Welfare dependency: the history of an idea

4 November 2021

PDF version [692KB]

Don Arthur
Social Policy Section


Executive summary

  • Since 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 and defeatism.
  • According 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.
  • This 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.
  • The 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.
  • Debates 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.
  • The 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.
  • While 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.


Executive summary
The idea of welfare dependency

When is dependency a problem?
Two kinds of dependency

Economic dependency
Moral/Psychological dependency

Public policy and the rediscovery of character
A culture of poverty?

Welfare dependency—the history of an idea

The idea of pauperism

The destruction of character
Like an addiction
Intergenerational transmission

From pauperism to poverty

From pauperism to poverty—reframing the problem
Creating ‘welfare’
AFDC and the problem of dependency

Cultures of poverty and tangles of pathology

Poverty and opportunity
Immune to opportunity
Conservative use of the culture of poverty idea
Changing social norms

Moynihan and the Family Assistance Plan

The negative income tax

From poverty to welfare dependency

Redefining the problem
A moral problem
Behavioural poverty
Welfare as a drug
Welfare as a contaminant, toxin or disease
Intergenerational transmission
Beyond left and right?
Influence on the Australian debate

Concluding comments

Policy implications
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.[1] 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 unemployment.[2]

According to American writer, Charles Murray, welfare dependency is ‘a state of mind as much as it is an economic plight’.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7] 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 Century.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

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 century.

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.[11] Australian social work academic Peter Travers notes that the term is also ‘highly charged.’[12] 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.[13]

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 dependency

Social policy experts and bureaucrats often use the term welfare dependency in a neutral way. However, as US academics David Ellwood and Mary Jo Bane note:

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.[14]

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 to marry.[15] The term ‘welfare dependency’ is similar. As the Oxford English Dictionary notes, the term usually comes with negative connotations.[16] Some of these connotations relate to the reasons a person is receiving income support rather than working.

When is 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 subsistence.[17]

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 community.

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.[18] 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.’[19]

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.[20]

Two kinds of dependency

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.’[21]

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.’[22] 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.[23]

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. [24] 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.[25]

Economic dependency

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 activities.[26] 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.[27]

Moral/psychological dependency

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 charity.’[28]

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 situational factors.[29] 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).[30]

Public 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.’[31] 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’.[32]

According to Wilson, solving public problems such as crime and welfare dependency was about encouraging people to act virtuously.[33] 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.[34]

As Wilson notes, this way of thinking goes back to Aristotle who argued that: ‘legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them.’ [35]

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.[36]

A culture of poverty?

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.[37]

Welfare dependency—the 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 single mothers.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40]

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.[41]

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

Graph 1. Word frequency shares of ‘welfare dependency’ in English language Google books corpus, 1955–2019 

Source: Google Ngram Viewer[42]

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.’[43]

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.’[44]

This focus on economic issues left conservative administrations with few experts on poverty and income support policy outside of the bureaucracy.[45] 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.[46] The policy experts behind the Nixon administration’s FAP were influenced by Friedman’s proposal.[47]

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.[48]

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.[49] 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.[50] 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 both perspectives.[51]

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.[52] 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 idea—pauperism.[53] 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 economists.

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.[54] 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’.[55]

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.[56]

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 break down.[57]

Moynihan argued that the problem was ‘more a moral and cultural crisis than a material one.’[58] 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 …’.[59] 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.[60]

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.[61]

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.’[62]

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.[63]

As Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution noted in his 2006 book Work Over Welfare, Republican members of Congress embraced 19th century thinking:

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.[64]

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’.[65]

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.[66]

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.’[67]

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.[68]

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.[69]

The 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 destroyed.[70]

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.[71] The system made up for inadequate wages by paying allowances based on the price of bread and the size of the labourer’s family.[72] 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.[73]

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 ‘self-sacrifice’.[74]

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.[75]

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’.[76] 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.[77]

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.[78]

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.[79]

Like an addiction

It is common for commentators today to talk about ‘welfare addiction’.[80] 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.[81]


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’.[82] 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 goes.[83]

Almy likened effective charity to building regulations that prevent fires from spreading and argued that prevention was better than cure.

Intergenerational transmission

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.[84]

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.[85]

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.[86]

According to these studies, environment and heredity combined to produce generations of paupers, criminals and prostitutes marked by weakened ‘physical, mental, and moral constitutions.’[87] 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.[88]


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.[89]

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.[90]

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was common to describe reliance on public relief or charity as a form of parasitism.[91] 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, or pauperism.[92]


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.[93]

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.[94]

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’.[95]

Eugenic approaches to pauperism eventually became discredited by developments in science and also as a result of the association with Nazism in Germany.[96]

From 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.

