Welfare and paternalism
The differences between the perspective which is explored in this chapter and that of Charles Murray or Frank Field are simple and stark. 'The entire tradition of explaining poverty or dependency in terms of incentives or disincentives', writes Lawrence Mead (1992: 136), 'is bankrupt.' It is bankrupt, he argues, because the long-term poor do not respond to changes in the framework of financial incentives or sanctions in the way that Murray and Field presume. The reason why they do not respond is that they are not competent, functioning individuals who act rationally to further their interests. On the contrary, they are the 'dutiful but defeated' who will not take advantage of opportunities for advancement unless forced to do so.
The explanation of long-term poverty, then, lies not in the perverse incentives generated by welfare but in the character of the poor themselves and in a political culture that condones self-destructive behaviour. It follows that the solution is to be found not in the creation of new opportunities or financial inducements but in the exercise of authority. The role of welfare should be to compel the poor to behave in ways that are conducive to their longterm betterment, and thereby promote the common good. This can be achieved most readily by making their entitlement to benefits and services conditional upon their behaving in prescribed ways. The most obvious and important example of such conditionality is, of course, the imposition of work requirements upon applicants for unemployment benefits: workfare. Back in 1992, however, Mead argued that workfare was 'only the most developed instance of a trend', and wrote of a new paternalism in welfare: 'A tutelary regime is emerging in which dependents receive support of several kinds on condition of restrictions on their lives' (Mead 1992: 181). It is Mead himself who is by far the best known and most influential advocate of this paternalism, and it is with his arguments that this chapter is primarily concerned.