Wealth and Social Welfare: Market-Based Reform and Anti-poverty Policies

AHA Session 116
Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Salon B (Hilton Atlanta, Second Floor)
Alice M. O'Connor, University of California, Santa Barbara
Angus Robinson Burgin, Johns Hopkins University

Session Abstract

In recent decades charitable, governmental, and business organizations have emphasized market-based solutions as an innovative approach to solving social problems. And while such ideas are gaining increasing popularity as “private” market-based alternatives to “public” state-funded welfare initiatives, the embrace of the market is hardly a new idea in policy or philanthropy. Indeed, since at least the nineteenth century advocates across sectors have touted market-based remedies to social problems. From the management of endowments at philanthropic institutions in the late-nineteenth century to the creation of market-oriented initiatives to address poverty in the twentieth century, tying societal wealth to social welfare through market relationships has been key to American development policies.

Given the current drive to yoke all social programs to the marketplace, this panel will seek to historicize how social reformers have sought to describe and utilize the market for social reform. Our papers address the following questions: Has the embrace of market-based solutions remained a stable concept in American charity or has it evolved in subtle ways over the past century and a half? Have market-based reforms made good on their promises, or have they failed to alleviate the problems perhaps created by those same markets? In promoting and implementing market-based ideas and policies, who are the winners and losers?

Our papers span the twentieth century and attend to the intellectual history of these ideas as well as to the political and social narratives of their implementation. Elizabeth Harmon’s paper explores how the growth of philanthropic foundations, such as the Peabody Education Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation, ignited national debates about the role of market-principles in social welfare policy across the early twentieth century. She uses the first foundations' mission statements, corporate charters and programming to analyze their vision of managing social relations through new financial technologies and market relationships. Christian Christiansen’s work moves this history into the late twentieth century by providing an intellectual history of markets as a means for poverty reduction from the 1970s until the 2000s. He will examine poverty reduction policies in the US and the UN to investigate the intellectual influences of American ways of thinking about poverty on the global governance of poverty. Gunnar Myrdal, John Kenneth Galbraith and Jeffrey Sachs’ works on poverty are central to his analysis. Claire Dunning furthers these themes through a history of the community development movement in Boston. Her paper examines the rise of public and nonprofit financing intermediaries and their support of nonprofit housing development in the 1970s and 1980s. It contrasts efforts to link nonprofit balance sheets to private investment and national debt markets with the actual economic, physical, and social changes produced at the neighborhood level.

Collectively our work broadens the notion of social reformer to include businesspeople and government officials, in addition to charitable workers. By examining the envisioning and implementation of market-based social reform across sectors, we seek to demonstrate how diverse interests have attempted to utilize markets variously through advocacy, competition, and partnership.

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