity, but they insisted that
social rather than individual weaknesses were the basic causes of poverty. In
existing circumstances, they said, character is of only secondary importance in
determining a man's economic status.
An updated edition of Amos Warner’s American Charities
published in 1919 embodied this new approach, noting that: ‘in one generation
of social work, the emphasis was transferred from the individual poor person
and his deficiencies to society as a whole—to its faulty structure and its
injustices.’ The text suggests several
reasons for the shift including the growth of the labour movement, the training
of social workers and the ‘humanising of economic theory.’
Bremner suggests that economic growth also had an impact. In
earlier years material scarcity seemed to be a non-negotiable fact of life but
by the early 20th century it became easier to imagine a society where
everyone’s basic needs could be met.
Partly due to its involvement in two world wars, the US
Federal Government grew in size and scope during the first half of the 20th
century. During the progressive era and the Great Depression, reformers
increasingly turned to the Federal government to regulate the economy and
provide individuals and families with support.
When Americans spoke about welfare in the 1980s and 1990s
they usually meant the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.
This program was created in the 1930s as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The Roosevelt administration’s response to the Great
Depression of the 1930s laid the foundations of America’s welfare state. As
well as a range of temporary relief programs created during the depression, the
Roosevelt Administration created contributory social insurance programs for old
age and unemployment, and means tested public assistance programs for old age,
the blind and dependent children.
Over time the dependent children program became the largest
of the public assistance programs. Beginning as Aid to Dependent Children (ADC)
it was later renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). AFDC
provided most of its support to single mother households.
Scholars often describe the combination of contributory and
means tested programs created by the Social Security Act of 1935 as a two-track
or two-tier income support system with AFDC on the lower tier. For example, Linda
… the act established first-class welfare programs, to the
extent that they are not even called welfare, such as Old Age Insurance, or
what people today call simply Social Security. This program systematically
excluded the vast majority of minorities as well as most minority and white women
… the second-class track it created includes predominantly Aid to Families with
Dependent Children (AFDC). The second track receives less money than other
kinds of public assistance and it was designed to be not only extremely stingy,
but also personally invasive and highly stigmatized.
A number of factors combined to undermine support for the
AFDC program. Before ADC was created, many state governments were providing
mothers’ pensions. Created from 1911 on, these pensions were designed to allow
mothers without a male breadwinner to care for their children at home rather than
going out to work and risk losing their children to institutions or foster
care. These state programs were usually administered at the local level and primarily
supported white widows.
With the creation of ADC, the Federal government’s involvement significantly
changed the make-up of the client group.
ADC and later AFDC ended up with a higher proportion of
divorced, deserted and never married mothers than the state mothers’ pensions.
This was partly due to the design of the new social insurance schemes. From
1939 many widows gained access to Survivor’s Insurance through their husbands’
As well as delivering increasing levels of Federal funding
for state programs supporting single parent families, ADC also resulted in increasing
Federal control. As the Federal government imposed national rules on the states
this also increased the numbers of divorced, deserted and never married mothers
and gave black mothers greater access to income support.
ADC/AFDC became increasingly controversial over time. A 1959
article in the Social Service Review noted that the large number of
unmarried mothers in the program was raising concerns about whether it fostered
illegitimacy and family instability. The article also noted that many mothers
were now working outside the home and that ADC could be seen as an anachronism.
The increasing proportion of mothers from minority groups was also raising
concerns. As the article’s author remarked: ‘one wonders how much of the
criticism of the ADC program stems from displaced racial prejudice.’
AFDC and the
problem of dependency
In the 1930s, none of the new public assistance programs
targeted groups that were expected to work. Along with the aged and people with
disabilities, ADC mothers were classified as ‘unemployable’. As Labor Secretary
Frances Perkins explained, in the case of a mother with a large family, ‘she
may be able-bodied and all that, but we classify her as unemployable because if
she works the children have got to go to an orphan asylum.’ 
Aside from mothers, able-bodied people of working age were
deliberately excluded from federally funded public assistance. Unless they
qualified for unemployment insurance, they had to rely on state government
general assistance programs.
Franklin Roosevelt had strong views on providing relief to
those who were expected to work. In 1935 he told Congress:
The lessons of
history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively
that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral
disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out
relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human
spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of
the traditions of America. Work must be found for able-bodied but destitute
This was the rationale for job creation programs such as the
Works Progress Administration (WPA). As Harry Hopkins insisted: ‘Give a man a
dole and you save his body and destroy his spirit. Give him a job and pay him
an assured wage, and you save both the body and the spirit.’
As an increasing proportion of mothers entered the work
force, the status of AFDC changed. With single mothers no longer seen as unemployable,
AFDC attracted the same kind of criticism Roosevelt and Hopkins levelled
against relief payments to able-bodied men. Critics of AFDC including presidents
Nixon and Reagan would repeatedly quote Roosevelt to argue that welfare needed
poverty and tangles of pathology
As Roosevelt’s comments illustrate, even the Great
Depression did not persuade people to abandon the idea that relief could damage
a recipient’s character. While the idea became less prominent during the
decades following World War II it did not disappear.
While there was some concern about ADC during the 1950s and 1960s,
the problem of dependency was overshadowed by the problem of poverty during the
1960s. The 1960s saw an upsurge in concern about poverty that peaked with
President Johnson’s War on Poverty. However, government concern about poverty
did not mean increased support for cash transfers to jobless people of working
Lyndon Johnson saw poverty as the result of a lack of
opportunity and War on Poverty programs were designed to enable economically
excluded Americans to earn their way out of poverty. As he said when he signed
legislation for the War on Poverty:
We are not content
to accept the endless growth of relief rolls or welfare rolls. We want to offer
the forgotten fifth of our people opportunity and not doles. That is what this
measure does for our times. Our American answer to poverty is not to make the
poor more secure in their poverty but to reach down and to help them lift
themselves out of the ruts of poverty and move with the large majority along
the high road of hope and prosperity. The days of the dole in our country are numbered.
Like Roosevelt, he likened ‘doles’ to a drug that treated
the symptom of the problem without dealing with underlying causes. He insisted
that the purpose of the legislation was ‘to offer opportunity, not an opiate.’  The ideal was to make means tested income support
Even as concern about poverty began to build at the end of
the 1950s an idea emerged that would undermine the opportunity approach. It was
an explanation for the intergenerational transmission of poverty that did not
rely on biological inheritance.
In 1959, democratic socialist writer Michael Harrington
argued that poverty had its own culture. According to Harrington, children from
poor families inherited ‘habits of mind’ that prevented them from taking
advantage of opportunity.
In his 1962 book The Other America: Poverty in the United States, he
Poverty should be defined psychologically in terms of those
whose place in the society is such that they are internal exiles who, almost
inevitably, develop attitudes of defeat and pessimism and who are therefore
excluded from taking advantage of new opportunities.
According to Harrington, part of what made the problem of
poverty so difficult to deal with was that the culture of poverty made the poor
immune to opportunity. The economy could grow, job opportunities could
increase, government could expand access to education, and still poverty could
continue. Harrington argued that any attempt to abolish poverty ‘must seek to
destroy the pessimism and fatalism that flourish in the other America.’
The idea of a culture of poverty was borrowed from
anthropologist Oscar Lewis. In a series of books and articles in the 1950s and
1960s, Lewis argued that a proportion of poor families in both developing
nations and the United States were trapped in a subculture that made them
‘psychologically unready to take full advantage of changing conditions or
improving opportunities that may develop in their lifetime’.
Lewis also argued that a ‘relief system that barely keeps people alive
perpetuates rather than eliminates poverty and the pervading sense of
Both Lewis and Harrington argued that the culture of poverty
developed in response to a lack of economic opportunity. As a result, Harrington
argued for measures that both opened up opportunity and helped poor Americans
to take advantage of it. He insisted that only the Federal government was
capable of doing this.
Harrington supported the push for civil rights legislation and argued that the welfare
state needed to expand to include the most disadvantaged Americans.
He would later argue that Johnson’s War on Poverty had done far too little to
improve the lives of poor Americans.
use of the culture of poverty idea
By the late 1960s conservative critics of the War on Poverty
had turned the culture of poverty idea into an argument against government
action on poverty. While Lewis and Harrington identified the root of the
problem as exclusion from opportunity, the critics focused on the idea that the
culture and psychology of poor Americans prevented them from taking advantage
In the early 1970s, political scientist Edward Banfield argued
that the War on Poverty had failed because it did not change the culture of the
lower-class poor. Banfield argued that there were two problems of poverty, one ‘normal-class’
and the other ‘lower-class’:
The poverty problem in its normal-class form consists of
people (especially the aged, the physically handicapped, and mothers with
dependent children) whose only need in order to live decently is money; in its
lower-class form it consists of people who would live in squalor and misery
even if their incomes were doubled or tripled. The same is true with the other
problems—slum housing, schools, crime, rioting; each is really two quite
The lower-class forms of all problems are at bottom a single
problem: the existence of an outlook and style of life which is radically
present-oriented and which therefore attaches no value to work, sacrifice,
self-improvement, or service to family, friends, or community.
