CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1With 1.7 million individuals living at or below the poverty line, [1] 6,207 philanthropic institutions [2] and 9,078 charities, [3] New York City defies all social statistics for the United States. Although this fact is well recognised, we know far less about just how much the city’s leadership exports in terms of public policy models. Since the 1970s, numerous programmes designed to fight poverty have been launched here. In addition to federal measures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC, 2 billion dollars per year) and Food Stamps (3.5 billion dollars per year), municipal agencies have contracted out a significant number of policy measures to community-based organisations. This trend only increased under Michael Bloomberg: from 2003 to 2012, the number of New Yorkers receiving public financial assistance rose approximately from 800,000 to 1,800,000. [4]

2New York’s influence in terms of social issues is not limited by the city’s geographical limits. Although New York City is neither a state capital, nor a decision-making centre, it is unquestionably a site of power with international impact. It belongs to what Saskia Sassen has called “a new geography of centrality”, [5] a set of places distinguished not by their geographic, but rather their social and political centrality. And it is precisely these characteristics of a territory – historical, economic and socio-spatial – that help to explain its leadership position.

3This article will analyse the introduction of a model designed to combat poverty. New York’s global nature will lead us to pay special attention to public policy transfers. In other words, the focus here is more on the content of public action [6] than on institutions or systems. Moreover, I shall attempt to determine how the manner in which public policies are circulated in turn shapes their social and political value: in other words, how content becomes a model. The main variable that I have chosen to study is location. New York City will be examined here as a laboratory for American social policy, an oligopolistic leader on the national and international policy market. The size of the non-profit sector in the United States is so large that it has prevented the creation of a full-fledged welfare state. [7] An analysis of the content of public action might have led to a study of its instruments. But this was not the goal of this study; nor to reconstitute the system of how allocations differed from policy standards at local level. Seeking to go beyond the neo-classical hypothesis of the free movement and unfettered competition of policies, this article will probe further. Who conceives of these models? Which authorities finance them? Among all the existing arrangements, what are the policies that “rise to the status of ‘models’, or objects of emulation”? [8] The approach used will highlight one main idea: building a model depends more on the deployment of specific dissemination strategies than on the quality of the policy’s content.

4With its 15,400 economists and 5,600 political scientists, [9] the United States remains particularly influential in the realm of public policy. Taking the circulation phenomenon seriously does not mean placing all stakeholders on equal footing. If circulation exists, it is because an epicentre and a starting point exist. Placing the United States at the top of the chain is not enough. What does “the United States” mean? Do southern states, midwestern states or west coast states play an equal role in the diffusion of social policy models? Opening up the Pandora’s box of American federalism means delving into infra-national questions in order to study production hubs more closely. Yet there is one place in the country which occupies a special position: New York. Based on the results of a doctoral study conducted in the United States and France, [10] this hypothesis can be tested by studying a specific measure’s development.

5Opportunity NYC is the name of an anti-poverty programme launched in 2007 during Mayor Bloomberg’s second term (he was also a candidate for re-election in 2009). Mayor since 2002, not only is this billionaire the city’s richest man but also the wealthiest politician in the United States. [11] At the helm of a large communications group (a news channel, several publishing houses, etc.), Bloomberg’s political style was strongly influenced by his professional culture. The way that Opportunity NYC was announced flipped traditional logic on its head: “Encourage the poor like we encourage the rich”. [12] Working from the premise that poverty is caused by “bad decisions”, financial incentives were proposed in the hopes of developing “good habits” and encouraging people to “do the right thing”. A “monetary reward” was associated with each positive action. Bringing one’s child to the doctor, getting a diploma or working more hours could translate into 20 or even 600 dollars. These rewards could add up to about 13,000 dollars per year. This measure was presented as an adaptation of the model used in the global South: what development actors call “conditional cash transfers”. [13] More specifically, the New York model was touted as a version of the Mexican programme Oportunidades. The policy was developed by the Manpower Development Research Corporation (MDRC), a well-known United States-based research institution, contracted by the mayor’s Center for Economic Opportunity.

6This article will attempt to follow this programme’s trajectory in order to understand how New York policy entrepreneurs [14] position the city as a leader with regard to social policy models. The proximity of philanthropic, international and reformist elites produces specific effects in terms of policy-making. The dissemination strategies implemented also consolidate the city’s position. By seeking to wield influence – locally, nationally and internationally – the New York model strives to lead through example. The topography of the city confirms its leadership position, and its characteristics thus determine the strategic uses of an urban territory transformed into a political laboratory. [15]

A “benevolent empire”

7The uniqueness of New York City stems from the fact that Manhattan’s compact space is home to an exceptional density of elites from all sectors. A leading stock market, prestigious universities,multinational corporations: social, cultural, economic and political capital all converge in this global city. Opportunity NYC was the fruit of collaboration between different forms of social power. Three modes of socialisation should be noted here: the existence of an exclusive community of philanthropic elites; the role of lobbying and international organisations; and the development and maintenance of reformist expertise.

A community of philanthropists

8The financial resources generated by Wall Street are redistributed via foundation networks governed by a combination of “universal” interests and interpersonal contacts. One US-based foundation out of every six is based in New York. And they are richer here than anywhere else: 21.3% of charitable capital is concentrated in the city. [16] This situation is unparalleled: although the robber barons of yesteryear made their fortunes all across the United States (Andrew Carnegie in Pittsburgh, John D. Rockefeller in Cleveland, Henry Ford in Detroit…), all of them based their foundations in Manhattan. [17] The Protestant revivalism of the early nineteenth century made New York the national centre of a “benevolent empire”. [18] The philanthropic elite brings a major resource to the table: money. There can be no social programmes without philanthropic capital to fund them. Whether policies and measures receive funding from foundations alone, or from the combined efforts of foundations and government agencies, the use of philanthropic capital is widespread. [19] That being the case, Opportunity NYC still presents some peculiarities in this respect.

9Under the auspices of the mayoral office, only Opportunity’s pilot programme was public. Funding, administration and monitoring were all handled by the private sector. Bloomberg found himself at the crossroads of several local networks involving wealthy donors, businessmen, and political officials. As Bloomberg owns his own foundation, he was on equal footing with other philanthropists – hence the ease with which he raised funds for the programme. With an influential address book, a huge fortune and the power necessary to make decisions, Bloomberg’s numerous and varied social ties multiplied the kinds of capital that he could raise.

