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Wisconsin Law Review


This Article presents a theoretical model for analyzing welfare policy choices, a model that seeks both to explain the puzzling persistence of welfare in the face of widespread dissatisfaction with it, and to provide a reasoned basis for making more satisfactory policy choices. Drawing on game theory, the author postulates that the poor and the nonpoor are faced with a strategic dilemma as a result of their shared stake in the alleviation of poverty. The author's analysis of this dilemma suggests that the nonpoor react rationally by providing assistance to the poor, but that they are dissatisfied with this outcome insofar as it imposes costs on them. Indeed, the author contends that some of the most troubling of these costs result from decisions made by the poor in reaction to the nonpoor's decision to provide assistance. Having identified the strategic dilemma or "game" that results in society's grudging provision of welfare, the author then explores ways in which society can reduce the costs associated with welfare by changing the way the game is perceived by the poor, the nonpoor, or both. The impact of rhetoric and program design on these perceptions is examined in the context of past, present, and proposed policy alternatives. The author concludes by outlining a possible poverty alleviation strategy which, by taking the poor and the nonpoor outside the present strategic dilemma, would eliminate some of the most problematic features of welfare policy.

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