This conservative take on the culture of poverty differed
from the idea of welfare dependency that developed in the 1980s and 90s. First,
Banfield’s focus was on ‘lower-class’ men rather than women. And second, like
Lewis and Harrington he was offering an explanation of the persistence of poverty
not reliance on welfare.
Daniel Moynihan also focussed on men. In his 1965 report The
Negro Family: The Case For National Action, Moynihan argued that many black
families were caught up in a ‘tangle of pathology’ that was ‘capable of
perpetuating itself without assistance from the white world.’
Like Lewis, Moynihan argued that the original causes of disadvantage were
structural but that ‘aberrant, inadequate’ and ‘antisocial behaviour’ now
perpetuates a ‘cycle of poverty and deprivation.’ According to Moynihan, the
weak position of black men in turn weakened the family. Unemployment undermined
the role of black men as breadwinners and this led to a matriarchal family
structure. This in turn fed into other problems:
The breakdown of the Negro family is the principal cause of
all the problems of delinquency, crime, school dropouts, unemployment, and
poverty which are bankrupting our cities, and could very easily lead to a kind
of political anarchy unlike anything we have known.
Moynihan argued that the welfare system further undermined
the role of unemployed men in families. In cases where men lacked access to
steady work and unemployment insurance, government assistance flowed to the
mother through the AFDC program.
In the mid-1960s Moynihan was convinced that the answer
was to get men into work. In a memo for President Johnson he wrote: ‘Men must
have jobs. We must not rest until every able-bodied Negro male is working. Even
if we have to displace some females.’
Concern about pauperisation or dependency have always been
focused on groups who are expected to work. When ADC was created in the 1930s, this
did not include mothers.
From the start, the Federal income support system had been
designed to avoid giving ‘doles’ to working age groups that were expected to
work. The core of the system was meant to be social insurance where recipients
would earn the right to benefits for themselves and their dependents through
contributions. Policymakers hoped that, over time, social insurance would
displace welfare and ‘doles’ would disappear. For women this meant they would
become eligible through the contributions of their husbands as widows or the
wives of disabled workers.
After the 1960s more and more mothers entered the workforce
and the status of AFDC recipients began to change. By the 1980s and 90s they
were no longer categorised with the elderly and people with disabilities as
In the 1930s there had been no obvious target for concerns about pauperisation
or dependency but by the end of the 1960s that was changing.
the Family Assistance Plan
When Moynihan accepted a role in the Nixon administration in
1969, few of the policy proposals put forward by experts were conservative
One idea being floated at the time was a guaranteed annual income or negative
income tax. This idea inspired the Nixon administration’s Family Assistance
A negative income tax sets a minimum income. A person with
no earnings will receive this amount. As the amount they earn increases, the
amount they receive from the negative income tax reduces. It is designed to
ensure that a person is always better off if they earn extra income.
Moynihan saw a negative income tax as a better way of
dealing with poverty than the existing AFDC program. While AFDC targeted
support to non-working female-headed families, a negative income tax scheme
would extend support to two parent families and to the working poor. In theory,
it could create incentives for both work and family stability.
If the problem with AFDC was that it made single parenthood a
more attractive option than forming a family with an unskilled male worker, one
option was to ‘make work pay’ for less skilled workers.
This was what fellow neoconservative Nathan Glazer proposed
in his essay ‘Reform work not welfare’. Glazer argued that the US economy
produced two kinds of jobs. Good jobs with high wages, health insurance, access
to unemployment insurance, and pension benefits; and bad jobs without any of
these benefits. Welfare, according to Glazer, came with many of the features of
a good job such as health insurance. ‘Good jobs can compete with welfare’, he
wrote, ‘poor jobs cannot’.
Glazer proposed measures such as universal health insurance and child
allowances to make work competitive with welfare.
Like Glazer’s proposals, the negative income tax relied on
self-interest to steer individuals in the right direction. In contrast to the
approach of Charity Organisation Societies in the 19th century, it attempted to
solve the problems of entrenched disadvantage by providing more help rather
than less. According to some estimates, the Nixon administration’s Family
Assistance Plan would have extended help to twice as many people as AFDC and
cost three times as much.
The negative income tax was not developed as a conservative
solution to the problem of pauperisation or character-destroying welfare
dependency. It was originally developed as an economically liberal solution to
the problems of poverty and big government.
As Moynihan acknowledged, the idea for a negative income tax
was first popularised by economist Milton Friedman.
Friedman was an economic liberal rather than a conservativeand
his major concern was to reduce government interference in the market. Friedman
accepted a role for government in reducing poverty arguing that developed
nations could no longer rely on charity to deal with the problem. However, he
opposed programs that went beyond this to rig markets or redistribute income in
favour of particular groups. He opposed tariffs, minimum wage laws, farm
programs and assistance to elderly people who were not in poverty.
Unlike Lyndon Johnson who portrayed poverty as a lack of
opportunity, Friedman portrayed poverty as a lack of income. He explained the
negative income tax as a solution to this problem:
The proposal for a Negative Income Tax is a proposal to help
poor people by giving them money, which is what they need, rather than as now,
by requiring them to come before a government official, detail all their assets
and liabilities and be told that you may spend x dollars on rent y dollars on
food, et cetera, and then be given a handout. The idea of the Negative Income
Tax is to treat people who are poor in the same way we treat people who are
rich. Both groups would have to file income tax returns, and both groups would
be treated in a parallel way.
Friedman acknowledged that some people would take the money
and ‘dissipate it on booze or on the races’ or use it to avoid work, but he
insisted that it should not be the government’s job to police recipients’
A key part of Friedman’s plan was to create clear incentives
to work. He argued that existing means tested programs often created a
situation where recipients were no better off if they earned money from paid
work. By abolishing these programs and replacing them with a negative income
tax, Friedman hoped to solve this problem.
Friedman rejected any distinction between deserving and
undeserving groups. All that mattered was the person’s income. He argued that
the negative income tax would help people ‘because they were poor, not because
they were old or disabled or unemployed or farmers or tenants of public
housing.’ This meant abolishing a raft of government programs such as farm
support that were targeted at particular groups rather than people on low
Moynihan described Friedman’s negative income tax as ‘just
about the best social idea of the second half of the Twentieth Century’ and a ‘spanking
good idea’. He noted that it focused directly on the issue of incentives, ‘the
obverse of the issue of dependency’.
Later, he would change his mind in response to evaluation evidence that
suggested that a negative income tax might reduce work effort and decrease the
stability of marriages.
The Nixon administration’s proposed Family Assistance Plan
differed significantly from Friedman’s proposal. While the administration
planned to abolish AFDC, the Family Assistance Plan would have left other means
tested programs such as food stamps and Medicaid intact.
It would also have funded job training and job placement programs and included
The Family Assistance Plan probably marks the high point of
economists’ influence over welfare reform in the United States. In a 1990 paper
titled ‘The economist's lament: public assistance in America’, economist Gary
Burtless notes that most of the broader public were unpersuaded by the
theoretical arguments that appealed to economists. He lamented:
In the minds of many voters, some of the poor are proper
objects of pity and deserve help; the remainder are poor because of moral or
spiritual defects, and deserve their poverty. This view profoundly affects
American assistance programs. 
He noted that ‘the negative income tax has had only one major
to welfare dependency
Up until the 1970s, economists and philosophers dominated
the intellectual right in America.
Economically liberal thinkers like Friedman reacted against the growth of size
and scope of government that took place in the first half of the 20th century.
The neoconservatives who joined America’s intellectual
conservative movement in the 1970s were different. These thinkers were reacting
against the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s.
They were joined by Christian conservatives who were more focused on social
than economic issues.
According to leading neoconservative thinker Irving Kristol:
It was primarily the neoconservative criticism of welfare for
corrupting the souls of its recipients, as against the traditional conservative
emphasis on the waste of taxpayers’ money, that helped make welfare reform a
major issue for religious conservatives.
Concern about rising AFDC numbers was part of a broader
concern about social disorder and a weakening of moral authority. Together with
Christian conservatives, the neoconservatives raised concerns about family
breakdown, the work ethic and personal responsibility. As political scientist
Steven Teles argued, arguments about welfare policy allowed:
… issues of social value to be debated without directly
judging the behaviour of the majority of citizens. Family decomposition, the
decline of the work ethic, and the erosion of personal responsibility are
social trends occurring throughout American society. However, to discuss them
directly would inevitably lead to fingers being pointed at a large group of
Many of the new critics of welfare policy were not leading social
policy experts or experienced welfare professionals. They relied on moral argument
as much as on social science expertise. According to Lawrence Mead, conservative
welfare experts tended to be less academically qualified than their opponents
and held less prestigious jobs. However, Mead argues that conservative experts
were more in tune with the public’s concerns about welfare policy and were more
willing to frame the issues in moral terms.
Conservative thinkers conferred intellectual respectability
on ideas that were already widely held and promoted them within policy circles.
Commenting on her regard for American neoconservative thinker Michael Novak,
Margaret Thatcher wrote, he ‘put into new and striking language what I had
always believed about individuals and communities.’
Think tanks were a major vehicle for ideas on welfare reform
and the number of these increased during the 1970s and 80s.
