Lawrence Mead

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Lawrence M. Mead
Born (1943-06-06) June 6, 1943 (age 75)
Huntington, New York
Residence New York City, New York
Education Amherst College (1966)
Harvard University, M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1973)
Occupation Political scientist
Known for Arguing that employment is an obligation of citizenship.
Notable work Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship, The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America
Title Professor

Lawrence M. Mead (born 1943, Huntington, New York) is a professor in the department of politics at New York University, where he is currently professor of politics and public policy.[1]


He received his B.A. from Amherst College, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1966, and his MA and Ph. D from Harvard University in 1968 and 1973.[2]


Mead has taught at New York University since 1979. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin (1987), Harvard University (1993-4) and Princeton University (1994-5). He was a visiting fellow at Princeton (1995-6, 2001-2) and the Hoover Institution at Stanford (1988). Prior to NYU, Mead was Deputy Director of Research for the Republican National Committee (1978–1979), a Research Associate at the Urban Institute (1975–1978), a speechwriter to Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger (1974–1975), and a policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (1973–1975).[2]

Theories on welfare[edit]

Mead is best known as an expert on poverty and welfare in the United States. In the books he wrote between 1986 and 2004, he provided the main theoretical basis for the American welfare reform of the 1990s, which required adult recipients of welfare to work as a condition of aid. His books have also influenced welfare reform in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.[3]

Most other experts on poverty and welfare defended the traditional policy of entitlement under which recipients qualified for assistance simply by having low income, regardless of lifestyle. Mead rejected wanted conditionality. Employable recipients now had to help themselves to get help from society. However, he also differed from other conservative critics of welfare, such as Charles Murray, who wanted simply to abolish welfare. Mead had no objection to aid as such but insisted only for it be less permissive. Mead is not a small-government conservative but a big-government conservative who wants to use government for conservative ends, enforcing the work ethic. That approach came to dominate welfare policy in the 1990s. It is also seen in other areas of social policy such as tougher enforcement of the criminal law and the movement for higher standards in the public schools.

Other experts were mostly economists and sociologists. They blamed poverty or welfare largely on adverse social conditions that denied the poor the chance to work and support themselves. The answer, they argued, was to push back the barriers by giving the poor new benefits and opportunities. In contrast, Mead was a political scientist who blamed poverty largely on a breakdown of public authority. Poverty reflected disorder more than denials of opportunity. The poor were too free.rather than not free enough. The solution was to enforce values such as the work ethic or law-abidingness more effectively. Other experts did statistical analyses of the conditions surrounding the poor. While Mead published some quantitative research, his books were based largely on field research on welfare work programs in New York and Wisconsin. He argued that better-run, more demanding work programs had a power to move the adult poor into jobs and thus reduce poverty and welfare.[4] In the 1990s, welfare reform drove most recipients off the rolls, mostly into jobs, apparently confirming Mead's prediction. Other experts, however, attributed the success of reform mostly to excellent economic conditions and new benefits.

Mead has written three books, coauthored one book, and edited or coedited three others, all of them on poverty and/or government welfare policies. Government Matters, his study of welfare reform in Wisconsin, was a Co-winner of the Louis Brownlow Book Award (2005), which is given by the National Academy of Public Administration.[5] He has published dozens of articles on poverty, welfare, program implementation, and related subjects in scholarly journals, such as the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Public Administration Review, The Public Interest and the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. His book reviews and commentaries have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other outlets.[6]

Mead has lectured on poverty policy and welfare reform in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. Recently, he has been researching how to better enforce work among poor men who owe child support or are leaving prison on parole.[7] He also is studying and teaching a course on the reasons that the United Kingdom and then the United States became dominant countries in international relations.

Scholars Stanford M. Lyman and Arthur J. Vidich have compared his idea of forcing the poor, blacks, single mothers and the unemployed youth to work to the earlier notion of 'warrantism' espoused by Henry Hughes in the Antebellum South.[8]


Books authored
  • Mead, Lawrence M. (2004). Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-12380-6.
  • Mead, Lawrence M. (1993). The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-05069-7.
  • Mead, Lawrence M. (1986). Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-7432-2495-6.
Books co-authored
  • Mead, Lawrence M.; Beem, Christopher, eds. (2007). Welfare Reform and Political Theory. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications. ISBN 978-0-87154-588-6.
  • Mead, Lawrence M., ed. (1997). The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8157-5651-4.
  • Mead, Lawrence M.; Deacon, Alan, eds. (1997). From Welfare to Work: Lessons from America. London, UK: Institute of Economic Affairs. ISBN 978-0-255-36399-0.


  1. ^ Lawrence M. Mead, from the New York University Department of Politics website. Retrieved on May 14, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Lawrence M. Mead III Curriculum Vita, March 2007. Retrieved on January 19, 2011.
  3. ^ Randeep Ramesh,"Does Getting Tough on the Unemployed Work?" The Guardian, June 16, 2010
  4. ^ Kosar, Kevin R. (November–December 2006). "Welfare Reform and the "Platonic Master Science": An Interview with Lawrence Mead". Public Administration Review. Wiley-Blackwell. 66 (6): 792–98. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2006.00711.x. Retrieved 2009-05-14.
  5. ^ "Academy Honors Three Books with the 2005 Louis Brownlow Award," Archived 2008-11-27 at the Wayback Machine. December 9, 2005, from the National Academy of Public Administration website. Retrieved on May 14, 2009.
  6. ^ Lawrence M. Mead III, Curriculum Vita, March 2007. Retrieved on January 19, 2011.
  7. ^ "Can We Put Poor Men to Work?," Archived 2010-03-27 at the Wayback Machine. May 27, 2009, from the American Enterprise Institute website. Retrieved on May 17, 2010.
  8. ^ Stanford M. Lyman (ed.), Arthur J. Vidich (ed.), Selected Works of Herbert Blumer: A Public Philosophy for Mass Society, Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2000, pp. 14-19 [1]