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Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy Hardcover – October 1, 1996

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674574400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674574403
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #926,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

When his 1965 report to President Johnson, "The Negro Family: The Case For National Action," identified the breakdown of the traditional family as a major cause of African-American poverty and crime, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was roundly attacked by liberals for "blaming the victims." Since then the debate has shifted in his direction and he has been in the forefront of many debates on welfare. His latest book on the subject mixes historical perspective, personal reminiscence, and his comments on the state of welfare today. His focus remains the family, and particularly the problem of illegitimacy and single welfare mothers, whom he believes trapped in dependency by the current system. Moynihan is hard on successive administrations for failing to heed his warnings. Contrarily he berates the Clinton administration too for its attempt at reform in 1996, predicting dire consequences.

From Publishers Weekly

Moynihan, the senior U.S. senator from New York and one of the most distinguished figures on the political landscape today, gives his view of what happened between the Social Security Act of 1935 and the present. In his latest book, he has combined a mix of historical perspective, contemporary comment and personal reminiscences. Of the latter, quite a few could be considered self-congratulatory. The statistics presented are impressive, especially in the areas of welfare, medical, education and voting patterns. However, some do seem a bit fatuous. One of these predicts a revolt of the lowest quartile in aptitude and education against "the ultimate injustice of a society based upon merit." Fortunately for those of us who may not be around to witness it, Moynihan doesn't see this uprising occurring until 2031. The social reform of the New Deal, he argues, was successful in aiding Americans for whom poverty was solely a lack of resources (e.g. the elderly). It failed, however, where "poverty had its origin in social behavior." He argues that there are no workable European models for us to adopt as we have in the past; and, without being specific about plans, is cautiously optimistic that the country will find policies that will address social inequities and the realities of "post-traditional society." Presumably, the author has drawn his title from the classic Robert Frost poem "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." Like Frost's metaphorical pony, the book tends to meander at times, but it is still well worth the reader's attention.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Soren Dayton on January 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, let's realize what this book isn't. It is not a collection of previous essays, although it excerpts heavily from a number of essays, both from the 60s and the 90s. It is also not a memoir.
It's an argument for a different role for the social sciences in policy making. First, it's an argument by repeated example of the predictive power of the social sciences. And, second, it's a call for social scientists and the government to start doing work seriously on the issues of the day.
So, first. He's telling us that we can do social science that tells us things about the world that we live in. Like what? One, government supervision of the economy from WWII to the present day. Two, his observation in the 70s that the Soviet Union was already in the early stages of collapse. Three, his argument that the illegitimacy rates where (1) going to skyrocket and (2) that it would be a problem. He tells us that these were not mysterious phenomena and that had the data not been ignored, public policy could have addressed them appropriately. This is important, partly to remind us of it, but also to challenge some writers on the right, such as Thomas Sowell, who argues, essentially, the opposite.
Second, this book argues that both the social scientists and the politicians need to take social science seriously. And, furthermore, part of the problem is the liberal professionalization of "Do Gooders". Why wasn't illegitimacy attacked in the 60s and 70s? Because some of the people on the left really are as morally squishy as the people on the right say they are! They were afraid to push a family structure, especially a "traditional" one.. Furthermore, he argues, that this phenomenon had been described by Durkheim in the Rules of Sociological Method.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By debeehr on October 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In a series of loosely-connected chapters roughly organized around topics such as illegitimacy, welfare, and the rise of drug "epidemics," Moynihan reviews his life, work and positions in social policy.

Written in the aftermath of the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, Moynihan essentially seems to be arguing that liberalism needs to refocus its paradigm. He claims that much of our social policy is rooted in a 19th-century understanding of problems inherent to an industrial economy, and that by and large, these problems have been solved (for example, the problem of stabilizing the economy; he also has some interesting and novel insights on the "health-care crisis," pointing out that in comparison to the 1800s and early 1900s, the health care system has improved immeasurably, not least because we've finally managed to get the medical profession to the point where it actually *doesn't hurt* its patients--now if we could only pull off the same with psychology!) He argues that the problems we are now facing, such as the persistence of poverty in the inner cities, are problems germane to a new kind of *post-industrial* society, and are less amenable to the kinds of social policy solutions that helped deal with the earlier problems. He sees many modern problems as being significantly influenced by what he calls "character" effects. Putting this in less loaded terms, he's essentially arguing that urban poverty is concomitant with various negative social factors--such as fatherlessness, early single motherhood, drug lifestyle, etc.--which at the very least make it more difficult to escape conditions of urban poverty. (There is something to this idea: this is somewhat similar to the thesis put forward by Paul Willis in LEARNING TO LABOR, his study of British working-class youths.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Lomonaco on November 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
I must first note that this book is extremely poorly edited. It oscillates from current commentary to previously published essays and articles without significant distinction. This along with an introduction that occupies a third of the book makes for a frustrating read. Moreover, Moynihan doesn't always state what he is trying to say so the reader must be alert for not-so-obvious implications.
Having said all this, this book is a true resevoir of wisdom. In tackling issues from moral decline to welfare reform to the drug war to "Reaganism," Moynihan both parts ways with contemporary liberalism while offering sharp critiques of past and current policies. Ever the social scientist, Moynihan is quick to demonstrate how "conventional wisdom" can be utterly wrong while at the same time dismissing those who would sieze on simplistice generalizations of scientific research in furtherance of radical agendas.
A difficult read but well worth it.
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By D. A. McCarthy on April 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
We could sure use a statesman like Daniel Patrick Moynihan today. A thoughtful book from a thoughtful, highly experienced American. It remains relevant even today.
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