According to American sociologist Thomas Medvetz, concern
over poverty ‘enjoyed a brief moment of public legitimacy during the late 1950s
and early 1960s’ before being replaced by an older set of concerns about
dependence on public support and its supposed negative impact on recipients.
Some think tank researchers labelled the problem
‘behavioural poverty’ and pointed to reliance on welfare as the cause.
Others used the term ‘welfare dependency’ to refer to the erosion of character
and motivation they considered to be caused by long term income support receipt.
This way of understanding the problem made it more difficult to quantify than
the problem of poverty. In 1986 Charles Murray of the Manhattan Institute
argued that welfare dependency should be understood as a ‘state of mind’:
The construct as we commonly use it has nothing to do with
literal ‘dependency on public assistance for income.’ That is, we do not for
most purposes wish to include the paraplegic living on a disability check as
‘welfare dependent,’ even though he is getting all of his income from the
government in the form of welfare. On the other hand, it may be (though not
necessarily) that a person who works full-time but lives in a subsidized
apartment is importantly ‘welfare dependent.’ The referent of the construct
called ‘welfare dependency’ is a state of mind as much as it is an economic
plight. ‘Welfare dependency’ acquires its importance as a construct because it
denotes a process whereby people of latent intelligence, imagination, and
initiative are in some way debilitated because of welfare or some constellation
of effects facilitated by welfare. Welfare dependency is, in other words, an
extremely subtle, complex construct. To say that we are even close to capturing
this construct with any of the variables we are presently using seems to me naïve.
This kind of approach lent itself to a more qualitative
approach, an approach that illustrated the problem through case studies and
anecdotes. It also had the potential to place more academically inclined
poverty researchers at a disadvantage. According to Lawrence Mead, these
experts gained much of their prestige from their ‘rarefied statistical skills’.
The architects of negative income tax schemes saw poverty as
an economic problem—a lack of income. In contrast, welfare dependency was put
forward as a moral problem. In the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy,
Gertrude Himmelfarb argued that dependency was inimical to virtues such as
‘responsibility, prudence, temperance, self-discipline, and self-control’. According
to Himmelfarb, the so-called welfare crisis was actually a moral crisis.
Himmelfarb traced the problem back to broader changes in
American culture. Affluence had encouraged ‘permissiveness, self-indulgence’
and ‘immediate gratification’ and the effects of this were more damaging for
the poor than for the rich. A seminar chaired by Catholic neoconservative
thinker Michael Novak reached the same conclusions:
During our lifetime, that ethos has been in significant
measure eroded. Self-control and impulse-restraint were debunked as ‘square.’
What was once understood as moral law came to be described as ‘social
convention,’ and defiance of conventions was portrayed as cool, brave, and
heroic. Impulse restraint was ridiculed, while impulse-release came to be
celebrated. ‘Self-expression’ was portrayed as a higher form of consciousness.
Liberation from the ‘old morality’ was presented as the highest virtue.
For those of ample means, such cultural rebellion did not
always prove to be harmful. To be poor, however, and to accept the incessant
barrage of messages exempting the individual from responsibility, from duty,
and from self-discipline may profoundly damage one’s chances of escaping from
poverty. A poverty constituted by moral disorder prejudices the prospects of
the individuals affected far more than the disadvantages inherent in the
poverty constituted by low family income alone.
The ‘if it feels good, do it’ ethos of the 1960s
counterculture was not the only target for criticism. Irving Kristol also
criticised the value-free approach of economists and the willingness of the
entertainment industry to treat the assault on social norms as a business
poverty and the corrosion of character
Conservative and communitarian critics of AFDC argued that
the program enabled recipients to live beyond the reach of social institutions
that formed and maintained character. They claimed that this deficit of
character could lead to a cluster of social ills.
Richard V Reeves of the Brookings Institution has argued
that character formation is the key to solving problems like economic
inequality. Reeves argues that it important to distinguish between two kinds of
character — ‘moral character’ and ‘performance character’. Moral character refers
to traits like kindness and humility while performance character refers to
traits or skills like industriousness or prudence that enable individuals to
succeed as students, workers and parents.
This idea of character is similar to that of communitarian
thinker Amitai Etzioni and of economist James Heckman. For Etzioni character
refers to the: ‘psychological muscles that allow a person to control impulses
and defer gratification, which is essential for achievement, performance, and
moral conduct.’ 
For Heckman character refers to non-cognitive skills such as self-control,
perseverance (‘grit’) and resilience to adversity.
Some conservative thinkers argued that underdeveloped
character led to behavioural poverty. According to a piece in the Manhattan
Institute’s City Journal, behavioural poverty ‘is characterized by high
self-indulgence, low self-regulation, exploitation of others, and limited
motivation and effort’.
And according to Michael Novak and his co-authors on the Working Seminar on
Family and American Welfare Policy:
What is distinctive about behavioural dependency is its moral
or attitudinal component, manifest in an inability to cope on the part of many
able-bodied adults. Two of its major causes are, on the one hand, female-headed
households and, on the other, nonwork. In these two areas in particular, little
progress can be made in reducing dependency apart from a heightened sense of
Critics argued that the welfare system was one of the
major causes of female headed households and non-work. According to Robert
Rector of the Heritage Foundation, the ‘anti-marriage and anti-labour effects
of welfare are simple and profound’.
Since behavioural poverty was characterised by ‘high
self-indulgence’ and ‘low self-regulation’ it made sense that it would be
linked to problems like substance abuse. Rector and others argued that the
welfare system had not only led to an increase in drug and alcohol abuse but
also an increase in crime.
Welfare as a
Supporters of welfare reform often drew on Franklin
Roosevelt’s description of welfare as ‘a narcotic’. For example, after quoting
Roosevelt, Senator Richard Shelby went on to claim that welfare was addictive
and that it ‘destroys the natural inclination in every human being to reach
their full potential’.
In a list of challenges facing the United States in the
1990s, liberal foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed to ‘the
several million who are already second- or even third-generation “addicts” to
This was part of a broader criticism of American society. In
his 1993 book Out of Control Brzezinski complained about a broader loss
of self-control associated with consumerism and a breakdown in ethical
Welfare as a
contaminant, toxin or disease
Similar to the way 19th century reformers like Frederic Almy
compared dependency to a contagious disease, more recent critics of income
support have likened it to a contaminant or toxin. In the 1990s, American think
tank researcher Charles Murray applied US thinking to the British situation:
I am not talking here about an unemployment problem that can
be solved by more jobs, nor about a poverty problem that can be solved by
higher benefits. Britain has a growing population of working-aged, healthy
people who live in a different world from other Britons, who are raising their
children to live in it, and whose values are now contaminating the life of
entire neighbourhoods—which is one of the most insidious aspects of the
phenomenon, for neighbours who don’t share those values cannot isolate
In a similar vein, the Heritage Foundation’s Patrick Fagan
and Robert Rector suggested that: ‘Overall, welfare operates as a form of
social toxin. The more of this toxin received by a child's family, the less
successful the child will be as an adult.’
In his 2012 book, A Nation of Takers, Nicholas
Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute warned of ‘America’s entitlement
epidemic’. Eberstadt leveraged concern about support to single mothers to make
a broader case against almost all government payments claiming that ‘the
utilisation of government entitlement benefits by American citizens registered
what epidemiologists would call a “breakout” into the general population over
the past two generations.’
As in the 19th century, more recent critics of the income
support system argue that welfare dependency is transmitted from parents to
This is not just a claim that the children of long-term income support
recipients are more likely to receive income support themselves, it is a claim
There are a number of different ideas on how dependency is
transmitted. One idea is that jobless parents and jobless communities are less
able to develop character in children. Economists James Heckman and Tim Kautz
conceptualise character as a set of skills that include conscientiousness and
perseverance. They argue:
Character is a skill, not a trait. At any age, character
skills are stable across different tasks, but skills can change over the life
cycle. Character is shaped by families, schools, and social environments. Skill
development is a dynamic process, in which the early years lay the foundation
for successful investment in later years. 
Other researchers and commentators focus on attitudes and
social norms rather than on skills. For example, according to a recent paper
published by the Life Course Centre in Australia:
These attitudes and norms, which may include a weaker work
ethic and less stigma associated with welfare receipt, are transferred from
parents to children through childhood socialization, and ultimately influence
children’s attitudes and behaviours as adults.
A 1986 report from the White House Domestic Policy
Council’s Low-Income Opportunity Working Group, claimed that ‘the pattern and
values of dependency can be transmitted from parent to child, who may come to
see welfare as the social norm.’
Political scientist Lawrence Mead draws on the earlier
idea of a culture of poverty to argue that disadvantage is perpetuated through
families and that the income support system prevents individuals from escaping.
In a 2000 paper he wrote:
It is chiefly through dysfunctional parents that the malign
influence of past injustice reaches forward to blight our own time. Today’s
poor adults often neglect or abuse their children because they were mistreated
by their parents, as they were by their parents, and so on. Those earlier
parents failed, in part, because they were ground down by a hostile or
indifferent society. Today society may be more enlightened. It provides chances
to get educated and get ahead, and to try again if one fails, that were unknown
a century ago. But it cannot—without abolishing the family—interrupt the
transmission of a heritage of defeat.
