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Workfare–Warfare: Neoliberalism, “Active” Welfare and the New American Way of War

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In recent decades, welfare reform in the USA has increasingly been based on a political imperative to reduce the number of people on welfare. This has in large part taken place through the establishment of a “workfare” state, in which the receipt of state benefits requires a paid labor input. Designed to reduce expenditure on civil social services, welfare-to-work programs have been introduced. At the same time, the restructuring of US defense provision has seen the “military–industrial complex” emerge as a key beneficiary of state expenditure. Both of these trends can be characterized, this paper argues, as manifestations of neoliberal thinking—whether in the form of the “workfarism” that is undertaken to bolster the US economy, or the “defense transformation” that has been intended to enhance US war-making capacity. While these two aspects have been analyzed in detail independently, the aim of this paper is to probe the similarities, connections and overlaps between the workfare state and the recent American emphasis on high-technology warfare—the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs”—and “defense transformation”. There are, the paper argues, strong homologies to be drawn between the restructuring of the American defense and welfare infrastructures. Furthermore there are also instances where warfare and welfare are being melded together into a hybrid form “workfare–warfare”, in which military service is increasingly positioned as a means of gaining welfare and, conversely, traditionally military industries are becoming involved in the area of welfare provision. The result, it is argued, is an emergent form of workfare–warfare state in the USA.

Keywords: USA; neoliberalization; warfare; workfare

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK;, Email: 2: Department of Politics, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK;, Email:

Publication date: November 1, 2009


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