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Unpublished Paper
Is There A Progresssive Alternative To Conservative Welfare Reform?
ExpressO (2007)
  • Philip L. Harvey
Progressive scholars have been strongly critical of conservative trends in the design and administration of public assistance programs in market societies, but it is far from clear what they would propose instead. Believing that it takes something to replace something, this article assess two different progressive strategies for eliminating poverty and promoting individual freedom that could serve as replacements for existing public assistance regimes. The first proposal is that all members of society be guaranteed an unconditional basic income without imposing any work requirements in exchange for the benefit. Such a benefit could be provided either in the form of an unconditional grant paid to all members of society (the form preferred by most advocates of the idea) or a negative income tax. Supporters of this strategy have suggested that a basic income guarantee set at or above the poverty level could replace not only the means-tested public assistance regime that is the principal target of the proposal, but most other government transfer programs as well. The proposal also is promoted as a solution to the problem of unemployment, a means of compensating the many millions of people (mostly women) who perform unpaid family care and community service work, and as a way of enhancing individual freedom and personal development. The second proposal is an updated version of the social welfare strategy that dominated progressive thinking in market societies from the end of World War II through the mid 1970s. In its earlier incarnation, this strategy combined the use of Keynesian macroeconomic policy to achieve full employment with the use of social insurance programs to guarantee income security for individuals or families that were either unable or not expected to be self-supporting. The version of this strategy considered in this article would be similar except that it would supplement continuing efforts to achieve full employment in the regular labor market with the use of direct job creation by government to close any remaining job gap – thereby insuring the availability of enough jobs to provide decent paid employment for all job seekers. I refer to this as the employment assurance strategy in deference to New Deal social welfare planners who first proposed it in the United States. The cost of these two strategies of eliminating poverty in the United States is compared along with their relative merits in achieving other progressive goals. In undertaking the latter evaluation, the economic and social provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are used as an assessment criterion. The principal conclusions drawn are that the basic income strategy would be far more expensive than the employment assurance strategy, that it would not provide an adequate substitute for securing the right to work recognized in the Universal Declaration, and that most of the other benefits the basic income strategy would produce could be more fully achieved at lower cost by using the employment assurance strategy combined with conventional social insurance. On the other hand, it is argued that a targeted basic income guarantee could make a valuable contribution to the employment assurance strategy, and one version of such a benefit is described.
  • Welfare Reform,
  • Economic and Social Human Rights,
  • Guaranteed Income,
  • Guaranteed Employment,
  • Full Employment,
  • Unemployment,
  • Poverty,
  • Anti-Poverty Policy,
Publication Date
August, 2007
Citation Information
Philip L. Harvey. "Is There A Progresssive Alternative To Conservative Welfare Reform?" ExpressO (2007)
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