In the past, according to Mead, reformist movements like
the labour and civil rights movements emerged thanks to strong families that
generated strong citizens. But today ‘welfare is the narcotic that has drawn
the teeth of any successor movements.’
Mead argues that many of America’s non-working poor are
victims of their own feelings of helplessness. In his 1992 book The New
Politics of Poverty he writes: ‘nonworkers have so internalised
helplessness that they seldom seek work, even if opportunity becomes
available.’ And drawing on earlier literature on the idea of a culture of
poverty he argues: the ‘core of the culture of poverty seems to be inability to
control one’s life—what psychologists call inefficacy.’
Like earlier culture of poverty theorists, Mead applied
the theory beyond recipients of AFDC/TANF. However, he argued ‘it is families
living on aid who most often display a dysfunctional lifestyle.’
More recently Mead has sparked controversy by claiming
that culture explains why disadvantaged minority groups are more likely to
experience poverty and rely on income support. He writes: ‘The great fact about
both blacks and Hispanics is that—unlike most other Americans—they did not
come here from Europe.’ According to Mead, these groups have a more
collectivist mind-set than other Americans and this is reflected in ‘a
relatively passive response to opportunity and an inability to maintain order
in their own families and neighbourhoods.’
The 1990s debate over welfare reform took place against a broader
background of debates over the role of government. Some left of centre thinkers
abandoned the socialist idea that government could radically alter the
structure of society to overcome economic injustice.
Mead claims that shifts in the broader debate radically transformed the debate
over welfare policy:
The old debate was about social structure, about whether the
market or government should organize society. It took competence for granted,
meaning the capacity of the downtrodden to get ahead. The current debate is
about competence, and it takes social structure for granted. Most experts
believe that the disadvantaged have enough opportunity to escape poverty and
dependency, if not to earn mainstream incomes. They debate rather whether the
poor are personally able to work or otherwise function better than they do.
Essentially, liberals say no and conservatives yes.
In the UK, sociologist Anthony Giddens cited Oscar Lewis and
argued that welfare dependency could become linked to cultures of poverty. In
his 1994 book Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics he
wrote: ‘The social influences creating underclasses are structural before they
are cultural, but once in play they may bring cultural demoralisation of a
Giddens would become closely identified with the Third Way
approach of Labour Party leader Tony Blair and, according to The Economist,
would exert ‘a powerful influence on Downing Street’.
the Australian debate
The American debate over welfare dependency has influenced
the way Australians talk about income support policy. During the 1990s it
became more common to refer to income support payments such as Newstart
Allowance as welfare and to frame the problem policymakers needed to address as
welfare dependency rather than as poverty or unemployment.
In 1986, Liberal Senator Chris Puplick quoted Daniel Patrick
Moynihan in a debate over work in return for unemployment benefits. He stressed
the psychological aspects of dependency arguing:
… only real work, allows people to break out of the cycle of
dependency and the psychological traps of dependency which, unless they are
addressed and overcome, will destroy a large proportion of an entire generation
of young Australians …
In his book on the ‘Dries’—a group of Australian economic
liberals—John Hyde describes their growing interest in non-economic cultural
issues and mentions a number of American thinkers including Lawrence Mead,
Charles Murray, Michael Novak, James Q Wilson and Gertrude Himmelfarb.
According to Hyde, one of the cultural issues that attracted the attention of
the Dries was welfare dependency:
Their concern that handouts encouraged dependency was,
however, a very general one, in the early 1980s raised most often by them in
the context of industry policy. By the 1990s, however, they were discussing
welfare dependency in terms of the development of an underclass culturally
alienated from mainstream values and aspirations.
In 2002 article for the IPA Review, Hyde wrote: ‘the
growth of second- and third-generation welfare dependency and the high
incidence of anti-social and self-destructive behaviour among a
welfare-dependent underclass have concerned Dries.’
Hyde argued that the Dries ran into opposition from a
‘politically correct’ elite that wanted to rule some opinions out of bounds.
Other commentators expressed similar views. In an article titled ‘Why there is
no real debate on social policy’, commentator Bettina Arndt claimed that while
the broader public were willing to discuss ideas like welfare dependency,
Australian journalists and academics were resistant.
Arndt criticised what she saw as the ‘narrow conformity of what counts for
public discourse on social policy’ in Australia and cited American commentator
David Brooks to argue that the Australian academic community was trapped in the
past and resisted ‘up-to-date’ ideas. After speaking at the Adelaide Festival
of Ideas, Brooks claimed that most of the speakers had ‘never had to confront
conservative ideas face to face.’
Opinion columnist Paddy McGuinness agreed commenting: ‘we are an intellectual
backwater, stuck in the past’.
In the late 1990s, the Department of Family and Community
Services (FaCS) funded AIFS to conduct research on welfare dependency. AIFS’
Research Manager Peter Saunders helped raise the profile of the idea of welfare
dependency and cited the work of US writers closely associated with the idea
such as Charles Murray and Lawrence Mead.
Mead’s work also featured in a book released by AIFS in 2000 titled Reforming
the Australian Welfare State. 
Mead’s paper was titled ‘Welfare reform and the family: lessons from
Peter Saunders would later move from AIFS to the Centre for
Independent Studies (CIS) where he published a book titled Australia’s
Welfare Habit: And How to Kick it. Saunders argued that Australians had
become addicted to welfare and that ‘The welfare habit is to a significant
degree intergenerationally transmitted.’
Debate over the idea of welfare dependency has continued. In
2018 the then Minister for Social Services, Dan Tehan, announced a Select
Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence.
In its submission, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) attacked
the framing of the problem arguing that governments should focus on reducing
poverty and inequality rather than welfare dependency. Their submission
rejected the idea that income support was a cause of entrenched disadvantage.
The idea of welfare dependency has shaped the Australian
debates over drug testing for income support recipients and over the cashless
debit card—a measure designed to prevent income support recipients from
spending payments on gambling, alcohol and illicit drugs.
Former Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, has described ‘long term
welfare dependence’ as a poison arguing that:
Over time, welfare dependence sucks the life out of people
and can diminish their capability. It can impact on confidence and mental and
physical health. The purpose, the structure and the dignity which comes from
work is lost and sometimes dependency crosses over to the next generation.
Policymakers and commentators in other English-speaking
countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand have also been influenced
by debates in the US.
Australia is now part of an international conversation about income support policy.
During the 1960s and 70s policymakers in countries like the
US and Australia were focused on the problem of poverty. However, conservative
critics of anti-poverty policy did not accept poverty as the problem and propose
different solutions: they changed the problem.
The shift from poverty to welfare dependency helped make popular
intuitions about the effects of income support programs and suspicions about
the moral character of disadvantaged individuals and groups seem more
legitimate. This debate revived ideas that had first become influential during
the 19th century. These older ideas were combined with a conservative
interpretation of culture of poverty theories to argue that income support
programs and social services often did more harm than good.
One of the key ideas in the literature on welfare dependency
is that the dependent are immune to opportunity. Even when education, training
and job opportunities are available, people mired in dependency will not take
advantage of them.
This is a defining feature of the problem of welfare
dependency. From this perspective, the problem cannot be solved simply by
providing income support recipients with opportunities for education, training
and work or access to services designed to overcome barriers such as lack of
access to childcare or transport.
Those who argue that dependency is the key problem do not
necessarily deny the reality of problems like racial discrimination. For
example, Lawrence Mead acknowledges that ‘Much of the gap in earnings between
blacks and whites may still be attributable to discrimination.’
However, he claims that barriers to work influence how much people earn if they
work, not whether they work.
Not all commentators who embrace the
resistance-to-opportunity theory advocate the same policy responses. Those who
attribute loss of self-discipline and motivation to the experience of living on
income support are likely to argue for the abolition of income support programs
or reforms such as compulsory participation in work programs that make income
support less attractive and less damaging to recipients.
Those who attribute problems of self-discipline and
motivation to a broader culture of poverty are likely to be less optimistic
about the ability of welfare reform to solve the problem on its own. Lawrence
Mead falls into this second group. In his latest book—Burdens of Freedom:
Cultural Difference and American Power—he argues that there is a broader
population of people in poverty who fail to take advantage of opportunity
because they see themselves as helpless and at the mercy of their environment.
According to Mead, these people will only succeed when they embrace America’s
culture of individualism and take personal responsibility for their own lives.
One of the most consistent themes in the literature on
welfare dependency is scepticism about the government’s ability to improve the
lives of disadvantaged individuals, families and communities. The message for
government is usually to do less rather than more. Even Lawrence Mead who
advocates increased government investment in services such as case management
through his ‘new paternalism’ approach is sceptical about the prospects for
lasting change. The new paternalism involves using public authority to enforce
‘compliance with values, such as the work ethic or law-abidingness’.
Mead argues that it is doubtful whether this approach:
…can alter attitudes in any fundamental way, or even
influence behaviour once clients leave their purview. This is because clients,
beyond the very young, seldom internalise the strictures deeply enough to
affect their subsequent lives. Even prisons, the most rigid of institutions,
produce little inner change.
In 1971 Irving Kristol described the welfare system as a ‘vicious
circle in which the best of intentions merge into the worst of results’. He had
no suggestions other than to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 essay on
Thinking more broadly about social policy, Charles Murray
has argued that often the best government can do is to stop making things worse.