10Opportunity NYC received support from ten foundations, seven of which were based in Manhattan: American International Group (AIG Foundation), Bloomberg Family Foundation, New York Community Trust, The Open Society Institute, [20] The Rockefeller Foundation, The Robin Hood Foundation and The Starr Foundation. [21] Most of these foundations refused to disclose or remained vague regarding the amount they donated to the programme, and their fiscal declarations as contained on IRS 990 Forms do not make this information available. What is important is that, of the 26 million dollars attributed annually to the programme, 10 million came from the Rockefeller Foundation and another 10 from Michael Bloomberg’s personal foundation. Where these foundations are based is not without consequence. Funding from the Rockefeller Foundation was awarded under the auspices of a fund for local initiatives called The New York City Opportunities Fund. One of the fund’s executives described it as follows:


“The initiative was born from the realisation that we have a kind of special obligation to New York City. Because we’re based here and this is where we started out. It’s quite common for foundations to engage in this kind of backyard grantmaking or local grantmaking.” [22]

12Foundations not only maintain their social networks with face-to-face communication, but are also in direct contact with local poverty – hence the significant visibility of this particular social problem.

13How does this co-existence translate into concrete initiatives? Certain structures and types of events are designed to encourage these kinds of interactions. The nineteenth century’s charity balls and dinner parties have become today’s clubs and fundraising events. More than an activity, philanthropy is a marker of social status. [23] It represents and reaffirms the existence of an exclusive elite. Negotiations can take place among peers in a more informal setting, but also one that is behind closed doors and far from the public’s prying eyes. A foundation executive described one such social encounter as follows:


“The first thing that we did before starting the campaign was invite everyone to dinner at a Manhattan restaurant called ‘Artisanal’. The only reason I picked Artisanal as the restaurant was because they serve fondue. I thought that it might be really interesting to sit together and have to share the same food. That way we could discuss, create synergy by sharing things. I got a sizeable group of people together, including the deputy mayor (before she held that position), friends from Old National Bancorp and City Council finance, people from the mayor’s budget department, reporters and journalists, colleagues from my office who had one foot in academia and the other in the world of activism. We all sat around the table and I presented them with a vision of what we could do together.” [24]

15This configuration of people is light years from traditional deliberations or decision-making processes. This is not a conventional form of lobbying, taking place in an office by appointment only. It is a form of socialising where investors with a number of capital funds work side-by-side, without advisors or intermediaries, in an environment that is not luxurious, but rather exotic and internationalised.

16The city of New York is historically and socially a city of elites. [25] The many foundations located there redistribute wealth both locally and internationally. More than elsewhere, Wall Street feeds this “charitable industry”. International organisations, another kind of elite, also help to develop and raise awareness about social projects.

Internationalised lobbying

17The importance presence of international organisations in New York creates the convergence of a different type of elite, for whom poverty is a central issue. [26] Programmes and agencies such as UNDP and the ILO launched by the United Nations, whose headquarters is located in midtown Manhattan, attest to this interest in fighting poverty. In this sector, Opportunity NYC found a selected audience that was concerned with “human development” initiatives. These global actors – highly visible as donors as a result of their working groups, publications and conferences – bolster their reputations and act as driving forces for social policy.

18On 22 September 2009, Hillary Clinton chose the Westin Hotel in Times Square for the launch of the Inter-American Social Protection Network. [27] Run by the Organization of American States (OAS) – promoting the regional integration of the Americas since the nineteenth century – based in Washington, D.C., the network’s mission was to create “a community of practice for national social development ministries and agencies, in collaboration with international organizations, non-governmental organizations, private sector and academia, to promote the exchange and transfer of experiences and knowledge on social protection”. [28] In her speech, the former New York Senator – Secretary of State at the time – combined both local chauvinism and a nod to multilateralism.


“New York City, of course, is a crossroads for the entire world. And the first conditional cash transfer program in the United States was launched by Mayor Bloomberg after he saw for himself the results in Mexico. Millions of Mexican families have gotten a boost toward better education, health, nutrition, and long-term stability. Opportunity NYC intends to do the same for the poor within our own city.” [29]

20By referencing a country of the global South, these remarks linked together IGOs and NGOs present in New York and visible on the international scene: a way of strengthening the “international knowledge networks” already established by philanthropic institutions. [30]

21The New York team solidified its networks and its connections with Washington, D.C. through relationships forged with the World Bank, an agency well known for its ability to promote the creation of “knowledge networks”. [31] “Conditional cash transfers” were listed among the World Bank’s “best practices”. The World Bank has also established itself as a primary channel for such transfers as well as “market mechanisms” for developing countries. [32] Stemming from the organisation’s stated goal of “eradicating poverty” as part of the Millennium Development Goals, the World Bank was one of the main sponsors of the three international conferences on conditional cash transfers which took place between 2002 and 2006. [33] In 2009, the World Bank published the first study entirely devoted to conditional cash transfers. [34]

22The Bank’s experts are known within New York circles. Laura B. Rawlings, an economist specialised in evaluation, human development and conditional cash transfers in Latin America, was one of the experts publically consulted and thanked by the MDRC. [35] She likewise played an active role in developing Opportunity NYC:


“Another really important resource was Laura Rawlings from the World Bank, who specialises in social protection in Latin America. She contributed a lot to disseminating the conditional cash transfer model throughout the community of public policy makers.” [36]

24The credit of Bloomberg’s project – in both the financial and political sense – was bolstered by its partnership with this transnational network of “transfer agents”, [37] who furthermore offered a privileged relationship with Washington, D.C. Opportunity NYC became a crucial component of consensus-building on the subject of conditional cash transfers. [38] One final element set things in motion: the contribution of experts, who helped to “objectivise” the project.

Reformist expertise

25Elaborating a public policy measure does not simply require money and networking skills. It also demands a kind of “objectivity” to lend a degree of credibility to a given project. Such experiments became “shadow institutions”, [39] an expression which refers less to specific content and more to a way of gaining legitimacy. As is standard practice in the United States, experts are recruited and receive contracts to elaborate evidence-based policies. How were contracting activities conducted in this case of Opportunity NYC?

26The office of the mayor created an ad hoc structure to manage, among other “innovative initiatives”, the launch and monitoring of Opportunity NYC, and placed experts at the helm. The Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) [40] was led by Veronica White, who holds a doctorate in law. The Programs Manager Kristin Morse holds a Masters in urban policy and public administration from The New School, one of the most “liberal” New York-based universities. Her colleague in charge of monitoring obtained a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University. The research unit also co-opted two economists from The New School: Mark Levitan and Christine D’Onofrio. This team supervised the work of policy-makers, the latter being dependent on outside funding.

