A while back I came across an article called Most Welfare Dollars Don’t Go Directly To Poor People Anymore (fivethiryeight, August 25, 2016). Let's cut to the chase.
The result [of Welfare "reform" in the 1990s] has been a dramatic shift of resources away from cash assistance and toward spending on other programs. In 1998, nearly 60 percent of welfare spending was on cash benefits, categorized as “basic assistance.” By 2014, it was only about one-quarter of TANF [Welfare] spending. That shift has happened despite a burgeoning economics literature suggesting that direct cash transfers are in many cases the most efficient tool to fight poverty.
So, welfare in the United States is fucked up (see the article for the gory details).
My reaction to that article was "well, of course welfare is fucked up. Everything in the United States is fucked up."
When I used the word "special" in the title, I didn't mean special in a good way. But there is a deeper question — what makes the United States so special? (at least among the developed nations).
That question arises because I believe humans are the same wherever you go. I think there is an identifiable human nature. I am a determinist. Cultural differences among nations shouldn't make much difference. And yet, when we look at the United States now, it seems clear that things that probably work well enough in other places (e.g., welfare programs in Europe) don't work at all in the United States. Why is this?