In a 2001 interview with Susan Windybank of the Centre for Independent Studies
There are some things that social policy can destroy, but you
cannot reverse the process. As in the case of most destructions, once it’s
destroyed, putting it back together is another problem. There is a line used in
criticism of me about how the corpse with the knife sticking in it is dead, but
pulling out the knife is not going to cause the corpse to spring back to life.
I agree with that to some extent.
Welfare reform in the US during the 1990s began with
presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s promise to ‘end welfare as we know it’
and ended with the abolition of the AFDC program. The reforms of 1996 replaced
AFDC with a new program, TANF, that ended AFDC’s open-ended entitlement to
income support and transferred much of the policy responsibility to state
The sweeping nature of these reforms meant that welfare reform was no longer
such a prominent issue in the US.
with ‘welfare dependency’
When a House of Representatives select committee was established
to look at the problem of ‘intergenerational welfare dependence’, the committee
quickly found that terms welfare dependence and welfare dependency were
controversial. In its final report the committee decided to use the term
‘entrenched disadvantage’ and acknowledged ‘that many factors contribute to a
need for welfare assistance, and that “dependence” carries an implication of
As the committee discovered, Australian academics and those
engaged with the welfare sector do not see the term welfare dependency as
simply another term for income support receipt. For example, in their text Talking
Policy: How Social Policy is Made, Judith Bessant, Rob Watts, Tony Dalton
and Paul Smyth note:
Like the language of the nineteenth century Poor Law system,
which spoke about people who ‘got something for nothing’ as being at risk of
becoming ‘demoralised’, so ‘welfare dependency’ was said to be something that
threatened the moral character of those receiving social security income
Similarly, academic Elise Klein argues that terms like
welfare dependency ‘brand unemployment as a failure of the individual, not the
For some readers, the term evokes a cluster of ideas including ideas about
One of the most hotly debates issues in social policy is the
extent to which changes in individual behaviour can reduce poverty and
disadvantage. Peter Saunders and Kayoko Tsumori of the Centre for Independent
Studies argue that: ‘Most social policy intellectuals and activists are
convinced that poverty is mainly a “structural” problem and that poor people
are rarely, if ever, responsible for their own plight’. In contrast, Saunders
and Tsumori claim that individual behaviour is an important cause of disadvantage
and that even those who are not responsible for their own disadvantage can do a
great deal to improve their circumstances.
Some writers who use the term dependency not only suggest
than long-term recipients fail to take advantage of opportunities to support
themselves through work but also that certain ethnic or racial groups or
classes of people are particularly likely to become dependent.
Critics of this claim argue that these claims exacerbate prejudice and help
As Eric Siegel argues in a blog post for Scientific American:
Judging by way of category is the epitome of dehumanizing. It
curtails the individual's opportunities and livelihood, and contributes to what
is often a self-fulfilling, systematic cycle of disadvantage for an entire
In the early 2000s Saunders and Tsumori objected to the
term ‘social exclusion’ because the term itself implied a particular
explanation of the causes of disadvantage.
The term welfare dependency has the same problem. Regardless of the user’s
intention, it can imply a particular position on issues of causation and moral
The morally and politically charged nature of the debate
over welfare dependency is particularly challenging for bureaucrats and
government researchers who are expected to clearly separate fact and value and
avoid engaging in political controversies. Welfare dependency is not a morally
or politically neutral idea.
Appendix A—Key terms
Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)
Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was a means
tested income support program in the US that provided support to families
with children. Most of these families were single parent families. It was
replaced in the 1996 by the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
Often referred to simply as ‘welfare’, AFDC was
administered by state governments. The federal government provided partial
funding and set rules that state administrators were required to follow.
For a history of AFDC see: US Department of Health and
Human Services, ‘A Brief History of the AFDC Program’ in Aid to Families
with Dependent Children the Baseline. 
Charity Organisation Societies
The charity organisation society movement began in London
in 1869. The societies were opposed to what they saw as the indiscriminate
distribution of relief. They argued for an individually tailored approach
that relied on the society’s ‘friendly visitors’ to establish the causes of
poverty in each case and work directly with poor individuals to help them
These societies were first formed in England and spread to
other countries including Australia, Canada, the United States. They became
part of an international movement whose members shared ideas and techniques.
During this period most countries relied on private
charity as well as public assistance.
In the late 19th century social reformers associated with the charity
organisation societies argued that while handing out money, food and fuel
helped givers feel virtuous it did little to prevent poverty.
Reformers saw their job as attacking the causes of poverty
not just relieving the symptoms. As Heman Wayland put it: ‘The true charity
is that which removes the need of charity.’
Where existing charity workers were too often governed by their emotions, the
reformers argued that the new charity organisation societies would diagnose
and treat society’s problems rationally as physicians treat diseases of the
body. They sometimes referred to their approach as scientific philanthropy.
Charity organisation societies have attracted criticism
for focusing on individual rather than social and economic causes of poverty.
The term ‘dole’ is commonly used in Australia to refer to
unemployment benefits but has been used more generally to refer to handouts
(‘doles’) to people in need.
It has a long history. It was used in Australia during the
Great Depression of the 1930s to refer to unemployment relief which could be
in the form of cash, ration tickets or rations.
However the terms ‘dole’ and ‘doles’ have been used since the middle ages to
refer to the distribution of gifts, especially food or money given as
According to The Australian National Dictionary, a
dole bludger is ‘a person who exploits a system of unemployment benefits by
avoiding gainful employment.’
The term seems to be unique to Australia and entered
common use when unemployment increased during the 1970s.
Prior to the 1970s the terms dole and bludger had been used separately to
refer to unemployment relief (see ‘dole’) and people who exploited it to
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a
bludger is a ‘parasite or hanger-on; a loafer.’ It originally referred to ‘a
Neoconservatism refers to the ideas of a loose grouping of
American public intellectuals who began to influence policy debates in the
early 1970s. Early neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol and Daniel
Moynihan were focused on domestic policy issues. Later neoconservatives such
as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle were focused on foreign
policy—particularly in relation to the Iraq war. It is the the early form of
neoconservatism that is most relevant to this paper.
As with ‘neoliberal’, the term has strong negative
connotations and few of those labelled as neoconservatives would describe
themselves this way (Irving Kristol is a notable exception). Outside of the
US the term is often used so loosely it is almost meaningless.
Early neoconservatives like Kristol and Moynihan began as
supporters of progressive causes but became disillusioned in response to what
they saw as the failure of anti-poverty policies during the 1960s. American
writer and activist Michael Harrington described them as ‘disappointed
Over time, some of these thinkers became part of the American conservative
movement and were joined by others who shared their views.
At the time there were few social scientists sympathetic
to the American conservative movement. The few high-profile figures there
were tended to be economists. The neoconservatives filled a gap and attracted
funds from business.
They gave conservatives access to credible arguments against progressive
policies. According to Cas Mudde:
Unlike traditional conservatives, the neoconservative based
their critiques on solid social science and emphasized the unintended
consequences of state policies. They believed in the importance of ideas for
politics and preferred a career as an intellectual over that of a politician.
A key element of their ideology has been the importance of virtue, heavily
influenced by the work on Victorian England by historian Gertrude Himmelfarb
(Kristol’s wife). According to the neoconservatives, virtue underlies both
democracy and the market and should be protected and encouraged by the state.
The term neoliberalism has been described by some scholars
as ‘a conceptual trash heap’.
However, since the 1990s it has become widely used. It is used in a number of
Neoliberalism as a polemical term
Neoliberalism is often used as a polemical term. Most
people accused of being neoliberals or supporters of neoliberalism would not
describe themselves this way.
In its polemical sense it can refer to a set of policies
as well an ideology or theoretical approach that justifies them. For example,
according to US communications researcher Robert McChesney, neoliberalism:
refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative
handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of
social life in order to maximize their personal profit.
Some of those who use neoliberalism to refer to policies
and processes argue that neoliberal practice is often at odds with neoliberal
ideology. For example, French sociologist Loïc Wacquant argues that while
neoliberal economists claim to support free markets and small government:
The problem is that it captures the ideology of
neoliberalism, not its reality. The comparative sociology of actually
existing neoliberalism reveals that it involves everywhere the building … of
a Centaur-state, liberal at the top and paternalistic at the bottom. Then
neoliberal Leviathan practices laissez faire et laissez passer toward
corporations and the upper class, at the level of the causes of inequality.
But it is fiercely interventionist and authoritarian when it comes to dealing
with the destructive consequences of economic deregulation for those at the
lower end of the class and status spectrum.
Neoliberalism as a political philosophy
Another approach is to treat neoliberalism as a
political philosophy—a form of classical liberalism that has been reshaped by
economic theory. For example, Rachel Turner defines neoliberalism by four
stress on the importance of the market order as an indispensable mechanism
for efficiently allocating resources and safeguarding individual freedom’
commitment to the rule of law
for private property.
According to Turner:
Neo-liberalism has modified the principles of pure laissez-faire
so as to afford the state the primary responsibilities of securing law and
order, providing public goods and preserving the constitutional rules that
safeguard the market order. What neo-liberals object to is an all-embracing
corporate state of the kind found in Western societies in the post-war era.
