Paternalism Essay, Research Paper
If government tells dependent people how to live today, will we have a more
self-reliant society tomorrow? That’s the critical question as government
increasingly seeks to supervise the lives of poor citizens who are dependent on it,
often in return for supporting them. This trend is most visible in welfare policy,
where “welfare reform” largely means attempts to require adults receiving
assistance to work or stay in school in return for aid. However, it can also be seen
in policy toward the homeless, where shelters increasingly set rules for their
residents; in education, where states have instituted tougher standards for
children; and in drug programs that test addicts for compliance. The drift in
antipoverty policy is toward paternalism–the close supervision of the dependent.
Paternalism has been a major trend in social policy for the past decade, and it
has support from the public. But it has received little attention from researchers
and policy analysts–until now. The New Paternalism opens up a serious
discussion of supervisory methods in antipoverty policy. The book assembles
noted policy experts to examine whether programs that set standards for their
clients and supervise them closely are better able to help them than traditional
programs that leave clients free to live as they please.
Separate chapters discuss programs to promote work in welfare, prevent teen
pregnancy, improve fathers’ payment of child support, shelter homeless men in
New York City, deter drug addiction, and improve the education of the
disadvantaged. Cross-cutting chapters address the management of paternalism,
the psychological needs of poor adults, and the tension between paternalism and
The authors consider both sides of the debate over this controversial issue.
Several chapters address the sensitive question of whether government or private
organizations are best able to implement supervisory programs. The conclusions
are optimistic but cautious. Most of the authors believe that paternalism can make
an important contribution to overcoming poverty. But paternalism is not a panacea,
and it makes severe demands on the capacities of government. Supervisory
programs are difficult to justify politically and to implement well.