The Public Interest

The culture of welfare reform

Lawrence M. Mead

Winter 2004

MOST people know that the state of Wisconsin led the nation in reforming welfare, but few realize the full implications of that achievement.  The state’s reform restored hope in the possibility of an effective antipoverty policy. Government could do much more to overcome dependency than previously thought. Yet success hinged not only on effective policies but on the unusual competence of Wisconsin’s government; only a few other state governments appear comparable.  Wisconsin’s example thus directs our attention beyond social policy to the capacity of government itself. A state’s political culture determines whether welfare reform is possible.

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