Toward a More Expansive Welfare Devolution Debate
49 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2005
Leading up to and in the wake of national welfare reform, commentators, scholars, and advocates debated one of the key ingredients in the 1996 legislation: devolution of responsibility for the design and administration of welfare from the federal government to the states. Pro-devolutionists argued that devolution would create 50 state welfare experiments, would result in welfare programs tailored to the unique needs of individual states, and would lead to a race to the top in the quality of welfare programs. Anti-devolutionists argued that devolution would encourage states to compete to repel welfare recipients, to avoid becoming welfare magnets, and, ultimately, to race to the bottom in the quality of welfare services. These polar positions defined - and continue to define - much, if not all, of the welfare devolution debate.
But these arguments are really just two sides of the same coin - polar positions rooted in the same fundamental assumption - and this universe of rhetoric is thus unduly constrained. To see this point, this article attempts to trace the predominant arguments in the devolution debate to a common intellectual root, neo-Tieboutian jurisdictional competition. Viewed in this light, the article argues that the predominant rhetoric reflects just one dimension of what ought to be a much more diverse debate. By expanding the debate to include such considerations as political participation, community, and equality and justice, the article suggests that the debate - and, indeed, options for welfare federalism - can and ought to be much richer.
Keywords: welfare reform
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