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Welfare Reform, 1834

  • Gregory Clark
  • Marianne Page

    (Department of Economics, University of California Davis)

The English Old Poor Law, which before 1834 provided welfare to the elderly, children, the improvident, and the unfortunate, was a bête noire of the new discipline of Political Economy. Smith, Bentham, Malthus and Ricardo all demanded its abolition. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, drafted by Political Economists, cut payments sharply. Because local rules on eligibility and provision varied greatly before the 1834 reform, we can estimate the social cost of the extensive welfare provision of the Old Poor Law. Surprisingly there is no evidence of any of the alleged social costs that prompted the harsh treatment of the poor after 1834. Political economy, it seems, was born in sin.

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Paper provided by University of California, Davis, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 87.

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Length: 37
Date of creation: 26 Oct 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cda:wpaper:08-7
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  1. 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.
  2. McCloskey, Donald N., 1973. "New perspectives on the old poor law," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 419-436.
  3. Assar Lindbeck, 1997. "The Swedish Experiment," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(3), pages 1273-1319, September.
  4. Clark, Gregory, 1998. "Commons Sense: Common Property Rights, Efficiency, and Institutional Change," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(01), pages 73-102, March.
  5. Boyer, George R, 1989. "Malthus Was Right after All: Poor Relief and Birth Rates in Southeastern England," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(1), pages 93-114, February.
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