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

4.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Updated ed. edition (September 28, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679745165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679745167
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward wrote this classic study of public welfare systems in the early `70's. They both have an academic background, and the work draws from history as well as the political science and sociological disciplines. A central premise, which they state in the introduction, and which they say is not a familiar one is: "...that relief programs are initiated to deal with dislocations in the work system that lead to mass disorder, and are then retained (in an altered form) to enforce work." And it is the unpleasant work, as they say when they conclude their introduction: "...it is rather how some men are made to do the harshest work for the least reward."

Formal public welfare programs date back to the early 1600's in England, and the informal ones date back to time immemorial as the wiser and richer elites of a society realized that it is not a good idea to have starving citizens around, who might decide to overturn the existing order. The authors focus on two major periods in the United States in which the welfare roles were expanded: the Great Depression, of the 1930's, and then paradoxically, during the relatively stable and prosperous `60's. They note that even in tough economic times, it takes what would seem an unduly long period before the "threat" of social unrest stirs action: "Men could not support their families, people lost their farms and their homes, the young did not marry, and many took to the road. Most people suffered quietly, confused and shamed by their plight. But not all were so acquiescent. With signs of disaster on all sides and with millions in desperate straits, attitudes toward destitution were momentarily reversed.
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As an intellectual homeless shelter resident with a master’s degree and physical challenges restricting me to a desk job that I have yet to be offered in spite of 2,891 applications in the past 30 months, I was recommended this book by John Sheehan, the social worker at the soup kitchen at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York. He told me that Piven, who is still living and speaks at sociology conferences, was his inspiration to become a social worker. At the time, I was reading [author:Barbara Ehrenreich|1257]’s [book:Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream|24450]. Piven is in the acknowledgements of that book as one of the manuscript’s early readers (and Ehrenreich was the editor of some publications with Piven and Cloward cited in this book). Frances Goldin is in the acknowledgements of this book for being Piven and Cloward’s agent, and she was just presented an award last week by Picture the Homeless, an organization to which I belong. A useful idiot to conservatives among my cyberbullies said that citing “Cloward/Piven” in my blog undermines my credibility, which seems to peg her as an admirer of [author:Glenn Beck|188932], who has so little credibility that an entire book, [book:Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven|12313398] has been published to reveal Beck’s claims about Piven for the lies that they are.

The main thesis of the book is that poor relief, which is known in the United States as welfare, is designed to stave off revolt until its recipients can be forced into the harshest, most demeaning work available. It is thus a strategic method of keeping the wealthy in power to abuse the poor.
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