The Professionalization of Reform

"The Professionalization of Reform," The Public Interest, Fall 1965.


The passage above, as succinct a case for social planning as could be made, is not a product of either the thought or the institutions of the liberal-left. It is, rather, a statement by the late mathematical economist Wesley C. Mitchell. And it has recently been approvingly reprinted at the beginning of a report on “The Concept of Poverty” published by – the Chamber of Commerce of the United States.

The report itself, the work of businessmen and scholars, is perhaps the most competent commentary on the government’s antipoverty program yet to appear. It is replete with citations of articles in Social Research and Land Economics, and of data from The Statistical Abstract of the United States; the perspective ranges from friendly references to the works of Friedrich Engels, to more detached assessments of contemporary tracts. (“Michael Harrington, author of a widely read book on poverty, The Other America, has written, “Any gain for America’s minorities will immediately be translated into an advance for all the unskilled workers. One cannot raise the bottom of society without benefiting everyone above.’ This is almost precisely wrong.”) But the report is less significant for what it says than for what it is: an example of the evolving technique and style of reform in the profoundly new society developing in the United States. Lacking a better term, it might be described as the professionalization of reform.

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