THE COMMON INTEREST: How our Social Welfare Policies Don't Work and What We Can Do A bout Them by Leslie W. Dunbar

THE COMMON INTEREST: How our Social Welfare Policies Don't Work and What We Can Do A bout Them

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Commentary, with a heavy dosage of case histories, demonstrating how poorly our social-welfare systems take care of their charges; by Dunbar, former director of the Field Foundation and the Southern Regional Council, and editor of Minority Report (1984). Recent writings on welfare issues have leaned heavily on the side of welfare's destructiveness--its tendency to reward laziness while it provides a good living for the empire-building bureaucrats who administer it. But by highlighting the personal testimony of 30 welfare recipients, Dunbar attempts to demonstrate that the human cost of welfare cutbacks is just too enormous to be cost-beneficial to the nation as a whole. In reality, says Dunbar, those cutbacks actually hurt those who are most genuinely attempting to help themselves. Dunbar couches his hopes for future strong government welfare-activism in terms that are in line with traditional American capitalism. ""A major requirement for full citizenship is 'free labor.' People must have the capacity to exchange their labor, services, or goods for fair compensation without being hampered by extraneous conditions."" But: ""It must not be based on a market economy structured so as to relegate vast numbers of people to the permanent category of 'unskilled' and, thus, 'redundant.'"" For those who choose not to work, Dunbar provides a buffer: ""Anyone who makes such a choice should not end up dependent on society, but should make use of other resources for support."" The author's emphasis on labor leads him to denounce any welfare reform that doesn't stimulate the job market, both urban and rural: ""A tight labor market is the only practicable solution to poverty."" It seems at times that Dunbar is still fighting the good fight of the 30's without reference to the fact that, for good or ill, Reaganism has altered the terms of discourse. However, like Michael Harrington's classic The Other America, Dunbar's work might provide a viable scenario for future policy under a more liberal administration.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1988
Publisher: Pantheon