27A New York-based research institution ultimately received the contract. Not affiliated with any party, it specialises in social policy and enjoys national renown. It was consulted on account of its reformist expertise in relation to all the main reforms to social assistance: Community Action Program (CAP), Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN), Negative Income Tax (NIT), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), etc. [41] For Opportunity NYC, its contract with CEO brought in 359,714 dollars. [42] The institution is not a think tank but a non-profit applied research enterprise, a status which allows it to receive public and philanthropic donations. [43] The MDRC was founded in 1974 through collaboration between the Ford Foundation and the government. From the outset, its mission was clearly articulated: establishing “reliable scientific evidence” to solve “crucial social problems”. Its stated goal was to get rid of the “cynicism” surrounding the government’s ability to act. The MDRC’s slogan asserts the academic nature of its enterprise: “Building knowledge to improve social policy”. [44] One of the firm’s executives highlighted this aspect:


“The mayor’s staff started to explore how incentives could contribute to the fight against poverty in New York. They consulted experts on the subject, and also about a Mexican programme. They got in contact with the MDRC, with other experts, and they talked with the World Bank and a number of academics, they were seduced by the idea. They took the issue very seriously and decided to set down a date in the calendar for a similar project’s launch.” [45]

29The process was thus begun. Just two steps from the Empire State Building on 34th Street, 25 experts from the MDRC put Opportunity NYC on their schedules, either as full-time or part-time contractors (the total staff included approximately 200 employees and 40 executives). Let us look a little more closely at the paths that led these executives to the project. The majority had completed a Ph.D., [46] but had not wished to or been able to continue working in academia. The president of the MDRC, Gordon Berlin, is not an academic. After graduating with a Masters in Science, Technology and Public Policy from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., he began his career in the US Department of Labor as a research officer. He then became programme director at the Ford Foundation. After a brief stint in New York City’s social services (in human resources administration), Berlin was promoted to executive director of the Social Science Research Corporation before joining the MRDC management team. Finally, James A. Riccio, the director of the “Low-Wage Workers and Communities Policy Area”, holds a doctorate in sociology from Princeton University. [47]

30The MDRC helps in the decision-making process, or rather provides academic justification for the decisions made. What is the MRDC primarily focused on? Education, health, criminology, employment and social assistance are its five main areas of expertise. Between 1979 and 2010, [48] MDRC publications comprised 534 reports, articles and working papers. Education and social assistance were the two most prevalent topics. This focus was strongly correlated with political demand. Between 1993 and 2002 – in other words, under Bill Clinton’s mandate – the number of publications about social assistance and employment increased from 5 to 29 per year. After the election of George W. Bush, this number went back down to its original level (around 5 per year).

31Born out of the mutual desires of federal officials and philanthropists, the MDRC presents itself as the provider of “effective solutions” at different governmental levels. The publications of its former president attest to this. [49] We are dealing here with a sort of academic activism, which can be understood as a bridge between the local and the federal. [50] This intermediate position allows for practices and know-how to be circulated and disseminated. Nevertheless, it did not prevent Michael Bloomberg’s inner circle from developing its own strategy for transforming Opportunity NYC into a public policy model.

Rallying behind a model

32New York guaranteed its leadership role by actively exporting its policy models throughout the United States. Spreading ideas was more a means of raising awareness and generating publicity than of drafting a specific agenda. Bloomberg and his team explored the two-fold dynamics of federalism in order to promote their project. Investing in this institutional structure meant trying to elicit cooperation and collaboration between different governmental levels: municipality, county, state, federal. The mechanisms governing diffusion and influence cannot be neatly separated. To better understand how these mechanisms work, three different elements should be analysed: horizontal influence, which includes peer-to-peer exchanges among local authorities; vertical influence, which consists in connecting the federal decision-making centre (Washington, D.C.) with local initiatives; and international influence, which allows information and models to directly or indirectly reach major European countries such as France and the United Kingdom. The first two of these elements illustrate the characteristics of a city operating within a federal state.

Gaining support

33In order to become an exemplary model, one must gain the following of one’s peers. [51] As soon as Opportunity NYC was launched, Michael Bloomberg and his team sought to make the programme into a model for other US cities. The limited size of this “governmental unit”, to use the terms of Baumgartner and Jones, meant an intense publicity campaign as well as stronger “selection pressure”. [52] Policy linkage was attempted from the very start of the programme. This was a far cry from the traditional situation of policy actors justifying possible support by pointing to results:


“I think that we would be happy to apply the experiment to other areas if the results are favourable.” [53]

35Emulation strategies were adopted well before statistical results were available. [54]

36In a joint press release with the Rockefeller Foundation dated 26 March 2008, [55] Michael Bloomberg divulged that he had met with a number of local authorities in the Eastern US. More specifically, he had invited a number of representatives to Gracie Mansion, his official residence. All those invited were Democrats: Michael Nutter (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Sheila Dixon (Baltimore, Maryland), Richard M. Daley (Chicago, Illinois), A. C. Wharton Jr. (Shelby County, Tennessee), Otis Johnson (Savannah, Georgia), with the exception of the Independent Manuel Diaz (Miami, Florida). These individuals represented mid- or large-sized urban environments. Their role in the policy learning process was not truly one of dialogue or negotiation. Acting as a decision-making centre, New York City defined the models as well as their channels of distribution. Municipal elites positioned themselves as reformists, no doubt in favour of imitation rather than innovation. Their ad hoc “learning network” clearly expressed this stance; the desire for a coalition unfettered by partisanship was also evident.


“We are in dialogue with other cities that have expressed interest in the programme. We have established what we call a learning network. We have invited representatives from other cities, mayors or members of their offices, to talk about Opportunity NYC. What came out of this is that, if they had more money, they would be interested in trying out the programme. But the local governments don’t have the necessary funds to invest. So we’re concentrating on the cities that are turning towards money donated by private foundations. The reason why we contacted them is that, if this works, we want to make it into public policy. The federal government won’t do it just because New York wants it to, because New York is such a special case. It will be more convincing if we can bring together different kinds of cities: small, midwestern, southern… So that if we prove it works, and that the initiative is supported by mayors, legislators and governors from all those states, we can build a coalition of support so that the federal government can make this investment for the country and for New York.” [56]

38On the occasion of what looked more like a press conference than a working meeting, deputy mayor Linda Gibbs had the following to say:


“We’ve learned a lot from other countries and other national experts. Recently, we had the opportunity to start giving back.”

40“Giving back” expresses a moral obligation and a sense of cohesion within the circles of social and philanthropic organisations. The phrase points to the duty of the wealthy to take care of the needy, thus expressing loyalty for a certain region or community.

