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Publisher Description

In a recent book about the American anti-poverty movement, Joel Schwartz argues that the moral improvement of the poor was a central goal of anti-poverty reformers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although moral reform was considered intrinsically valuable, it was also thought to be instrumental. The emphasis on the character and personal conduct of the poor during this period was directed primarily at "reduc[ing] ... dependence on either charity or government relief." (1) The vices these reformers decried--"indolence, intemperance, improvidence--were attacked because of their role in fostering or exacerbating dependence," and good behavior "was. largely synonymous with behavior furthering self-reliance." (2) The twin aims of reducing dependence and fostering self-reliance account for many features of the early anti-poverty movement in this country. Those goals shaped the moral outlook of reformers, informed their recommendations, and determined which efforts were endorsed to help the less fortunate. Anti-poverty policy has come a long way in the past century, in some ways returning full circle to its moralistic roots but in others departing from them never to return. There has been increased willingness recently, at least in some quarters, to decry "dependence" on the government in the form of reliance on cash entitlement programs or handouts. That willingness has found concrete expression in the reforms enacted in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996, which imposes strict time limits and work participation requirements on recipients of public aid. But a century of theory and politics has transformed the call for reduced dependence--at least in its public guise--into one that is less moralistic and more pragmatic. That transformation reflects a deep ambivalence about public moralism generally and moral prescription specifically. (3) It is also rooted in a growing conceptual uncertainty about the roles of dependence and self-reliance in a modern, market-driven society.

Professional & Technical
22 September
Harvard Society for Law and Public Policy, Inc.

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