In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a Nationwide War on the
Sources of Poverty to "strike away the barriers to full participation" in
our society. Central to that war was an understanding that given
poverty's complex and multi-layered causes, identifying, implementing,
and monitoring solutions to it would require the "maximum feasible
participation" of affected communities. Equally central, however, was an
understanding that such decentralized problem-solving could not be fully
effective without national-level orchestration and support. As such, an
Office of Economic Opportunity was established - situated in the
Executive Office of the President itself - to support, through
encouragement, funding, and coordination, the development and
implementation of community-based plans of action for poverty
alleviation, as identified and prioritized by the poor themselves.
This Article urges a return to this practical, locally-responsive, yet
federally-orchestrated orientation of U.S. social welfare law. It argues that
while the regulatory and political context of the 1960s provided
inauspicious ground for the early "maximum feasible participation"
policy to effectively take root, four decades later, two broad paradigm
shifts have yielded a new, more fertile opportunity framework. The first
involves the shift in U.S. regulatory law away from earlier command-andcontrol
structures favoring fixed rules and centralized enforcement,
toward a New Governance model that privileges decentralization,
flexibility, stakeholder participation, performance indicators, and guided
discretion. The second is the concurrent paradigm shift in U.S. social
movement approaches to poverty - what I call "New Accountability" -
which similarly promotes local voice and inclusive participation,
performance monitoring around human rights standards, and negotiated
policymaking (rather than non-negotiable material demands and mass
confrontation, the preferred tactics of 1960s activism). Supported by a
renewed U.S. interest in collecting and reporting performance indicators
for government programs, these two shifts converge to create a theory and
policy-based environment in which it is both practically feasible and
normatively coherent to re-embrace the participatory orientation of the
early "War on the Sources of Poverty" strategy.
The challenge for U.S. social welfare rights law, I argue, is how to bring
these two complementary paradigms together in constructive synergy to
mount a 21st century battle against poverty. A set of national
subsidiarity-based institutions to support this effort is proposed, each
mandated to orchestrate and competitively incentivize targeted antipoverty
efforts by all social stakeholders, while opening new institutional
spaces for the active participation of the poor in all aspects of meeting the
nation's poverty reduction targets.
Melish, Tara J.
"Maximum Feasible Participation of the Poor: New Governance, New Accountability, and a 2 1st Century War on the Sources of Poverty,"
Yale Human Rights and Development Journal:
1, Article 1.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yhrdlj/vol13/iss1/1