Laboratories of Suffering: Toward Democratic Welfare Governance
Forthcoming, Poverty States: Federalism, Rights, and State Anti-Poverty Efforts (Ezra Rosser ed., Cambridge University Press, 2019)
34 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2018 Last revised: 6 Apr 2020
Date Written: July 26, 2018
In this chapter, we provide background on federal cash assistance to poor families, explain current TANF policy, and propose that anti-poverty scholars turn their attention to a fundamental precondition of democratic experimentalism: the presence of meaningful and well-functioning democracy that includes the poor. A democratic structure that operates non-democratically by weakening the political voices of poor people is an insufficient environment for a just approach to welfare. Instead of laboratories of democracy, states in this domain often function as laboratories of suffering—political entities that experiment upon poor people without robust informed consent. While some democratic deficits are likely inevitable in any system, in welfare, we see a governance structure in which the sole direct beneficiaries of the regime are largely shut out of the democratic processes that structure that regime. This arrangement virtually guarantees inefficacious policy.
Keywords: TANF, welfare, federalism, poverty, democracy
JEL Classification: I3
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation