Twenty years after the 1996 Welfare Reform Act it would be irresponsible not to revive this paper. I was right, my critics – the advocates of devolution – wrong
Stephen T. Ziliak predicted in his 1996 dissertation the current failures of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA)
Kicking the Malthusian Vice: Lessons from the Abolition of ‘Welfare’ in the Late Nineteenth Century is the best overall statement of my thesis on the history of welfare reform and privatization. The paper predicts well the effects of the 1996 Act and misbehavior of economists
(Published in a special issue of The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance 37 [2, Summer 1997]: 449-68)
I first conceived of “the Malthusian vice” in 1994 when I heard Newt Gingrich speaking on the radio about ending entitlements and privatizing welfare programs as part of a new Contract with America. I could tell he was not working with evidence. He and his team of Republicans and Democrats were, like Malthus and countless others after Malthus, merely speculating about the effects of major institutional replacement, a bad habit I dubbed “the Malthusian vice”. I was in Indianapolis at the time, doing archival research for my dissertation on the late 19th century movement that Gingrich wished to revive. I drove instead to a coffee shop and began to write
Article drafts and conference presentations I gave between 1994 and 1997 had evidently some virtue: “the Malthusian vice” bothered a lot of people, raised a lot of questions, and impressed some heavy hitters, giving me the drive and confidence to keep going . . . until, that is, a different vice – a bourgeois vice – encroached, stealing from more than virtue. Regardless, as I say, my original conception of this “vice” dates to 1994. I’m proud of that name and work, and more so now that I see how accurate I was
The admittedly under-placed paper feels so contemporary now, more so than the related Self Reliance paper, especially now with Gingrich back on the scene. I have to find a new outlet and way to spread the word.
See also “New Links,” Economist’s View, Nov 13 2016 (Mark Thoma)