41What about the rapport between New York City and the larger New York region? [57] Like many major cities in the United States, New York City maintains a contentious relationship with the state in which it is located. New York State has historically leaned towards supporting welfare in its policies: it included the fight against poverty under Article 17 of its Constitution. This is a rare feat in the United States, even if the largest budgetary item for most states is often social assistance, representing about one-third of the total budget. Since 1996, municipal social policy has become separate from federal funding and thus from national control. [58] The entirely private funding donated to Opportunity NYC also allowed it to gain freedom from all the competing bodies at city level: City Council, borough presidents, city agencies, etc. A member of the committee underlines this: “They had to face opposition from the City Council, but the City Council had no way of stopping them.” [59] This bypassing strategy allowed the programme to avoid any budget votes or formal debates. The question of timing was crucial here. [60] In order to have any hope of reaching Washington, D.C. within the deadlines imposed by his mandate, Mayor Bloomberg had to bypass numerous processes and negotiations. This is why his office called upon the services of private operators, even for projects that would traditionally have fallen under the purview of municipal services. This initiative thus banked on one-sided contractualisation rather than on local legislation, which was dominated by the Democratic Party. [61] Legislators would end up being involved, but through different means. The social events in which political authorities participated would play a crucial role:


“Linda Gibbs was very active in terms of participating in different forums and talking about Opportunity NYC in Washington, D.C., to groups like the National Governors Association or the National Conference of State Legislators… We provide a lot of education around this initiative. They can be interested in what we’re doing and we maintain targeted relationships with them.” [62]

43What is referred to as providing “public education” about a policy measure is a way to lay down guidelines and reference points. First and foremost, this mobilisation was about respecting certain principles. For example, it was hard to believe it was a “recent discovery” that cities like Baltimore and Savannah were lacking in funds. As for larger cities, they were structurally indebted and could not rely upon such a dense philanthropic network. Regardless of how these attempts at converting the public were translated into concrete action, a specific approach was consequently endorsed. New York-style welfare was publicised and mediatised, and this was enough to legitimise it in the eyes of the highest national authorities.

Winning Over Washington, D.C.

44For New York, as for any other local authority in the United States, winning over Washington, D.C. meant conforming to the imperatives of a federal government. Locally experimenting with an initiative in order to later generalise it across the United States is a tried and true federalist method. First envisioned in the realm of education but now spread to most sectors of public action, [63] this strategy has been used to put items on the national agenda. The different levels of government are so numerous that one often hears the word “intergovernmentalism” used to refer to relationships between the different rungs. [64] Moreover, representatives from each level act as lobbyists within federal policy circles. [65] Between countries, townships and other districts, almost 90,000 political entities share administrative duties. What we are interested in is not the various possible combinations of these authorities, but rather how a single political power can directly develop contacts and alliances with the federal government. The New York team would attempt just that: a vertical diffusion upwards towards the executive branch. In other words, New York would try to be heard by Washington, would try to “win” over Washington, in the sense of both attracting its favourable attention and penetrating its territory.

45The strategy was simple: send key individuals to be heard by federal officials; then mobilise networks and a credible form of experimental objectivity to attract the attention of decision-making authorities. This was literally the meaning of Gordon Berlin’s (the current president of the MDRC) hearing during preparatory meetings for Opportunity NYC. His congressional testimony offered representatives “solutions to poverty” designed by his research institute. [66] The central theme was the development of a new tool to measure poverty. Let us recall that the federal poverty line, an indicator of poverty designed under the Johnson administration, has been regularly criticised as being “inaccurate”. [67] The idea put forth relied on the joint development of a new tool to measure poverty and a new measure to fight it: in short, a combination of action and evaluation within the same government mechanism. One person interviewed expressed the link between data and political credit as follows:


“Bloomberg’s team emphasises the evaluation of Opportunity NYC. Whether they succeed or not will be crucial for determining the programme’s influence. […] If Opportunity NYC is a success, they will exert a lot of pressure to implement it on the national level.” [68]

47What was at stake thus gradually shifted: from reducing poverty in a given area to proving the exemplarity of the New York model on the national level.

48A second point of contact was crucial for Bloomberg and his entourage. At the federal level, a special agency was created in February 2009 by President Obama: the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. [69] Its mission followed the trend of strengthening federalism that had begun in the 1980s by multiplying private, community-based and faith-based initiatives. [70] Diane Baillargeon, the director of Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation (Seedco), a national non-profit with its headquarters in New York, was appointed to this office.

49Let us briefly describe the nature and function of this agency. What is called “action sociale” in France (social work) is not administered by government employees in the United States. Even when government services are in charge of certain tasks, it is always as merely one service provider among many. The fight against poverty likewise belongs to this realm of service provision. When City Hall decides to launch a social programme, the latter must rely on community agencies. However, the mayor does not maintain direct relationships with these agencies. In this specific case, the mayor delegated the task of hiring an intermediary agency to select local service providers and supervise their work to the MDRC. [71] Seedco applied guidelines and reported back information related to local implementation. From its corporate headquarters at 915 Broadway in Manhattan, Seedco managed a yearly budget of approximately 60 million dollars. As a non-profit, the organisation is funded two-thirds by the government (both local and federal) and one-third by private foundations.

50For a non-profit organisation, obtaining a contract with City Hall can be a particular boon – even more so when this entails funding from major philanthropic foundations, accompanied by more resources and greater visibility. Seedco’s director thus had every reason to emphasise the “large contracts” awarded to the organisation by local authorities. As a senior executive, Baillargeon thus became part of the informal networks of expertise and social decision-making. An element of personal loyalty must also be taken into account. Baillargeon must defend the project, and, in polite fashion, she explained that the social programme was not at the top of the agenda for federal authorities:


“In Washington, D.C., a certain interest exists, but I would say that right now, everyone is just waiting to see how things pan out. People are waiting for the results of the evaluation to make a decision regarding investing in this kind of initiative or not.” [72]

52Regardless of whether it was the result of activism or of the service commissioned, this strategy of diffusion revealed the ambitions of the New York-based policy entrepreneurs. Although municipal authorities were able to bypass local subordinates, the echo at the federal level remained relatively modest. The principle can seem inherently appealing: encouraging the poor to do “what’s right” to fight against poverty means relying on “common sense”, a tactic that cleverly conceals the political intentions behind it. It involves adopting a community logic to promote a supposedly shared goal. However, New York’s uniqueness can also hinder the translation of its models onto the national stage. Reproducing a model in other states requires significant resources, both in terms of funding and number of service providers. The fragmentary nature of the US administrative system and New York City’s global profile nevertheless consolidated the mechanisms of transmission, and internally reinforced the city’s value.

