Saturday, February 12, 2011

Frances Fox Piven, Glenn Beck and Social Change

Frances Fox Piven, a target of Glenn Beck's conspiracy theorizing, wrote an excellent piece clarifying the activity that made her part of the grand conspiracy:

The Nation article, entitled "The Weight of the Poor: a Strategy to End Poverty," called for large-scale campaign by social workers, lawyers, community organizers, and the poor themselves to claim benefits. Such a campaign, we thought, would not only relieve some of the acute poverty in the slums of America; it would also generate rising welfare costs for cities and states at a time of intensifying racial conflict.

The latter could prod a national Democratic administration that depended on urban constituencies to reform the archaic grant-in-aid welfare system, which still retained features of the old poor law, to introduce some kind of federal guaranteed-income policy. And in fact, by the end of the decade, even Richard Nixon, under the tutelage of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, became, a cautious advocate of a national guaranteed income.

Now guess who else was a proponent of a form of minimum income? Two heroes of the right,Frederich Hayek and Milton Freidman. Here is an article on Freidman's vision - the "negative income tax" - from the New York Times:

Market forces can accomplish wonderful things, he realized, but they cannot ensure a distribution of income that enables all citizens to meet basic economic needs. His proposal, which he called the negative income tax, was to replace the multiplicity of existing welfare programs with a single cash transfer — say, $6,000 — to every citizen. A family of four with no market income would thus receive an annual payment from the I.R.S. of $24,000. For each dollar the family then earned, this payment would be reduced by some fraction — perhaps 50 percent. A family of four earning $12,000 a year, for example, would receive a net supplement of $18,000 (the initial $24,000 less the $6,000 tax on its earnings).

Mr. Friedman’s proposal was undoubtedly motivated in part by his concern for the welfare of the least fortunate. But he was above all a pragmatist, and he emphasized the superiority of the negative income tax over conventional welfare programs on purely practical grounds. If the main problem of the poor is that they have too little money, he reasoned, the simplest and cheapest solution is to give them some more. He saw no advantage in hiring armies of bureaucrats to dispense food stamps, energy stamps, day care stamps and rent subsidies.

Freidman's "pseudo-welfare" (for lack of a better term) would be aimed at streamlining the process, which Piven herself says is needed:

But who can decipher the impact of a policy to regulate financial institutions when the policy and regulations run to the length of an encyclopedia, and the text of the encyclopedia deals with such incomprehensible matters as credit default swaps? The blank space in the democratic process is an invitation to propaganda by those who want to limit the democratic influence of the public, and propaganda is flourishing in American politics today.

The appeal to right wing demagogues is that they provide quick, easy explanations to the problematic consequences of progressive change. Among those consequences is significant social change:

Lunatic though they are, the ravings about our plan for an orchestrated crisis to destroy capitalism—or a Muslim caliphate that will devour Europe—are important because they provide theories of a sort to people who are made anxious by large-scale changes that have overtaken American society. Those includedeindustrialization and our loss of pre-eminence in the world, changes in family and sexual norms, and, perhaps most of all, the growing diversity of the American population and the election of an African-American president. Social scientists themselves do not agree about the causes of all these developments, and people without the luxury of time and training are often left angry and confused.

That Piven actually recognizes what causes the appeal is very illuminating and welcoming. The oncoming ascent of women in society is going to lead either to nihilism or some sort of ideological muscularity on the part of young men who feel left behind, with pragmatism among those that really understand what is happening. Recognizing this is the best way to offset it, while taking the approach of feminist Pamela Paul will only propel it ever forward.

When it comes to the social change of changing demography, this topic made its presence in full at CPAC this week. Check out Little Green Footballs for full coverage.

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