The Public Interest

Telling the poor what to do

Lawrence M. Mead

Summer 1998

PATERNALISM is coming to American social policy. The trend is most visible in welfare policy, where adults are increasingly required to work or stay in school if they want to receive government assistance. In fact, today “welfare reform” largely means that the government seeks to supervise poor citizens. But paternalism can be seen elsewhere as well, for example, in policy toward the homeless, where shelters increasingly set rules for their residents, and in education, where states have instituted tougher standards for school children.

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