typewriterking (typewriterking) wrote in conservatism,

Workfare Programs

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
-2 Thessalonians 3:10

The above verse has often been used regarding the social gospel (both pro and con), but in the modern welfare state, the state and private charities alike has decoupled aid from work in kind. As entitlements have grown, so to has resentment from the productive class at programs an observer could fairly describe as a series of programs to subsidize sloth. Indeed, the populist dislike for welfare largely hinges on the unsavory nature of these programs distributing money from those that work to those that don't.

In lieu of repealing or even downsizing assistance programs, which appears politically impossible, there has been the option of moving the unemployed or "underemployed" from the welfare role to the workfare role.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani may have been the most visible and vocal proponent in the twentieth century, at least in American politics. Advocating Rudy's record on workfare was the Manhattan Institute's Steven Malanga:

Giuliani then instituted a work requirement for the remaining home-relief recipients, mostly men, obliging them to earn their checks by cleaning city parks and streets or doing clerical work in municipal offices for 20 hours a week. Welfare advocates vigorously objected, and one advocate pronounced the workfare program “slavery.” The New York Times editorialized that most people on home relief were incapable of work.

Giuliani persisted, and when Congress finally passed welfare reform in 1996, giving states and cities broad powers to refocus the giant, federally funded welfare program for mothers and children, Giuliani applied many of the same kinds of reforms. He hired as welfare commissioner Jason Turner, the architect of welfare reform in Wisconsin, which had led the nation in putting welfare recipients back to work. Turner promptly converted the city’s grim welfare intake offices into cheerful and optimistic job centers, where counselors advised welfare recipients on how to write a resumé and provided them with skills assessment and a space they could use to look for work.

By 1999, the number of welfare recipients finding work had risen to more than 100,000 annually, and the welfare rolls had dropped by more than 600,000. It took steadfast courage to win those gains. “The pressure on Rudy during these years was enormous,” says Richard Schwartz, a Giuliani policy advisor. “The advocates and the press trained their sights on us, just waiting for something to go wrong in these workfare programs.”

Rudy later advocated duplicating his workfare program in Iraq.





Just as controversially, the Obama Administration has flirted with the concept of workfare on many fronts. From talk of volunteer work in exchange for Pell grants, to talk about a civilian corps that scared the crap out of folks that let their imaginations go wild, there have been a number of scraped concepts that were either not fully-baked, absolutely stupid, or so poorly-messaged that they just sounded wrong. 

Workfare isn't optimal. From the WPA to Rudy's streetsweepers, works projects are pretty much always obscenely inefficient allocations of resources. But at least with "communism as a safety net" some work is being done by those receiving entitlement payments. That was the original populist appeal to workfare, and I believe if one could demonstrate a plan to yield "more than zero" out of a workfare program, it would be marketable again (in elections, I mean). I'll try to outline some options.

Industrial renewal: You could characterize this as communism without liquidating anybody. In this scenario, welfare recipients "occupy" dormant factories. These would most likely be structured as cooperatives. Yes, this resembles Upton Sinclair's EPIC, except with no ulterior motive to ever abolish capitalism in America, I swear. The concept is based on a simple premise: would you prefer America's factories to run on a crappy Soviet model, or to remain the status quo of being close for business? These are your two crappy options.

Augmenting the military: It is said that the military is over-extended, and that the growth of private military company contracts are a sign that the military is taking on tasks they're not sized for. So how much of the military's job goes undone at home? I haven't a clue, but I'm guessing an available labor pool could help out.

Suppose we hybridize the factory concept with augmenting the military (or State Department). The Department of Defense would then have it's own manufacturing bureau that could at least fabricate heavy machinery as well as the Soviet bloc did. Shipping out vehicles on par with Soviet and ChiCom surplus could go a long way in propping up the prowess of allies. The Kurds could appreciate receiving main battle tanks from Government Motors. 

So, is make-work better than no work, or will all varieties of workfare end up being counterproductive? Is workfare worse than welfare? Marginally better? The same? Preferable to America's prison labor system? An appealing augment to it?
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