From 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 relief:

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.[97]

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.’[98]

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.[99]

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.

Creating ‘welfare’

When Americans spoke about welfare in the 1980s and 1990s they usually meant the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.[100] 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.[101]

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 Gordon writes:

… 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.[102]

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.[103] 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.[104] 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’ contributions.[105]

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.[106]

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.’[107]

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.’ [108]

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 workers.[109]

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.’[110]

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 reform.[111]

Cultures of 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.[112]

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 age.

Poverty and opportunity

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.[113]

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.’ [114] The ideal was to make means tested income support unnecessary.

Immune to opportunity

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.[115] In his 1962 book The Other America: Poverty in the United States, he wrote:

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.[116]

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.’[117]

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’.[118] Lewis also argued that a ‘relief system that barely keeps people alive perpetuates rather than eliminates poverty and the pervading sense of hopelessness’.[119]

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.[120] Harrington supported the push for civil rights legislation and argued that the welfare state needed to expand to include the most disadvantaged Americans.[121] He would later argue that Johnson’s War on Poverty had done far too little to improve the lives of poor Americans.[122]

Conservative 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 of opportunity.[123]

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 different problems.

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.[124]

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.’[125] 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.[126]

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.’[127]

Changing social norms

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.[128]

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.[129]

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 ‘unemployable’.[130] 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.

Moynihan and 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 ones.[131] 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 Plan proposal.

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.[132]

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.[133]

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’.[134] 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.[135]

The negative income tax

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.[136] Friedman was an economic liberal rather than a conservative[137]and 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.[138]

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.[139]

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’ behaviour.[140]

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 incomes.[141]

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’.[142] 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.[143]

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.[144] It would also have funded job training and job placement programs and included work requirements.[145]

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. [146]

He noted that ‘the negative income tax has had only one major constituency—economists.’ [147]

From poverty to welfare dependency

Up until the 1970s, economists and philosophers dominated the intellectual right in America.[148] 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.[149] They were joined by Christian conservatives who were more focused on social than economic issues.[150] 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.[151]

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 American citizens.[152]

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.[153]

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.’[154]

Think tanks were a major vehicle for ideas on welfare reform and the number of these increased during the 1970s and 80s.[155]

Redefining the problem

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.[156]

Some think tank researchers labelled the problem ‘behavioural poverty’ and pointed to reliance on welfare as the cause.[157] 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.[158]

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’.[159]

A moral problem

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.[160]

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.[161]

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 opportunity.[162]

Behavioural 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.[163]

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.’ [164] For Heckman character refers to non-cognitive skills such as self-control, perseverance (‘grit’) and resilience to adversity.[165]

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’.[166] 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 personal responsibility.[167]

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’.[168]

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.[169]

Welfare as a drug

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’.[170]

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 social welfare’.[171]

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 standards.

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 themselves.[172]

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.’[173]

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.’[174]

Intergenerational transmission

As in the 19th century, more recent critics of the income support system argue that welfare dependency is transmitted from parents to children.[175] 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 about causation.

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. [176]

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.[177]

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.’[178]

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.[179]

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.’[180]

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.’[181]

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.’[182]

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.’[183]

Beyond left and right?

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.[184] 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.[185]

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 profound kind.’[186]

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’.[187]

Influence on 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 …[188]

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.[189] 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.[190]

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.’[191]

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.[192] 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.’[193] Opinion columnist Paddy McGuinness agreed commenting: ‘we are an intellectual backwater, stuck in the past’.[194]

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.[195] Mead’s work also featured in a book released by AIFS in 2000 titled Reforming the Australian Welfare State. [196] Mead’s paper was titled ‘Welfare reform and the family: lessons from America’.

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.’[197]

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.[198] 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.[199]

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.[200] 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.[201]

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.[202] Australia is now part of an international conversation about income support policy.

Concluding comments

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.[203]

Policy implications

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.’[204] However, he claims that barriers to work influence how much people earn if they work, not whether they work.[205]

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’.[206] 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.[207]

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 pauperism.[208]

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 he said:

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.[209]

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 governments.[210] The sweeping nature of these reforms meant that welfare reform was no longer such a prominent issue in the US.

The problem 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 individual fault.’[211]

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 support.[212]

Similarly, academic Elise Klein argues that terms like welfare dependency ‘brand unemployment as a failure of the individual, not the economy.’[213] For some readers, the term evokes a cluster of ideas including ideas about causation.

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.[214]

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.[215] Critics of this claim argue that these claims exacerbate prejudice and help perpetuate disadvantage.[216] 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 group.[217]

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.[218] 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 responsibility.

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

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) program.

