January 22, 2012
THE HONEST CYNIC'S GUIDE FOR UNDERSTANDING POVERTY POLICY AND LAW
Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording, & Sanford F. Schram, Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberalism Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2011) ("Poverty in the United States is usually thought of as a social problem. In the occasional times when it rises to public attention, it troubles the conscience of a wealthy nation and calls forth the curative designs of social reformers. . . . Yet poverty is more than a blight to be eradicated; it is also a problem of governance. The needs and disorders that arise in poor communities, and the difficulties they pose for societal institutions, must somehow be managed. In practice, social programs are rarely designed or evaluated as if the elimination of poverty were an attainable goal. Programs for the poor are used mainly to temper the hardships of poverty and ensure that they do not become disruptive for the broader society. They support the impoverished in ways designed to make poor communities more manageable and to shepherd the poor into the lower reaches of societal institutions. Poverty emerges occasionally in public life as a problem to be solved; the poor exist perennially as subjects who must be governed. . . . Thus, the most basic purpose of poverty governance is not to end poverty; it is to secure, in politically viable ways, the cooperation and contributions of weakly integrated populations. To meet this challenge, governments employ a variety of policy tools and administrative arrangements. They distribute relief to ease the suffering and quiet disruptive political demands. They restrict aid to encourage the poor to take up work, They create incentives and services to smooth the path to preferred behaviors, and they police and imprison the poor for violations of law. They design social programs to teach prevailing norms, and they use surveillance and penalty systems to keep aid recipients moving along the designated paths. Through these and other methods, governments work continually to manage low-income populations and transform them into cooperative subjects f of the market and polity." Id. at 1-2. Over the past few decades, poverty governance in the United States has been transformed by the convergence of two reform movements. The first, often referred to as 'paternalist,' has promoted a more directive and supervisory approach to managing the poor. . . ." "The turn toward paternalism has intersected with a second development" the rise of neoliberalism as an organizing principle of governance. In the 1970s and 1980s, neoliberals initially adopted a laissez-faire stance, seeking to waken the market-constraining effects of state regulations and the welfare state. Over time, however, reformers shifted to a more ambitious agenda. Today, neoliberalism encompasses a wide range of efforts to organize society according to principles of market rationality. Rather than shrinking the stae, neoliberals have worked to restructure it and harness its capacities. They have redesigned state operations around market principles and worked to make state officials more dependent on markets actors to achieve their goals. Neoliberals have embraced the state as an instrument for creating market opportunities, absorbing market costs, and imposing market discipline. Thus, core state functions, form war to welfare, environmental management to incarceration, have been contracted out to private providers. Policy authority has been decentralized and fragmented. Program operations have been restructured to emphasize competition and reward for performance." The convergence of these two streams marks a significant moment in American political development: the rise of a mode of poverty governance that is, at once, more muscular in its normative enforcement and more dispersed and diverse in its organization. Poverty governance today is pursued through a diffuse network of actors who are positioned in quasi-market relations and charged with the task of bringing discipline to the lives of the poor." "Our book is the product to a sustained effort to make sense of this transformation. [W]e seek to clarify the origins, operations, and consequences of neoliberal paternalism as a mode of poverty governance. The key features of our study fall into three broad categories. . . . Third, our study seeks to clarify the central role that race plays in American poverty governance today. The racial character of the contemporary system is more than just a legacy of our troubled racial past. It is a reflection of how race operates today as a social structure that organizes politics and markets and as a mental structure that organizes choice and action in governance. Racialized social relations and race-coded discourses provided essential resources for the political actors who drove the turn toward neoliberal paternalism. In this sense, race played a key role in shaping the governing arrangements that all poor Americans now confront. The effects of race, however, have not been limited to the broad directions of historical change. As we will see, racial factors go far toward explaining the systemic ways that governing arrangements and outcomes vary across the contemporary system. Functioning as a socially constructed 'principle of vision and division', race supplies a powerful cultural frame and structural context for the contemporary practice of poverty governance." Id. at 2-3 (citations omitted). This is an important read on the neoliberal assault on the poor. It should be read by law students, especially those very few law students claiming an interest in poverty and poverty law will read. They might come to realize that they are merely cogs in the poverty governance machinery.).