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Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare Paperback – September 28, 1993


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 2 Upd Sub edition (September 28, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679745165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679745167
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Originally published in 1971, this social science classic outlines the social functions of welfare programs.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Uncompromising and provocative....By mixing history, political interpretation and sociological analysis, Piven and Cloward provide the best explanation to date of our present situation...no future discussion of welfare can afford to ignore them."--Peter Steinfels, The New York Times Book Review

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Customer Reviews

Written in the late 70's and updated and still relevant today.
Joseph V. Montoro
Then was born the Great society as Democrats realized that blacks were located in states of the most strategic importance in presidential contests.
DRob
This book by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward came out over three decades ago.
Steven A. Peterson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By DRob VINE VOICE on March 26, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
i can pretty much guarantee that after reading this book, one will never quite look at welfare in the same way as before. The main premise of this book is that government provides aid for the poor to control political unrest and to control labor.

The book starts off by tracing the history and development of welfare in western civilization. Prior to the early 16th century, caring for the poor was considered to be primarily the responsibility of the church or of those of the more prosperous who tried to purchase their salvation through almsgiving. Leaving charity to the church meant that few received aid and those not necessarily according to their need. This increased social unrest so governments began to be involved in providing for the poor. This was done for two primary reasons: 1.) To control social order and 2.) To extol the virtue of labor even at the lowest wages by making the treatment of the destitute so punitive and degrading that the no one wants to descend into beggary and pauperism.

The book details such early government programs as workhouses, labor yards, and poor law subsidies whereby parish churches were required to care for the poor in their area.

In the united States, welfare was addressed somewhat differently. Poverty in the U.S. was regarded as the obvious consequence of sloth and sinfulness. Relief was scattered and fragmentary-each township or county provided for its hungry in whatever manner it saw fit-giving of food, incarceration in almshouses, or indentured service. Poor relief was a local, not a state or national responsibility.

During the great Depression, unemployment became so widespread that the government was forced to develop programs to assist the poor and the unemployed.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on March 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Authors Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven blew the cover off the public welfare system with this book over thirty years ago. I have yet to read any satisfactory rebuttal to their theory over the intervening decades. How best to keep the poor poor? How best to placate them? How best to control the labor pool of American society? Not with riot gear and tear gas (although we haven't been above using that). The best way is with money. Just a little, of course.
As the title suggests, the welfare system has played many roles. Certainly, there were good intentions. But Cloward and Piven, as good historians and theoreticians, examined its cumulative effects. Their determination is, in essence, that the American welfare system has served as a stabilizing force--as in retaining the status quo--of that class who relies on it.
I am way oversimplifying the case here: there is a lot more to it.
No matter which side of the fence you're on regarding the welfare system, Cloward and Piven's REGULATING THE POOR has a solid base in history, statistics, and policy-making that makes their thesis unshakeable. Like I said, over thirty years later, no one has even put a dent in it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Leanna Loomer on September 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
A widespread view today identifies the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt as responsible for creating a permanent welfare state in America. Priven and Cloward demonstrate that FDR's social programs created to assist the poor were part of a long line of programs that in fact exercised social control of the chronically poor and the destitute, and that each one has maintained this stratum of society as a constant in an otherwise economically sound society. The authors look back to Colonial times and then on through the FDR administration to circa 1980 (when this book was published) examining each governmental program both on its successes and failures. This is a damning indictment of the results of them all. It uses scholarly methodology to support its message and conclusions. It should be required reading for all public and private entities engaged in social assistance programs at every level, and for the governmental authorities creating and regulating them. I unequivocally recommend this book.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward came out over three decades ago. And it is still powerful reading and powerful analysis. I would not expect everyone to agree with the authors' contentions, but once having read this book, you will be challenged in your understanding of welfare policy. Indeed, both many liberals and many conservatives alike are apt to be irritated by this book.

In short, the key point the authors make is that welfare policies are designed to pacify rebellious out of work people. Once they are pacified, welfare is reduced. And while welfare programs are operating, there will be a tendency to make benefits low so that recipients are impelled back into the work force, even for low wages. The authors put it this way (page xiii): "Historical evidence suggests that relief arrangements are initiated or expanded during the occasional outbreaks of civil disorder produced by mass unemployment, and are then abolished or contracted when political stability is restored. We shall argue that expansive relief policies are designed to mute civil disorder, and restrictive ones to reinforce work norms."

The book itself spends a great deal of time on two American case studies: the New Deal and the Great Society. Again, they argue that in neither case was government very generous, that in both instances programs were designed to push people into the job market and reinforce work norms.

The authors use an early historical example to set the stage for their analysis, by going back to England of the 16th century and thereafter. They contend that the early examples of welfare as a force to quiet rebellious masses and discipline them toward norms supportive of work. And this sometimes meant government money.
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