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. [219]

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 overcome 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.[220] 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.[221]

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.’[222] 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.[223]

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.[224] 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 charity.[225]

Dole bludger

According to The Australian National Dictionary, a dole bludger is ‘a person who exploits a system of unemployment benefits by avoiding gainful employment.’[226]

The term seems to be unique to Australia and entered common use when unemployment increased during the 1970s.[227] 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 avoid work.[228]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a bludger is a ‘parasite or hanger-on; a loafer.’ It originally referred to ‘a prostitute’s pimp’.[229]


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.[230]

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 liberals’.[231] 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.[232] 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.[233]



The term neoliberalism has been described by some scholars as ‘a conceptual trash heap’.[234] However, since the 1990s it has become widely used. It is used in a number of difference senses.[235]

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.[236]

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.[237]

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 generic principles:

  • ‘a stress on the importance of the market order as an indispensable mechanism for efficiently allocating resources and safeguarding individual freedom’
  • a commitment to the rule of law
  • minimal state intervention
  • support for private property.[238]

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.[239]

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.[240]

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 Bill Clinton.

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.[241]

This neoliberalism was identified with figures such as Robert Reich and Paul Tsongas and magazines such as the New Republic and the Washington Monthly.[242]

Because many of these reinvented liberals advocated smaller government and freer markets, some writers would later identify them with neoliberalism in the polemical sense.

Poor law

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.[243]

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.’ [244]

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 relief.’ [245]

Poor relief

Poor relief refers to financial or in-kind assistance given to people in poverty by charities or government.

Social insurance

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. [246]

War on Poverty

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared ‘unconditional war on poverty in America’.[247] The War on Poverty’s programs were created by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

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. [248]

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’. [249]

[1].    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.

[2].    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.

[3].    C Murray, ‘Losing Ground two years later’, Cato Journal, 6(1), 1986, pp. 19–29.

[4].    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, 2017.

[5].    Economist Albert Hirschman referred to this as the ‘perversity thesis’. See A Hirschman, The rhetoric of reaction: perversity, futility, jeopardy, Belknap Press, Cambridge, 1991.

[6].    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.

[7].    Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), Annual Report 1998–99, AIFS, Melbourne, 1999, p. 23.

[8].    J Newman, The challenge of welfare dependency in the 21st century, Department of Family and Community Services, Canberra, 1999.

[9].    D Tehan, ‘Committees: Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence: Appointment’, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 May 2018, p. 4546.

[10]. L D’Limi, ‘Gen Z need to start working’, West Australian, 24 August, 2020.

[11]. P Henman and J Perry, ‘Welfare 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.

[12]. P Travers, ‘Welfare dependency, welfare poverty and welfare labels’, Social Security Journal, 2, 1998, pp. 117–128.

[13]. 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.

[14]. 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.

[15]. 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.

[16]. Oxford English Dictionary, ‘Welfare, n’, Oxford University Press, Oxford (online).

[17]. American 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.

[18]. G Orwell, The lion and the unicorn: socialism and the English genius, The Orwell Foundation, website, (essay published in 1941).

[19]. 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.

[20]. 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.

[21]. 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 moral/psychological.

[22]. H Perlman, ‘Are we creating dependency?’ Social Service Review, 34(3), 1960, pp. 323–333.

[23]. 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 dependency.

[24]. M Baalman, Evidence to House of Representatives Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence, 21 November 2018, pp. 10­–11.

[25]. K Andrews, Evidence to House of Representatives Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence, 21 November 2018, pp. 11–12.

[26]. D Shalala, ‘Foreword’, in Indicators of welfare dependence: annual report to Congress, 1997, US Department of Health and Human Services, Washington DC, 1997.

[27]. US Department of Health and Human Services, Indicators of welfare dependence and well-being interim report to Congress, October 1996, p. 21.

[28]. N Fraser and L Gordon, op. cit. According to the Oxford English Dictionary online, the term ‘pauper’ dates back to the 1500s.

[29]. A Furnham, Lay theories: everyday understanding of problems in the social sciences, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1988, pp. 5–6.

[30]. 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.

[31]. J Wilson, ‘The rediscovery of character: private virtue and public policy’, The Public Interest 81, 1985, pp. 3-16.

[32]. J Wilson, ‘Character versus intellect: habits of the heart’, in J Wilson, On character: essays, American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC, 1995, p. 112.

[33]. J Wilson, ‘The rediscovery of character: private virtue and public policy’, op. cit.

[34]. J Wilson, ‘Character versus intellect: habits of the heart’, in J Wilson, op. cit., p. 108.

[35]. D Ross, The Nicomachean ethics Of Aristotle, Oxford University Press, London, 1966, p. 29.

[36]. D Besharov and K Gardiner, ‘Paternalism and welfare reform’, The Public Interest, 122, 1996, 70–84.

