Patterns of Generosity

Who's Holding the Safety Net

Julian Wolpert
Release Date: December 1, 2001

During the 1980s, virtually all nations were attracted to the potential benefits of decentralizing government domestic programs. America’s New Federalism gave enhanced responsibility for support of social, educational, and cultural services to state and local governments and nonprofit organizations. A decade later, assessments of this decentralization experiment show mixed and uneven results. American’s differ widely by community and region in levels of wealth and distress, in the fiscal resources of their state and local governments and voluntary organizations, and in their levels of public and private generosity and willingness to provide support for amenities, services, and income transfers. Decentralization has had some highly regressive effects that are difficult to remedy by government or the voluntary sector solely at state and community levels. The evidence warrants selective recentralization to help guarantee nationally adequate safety nets and quality of life.

Through his efforts, Julian Wolpert, offers some measure to help move the debate over social policy away form the myth that, when it comes to poverty, government is the problem, and lead us back to a balanced assessment of the ways in which it can be part of the solution. More generally, if we do not learn to think of those activities as worthwhile, we shall continue to find the quality of our communities and or our lives failing to improve, however much we achieve the state of the art in our marketplace.