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Retrospectives: Classical Family Values: Ending the Poor Laws as They Knew Them


  • Joseph Persky


Poor law reform in the early 1830s provides a key example of the deep conflicts between classical liberal principles of self-reliance and the realities of dependency. Eminent economists, such as Nassau Senior and Thomas Malthus, argued that the dependency of women and children calls forth and motivates its own support from the altruism of husbands and fathers. Like modern welfare reformers, the classical economists asserted the natural necessity and sufficiency of such dependency and ignored its powerful implications for the intergenerational perpetuation of a highly illiberal inequality of opportunity.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph Persky, 1997. "Retrospectives: Classical Family Values: Ending the Poor Laws as They Knew Them," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 179-189, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:11:y:1997:i:1:p:179-89 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.11.1.179

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, January.
    2. Daniel, K., 1991. "Does Marriage Make Men More Productive?," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 92-2, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
    3. Sanders Korenman & David Neumark, 1991. "Does Marriage Really Make Men More Productive?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(2), pages 282-307.
    4. Blaug, Mark, 1963. "The Myth of the Old Poor Law and the Making of the New," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(02), pages 151-184, June.
    5. Blaug, Mark, 1964. "The Poor Law Report Reexamined," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 24(02), pages 229-245, June.
    6. Joseph Persky, 1998. "Wage Slavery," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 30(4), pages 627-651, Winter.
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    Cited by:

    1. Fang, Hanming & Silverman, Dan, 2004. "On the compassion of time-limited welfare programs," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1445-1470, July.
    2. Robert W. Dimand & Evelyn L. Forget & Chris Nyland, 2004. "Retrospectives: Gender in Classical Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 229-240, Winter.
    3. Jason F. Shogren, 2001. "Children And The Environment: Valuing Indirect Effects On A Child'S Life Chances," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 19(4), pages 382-396, October.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)


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