[37]. Mead’s ideas are discussed in more detail below.

[38]. The history of and eligibility criteria for AFDC are explained in more detail below.

[39]. 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.

[40]. B Engels, ‘Old problem, new label: reconstructing the problem of welfare dependency in Australian social policy discourse’, Just Policy, 41, 2006, pp. 5–14.

[41]. B Steensland, The failed welfare revolution: America's struggle over guaranteed income policy, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2018.

[42]. 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.

[43]. L Trilling, The liberal imagination: essays on literature and society, Secker and Warburg, London, 1951, p. ix.

[44]. J Piereson, Shattered consensus: the rise and decline of America’s postwar political order, Encounter Books, New York, 2016, p. 176.

[45]. B Steensland, op. cit., p. 87.

[46]. 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.

[47]. B Steensland, op. cit., p. 31.

[48]. 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.

[49]. J Piereson, op. cit., p. 186.

[50]. 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 2018.

[51]. 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 Leonards, 2012.

[52]. For example, see D Stedman Jones, Masters of the universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the birth of neoliberal politics, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2012.

[53]. 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.

[54]. For example, see C Ellwood, Sociology and modern social problems, American Book Company, New York, 1910, p. 242.

[55]. F Roosevelt, ‘Annual message to Congress’, 4 January 1935, The American Presidency Project website,.

[56]. G Himmelfarb, ‘Comment’, in A Gutmann (ed), Work and Welfare, Princeton University Press, 1998, p. 79.

[57]. D Moynihan, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: a portrait in letters of an American visionary (S Weisman ed), Public Affairs, New York, 2010, pp. 169–170.

[58]. Ibid., p. 170.

[59]. Ibid., p. 181.

[60]. The document Moynihan quoted was O Oldschool (ed), The Port Folio, 3(6), June 1817, p. 505.

[61]. I Kristol, ‘Welfare: the best of intentions, the worst of results’, Atlantic Monthly, 228, August 1971.

[62]. G Himmelfarb, ‘Beyond social policy: Re-moralizing America’, Wall Street Journal, 7 February 1995.

[63]. M Olasky, The tragedy of American compassion, Crossway, Wheeton, 2008, pp. 18–20.

[64]. R Haskins, Work over welfare: the inside story of the 1996 welfare reform law [Kindle edition], Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC, 2006, location 245–246.

[65]. G Himmelfarb, ‘Welfare as a moral problem’, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 19(3), 1996, pp. 685–694.

[66]. 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 Arndt, ‘A debt to society’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February 1999; R Haskins, ‘Welfare reform creates work’, Australian Financial Review, 3 February 1999; J Hewett, ‘Harsh, medicine for America’s unemployed’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February 1999.

[67]. H Jackson, ‘Pauperism—its nature, causes, and remedies’, Proceedings of the First Australasian Conference on Charity, 11–17 November 1890, p. 36. [Trove]

[68]. R Hunter, Poverty, Macmillan, New York, 1905, pp. 68–69.

[69]. Ibid., p. 46.

[70]. J St Loe Strachey, ‘Introduction’, in The manufacture of paupers, John Murray, London, 1906, p. 9.

[71]. J Galper, ‘The Speenhamland scales: political social, or economic disaster?’, Social Service Review, 44(1), 1970, pp.54–62.

[72]. D Gordon and P Spicker (eds), The International glossary on poverty, Zed Books, London, 1999, pp. 123–124.

[73]. 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.

[74]. J St Loe Strachey, op. cit., p. 6.

[75]. J Shaw Lowell, Public relief and private charity, GP Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1884, p. 90.

[76]. Ibid., pp. 91–92.

[77]. Ibid., p. 101.

[78]. R Hunter, op. cit., pp. 67–68.

[79]. 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.

[80]. For example, see S Maiden, ‘Welfare addiction costing millions’, Sunday Tasmanian, 18 September 2016.

[81]. F Almy, ‘Alms, charity, and substitutes for charity’, Charities, 5(7), 14 July 1900, p. 7. [pp. 96–98, pdf]

[82]. J Shaw Lowell, op. cit., p. 66.

[83]. F Almy, op. cit., p. 6. [p. 97, pdf]

[84]. E Tufnell, ‘Report on the education of pauper children’, in Poor Law Board (Great Britain), Report 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.

[85]. S Gurteen, How paupers are made: an address on the prevention of pauperism, Charity Organization Society of Chicago, Chicago, 1883, p. 5.

[86]. 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.

[87]. R Ely, ‘Pauperism in the United States’, The North American Review, 152(413), 1891, pp. 395–409.

[88]. 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.

