Behind the Contract for Welfare Reform: Antecedent Themes in Welfare to Work Programs

Source: Amir Paz-Fuchs, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 29 no. 9, 2008

The purpose of this article is to attempt to deconstruct the reigning umbrella ideology of contemporary welfare reform. Welfare reform is often framed in reference to the concept of the (social) contract, which includes the conditioning rights on the fulfillment of obligations. I argue that the importation of contractual discourse to the welfare debate conceals certain economic and ideological agenda that should be brought to light. Even though the notion of welfare reform is now common currency in most of the industrial world, they tend to differ in their ideological emphasis, explored here, reveals the true character of a given program, and thus should provide the true basis for its normative analysis. Strikingly, the poor laws, which were in force throughout the English-speaking world for three and a half centuries, were justified by very similar motivations as the contemporary welfare programs in the United States. The advantage of placing the past and the present side by side arises from the fact that poor laws advanced policies that were unencumbered by legal and moral reservations that putatively restrict contemporary welfare reform. Because of the similarities between the poor laws and modern programs, the juxtaposition of past and present, therefore, grants us a unique opportunity to detach ourselves from the reigning ideologies of the twenty-first century, and to view current policies with the wisdom accrued over several centuries.

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