Cover image for That's not what we meant to do : reform and its unintended consequences in twentieth-century America
That's not what we meant to do : reform and its unintended consequences in twentieth-century America
Gillon, Steven M.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2000]

Physical Description:
288 pages ; 22 cm
American exceptionalism and the promise of unintended consequences -- Irony of reform: origins of Federal Welfare Policy, 1935 -- Politics of deinstitutionalization: the Community Health Act of 1963 -- Strange career of affirmative action: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- Still the golden door?: the Immigration Act of 1965 -- Politics of campaign finance reform: the Federal Election Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1974.
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HV57 .G56 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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An investigation into the chasm between the good intentions of legislators and the results of their legislation. Gillon discusses welfare policy, community mental health reform and immigration acts, and describes the unintended consenqueces of their enactment.

Author Notes

Steven M. Gillon is the Carol E. Young Professor and Dean of the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma. He hosts a weekly show on the History Channel called HistoryCenter

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gillon surveys how best-laid plans have gone awry in arenas from science to politics, to such a degree that it has spurred scientists to study chaos. He focuses in particular on political programs that miscarried: reform of federal welfare policy, deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, affirmative action, immigration policy, and campaign finance reform. At the tactical level, he cites the creation of the office of special independent counsel after the Watergate scandal, the Reagan tax cuts of 1981, and rent control legislation. He notes that conservatives like to decry the unintended consequences of social programs they oppose, but he also points out the negative consequences of such conservative initiatives as deregulation. In his view, desire to have government deal with problems but reluctance to give government the power to do so is the contradiction that eventuates in unintended bad consequences. Gillon doesn't mean to discourage good intentions in public policy, but to heighten awareness of the complexities of modern life and of the basic values that public policies are designed to serve. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Gillon (dean of Honors Coll., Univ. of Oklahoma; The Democrats' Dilemma) takes a balanced look at the mixed record of American government activism since the New Deal. He describes the good intentions, tangled legislative history, and unexpected results of such cornerstones of the liberal regulatory state as the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, affirmative action, and campaign finance reform. These grandiose plans for social engineering foundered largely because Americans expect much from the federal government but are unwilling to grant it the time, authority, or resources to tackle problems in a thoughtful, comprehensive way. Though decrying the bureaucracy and unintended results of liberal social policy, Gillon does not think that the conservative impulse to make no effort to solve social problems is the answer. He urges instead that we continue to experiment while being aware of the potential for unforeseen problems. Gillon concludes that "results we do not like should produce humility, not despair." Recommended for public and academic libraries.DDuncan Stewart, State Historical Society of Iowa Lib., Iowa City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Gillon (Univ. of Oklahoma) argues that Americans love the idea of "reform" but that a host of factors, including the role of local governments and special interests' interests in thwarting reform measures, can produce cures worse than the original disease. Gillon examines four laws and one ongoing effort: the welfare "reform" measure of 1935, which proved the foundation for a system of welfare very different from that imagined by President Franklin Roosevelt; the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, which emptied out mental hospitals throughout the US without necessarily improving the conditions mentally ill persons faced; the Civil Rights Act of 1964, from which emerged race-based preferences despite the explicit avowals of the law's writers that race was not to be a consideration in determining admissions to school or opportunities to find work; the Immigration Act of 1965, whose authors never anticipated that a policy of "blood-related" admissions to America would encourage vast immigration from Asia and Latin America; and the naive efforts of campaign finance reformers since the 1970s. Gillon notes that conservatives often use the "unintended consequences" argument to oppose reforms, and he insists that there are times when reformers accomplish their goals. His concern, in this well-wrought book, is to promote idealism without illusions. All libraries. M. J. Birkner; Gettysburg College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. 11
Introduction: American Exceptionalism and the Promise of Unintended Consequencesp. 17
Chapter 1 The Irony of Reform: The Origins of Federal Welfare Policy, 1935p. 43
Chapter 2 The Politics of Deinstitutionalization: The Community Mental Health Act of 1963p. 87
Chapter 3 The Strange Career of Affirmative Action: The Civil Rights Act of 1964p. 120
Chapter 4 Still the Golden Door?: The Immigration Act of 1965p. 163
Chapter 5 The Politics of Campaign Finance Reform: The Federal Election Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1974p. 200
Conclusion: A Few Final Observationsp. 235
Endnotesp. 241
Indexp. 273