Neoliberalism in US Antipoverty Policy

Although Lyndon Johnson made particular efforts to focus on Appalachia as a referent for white rural deprivation when launching the War on Poverty, the touchstone documents of antipoverty policy, including the Moynihan Report and the Kerner Commission Report, along with the influential studies of William Julius Wilson, have encouraged Americans to figure poverty as a spatial and particularly urban problem.

Many studies have evaluated the political relationships between urban governments and Washington in the implementation of the early phases of the War on Poverty. But the ascendancy of the market as a means both of disciplining urban governments and populations and encouraging capital accumulation as the preferred (and today, virtually exclusive) antipoverty device is a particularly urgent question as the transition to neoliberal political economy becomes less the domain of political theorists and critical geographers and historians claim some territory in the recent past.

Here are two reads on the subject.

Sam Wetherell, writing in Jacobin, examines the transatlantic rise of the urban enterprise zone, a neoliberal spatial intervention whose influence is out of proportion to its demonstrated effectiveness in reducing poverty. This suggests, of course, that it’s not a failed solution to the problem of poverty as much as a successful solution to a concurrent problem. Identifying President Obama’s recently announced “Promise Zone” initiative as a reiteration of Reagan- and Thatcherite spatial reforms that liberated property in defined urban districts from regulation and taxes (though Obama’s version has a culture war sop to encouraging marriage that suggests an unholy union of Jack Kemp and Charles Murray), Wetherell argues that

The Promise Zones announced this week are only the latest in a long line of spatial policies designed to benefit market forces rather than meet people’s needs and reduce structural inequality.

And Tracy Neumann looks to the frequently-overlooked Carter administration for the roots of American neoliberal urban policy in the Journal of Urban History.

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2 comments on “Neoliberalism in US Antipoverty Policy

  1. […] to see how this edition addresses the neoliberal moment of Obama’s (mostly notional) urban policy, the ongoing neocon culture war against cities, and of course, secession […]

  2. […] to normalize white/affluent segregation and focus intervention on the deficiencies of the minority poor. Semuels […]

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