Setting an example

53The fact that a public policy measure comes from New York loosens the domestic political bonds in which sensitive issues are shrouded. Taking a “detour abroad” [73] has thus become a familiar strategy to achieve legitimacy. If Mayor Bloomberg’s office presented itself as being “inspired by” an outside measure, it was ultimately to better position itself as a source of exemplarity. The quest for legitimacy “outside of the territory” of New York emphasised pluralism, originality, an “objective” and “effective” experience from elsewhere – all elements of language which would be useful in legitimising the reform. Hence a third and final diffusion strategy: praising a model in the presence of elected officials and public policy experts from Great Britain and France.

54Whether for reasons of emulation or mistrust, Great Britain very often provides the entry point for US methods to reach Europe. We need only cite the welfare-to-work programme seized upon by New Labour, [74] which was itself the result of New York-based experiments. In a European context where the “activation of social spending” has become routine, Michael Bloomberg and Gordon Brown illustrated the sharing of “best practices”. In February 2008, the Prime Minister announced the launch of Opportunity Revolution and Contract Out of Poverty. [75] The New York City Council simultaneously published a press release applauding this adaptation of Opportunity NYC. The mayor said he was ready to welcome Employment Minister Stephen Timms when the latter next visited New York. [76] This “imminent” visit left no trace. In April, however, Gordon Brown visited the mayor and a few months later, the latter was photographed in front of 10 Downing Street, thus returning the favour. [77]

55Contact with France was made in a different fashion. In an admiring account of his meeting with Mayor Bloomberg, Martin Hirsch described their conversation as follows:


“I just spoke about the RSA [78] with Bloomberg […] during a whole night, this reform greatly interested him. Bloomberg was blown away.” [79]

57However, establishing this relationship went well beyond a mere social dinner engagement. In a book published in 2010, the French High Commissioner explained that he “learned of this experimental method […] thanks to one of [his] cousins, Judy Gueron, who was at the helm of a New Yorkbased foundation entirely devoted to social experimentation”. [80] The words were slightly altered to fit the circumstances: instead of a foundation, he was in reality talking about a research institute focused on evaluation and experimentation. Judith Gueron, a Harvard-trained economist, [81] was president of the MDRC between 1986 and 2004. She is also the author of a number of reports promoting the concept of workfare. [82]

58Though they may seem superficial at first glance, social meetings in fact helped to promote the diffusion of public policy practices and provided institutional support for the initiative. On 23 November 2007, Gordon Berlin, the current president of the MDRC, was invited to go to Grenoble. In the context of the launch conference for the “Grenelle de l’insertion” project organised by Martin Hirsch and his team, Berlin presented the New York method of fighting against poverty, not without, however, a number of convoluted formulas:


“It is an honour to be a part of this historical meeting […] As an American, it is also a humbling experience. France has been a trailblazer in social welfare policy […]. I also welcome the opportunity to learn from France’s experience.” [83]

60In his speech, Berlin presented Opportunity NYC in rather sober terms as “New York’s conditional cash transfer program”, which was also a way of using “New York” as a brand name. Although the speech was written in English, Berlin’s briefcase contained documents translated into French. Once again, he advocated for “soft policy convergence”, [84] no doubt to avoid clashing with national traditions and prompting controversy. Berlin dealt with this issue paraliptically:


“Because the context for policymaking in the two countries is very different, I’m not here to hold up the US as a model to be emulated. Instead, I want to describe how we have used social policy experimentation to tackle employment and welfare problems. It is a remarkable story. But only you can decide the relevance of that story for France.” [85]

62Such official events required that the situation be presented as a bilateral exchange of experiences, as public policy lessons are not given but drawn. [86] This stance reveals “control by consent”, to use Joan Roelof’s expression. [87] The central role played by the United States, and New York in particular, should not appear obvious, and one should not promote oneself as a model in order to gain position. Instead, the inherent virtues of a model are praised. And yet the result is the same: on the public policy market as everywhere else, competition is neither pure nor perfect. Even though France was “a trailblazer in terms of social welfare policy”, its representatives were not invited to preside over largescale international meetings or spearhead new programmes for the future. Not all products are created equal, nor are all those producing them. Much like a large firm, New York experts monopolised the social policy market by deliberately representing themselves as pragmatists, ultimately forming a veritable policy hub.

The topography of leadership

63New York City connects the United States with the rest of the world. It acts as a nodal point, or what I propose calling a policy hub. The New Deal marked a turning point for New York’s supremacy. As a financial centre and as a political machine, the city has now become a major hub for social policy formation. [88] Three major characteristics of the city demonstrate this. First of all, it is a Democratic and cosmopolitan city, which means that it develops specific political strategies addressing minorities. Second, New York elites tout the fact that they live in an “urban laboratory”, a place of experimentation for the country and the whole world. In very American fashion, they play the exceptionalism card and, because of the context in which they are operating, end up becoming what they claim to be. And third, this dominant position engenders a form of leadership: regardless of the real or supposed effectiveness of the measures developed, New York elites depict themselves as being in control of their policy hub.

A city of “minorities”

64Michael Bloomberg was the mayor of a predominantly Democratic cosmopolitan city. Although New York City’s executive branch has experienced a Republican trend since the latter half of the 1970s, [89] its non-profit sector has remained staunchly liberal. The campaigns for the 2009 municipal elections highlighted this contrast. The outgoing mayor, weakened in the polls by his attempts to legalise his third term, was attacked on what had become his trademark. As a businessman, billionaire and philanthropist living in a palatial Upper East Side mansion, Bloomberg was depicted as being distant and even indifferent to the plight of poor families in the Bronx or Harlem. Nevertheless, his position also allowed Bloomberg to mobilise resources to put out the fires of controversy. [90] Known as “pork barrel politics”, this approach is rather common. Chronically indebted, New York’s non-profits could not refuse the funding offered by City Hall or the Bloomberg Foundation. One example of this is the Harlem Children’s Zone, headed by Geoffrey Canada and fervently opposed to the initiative, which nevertheless received a check for 500,000 dollars. Its president was put in charge of the Commission for Economic Opportunity, the organisation which had launched Opportunity NYC. [91] This electoral strategy forced the Democratic candidate, William C. Thompson, to give up on campaigning for the poor and minority vote and concentrate instead on the middle class (a more accessible, though rather limited constituency in New York). The fragmentary and incomplete nature of the Democratic campaign platform [92] left another constituency still in play: the Latino vote.

