The Carrot and the Stick

LEKACHMAN, ROBERT

The Carrot and the Stick Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare By Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward Pantheon. 389 pp. $10.00. Reviewed by Robert Lekachman IN THE...

...Is there no hope of escape from the welfare cycle, no prospect of ending the isolation of the poor...
...Once a part of the poor's demands is granted, militancy subsides, welfare administration again tightens, and benefits are reducedójust as they were this year in both New York and California...
...Thus far the terrain is familiar enough...
...Politicians are more mealy-mouthed today...
...The material Cloward and Piven offer will feed numerous arguments about history and policy, but it also leaves some questions unanswered: How, for example, have the Scandinavians and the Dutch done so much better than the Americans and the English in integrating their poor into the larger society...
...Why do the poor alternate between apathy and aggression...
...Written in a tone of admirably controlled anger, and utterly free of sociological jargon, it makes depressing sense out of the welfare scene...
...Reviewed by Robert Lekachman IN THE ENGLISH-speaking world, governments have been coping more or less systematically with the relief of the destitute since the days of the Elizabethan poor laws, alternating periodically between relative liberality and punishment of the indigent...
...Some improvement in the treatment of the welfare population has been brought about by the disruptive tactics and new militancy of Northern black relief recipients...
...To explain why harshness is sometimes supplanted by comparative indulgence, Cloward and Piven remind us that when the poor become disruptive, labor and product markets are upset and profits threatened...
...As the English poor law commissioners put it in 1834: "The first and most essential of all conditions, a principle which we find universally admitted even by those whose practice is at variance with it, is that his [the relief recipient's] situation on the whole shall not be made really or apparently so eligible as the situation of the independent laborer of the lowest class...
...Members of the first group are credited with sharing the work ethic of their more successful fellow citizens...
...Under what conditions will employers and national administrations responsive to business interests prefer force to bribery...
...The authors' argument is simple and convincing...
...Why has it always been possible in the past to buy off the militants with relatively minor benefits...
...The authors, however, see still another reason for the gains of the decade just past: Lyndon Johnson, realizing that the South was slipping out of his political grasp, desperately sought new constituencies elsewhere...
...only the rhetoric and the labels have changed...
...In the meantime, Regulating the Poor deserves a wide audience...
...The occasional inconsistency between these objectives explains the cycles of apparent generosity and genuine meanness marking the Anglo-Saxon experience of the last two centuries...
...Though President Nixon's Family Assistance Plan (FAP) pays Up service to the cliches of rehabilitation and self-improvement, the English poor law commissioners would have quickly appreciated and applauded its coercive core...
...Community action programs, legal services for the poor, and voter registration drives had in common Johnson's urge to substitute new Democratic voters for the old ones he was losing...
...Management seeks two conditions : social tranquility and a plentiful supply of inexpensive, docile labor...
...Their fresh, polemical and gracefully written history advances the plausible theory that from the 16th century onward the implicit function of welfare has been to regulate the poor in the interests of their potential employers...
...It is usually in the employer's interest to make the conditions under which assistance is granted harsh enough, and the sums allowed small enough, to insure that the average laborer will prefer the unpleasantest job at the lowest market wage to the still worse alternative of welfare...
...But Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, veterans of Mobilization for Youth and Welfare Rights agitations, go much further...
...In the presence or under the threat of sufficient disruption, employers find it cheaper to finance more generous aid to the poor (paid for mostly out of regressive taxes) than to suffer the burdens of social violence or the uncertainties of forcible suppression...
...And the recipient must accept the training and jobs that fap administrators define as suitable to their condition...
...Popular opinion, however, has almost always been hostile to welfare recipients, holding them to be lazy, immoral, unambitious, dishonest, and burdensome to hard-working taxpayers...
...As of yore, the poor are to be tightly controlled...
...In short, puritanical societies generally display no compunction about their harassment of the undeserving, and tend to treat with condescending charity the more deserving poor...
...Benefits of $2,400 for families of four are truly low enough to avoid competition with the earnings of the worst-paid employes...
...they evince proper guilt at their own failures, gratitude for assistance, and determination to emerge from their dependent situation...
...In response, British and American public officials have come to distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy poor...
...Presumably such issues as these will be examined by the sequel to this study, Poor People's Movements and Why They Fail...

Vol. 54 • October 1971 • No. 19


 
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