For instance, they do not deny the need for the existence of some form of welfare
system, but they insist that a distinction has to be made between an
institutional welfare state and a residual system of provision.
Writers who focus on neoliberal ideas generally
distinguish between various schools of thought within neoliberalism. For
example, French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault distinguished
between German neoliberalism (ordoliberalism) and American neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism as a new version of American liberalism
The most confusing use of the term neoliberalism
originated in the US during the 1980s. It referred to a new version of
American liberalism—the political tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, John F
Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It was a precursor to the Third Way politics of
This use of the term emerged independently of other uses
and was taken up by journalists rather than academics. It was coined as part
of an effort to reinvent America’s left-of-centre political tradition and
revive the fortunes of the Democratic Party. As journalist Charles Peters
explained in an article titled ‘A neoliberal’s manifesto’:
We still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance
for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out. But we no
longer automatically favour unions and big government or oppose the military
and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we have come
to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative.
This neoliberalism was identified with figures such as
Robert Reich and Paul Tsongas and magazines such as the New Republic
and the Washington Monthly.
Because many of these reinvented liberals advocated
smaller government and freer markets, some writers would later identify them
with neoliberalism in the polemical sense.
The English poor law was a system for relieving poverty
that emerged in the 16th century, was significantly reformed in 1834 and
finally abolished in 1948. It was administered by local authorities.
Poor law institutions were built around the idea that providing
support could encourage problems such as idleness. In his 1848 book, Principles
of Political Economy, the philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote:
… in all cases of helping, there are two sets of
consequences to be considered; the consequences of the assistance, and the
consequences of relying on the assistance. The former are generally
beneficial, but the latter, for the most part, injurious; so much so, in many
cases, as greatly to outweigh the value of the benefit.
The same argument was made by Thomas Fowle, a clergyman
and social reformer. In his 1881 book he cites Mill’s argument and goes on to
list some of the problems caused by guarantees of support. These include
encouraging idleness, encouraging selfishness from friends and relatives, and
interfering with trade. He concludes: ‘If, then, the first great object of
Poor Law legislation be the provision of relief for the destitute, we may
properly describe the second object as the prevention of the evils and abuses
that flow from the first.’ 
The reforms of 1834 were aimed at preventing ‘evils and
abuses’ reformers believed unconditional support might encourage. The reformed
system was known as the ‘new poor law’. In an effort to deter claimants from
seeking support when they were able to work, the new law required applicants
to leave their homes and enter a workhouse. This was known as ‘indoor
Poor relief refers to financial or in-kind assistance
given to people in poverty by charities or government.
Government run social insurance schemes provide protection
from loss of income due to conditions such as unemployment, sickness,
disability and old age. Social insurance schemes are (at least partly) funded
by contributions from individual workers and employers.
Unlike welfare or poor relief, under social insurance
schemes only those with the required contribution history are entitled to
claim benefits. Benefits are not means tested. 
War on Poverty
In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon
Johnson declared ‘unconditional war on poverty in America’.
The War on Poverty’s programs were created by the Economic Opportunity Act of
Most of the Johnson administration’s anti-poverty efforts
focused on areas such as health, education, training, and employment rather
than on income support. Johnson argued that:
Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of
poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our
fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of
education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of
decent communities in which to live and bring up their children. 
Gareth Davies provides a discussion of the thinking behind
the War on Poverty in his article titled ‘War on Dependency: Liberal
Individualism and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964’. 
. P Whiteford,
‘Social security since Henderson’, in P Saunders (ed), Revisiting Henderson
: poverty, social security and basic income, Melbourne University Press,
Melbourne, 2019, p. 99. As Whiteford shows, the proportion of the working age
populations receiving an income support payment had increased significantly
from 1976 when it was around 10 per cent.
. According to
US academic Robert Entman: ‘To frame is to select some aspects of a
perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a
way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral
evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described’
(emphasis in original). R Entman, ‘Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured
paradigm’, Journal of Communication 43(4), 1993.
During the 1970s increasing numbers of people
receiving unemployment benefits was sometimes framed as the problem of ‘dole
bludgers’. As explained later in this paper, this is a different idea to
welfare dependency. See also Appendix A—key terms.
. C Murray, ‘Losing
Ground two years later’, Cato Journal, 6(1), 1986, pp. 19–29.
. For an account
of this debate in Australia see: P Mendes, Australia’s welfare wars: the
players, the politics and the ideologies, 3rd edition), UNSW Press Sydney,
Albert Hirschman referred to this as the ‘perversity thesis’. See A Hirschman, The
rhetoric of reaction: perversity, futility, jeopardy, Belknap Press, Cambridge,
. B O’Connor, ‘The
intellectual origins of ‘welfare dependency’’, Australian Journal of
Social Issues, 36(3), 2001, pp. 221–236; A Deacon, ‘Learning
from the US? The influence of American ideas upon ‘new labour’ thinking on
welfare reform’, Policy and Politics, 28(1), 2000, pp. 5–18.
Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), Annual
Report 1998–99, AIFS, Melbourne, 1999, p. 23.
. J Newman, The
challenge of welfare dependency in the 21st century, Department of
Family and Community Services, Canberra, 1999.
. D Tehan, ‘Committees:
Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence: Appointment’,
House of Representatives, Debates, 24 May 2018, p. 4546.
. L D’Limi, ‘Gen
Z need to start working’, West Australian, 24 August, 2020.
. P Henman and J
dependency? A critical analysis of changes in welfare recipient numbers’, Australian
Journal of Social Issues, 37(3), 2002, pp. 315–335; R Penman, ‘Psychosocial
factors and intergenerational transmission of welfare dependency: a review of
the literature’, Australian
Social Policy 2006, 2007, pp. 85–107.
. P Travers,
‘Welfare dependency, welfare poverty and welfare labels’, Social Security
Journal, 2, 1998, pp. 117–128.
. In 2005 Pearson
argued that Indigenous communities like those in Cape York should be able to
opt out of mainstream income support arrangements and undertake their own
reforms. See N Pearson, Welfare reform
and economic development for Indigenous communities, Centre for
Independency Studies (CIS), 2005, pp. 10–11.
Pearson is familiar with US debates over
welfare dependency and has referred to the work of US thinkers like Daniel
Patrick Moynihan. For example, see N Pearson, ‘Hunt
for the radical centre’, The Australian, 22 October 2016.
. D Ellwood,
‘Understanding dependency’, in M Bane and D Ellwood, eds, Welfare
realities: from rhetoric to reform, Harvard University Press, Cambridge
Massachusetts, 1994, pp. 67–68.
. In the UK
before 2005 marriage registers used the terms bachelor and spinster to refer to
men and women who had never been married. Office of National Statistics, ‘User
guide to marriage statistics’, web page, last revised 14 April 2020. For a
discussion of the connotations of the term spinster see R Lakoff, ‘Language and
woman’s place’, Language in Society, 2(1), 1973, pp. 45–80; M
Strauss-Noll, ‘An illustration of sex bias in English’, Women’s Studies
Quarterly, 12(1), 1984, pp. 36–37.
. Oxford English
n’, Oxford University Press, Oxford (online).
founding father Thomas Jefferson is an example. Argentinian academic Claudio
Katz argues that Jefferson began the ‘tradition of social criticism that saw
individuals permanently forced to sell their labor almost as unfree as chattel
slaves’. See C Katz, ‘Thomas
Jefferson's liberal anticapitalism’, American Journal of Political
Science, 47(1), 2003.
. G Orwell, The
lion and the unicorn: socialism and the English genius, The Orwell
Foundation, website, (essay published in 1941).
. P Saunders, ‘Chasing
our tails? When should governments lead rather than follow social trends?’,
Bert Kelly Lecture for the Centre for Independent Studies, 6, 2000. Saunders
was research manager at AIFS in 1999–2000.
. I Kristol,
‘Human nature and social reform’, in The neoconservative persuasion:
selected essays 1942–2009, Basic Books, New York, 2011; I Kristol, ‘A
conservative welfare state’, Wall Street Journal, 14 June 1993.
. N Fraser and L
Gordon, ‘A genealogy of dependency: tracing a keyword of the U.S. welfare
state’, Signs, 19(2), 1994, pp. 309–336. Fraser and Gordon identify four
‘registers of meaning’: economic, sociolegal status, political and
. H Perlman, ‘Are
we creating dependency?’ Social Service Review, 34(3), 1960, pp.
. S Goodwin and K
Huppatz, The good mother: contemporary motherhoods in Australia, Sydney
University Press, Sydney, 2010, pp. 134–135. None of these writers, Perlman,
Goodwin or Huppatz are endorsing the conflation of economic and psychological
. M Baalman, Evidence
to House of Representatives Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare
Dependence, 21 November 2018, pp. 10–11.
. K Andrews, Evidence
to House of Representatives Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare
Dependence, 21 November 2018, pp. 11–12.
. D Shalala,
‘Foreword’, in Indicators
of welfare dependence: annual report to Congress, 1997, US Department
of Health and Human Services, Washington DC, 1997.
. US Department
of Health and Human Services, Indicators of welfare
dependence and well-being interim report to Congress, October 1996, p.