65On 24 April 2007, the mayor travelled to Toluca, the state capital of Mexico State: a city of 815,068 residents with a 5.25 per cent illiteracy rate. [93] The Programa de Educación, Salud y Alimentación (PROGRESA – Education, Health and Nutrition Programme), renamed Oportunidades when it was expanded, [94] was presented as the blueprint for the New York project. Although the measure was implemented largely in rural areas, it was not in poor backwater Mexico that Bloomberg chose to appear. The photograph published in the New York Times does not depict a poor neighbourhood, but rather a well-manicured urban space. Bloomberg, briefcase in hand, is shown next to close colleagues and local political representatives. How do trips like these provide political clout? Bloomberg’s strategy consisted of touting Oportunidades as a model, even conserving the name for his project. This approach was surprising but ultimately appealing in a town divided by a “majority-minority” phenomenon. [95] Referencing a country like Mexico, whose proximity and wealth disparity create significant tensions with the United States, meant flipping the Republican orthodoxy as established by President Bush on its head. The trip to Mexico was the subject of an important political message and presented a way of displacing national cleavages, in favour of an over-whelmingly municipal strategy. The strength of this campaign coup stemmed less from the effectiveness of its “model” than its New York context, which emphasised distance from the Republican Party, of which Bloomberg had been a member during his first term in office.

66What were the effects of the Mexican programme? Preliminary studies have illustrated mixed results. [96] Nonetheless, one of our interviewees underscored that “the programme had a good reputation and the city used it as a model for Opportunity NYC”. [97] The symbolism of the message was clear: Bloomberg was no longer just a New Yorker, or even just a resident of the United States: he was an American, in the broader sense of the word. Any sense of superiority was to be rejected: this was a message not only directed at the general public. Bloomberg also flattered the approach of those organisations who were sensitive to North-South relations. “Our strongest relationship is by far the one we have with Mexico… Mexico and the World Bank”, [98] as a member of Bloomberg’s office liked to say. As a strategy used to distinguish the project, the reversal of North-South relations was intended as a pragmatic approach.


“One of the biggest differences is that this is a model that comes from developing countries […] I think that’s not very common, it’s not the standard way that measures are designed.” [99]

68But just where did the conditional cash transfer model come from, in fact? Along with the Mexican Oportunidades, the Brazilian programmes Bolsa Escola and Bolsa Família are usually presented in international research as pioneering innovations. But the need to legitimise a new programme nevertheless hinders the choices made, and we must thus question the true origin of these conditional cash transfer programmes – which leads us to the discovery that the true birthplace of this social policy was none other than New York City.

The city as laboratory

69The pioneering nature of New York with regard to the rest of the United States should not be overlooked. It is the subject of local pride: the city purports to be a “social laboratory for the new society”. [100] By launching pilot programmes in housing, health and social assistance, New York elites became stakeholders in national-scale reform measures. [101]

70In 1969, with the help of his advisor Mitchell Ginsberg (formerly of the New York City Welfare Department), President Nixon proposed a welfare reform programme. Two years later, John Veneman, Under-Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, announced the launch of two provisional measures designed to pilot the Family Assistance Program in the hopes of expanding it nationwide. One experimental state was selected: New York. Public Services Opportunities required unemployed mothers who received social welfare to be employed by the government. Incentives for Independence was based on a more complex mechanism: a “points incentive system” listed behaviours that could lead to rewards. Signing one’s kids up for Scout camp or getting them vaccinated became income-generating activities. Single mothers could obtain one point by telling social services the whereabouts of their child’s father. The points were cumulative, to the tune of 12.50 dollars for each point. [102] The initiative was highly controversial, but it laid the groundwork for rewarding “virtuous” behaviour instead of giving public handouts. [103] In the same vein, Nelson Rockefeller, governor of the state of New York from 1959 to 1974, offered “bonuses” to the recipients of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) programme, whose numbers had quadrupled during the two previous decades. This supplement was dependent on school attendance and good faith attempts at finding employment. [104] Despite its reformist stance, the Senate thwarted Nixon’s project in October 1972. [105] This failure did not, however, signal the end of a policy era. However, it illustrates the fact that the principles of conditional cash transfers had not been invented in Latin America, but were first tried out in the United States, and more specifically in New York City, at the beginning of the 1970s.

71A brief socio-historical detour here will allow us to focus on the specific relationships which connect the city, the federal government and the transformation of social policies. These links have been confirmed across decades and political allegiances. President Clinton signalled a turning point in the history of the welfare state when he passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in 1996. By limiting how long individuals could receive social assistance for, the AFDC became the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families programme (TANF). This reform was in turn adopted in two states before being ratified. California’s Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) and New York’s Work Experience Program (WEP) inaugurated the “workfare state”. [106] The latter programme was in fact the most significant workfare measure adopted throughout the country. [107] Introduced in 1995, the measure made low-skilled public service employment mandatory rather than having individuals receive basic welfare assistance (the AFDC programme). As in the case of the Rockefeller-led experiments, Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had anticipated what would become a federal-level reform. According to Giuliani, making employment a necessary condition for receiving public assistance was the way to reduce the number of people dependent on benefits. In fewer than ten years, nine million people were struck from the “welfare rolls”: 600,000 of those were in New York City alone. [108] This development displays two related characteristics: the end of social assistance as a right (entitlement cuts), and the federal public sector’s retreat from social assistance administration (retrenchment). [109] In addition, the role of the urban laboratory was recognised as such: “as a high-profile jurisdiction, New York was inevitably tied up with politics and the media management of workfare programmes”, thus devoting “much institutional energy […] on the marketing and packaging of workfare policy as a political platform”. [110]

72On this occasion, due to different national circumstances, this experimental project launched in New York was able to find a sympathetic ear at the federal level. It is true that whether or not such measures are implemented or disappear entirely has little impact on New York’s reputation. Its dense networks and capital ensure that it will retain its leadership position on the policy market, thanks in large part also to the media.

A media capital

73The role of the media in public policy information is a well-known and analysed phenomenon nowadays. [111] Home to the largest publishing houses, television networks and advertising agencies, New York City can’t help but magnify its impact. It is logically considered to be an epicentre of communications, and even perhaps the media capital of the United States. [112] Throughout its lifetime, Opportunity NYC benefited from the unwavering support of The New York Times, a New York-based newspaper with – one must stipulate even at the risk of sounding redundant – an international audience. [113] From the outset, and at regular intervals, the daily paper devoted special articles to the programme, including “City to reward poor for doing right thing” (30 March 2007), and “A payoff out of poverty?” (21 December 2008).

74On 21 September 2009, a full-page feature was titled “Cash incentive program for poor families is renewed”. The media visibility was real; to say nothing of the local press, which devoted numerous columns to the programme, albeit generally more sceptical in tone. The reach of The New York Times allowed Bloomberg’s team to rise above the programme’s backlash and consolidate its political significance.