[89]. N Ware, Notes on political economy, as applicable to the United States, Leavitt, Trow and Co, New York, 1844, p. 195.

[90]. A de Tocqueville, Alexis de Tocqueville’s memoir on pauperism (S Drescher translator) Civitas, London, 1997, p. 32.

[91]. 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.

[92]. O McCulloch, op. cit., p. 1.

[93]. C Davenport, Heredity in relation to eugenics, Henry Holt and Company, New York, p. 234.

[94]. T Robie, ‘Towards race betterment’, Birth Control Review, 17(4), 1933, pp. 93–95.

[95]. C Ellwood, Sociology and modern social problems, American Book Company, New York, 1910, p. 261.

[96]. T Leonard, ‘Retrospectives: eugenics and economics in the progressive era’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19(4), 2005, pp. 207–224.

[97]. R Bremner, From the depths: the discovery of poverty in the United States, New York University Press, New York, 1956, p. 134.

[98]. A Warner, American charities (revised by M Roberts Coolidge), Thomas Y Crowell Company, New York, 1919, pp. 135–36.

[99]. R Bremner, op. cit., p. 128.

[100].            As 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. 471–494.

[101].            W Trattner, From poor law to welfare state: a history of social welfare in America, 4th edn, Free Press, New York, 1989, pp. 249–275.

[102]. L Gordon, ‘How we got “welfare”: a history of the mistakes of the past’, Social Justice, 21(1), 1994, pp. 13–16.

[103]. 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.

[104]. 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.

[105]. Ibid., p. 43.

[106]. Ibid., p. 44.

[107]. ‘Alternatives to ADC’, Social Service Review, 33(4), 1959, pp. 447–449.

[108]. 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, p. 139.

[109]. F Roosevelt, ‘Annual message to congress’, The American Presidency Project, website, 4 January 1935.

[110]. H Hopkins, ‘Aims and policies of WPA’, Work: a journal of progress, District of Columbia Works Progress Administration, Washington, September 1936, p. 1.

[111]. 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.

[112]. 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.

[113]. 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.

[114]. Ibid.

[115]. M Harrington, ‘Our fifty million poor: forgotten men of the affluent society’, Commentary, 28(1), 1959, p. 25.

[116]. M Harrington, The other America: poverty in the United States, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1968, p. 175.

[117]. Ibid., p. 163.

[118]. 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.’

[119]. Ibid.

[120]. M Harrington, The other America, op. cit., p. 166.

[121]. Ibid., pp. 165–166.

[122]. M Harrington, ‘The welfare state and its neoconservative critics’, Dissent, 20, 1973, pp. 435–455.

[123]. M Isserman, The other American: the life of Michael Harrington, Public Affairs, New York, p. 305.

[124]. E Banfield, The unheavenly city revisited, Waveland Press, Prospect Heights, 1974, p. 235.

[125]. D Moynihan, The negro family: the case for national action, US Department of Labor, Washington, 1965.

[126]. D Moynihan, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, op. cit., p. 94.

[127]. Ibid., p. 96.

[128]. I Garfinkel and S McLanahan, Single mothers and their children : a new American dilemma, The Urban Institute Press, Washington DC, 1986, p. 103.

[129]. Ibid., p. 105.

[130]. 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.

[131]. 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.

[132].  R Linke, ‘Negative income tax, explained’, webpage, MIT Management Sloan School.

[133]. Ibid., p. 92.

[134]. N Glazer, ‘Reform work not welfare’, in J Dorman and L Lenkowsky (eds), op. cit., p. 166.

[135]. S Spitzer, ‘Nixon's New Deal: welfare reform for the silent majority’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 42(3), 2012, pp. 455–481.

[136]. D Moynihan, The politics of a guaranteed minimum income: the Nixon administration and the Family Assistance Plan, Vintage Books, New York, 1973, p. 50.

[137]. 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 November 1994.

[138]. M Friedman, ‘The alleviation of poverty’, in M Friedman, Capitalism and freedom, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002, pp. 190–195.

[139]. M Friedman, Interview with William F Buckley, Firing Line, The Economic Crisis, 8 January 1968.

[140]. Ibid.

[141]. 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. 49-55.

[142]. D Moynihan, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, op. cit., p. 236; D Moynihan, The politics of a guaranteed minimum income, op. cit., pp. 50–51.

[143]. ‘Moynihan 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.

[144]. 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.

[145]. R Nixon, Address to the Nation on Domestic Programs, The American Presidency Project, 8 August 1969.

[146]. G Burtless, ‘The economist's lament: public assistance in America’, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 4(1), 1990, pp. 57–78.

[147]. Ibid.

[148]. M Isserman, The other American, op. cit., p. 305.

[149]. 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.

[150]. 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.

