REGULATING THE POOR: The Function of Public Welfare by Frances Fox & Richard A. Cloward Piven

REGULATING THE POOR: The Function of Public Welfare

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An extremely important book by two prominent academic experts on welfare and sometime welfare-rights activists, which argues that the purpose of public relief has always been to maintain civic order and control the labor supply when market forces go askew. The authors begin with a synopsis of poor relief as a method of enforcing low-wage work during stable periods in European history and pre-Depression America and analyze Federal, state and local New Deal relief programs: turbulence led to big, direct federal relief, which was turned into work relief, then cut back. This neatly fits Cloward and Piven's ""cyclical"" model of expensive relief arrangements in times of upheaval; restrictive arrangements to reinforce work norms once stability has returned. It is emphatically a descriptive model, not a prescriptive one. The '60's welfare explosion is investigated at length as a ""political response to political disorder,"" an explanation pursued with regard to unemployment, the changing nature of municipal politics, and the civil rights movement. The authors argue against Moynihan, et al. that on its own terms the poverty program was a success in buying off black militants and helping blacks exert direct pressure for a share of local-government goods and services -- which took the form of welfare, since jobs, housing, health were harder to deliver. The ill-effects of the welfare rights ""explosion,"" on the poor themselves are discussed in an epilogue. The Nixon welfare plan is viewed as a reorganization to maximize control of the labor supply. These ideas are developed with sobriety, assurance, and great knowledge, if sometimes too schematically. One regrets the scanty reference to minimum wages and the fact that relief adaptations to regional economies are described mainly with respect to the South, not the cities' welfare subsidies to slumlords and marginal and/or seasonal low-wage industries. The book should become both an instant classic and the focus of much controversy, drawing a broad audience on both counts.

Pub Date: June 16th, 1971
Publisher: Pantheon