Economics Dictionary of Arguments

Home Screenshot Tabelle Begriffe

Author Item Summary Meta data

Lawrence M. Mead on Welfare State - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus i 219
Welfare state/work/Lawrence Mead/Moon: One can acknowledge that people rely upon 'welfare' because their options are so limited, and so their condition represents an indictment of the society rather than the individuals concerned, but the fact remains that receipt of social assistance does not enable one to attain full citizenship or membership in society. It simply sustains one in a marginalized condition. Social inclusion requires more than receiving benefits.
Lawrence Mead: this line of argument has been advanced by a number of 'conservative' critics of the welfare state. Lawrence Mead (1992)(3), for example, argues that the character of poverty at least in America has changed in the past several decades, and that the social exclusion represented by poverty reflects the inability of poor people to act as rational agents in pursuit even of their own interests.*The key to overcoming this exclusion is to inculcate in the passive poor the capacities for agency, for acting to promote their own interests and to control their own lives, by imposing adequate disciplinary controls on them. If poverty creates social exclusion, and so
is a barrier to citizenship, then the state must ensure that its citizens develop the capacities that enable them to escape poverty. The key policy, in Mead's view, is workfare; the poor must be required to work as a condition of support, for unless they develop the discipline and sense of accomplishment that work involves, they will be unable to escape the conditions of dependency. Social policy must take on an explicitly 'paternalistic' character, and the state self-consciously assume a tutelary role.
Mead holds out the possibility that 'public paternalism might help regenerate informal (social) controls, by involving community organizations in directive programs' (1997: 27-8). In that case, 'paternalism in its public sense might not have to be permanent', but only because the necessary disciplines are imposed through other social agencies.

* It should be noted that Mead would reject the charactenzation of his position as 'conservative', arguing that at least in America the conservative position shares the liberal assumption that the poor are 'competent', and believes that the problem of poverty is caused by the way in which welfare programmes distort the incentives poor people face. The solution, then, is not to reform the poor, but to abolish welfare programmes. No doubt this view reflects the thinking of some conservatives, but other self-identified conservatives do view the issue in terms similar to Mead's.

1. Mead, Lawrence M. (1992) The New Politics of Poverty. New York: Basic.
2. Mead, Lawrence M., ed. (1997) The New Paternalism. Washington: Brookings Institution.

Moon, J. Donald 2004. „The Political Theory of the Welfare State“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Mead I
George Herbert Mead
Mind, Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Works of George Herbert Mead, Vol. 1), Chicago 1967
German Edition:
Geist, Identität und Gesellschaft aus der Sicht des Sozialbehaviorismus Frankfurt 1973

Send Link
> Counter arguments against Mead

Authors A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   Z  

Concepts A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   Z