The Poverty Debate

The Poverty Debate

THE NEW POLITICS OF POVERTY: THE NON- WORKING POOR IN AMERICA, by Lawrence Mead. Basic Books, 1992. 356 pp. $25.00.

In 1986 Lawrence Mead catapulted to prominence with the publication of Beyond Entitlement, which argued for enforcing work obligations on welfare recipients. Used widely to support federal workfare, the book’s lasting significance lay in the intellectual foundation it provided for contemporary conservatism. Unlike Charles Murray, whose Losing Ground(1984) argued for reducing the scope and responsibilities of the state, Mead developed a conservative defense of big government. Government, in his view, should assume more, rather than less, responsibility; only a strong federal government could reverse the slide into permanent dependence and social pathology in America’s inner cities.

In his new book, The New Politics of Poverty: The Non-Working Poor in America, Mead blends these arguments into a provocative account of recent political history. The withdrawal of many blacks from “mainstream institutions,” asserts Mead, amounts to an “internal secession . . . no less threatening to the country than the more formal rupture in 1861.” As in the first Civil War, the GOP is leading the “new battle for integration.”