75On 30 March 2010, Opportunity NYC’s story experienced a new twist. During a press conference, Michael Bloomberg publicly announced the end of the programme. The stated reason: unsatisfactory results. [114] The location chosen was not unintentional: the community agency BronxWorks, a service provider for the sub-programme Family Rewards, which is situated in one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. The mayor’s words, as reported by The New York Times, were also carefully chosen:


“I don’t know that this is a failure. I think it is, some things worked, and some things didn’t, and some things the jury’s still out on. And anything new you’re going to have that diversity of results.” [115]

77This predictable verdict also paved the way for new funding to be directed towards those evaluating the programmes. [116] The mayor was praised for his “willingness to try innovative approaches to fight against poverty”. As a proof of legitimacy and pragmatism, the words used reinforced the mayor’s position as an independent. Devoid of partisanship, the rhetoric was better suited to describing the evaluation process than to actually conducting an evaluation. [117]

78Others interviewed for the piece mentioned the outline and limits of the measure. Among them was Bloomberg’s number two, Linda Gibbs (who was apparently behind the conditional cash transfer idea from the beginning); an executive from the Rockefeller Foundation, Margot Bradenburg; and a family of Brooklynites for whom the programme had been helpful. “Too complicated” was how Linda Gibbs summed up the programme. “Confusing” and it “sounded too good to be true”, the associate director of the Rockefeller Foundation added. The Brooklyn family, on the other hand, lamented the end of Opportunity NYC. The press coverage effectively showed a “philosophical” Bloomberg pondering the difficulties of fighting poverty. In reality, the project had been a failure. But by carefully insisting on the sincerity of its organisers, the virtues of pragmatism and the desire to “do good”, the final picture appeared almost positive. The effect of the media construction was to provide justification of the city’s leadership – correlating innovation and risk, accountability and responsibility.

79This “policy narrative” [118] would later incorporate a few plot twists. In December 2010, a new initiative was launched. The local specialist press was the first to report this. [119] The new programme was called SIF-Family Rewards Program (FRP). [120] The description of the FRP heeded Linda Gibbs’ criticism from a few months earlier in The New York Times: the programme would be “simpler” and “easier to understand”. [121] The previous programme’s failure became a reason to conserve the same basic principles and even to extend funding for the organisations that chose to implement these principles. The New York Times explained:


“Academics and advocates for the poor have called the results disappointing – but that has not deterred the administration. The city recently received a $5.7 million grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service to expand the program.” [122]

81This was evidenced by the fact that when the results of Opportunity NYC were announced in March 2010, this did not prompt the programme’s termination. As is often the case with regard to evaluation and assessment, political officials retained a certain degree of freedom [123] – no doubt because while the evaluators reduced the programme to a series of numbers, politicians use it to pursue other goals. They were concerned with the non-objective added value of the programme: getting people to talk about them, agreeing a timetable, bringing different actors together, lending credibility to certain approaches, weakening adversaries… After all, from a political point of view, appearing to submit to the results of an evaluation and then going beyond them by drawing relevant lessons is a way of positioning oneself in the best possible light, appearing as a wise and enlightened leader in the realm of public policy. This is a stance that was bolstered by an influential media, both locally and internationally

82* * *

83The circulation of public policy models is a process which calls for cross-boundary thinking. In order to understand what was at stake in this policy-making metamorphosis, this article analysed issues in various different domains. Epistemic communities, coalitions of causes, styles, teachings, and transfers: the analysis of public policy offers many specific tools. But describing the international circulation of ideas belongs to a complementary field of research which has been the subject of important developments in the past few years, hence the interest in examining actors who have made such international circulation their job: in this case, philanthropic organisations and international institutions. These transnational actors gain visibility because of their actions, but also because of the research conducted on those actions. As political science has become an increasingly international discipline, [124] its subjects have also undergone the same transformation. It is obvious that public policies must be analysed differently in an internationalised world, as evidenced by the resurgence of comparative studies in political science, [125] but also by the introduction of concepts like “soft power” from the field of international affairs. Has the circulation of social policy models produced a paradigm shift? [126] It is ultimately hard to say, as this would require a belief in global convergence. In any case, the process has significantly expanded the public policy market. The relationships which have polarised the world for several decades have not vanished yet. However, from east to west and north to south, the lines of perspective of this panorama draw our attention towards a nodal production point, if not of legitimacy, than certainly of social policy: the urban laboratory that is New York.

Methodological annex

84This article updates the conclusions of my doctoral research conducted at the PACTE research centre at Sciences Po Grenoble between 2008 and 2011. [127] This qualitative study compared two measures introduced to fight poverty: the American Opportunity NYC and the French Revenue de solidarité active (RSI). More than 80 semi-structured interviews were conducted in French and English, in both France and the United States, with foundation executives, non-profit directors, cabinet members, members of parliament, experts, etc. Interviewing elites meant working around standard codes of interaction in order to gain consent from these “reluctant respondents”. [128] As is well known, the social position of elites allows them to keep researchers deemed intrusive or overbearing at bay. Moreover, a specifically American trait should be noted: a researcher interested in public policy but not conducting an official evaluation is often initially treated rather condescendingly. Academics must thus perform a sort of “research aikido” [129] with their interlocutors, allowing those being interviewed to feel that they control the interaction – a prerequisite without which the interview would not take place. In general, these interviews must be presented as a kind of learning experience. [130] The fact that an interview subject may dissimulate or speak in veiled terms is not inherently insurmountable. Deciphering this kind of language has, on the contrary, provided many elements which are helpful for understanding the logic of a social and political role. [131] New York University’s Institute of French Studies welcomed me during a semester for my US-based fieldwork, which also benefited from the active support of John Mollenkopf from the City University of New York and of Bruce Berg from Fordham University. The documentary resources consulted on-site at NYU’s Bobst Library and the New York Public Library supplemented the grey literature (reports, working papers) and press articles which comprised the secondary references for this study.