[151]. I Kristol, ‘American conservatism 1945-1995’, The Public Interest, 121, 1995, pp. 80–91.

[152]. S Teles, Whose welfare? AFDC and elite politics, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 1996, p. 17.

[153]. L Mead, ‘Conflicting worlds of welfare reform’, First Things, 75, 1997.

[154]. M Thatcher, The Downing Street years, HarperCollins, London, 1993, p. 627.

[155]. T Medvetz, Think tanks in America, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2012.

[156]. 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’.

[157]. R Rector, The paradox of poverty: how we spent $3.5 trillion without changing the poverty rate, The Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, 3 September 1992.

[158]. C Murray, ‘Losing Ground two years later’, Cato Journal, 6(1), 1986, pp. 19–29.

[159]. L Mead, ‘Conflicting worlds of welfare reform’, op. cit.

[160]. G Himmelfarb, ‘Welfare as a moral problem’, op. cit., pp. 685–694.

[161]. M Novak, et al, The new consensus on family and welfare: a community of self-reliance, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, 1987 p. 14.

[162]. I Kristol, ‘Capitalism, socialism, and nihilism’, in I Kristol Neoconservatism: the autobiography of an idea, Ivan R Dee, Chicago, 1999, pp. 92–105.

[163]. R Reeves, ‘The new politics of character’, National Affairs, 20, 2014.

[164]. A Etzioni, The spirit of community: rights, responsibilities, and the communitarian agenda, Crown Publishers, New York, 1993.

[165]. Heckman also includes some skills such as humility that Reeves considers aspects of ‘moral character’. See J Heckman and T Kautz, ‘Fostering and measuring skills: interventions that improve character and cognition’, NBER Working paper 19656, 2013.

[166]. M DeLisi and J Wright, ‘Behavior matters: why some people spend their lives in poverty and social dysfunction’, City Journal, Summer 2019.

[167]. M Novak, op. cit., p. 88.

[168]. R Rector, op. cit., pp. 6–7.

[169]. Ibid.

[170]. R Shelby, ‘Personal Responsibility and Work Act of 1995—Conference Report’, Congressional Record–Senate, 141(207), 22 December 1995, pp. S19159–19160.

[171]. Z Brzezinski, Out of control: global turmoil on the eve of the 21st century, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1993, p. 106.

[172]. C Murray, ‘The emerging British underclass’, in Charles Murray and the underclass: the developing debate, IEA Health and   Welfare Unit, London, 1996, pp. 24–53.

[173]. P Fagan and R Rector, How welfare harms kids, Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, 5 June 1996.

[174]. N Eberstadt, A nation of takers: America's entitlement epidemic,(Kindle edition) Templeton Press, West Conshohocken, 2012, location 236.

[175]. For example, see R Rector, op. cit., p. 8.

[176]. J Heckman and T Kautz, op. cit.

[177]. F Perales et al, Intergenerational welfare dependency In Australia: a review of the literature, Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2014-09, 2014.

[178]. Domestic Policy, Up from dependency: a new national public assistance strategy. report to the President, Domestic Policy Council Low Income Working Group, Washington DC, December 1986, p. 36.

[179]. L Mead, ‘Welfare reform and the family: lessons from America’, in P Saunders (ed) Reforming the Australian welfare state, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne, 2000, pp. 50–51.

[180]. Ibid., p. 61.

[181]. L Mead, The new politics of poverty, BasicBooks, New York, 1992, pp. 144–145.

[182]. L Mead, ‘Citizenship and social policy: TH Marshall and poverty’, in E Frankel Paul, F Miller and J Paul (eds), The Welfare State, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, p. 201.

[183]. L Mead, Burdens of freedom: cultural difference and American power, Encounter Books, New York, 2019, p. 214. Since the publication of these views in the journal Society Mead’s views have attracted widespread criticism. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed, ‘critics of his new commentary say it crosses the line from controversial policy argument to overt racism.’ See C Flaherty, ‘Us and ‘them’’, Inside Higher Ed, 28 July 2020.

[184]. According to US journalist E J Dionne, even leaders of the French Communist Party have come to accept a role for the market. See E Dionne, ‘Mr Marx, meet Mr Friedman’, The Washington Post, 23 March 1999.

[185]. L Mead, ‘Poverty and morality’, First Things, August 1990.

[186]. A Giddens, Beyond left and right: the future of radical politics, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1994, pp. 147–148. In the same book Giddens writes: ‘welfare dependency, as a set of attitudes and a culture rather than as simply an economic condition, is a real phenomenon’, p. 75.

[187]. ‘Bagehot: the third way revealed’, The Economist, 348(8086), 19 September 1998.