. N Fraser and L
Gordon, op. cit. According to the Oxford English Dictionary online, the
dates back to the 1500s.
. A Furnham, Lay
theories: everyday understanding of problems in the social sciences,
Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1988, pp. 5–6.
. An exception to
this is economist James Heckman’s treatment of habits such as perseverance as
‘character skills’, a form of human capital. J Heckman and T Kautz, ‘Fostering
and measuring skills: interventions that improve character and cognition’,
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 19656, November 2013.
. J Wilson, ‘The
rediscovery of character: private virtue and public policy’, The Public
Interest 81, 1985, pp. 3-16.
. J Wilson,
‘Character versus intellect: habits of the heart’, in J Wilson, On
character: essays, American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC, 1995, p.
. J Wilson, ‘The
rediscovery of character: private virtue and public policy’, op. cit.
. J Wilson,
‘Character versus intellect: habits of the heart’, in J Wilson, op. cit., p.
. D Ross, The
Nicomachean ethics Of Aristotle, Oxford University Press, London, 1966,
. D Besharov and
K Gardiner, ‘Paternalism
and welfare reform’, The Public Interest, 122, 1996, 70–84.
. Mead’s ideas
are discussed in more detail below.
. The history of
and eligibility criteria for AFDC are explained in more detail below.
. Searching databases
of newspaper articles and other documents gives a rough idea of when the term
entered common use in Australia.
A search for ‘welfare dependency’ in the
National Library of Australia’s Trove database of digitised newspapers shows
one article published in 1970–79, 10 in 1980–89 and 26 in 1990–1999. The
earliest article in the database was published in 1977, see S Duncan, ‘The alarming facts on teenage
pregnancy: Australia must learn from America’s mistake’, The Australian
Women’s Weekly, 21 September 1977, pp. 4–5.
The earliest newspaper article in the
Australian Parliament’s Parlinfo database of newspaper clippings which contains
the term ‘welfare dependency’ is from 1976. This is the only article from the
1970s. The article cites US reports on teenage pregnancies. See N Dexter, ‘Misguided
cuts cause misery for the young’, The Age, 3 April 1976. Parlinfo
has 41 newspaper articles from the 1980s and 437 in the 1990s. The number of
articles continues to increase through the 2000s and 2010s. The two single
years with the highest number of articles are 1999 (220) and 2000 (179). 1999
was the year the Minister for Family and Community Services announced a review
on welfare reform. See J Newman (Minister for Family and Community Services), The
future of welfare in the 21st Century: speech at the National Press Club,
29 September 1999.
. B Engels, ‘Old
problem, new label: reconstructing the problem of welfare dependency in
Australian social policy discourse’, Just Policy, 41, 2006, pp.
. B Steensland, The
failed welfare revolution: America's struggle over guaranteed income policy,
Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2018.
. Google Ngram
Viewer allows users to generate graphs showing the frequency share of words or
phrases in the Google Books corpus. For more information see What does the Ngram Viewer do?
Google Books Ngram Viewer website.
. L Trilling, The
liberal imagination: essays on literature and society, Secker and Warburg,
London, 1951, p. ix.
. J Piereson, Shattered
consensus: the rise and decline of America’s postwar political order,
Encounter Books, New York, 2016, p. 176.
. B Steensland, op.
cit., p. 87.
. M Friedman, ‘The
case for the negative income tax: a view from the right’, in Proceedings
of the National Symposium on Guaranteed Income, December 9, 1966, US
Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC, pp. 49-55.
. B Steensland, op.
cit., p. 31.
. L Mead, Beyond
entitlement, The Free Press, New York, 1986. Chapter 5, ‘The work issue
defeats welfare reform.’ President Nixon was concerned about this issue.
According to the diaries of his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, the President
wanted his staff to stress ‘we're going for welfare reform and for harder work
requirements, etcetera, not for the expansion of welfare, which is what it
looks like now.’ See H Haldeman, H.
R. Haldeman Diaries Collection, January 18, 1969 – April 30, 1973, Richard
Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA, 13 May 1971.
. J Piereson, op.
cit., p. 186.
. Olasky is often
credited with inspiring President George W Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism’
approach to disadvantage. See G Vyse, ‘"Compassionate
conservatism” won’t be back anytime soon’, New Republic, 31 March
. Charles Murray
is usually considered a libertarian. However, he manages to combine a
libertarian approach to the size and scope of government with conservative
approach to the analysis of social problems. For example, see C Murray, Capitalism
and virtue: reaffirming old truths, CIS Occasional Paper, 130, CIS, St
. For example,
see D Stedman Jones, Masters of the universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the birth
of neoliberal politics, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2012.
. For example,
see J Smyth, ‘Thomas
Chalmers, the 'godly commonwealth', and contemporary welfare reform in Britain
and the USA’, The Historical Journal, 57(3), 2014.
. For example,
see C Ellwood, Sociology
and modern social problems, American Book Company, New York, 1910, p.
. F Roosevelt, ‘Annual message to Congress’,
4 January 1935, The American Presidency Project website,.
. G Himmelfarb,
‘Comment’, in A Gutmann (ed), Work and Welfare, Princeton
University Press, 1998, p. 79.
. D Moynihan, Daniel
Patrick Moynihan: a portrait in letters of an American visionary (S Weisman
ed), Public Affairs, New York, 2010, pp. 169–170.
. Ibid., p. 170.
. Ibid., p. 181.
. The document
Moynihan quoted was O Oldschool (ed), The Port Folio, 3(6), June 1817,
. I Kristol, ‘Welfare:
the best of intentions, the worst of results’, Atlantic Monthly,
228, August 1971.
. G Himmelfarb, ‘Beyond
social policy: Re-moralizing America’, Wall Street Journal, 7
. M Olasky, The
tragedy of American compassion, Crossway, Wheeton, 2008, pp. 18–20.
. R Haskins, Work
over welfare: the inside story of the 1996 welfare reform law
[Kindle edition], Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC, 2006, location
. G Himmelfarb, ‘Welfare
as a moral problem’, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 19(3),
1996, pp. 685–694.
. For example,
see M Walsh, ‘Budget
response leaves Labor lost’, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 1996;
A Horin, ‘Welfare
reform US-style with a sting in the tail’, Sydney Morning Herald, 1
November 1997; T Wren, ‘Lessons
of US welfare reform’, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 September 1997; B
debt to society’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February 1999; R
reform creates work’, Australian Financial Review, 3 February 1999;
J Hewett, ‘Harsh,
medicine for America’s unemployed’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3
. H Jackson, ‘Pauperism—its nature, causes, and
remedies’, Proceedings of the First Australasian Conference on Charity,
11–17 November 1890, p. 36. [Trove]
. R Hunter, Poverty,
Macmillan, New York, 1905, pp. 68–69.
. Ibid., p. 46.
. J St Loe
Strachey, ‘Introduction’, in The
manufacture of paupers, John Murray, London, 1906, p. 9.
. J Galper, ‘The
Speenhamland scales: political social, or economic disaster?’, Social
Service Review, 44(1), 1970, pp.54–62.
. D Gordon and P
Spicker (eds), The International glossary on poverty, Zed Books, London,
1999, pp. 123–124.
. G Pinckard, Suggestions
for restoring the moral character and the industrious habits of the poor: also,
for establishing district work-farms in place of parish work-houses, and for
reducing the poor-rates, Roake and Varty, London, 1835, p. 2.
. J St Loe
Strachey, op. cit., p. 6.
. J Shaw Lowell, Public
relief and private charity, GP Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1884, p. 90.
. Ibid., pp.
. Ibid., p. 101.
. R Hunter, op.
cit., pp. 67–68.
. For example,
see Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, Report of the Royal
Commission on the Poor Laws and relief of distress, Vol 1. His
Majesty’s Stationary Office, London, 1909, p. 459.
. For example,
see S Maiden, ‘Welfare
addiction costing millions’, Sunday Tasmanian, 18 September 2016.
. F Almy, ‘Alms,
charity, and substitutes for charity’, Charities, 5(7), 14 July
1900, p. 7. [pp. 96–98, pdf]
. J Shaw Lowell,
op. cit., p. 66.
. F Almy, op.
cit., p. 6. [p. 97, pdf]
. E Tufnell,
‘Report on the education of pauper children’, in Poor Law Board (Great
of the Poor Law Commissioners to the most noble the Marquis of Normanby, Her
Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department: on the
continuance of the Poor Law Commission, and on some further amendments of the
laws relating to the relief of the poor: with appendices, Clowes and
Sons, London, 1840, p. 114.
. S Gurteen, How
paupers are made: an address on the prevention of pauperism, Charity
Organization Society of Chicago, Chicago, 1883, p. 5.
. R Dugdale, The
Jukes: a study in crime, pauperism, disease and heredity, 4th edn, G P
Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1888; O McCulloch, The tribe of
Ishmael: a study in social degradation, 4th
edn, Charity Organization Society, Indianapolis, 1891.
. R Ely, ‘Pauperism in the United States’,
The North American Review, 152(413), 1891, pp. 395–409.