[188]. C Puplick, ‘Unemployment benefit’, Senate, Debates, 20 October 1986, p. 1562.

[189]. J Hyde, Dry: in defence of economic freedom, Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne, 2002, p. 156.

[190]. Ibid., p. 93.

[191]. J Hyde, ‘What the economic rationalists ( Dries ) really believed’, IPA Review, 51(3), 2002, pp. 18–20.

[192]. B Arndt, ‘Why there is no real debate on social policy’, The Age, 6 October 1999.

[193]. D Brooks, ‘A land without conservatives’, Weekly Standard, 9 August 1999.

[194]. P McGuinness, ‘Oh, for some bright lights on the Right’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1999.

[195]. P Saunders, ‘Dependency culture in a liberal welfare regime’, Paper for the International Sociological Association

        Research Committee 19 conference on ‘Social Protection in the New Era: What future for welfare?’, University of Tilburg, Netherlands, 24-27 August 2000.

[196]. Australian Institute of Family Studies, Reforming the Australian Welfare State, media release, 24 July 2000.

[197]. P Saunders, Australia’s welfare habit: and how to kick it, Duffy and Snellgrove, Sydney, 2004, p. 4.

[198]. D Tehan, ‘Committees: Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence: Appointment’, op. cit.

[199]. Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Submission to Senate Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence, 25 September 2018.

[200]. Department of Social Services (DSS), ‘Cashless Debit Card’, DSS website, last updated 23 March 2021.

[201]. A Tudge (Minister for Human Services), Strengthening Australia’s social security safety net: speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA),media release, 26 May 2017. In his speech, Alan Tudge references the work of Indigenous leader Noel Pearson. It was Pearson who introduced the idea of welfare as ‘poison’ into the Australian debate. See N Pearson, The Cape York Agenda, Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, Cairns, 2005, p. 8.

[202]. A Deacon, ‘Learning from the US? op. cit.; A Deacon, ‘Welfare and character’ in F Field, Stakeholder welfare, IEA Health and Welfare Unit, London, 1996, pp. 60–74; R Mackay, ‘Work-oriented reforms: new directions in New Zealand’, in N Gilbert and R Van Voorhis (eds), Activating the unemployed: a comparative appraisal of work-oriented policies, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, 2001, pp. 69–111.

[203]. Economist Albert Hirschman referred to this as the ‘perversity thesis’. See A Hirschman, The rhetoric of reaction: perversity, futility, jeopardy, Belknap Press, Cambridge, 1991.

[204]. L Mead, The new politics of poverty, op. cit., p. 113.

[205]. L Mead, Burdens of freedom, op. cit., p. 205.

[206]. L Mead, ‘The new paternalism in action: welfare reform in Wisconsin’, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Report, 8(1), 1995.

[207]. L Mead, The new politics of poverty, op.cit., p. 183.

[208]. I Kristol, ‘Welfare: the best of intentions, the worst of results’, op. cit.

[209]. C Murray and S Windybank, ‘Beyond the welfare state: Susan Windybank talks to Charles Murray’, Policy, 17(3), 2001.

[210]. G Falk, The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: A Legislative History, Congressional Research Service, 21 July 2020. ‘Major Provisions of the Welfare Law: Major Provisions of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193)’, US Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, 2019.

[211]. House of Representatives Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence, Living on the edge : inquiry into intergenerational welfare dependence, House of Representatives, Canberra, 2019, p. 5.

[212]. J Bessant, R Watts, T Dalton and P Smyth, Talking policy: how social policy is made, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest, 2006, p. 110–111.

[213]. E Klein, ‘Australia has been stigmatising unemployed people for almost 100 years. COVID-19 is our big chance to change this’, The Conversation, 5 August 2020.

[214]. P Saunders and K Tsumori, Poverty in Australia: beyond the rhetoric, CIS, St Leonards, 2002, pp. 64–66.

[215]. For example, see L Mead, Burdens of freedom, op. cit., p. 214.

[216]. For example, see I Garfinkel et al, ‘A statement from University Poverty Research Center directors on Mead’s “Poverty and culture”’, Institute for Research on Poverty, 30 July, 2020.

[217]. E Siegel, ‘The Real Problem with Charles Murray and "The Bell Curve"’, Scientific American, 12 April, 2017.

[218]. P Saunders and K Tsumori, op. cit., pp. 50–51.

[219]. US Department of Health and Human Services, Aid to Families with Dependent Children the Baseline, Washington, June 1998.

[220]. To a lesser extend these countries also relied on mutual aid societies. For an account of mutual aid in Australia, see D Green and L Cromwell, Mutual aid or welfare state: Australia’s friendly societies, George Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1984.

[221]. R Bremner, ‘”Scientific philanthropy” 1873–93’, Social Service Review, 30(2), 1956, pp. 168–173; H Wayland, ‘A scientific basis of charity’, in Christianity practically applied: the discussions of the International Christian Conference, The Baker and Taylor Co, New York, 1894, p. 455.

[222]. H Wayland, op. cit, p. 455.

[223]. For example, an English report from 1879 refers to ‘doles to the poor, which are either in money or kind, the doles in money being paid either annually or casually, those in kind being commonly bread, clothes, and fuel’. See Reports of the Poor Law District Conferences Held in the Year 1879, Knight and Co, London, 1879, p. 59.

[224]. For example, a 1932 newspaper article refers to ‘the “dole” system of unemployment relief’ where recipients are given ration tickets. See ‘Dole abuses flourish: workers support scum of underworld: this must cease!’, The Land, 1 January 1932, p. 3.

[225].Oxford English Dictionary [online].

[226]. B Moore (ed), The Australian national dictionary : Australian words and their origins, vol. 1, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 2016, p. 514.

[227]. V Archer, ‘Dole bludgers , tax payers and the New Right: constructing discourses of welfare in 1970s Australia’, Labour History 96, May 2009, pp. 177–190.

[228]. For example, see ‘Silly system’, Molong Express and Western District Advertiser, 16 May 1931, p. 4.

[229]. Oxford English Dictionary [online].

[230]. For example, Australian journalist Wilson da Silva uses the terms neoliberal, neoconservative and New Right interchangeably in a 2003 piece for the Sydney Morning Herald. See W da Silva, ‘The Austrian school of thought that packs a massive political punch’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 August 2003.

[231]. Ibid.

[232]. P Steinfels, The neoconservatives: the origins of a movement, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2013, p. 11.

[233]. C Mudde, ‘Neoconservatism’ in G Claeys (ed), The encyclopedia of modern political thought, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, 2013, p. 586.

[234]. T Boas and J Gans-Morse, ‘Neoliberalism: from new liberal philosophy to anti-Liberal slogan’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 44, 2009; D Rodgers, ‘The uses and abuses of "neoliberalism"’, Dissent, 65(1), 2018.

[235]. For an attempt to disentangle various uses of the term see D Rodgers, op. cit.

[236]. R McChesney, ‘Introduction’, in N Chomsky Profit over people: neoliberalism and global order, Seven Stories Press, New York, 1999, p. 7.

[237]. L Wacquant, ‘The punitive regulation of poverty in the neoliberal age’, Open Democracy, 1 August 2011.

[238]. R Turner, Neo-liberal ideology: history, concepts and policies, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2011 [Kindle edition], location 221–238.

[239]. Ibid., location 234.

[240]. M Foucault, The birth of biopolitics: lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–79, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 78.

[241]. C Peters, ‘A neoliberal’s manifesto’, The Washington Monthly, May 1983, pp. 9–18.

[242]. For an overview see R Rothenberg, The neoliberals: creating the new American politics, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1984; L Geismer, ‘Democrats and neoliberalism’, Vox, 11 June 2019.

[243]. JS Mill, Principles of political economy with some of their applications to social philosophy, William James Ashley (ed), Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1909.

[244]. T Fowle, The poor law, Macmillan, London, 1881, p. 16.

[245]. For a brief history of the English poor law see P Slack, The English poor law, 1531–1782, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990 and D Englander, Poverty and poor law reform in 19th century Britain: from Chadwick to Booth, 1834–1914, Addison Wesley Longman Limited, Harlow, 1998.

[246]. For a historical overview of social insurance schemes in the US see: Social Security Agency, Historical Background And Development Of Social Security, webpage.

[247]. L Johnson, Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union, 8 January 1964, The American Presidency Project, web page.

[248]. Ibid.

[249]. G Davies, ‘War on Dependency: Liberal Individualism and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964’, Journal of American Studies, 26(2), 1992.


For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.

© Commonwealth of Australia

Creative commons logo

Creative Commons

With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, and to the extent that copyright subsists in a third party, this publication, its logo and front page design are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.

In essence, you are free to copy and communicate this work in its current form for all non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to the author and abide by the other licence terms. The work cannot be adapted or modified in any way. Content from this publication should be attributed in the following way: Author(s), Title of publication, Series Name and No, Publisher, Date.

To the extent that copyright subsists in third party quotes it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.

Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the publication are welcome to webmanager@aph.gov.au.

This work has been prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament using information available at the time of production. The views expressed do not reflect an official position of the Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.

Any concerns or complaints should be directed to the Parliamentary Librarian. Parliamentary Library staff are available to discuss the contents of publications with Senators and Members and their staff. To access this service, clients may contact the author or the Library‘s Central Entry Point for referral.