. E Carlson, ‘Commentary: R. L. Dugdale and the
Jukes family: a historical injustice corrected’, BioScience, 30(8),
1980, pp. 535–539; D Jordan, Footnotes
to evolution : a series of popular addresses on the evolution of life,
D Appleton and Company, New York, 1898, p. 311.
. N Ware, Notes
on political economy, as applicable to the United States, Leavitt, Trow
and Co, New York, 1844, p. 195.
. A de
de Tocqueville’s memoir on pauperism (S Drescher translator) Civitas,
London, 1997, p. 32.
. For example,
the Fabian socialist writers Sidney and Beatrice Webb described pauperism as
‘evil parasitism’. See S Webb and B Webb, English
poor law policy, Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1910, p. 289.
. O McCulloch,
op. cit., p. 1.
. C Davenport, Heredity
in relation to eugenics, Henry Holt and Company, New York, p. 234.
. T Robie, ‘Towards
race betterment’, Birth Control Review, 17(4), 1933, pp. 93–95.
. C Ellwood, Sociology
and modern social problems, American Book Company, New York, 1910, p.
. T Leonard, ‘Retrospectives:
eugenics and economics in the progressive era’, Journal of Economic
Perspectives, 19(4), 2005, pp. 207–224.
. R Bremner, From
the depths: the discovery of poverty in the United States, New York
University Press, New York, 1956, p. 134.
. A Warner, American
charities (revised by M Roberts Coolidge), Thomas Y Crowell Company,
New York, 1919, pp. 135–36.
. R Bremner, op.
cit., p. 128.
American academic Sylvia Law noted in 1997: ‘in common parlance “welfare” no
longer encompasses all forms of government aid, but rather refers exclusively
to aid provided to poor families through Aid to Families with Dependent
Children’. See S Law, ‘Ending
welfare as we know it’, Stanford Law Review, 49(2), 1997, pp.
Trattner, From poor law to welfare state: a history of social welfare in
America, 4th edn, Free Press, New York, 1989, pp. 249–275.
. L Gordon, ‘How
we got “welfare”: a history of the mistakes of the past’, Social Justice,
21(1), 1994, pp. 13–16.
. N Cauthen and E
Amenta, ‘Not for widows only:
institutional politics and the formative years of Aid to Dependent Children’,
American Sociological Review, 61(3), 1996. For statistics see: US
Department of Labor, Children Bureau, Mothers’
Aid 1931, US Government Printing Office, Washington 1933.
. J Mittelstadt, From
welfare to workfare: the unintended consequences of liberal reform, 1945-1965,
The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2005, p. 44.
. Ibid., p. 43.
. Ibid., p. 44.
to ADC’, Social Service Review, 33(4), 1959, pp. 447–449.
. F Perkins (US
Secretary of Labor), Economic
Security Act, Hearings before the Committee on Finance, United States Senate,
Seventy-fourth Congress, first session, on S. 1130, a bill to alleviate the
hazards of old age, unemployment, illness, and dependency, to establish a
social insurance board in the Department of Labor, to raise revenue, and for
other purposes, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1935,
. F Roosevelt, ‘Annual message to congress’,
The American Presidency Project, website, 4 January 1935.
. H Hopkins, ‘Aims and policies of WPA’,
Work: a journal of progress, District of Columbia Works Progress
Administration, Washington, September 1936, p. 1.
. See R Nixon, ‘Statement on Signing a Bill
Amending the Social Security Act’, Social Security Administration website,
28 December 1971; R Reagan, ‘Address before a
joint session of Congress on the State of the Union’, Ronald Reagan
Presidential Library and Museum website, 4 February 1986.
. Some social
workers such as Charlotte Towle directly challenged the idea of pauperisation.
See C Towle, ‘Common human needs in public assistance programs’, Social
Service Review, 18(4), 1944, pp. 469–477.
. L Johnson, Lyndon
B. Johnson: 1963-64 (in two books): containing the public messages, speeches,
and statements of the president. [Book 2], United States Government
Printing Office, Washington, 1965, p. 989.
. M Harrington, ‘Our
fifty million poor: forgotten men of the affluent society’, Commentary,
28(1), 1959, p. 25.
. M Harrington, The
other America: poverty in the United States, Penguin Books, Baltimore,
1968, p. 175.
. Ibid., p. 163.
. O Lewis, ‘The culture of poverty’, Scientific
American, 215(4), 1966, pp. 19–25. While Harrington created the impression
that almost all poor Americans were caught up in a culture of poverty, Lewis
applied the term more narrowly: ‘Among the 50 million US citizens now more or
less officially certified as poor, I would guess that around 20 percent live in
a culture of poverty.’
. M Harrington, The
other America, op. cit., p. 166.
. Ibid., pp.
. M Harrington,
‘The welfare state and its neoconservative critics’, Dissent, 20, 1973,
. M Isserman, The
other American: the life of Michael Harrington, Public Affairs, New
York, p. 305.
. E Banfield, The
unheavenly city revisited, Waveland Press, Prospect Heights, 1974, p. 235.
. D Moynihan, The
negro family: the case for national action, US Department of
Labor, Washington, 1965.
. D Moynihan, Daniel
Patrick Moynihan, op. cit., p. 94.
. Ibid., p. 96.
. I Garfinkel and
S McLanahan, Single mothers and their children : a new American dilemma,
The Urban Institute Press, Washington DC, 1986, p. 103.
. Ibid., p. 105.
. In 1975 Nathan
Glazer observed: ‘… the distinction between those who could not work and those
who could, which the social security design of the 1940s had assumed was neatly
drawn, has become complex and obscure, confusing and confounding all efforts to
reform the welfare system.’ See N Glazer, ‘Reform work not welfare’, in J
Dorman and L Lenkowsky (eds), When ideas mattered: a Nathan Glazer reader,
Routledge, New York, 2017, p. 164.
. According to
Brian Steensland, ‘Conservatives would not create a solid base of expertise on
social policy until the early 1970s’. B Steensland, The failed welfare
revolution, op. cit. p. 87.
. R Linke, ‘Negative
income tax, explained’, webpage, MIT Management Sloan School.
. Ibid., p. 92.
. N Glazer,
‘Reform work not welfare’, in J Dorman and L Lenkowsky (eds), op. cit., p. 166.
. S Spitzer, ‘Nixon's
New Deal: welfare reform for the silent majority’, Presidential Studies
Quarterly, 42(3), 2012, pp. 455–481.
. D Moynihan, The
politics of a guaranteed minimum income: the Nixon administration and the
Family Assistance Plan, Vintage Books, New York, 1973, p. 50.
. Later in his
career Friedman explicitly denied that he was a conservative. In an interview
on the 50th anniversary of Friedrich Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom, he
said that he and Hayek were radicals. ‘We want to get to the root of things. We
are liberals in the true meaning of that term—of and concerned with freedom.’
See M Friedman, Interview:
50th Anniversary Edition of F.A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom, Booknotes, 20
. M Friedman,
‘The alleviation of poverty’, in M Friedman, Capitalism and freedom,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002, pp. 190–195.
. M Friedman, Interview
with William F Buckley, Firing Line, The Economic Crisis, 8 January
. M Friedman, ‘The
case for the Negative Income Tax: a view from the right’, in Proceedings of
the National Symposium on Guaranteed Income, December 9, 1966, Washington, pp.
. D Moynihan, Daniel
Patrick Moynihan, op. cit., p. 236; D Moynihan, The politics of a
guaranteed minimum income, op. cit., pp. 50–51.
says recent studies raise doubts About “Negative Income Tax” proposals’, New
York Times, 16 November 1978. There is some controversy about these research
findings. See G Cain and D Wissoker, ‘A reanalyis of marital stability in
the Seattle-Denver Income-Maintenance experiment’, American Journal of
Sociology, 95(5), 1990, pp. 1235–1269.
. The interaction
of the means tests on these benefits created problems for work incentives.
Changes to the proposal attempted to deal with some of these problems through
measures such as cashing out food stamps. See B Steensland, The failed
welfare revolution, op. cit., p. 148 and p. 161.
. R Nixon, Address
to the Nation on Domestic Programs, The American Presidency Project, 8
. G Burtless, ‘The economist's lament: public
assistance in America’, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 4(1),
1990, pp. 57–78.
. M Isserman, The
other American, op. cit., p. 305.
. A Hartman, A
war for the soul of America: a history of the culture wars, 2nd edn,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2019, p. 38.
. For some
historical background on how these two groups joined the conservative movement
see L Edwards, The conservative revolution: the movement that remade America,
The Free Press, New York, 1999, pp. 193–199.
. I Kristol, ‘American
conservatism 1945-1995’, The Public Interest, 121, 1995, pp. 80–91.
. S Teles, Whose
welfare? AFDC and elite politics, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence,
1996, p. 17.
. L Mead, ‘Conflicting
worlds of welfare reform’, First Things, 75, 1997.
. M Thatcher, The
Downing Street years, HarperCollins, London, 1993, p. 627.
. T Medvetz, Think
tanks in America, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2012.
. Medvetz refers
to this as the replacement of the ‘discourse of deprivation’ with the
‘discourse of dependency.’ See T Medvetz, Think tanks in America, op.
cit., Chapter 5, ‘From deprivation to dependency’.
. R Rector, The paradox of
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