  • [1]
    Compared with 1.5 million in 2005, and based on the Federal Poverty Level which situates the poverty line at 22,000 dollars a year for a family of four; New York City’s total population was at the time 8.1 million. Source: US Census, 2010.
  • [2]
    Source: Foundation Center (<>). In comparison, Chicago has 2,275 philanthropic institutions and Los Angeles has 1,342.
  • [3]
    Out of 27,474 non-profit organisations. Source: The New York City Nonprofits Project (<>).
  • [4]
    Andrew White, “Creating collective capacity: New York City’s social infrastructure and neighborhood-centered services. Toward a 21st century for all: progressive policies for New York City in 2013 and beyond”, online publication <>, 2013, 23 p, last accessed 27 May 2014.
  • [5]
    Saskia Sassen, “The global city: strategic site/new frontier”, American Studies, 41(2-3), 2000, 79-95.
  • [6]
    Mark Evans, Jonathan Davies, “Understanding policy transfer: A multi-level, multi-disciplinary perspective”, Public Administration, 77(2), 1999, 361-85 (361). The transfer of pilot schemes outside the borders of large European countries like France, Great Britain and Germany has been examined at length in the social realm. See Christian Topalov, La naissance du chômeur, 1880-1910 (Paris: Albin Michel, 1994).
  • [7]
    Which does not de facto exclude the question of the state, as evidenced by Jérôme Tournadre-Plancq, “‘Une cuillère en argent pour tout le monde’. L’Asset-Based Welfare: diffusion, appropriations et usages d’une ‘nouvelle’ théorie de l’État social”, Revue française de science politique, 59(4), 2009, 633-64.
  • [8]
    Jamie Peck, Nik Theodore, “Mobilizing policy: models, methods, and mutations”, Geoforum, 41(2), 2010, 169-74 (170).Online
  • [9]
    This category includes public administrators, public policy researchers, policy analysts, political analysts and political consultants. Political science researchers in the sense of French “politistes” are classified as “post-secondary teachers”. Source: United States Department of Labor (<>).
  • [10]
    See the methodological annex.
  • [11]
    On 11 March 2009, Forbes listed him as the world’s 17th billionaire; on 1 January 2011, he was ranked 23rd with 18 billion dollars, the 10th wealthiest man in the United States and the richest politician in the country. On 23 April 2013, his wealth was estimated at 27 billion dollars, which placed him 13th worldwide. (<>).
  • [12]
    Speech given by Michael R. Bloomberg at the Center for American Progress, 21 April 2009.
  • [13]
    And which are moreover privileged objects of international circulation (see Marcos Ancelovici, Jane Jenson, “La standardisation et les mécanismes du transfert international”, Gouvernement et action publique, 1(1), February 2012, 37-58).
  • [14]
    David Dolowitz, David Marsh, “Who learns what from whom: a review of the policy transfer literature”, Political Studies, 44(2), 1996, 343-57 (345).Online
  • [15]
    American literature has termed the city a “living experiment”. Helmut K. Anheier, Marcus Lam, David B. Howard, “The nonprofit sector in New York and Los Angeles”, in David Halle, Andrew A. Beveridge (eds), New York and Los Angeles. The Uncertain Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 513-32 (513).
  • [16]
    Helmut K. Anheier, Frank P. Romo, “Foundations in Germany and the United States: a comparative analysis”, in Helmut K. Anheier, Stefan Toepler (eds), Private Funds, Public Purpose. Philanthropic Foundations in International Perspective (New York: Springer, 1999), 79-120 (98).
  • [17]
    David C. Hammack, “American debates on the legitimacy of foundations”, in Kenneth Prewitt, Mattei Dogan, Steven Heydemann, Stefan Toepler (eds), The Legitimacy of Philanthropic Foundations. United States and European Perspectives (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006), 49-98 (76).
  • [18]
    Entry under “Philanthropy”, in Kenneth T. Jackson (ed.), Encyclopedia of New York City (New York: Yale University Press, 1995) (e-book).
  • [19]
    David C. Hammack, “Foundations in the American polity”, in Ellen Condliffe Lagemann (ed.), Philanthropic Foundations. New Scholarship, New Possibilities (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 43-68.
  • [20]
    On the specific activities of this foundation, see Diane Stone, “Private philanthropy or policy transfer? The transnational norms of the open society institute”, Policy & Politics, 38(2), 2010, 269-87.
  • [21]
    The three foundations not based in New York were The Annie E. Casey Foundation (Baltimore, Maryland), The Broad Foundation (Los Angeles, California) and The MacArthur Foundation (Chicago, Illinois).
  • [22]
    Interview no. 8, 12 October 2009 (executive, founder, backer of Opportunity NYC).
  • [23]
    Francie Ostrower, Why the Wealthy Give. The Culture of Elite Philanthropy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 36.
  • [24]
    Interview no. 7, 9 October 2009 (executive, foundation, member of the Commission for Economic Opportunity).
  • [25]
    Julian Brash, “The ghost in the machine: the neoliberal urban visions of Michael Bloomberg”, Journal of Cultural Geography, 29(2), 2012, 135-53 (140).Online
  • [26]
    Yves Surel, “Le poids des organisations internationales dans les réformes de politiques sociales”, Informations sociales, 157, 2010, 36-43.
  • [27]
    US Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, “Clinton Remarks on Inter-American Social Protection Network. US Committed to Long-Term Success, Network Facilitates Best Practices”, 22 September 2009 (<>).
  • [28]
  • [29]
  • [30]
    Inderjeet Parmar, “American foundations and the development of international knowledge networks”, Global Networks, 2(1), 2002, 13-30.
  • [31]
    Diane Stone, “‘Shades of grey’: the World Bank, knowledge networks and linked ecologies of academic engagement”, Global Networks, 13(2), 2013, 241-60.Online
  • [32]
    David Moore (ed.), The World Bank. Development, Poverty, Hegemony (Scottsville: University of Kwazulu-Natal Press, 2007).Online
  • [33]
    In Puebla, Mexico (29 April-1 May 2002), São Paulo, Brazil (26-29 April 2004) and Istanbul, Turkey (26-30 June 2006).
  • [34]
    Ariel Fiszbein, Norbert Schady (eds), Conditional Cash Transfers. Reducing Present and Future Poverty (Washington: World Bank Publications, 2009).
  • [35]
    James Riccio, Nadine Dechausay, David M. Greenberg, Cynthia Miller, Zawadi Rucks, Nandita Verma, Toward Reduced Poverty Across Generations. Early Findings from New York City’s Conditional Cash Transfer Program (New York: MDRC, 2010), xviii.Online
  • [36]
    Interview no. 9, 13 October 2009 (member of the Commission for Economic Opportunity).
  • [37]
    Diane Stone, “Transfer agents and global networks in the transnationalization of policy”, Journal of European Public Policy, 11(3), 2004, 545-66.
  • [38]
    Jamie Peck, Nik Theodore, “Recombinant workfare, across the Americas: transnationalizing ‘fast’ social policy”, Geoforum, 41(2), 2010, 195-208 (204).Online
  • [39]
    Evelyn Z. Brodkin, Alexander Kaufman, “Policy experiments and poverty politics”, The Social Service Review, 74(4), 2000, 507-32.Online
  • [40]
    Note that this is a different organisation than the Commission for Economic Opportunity, which was more focused on bringing together qualified persons during the project’s planning stages.Online
  • [41]
    David Greenberg, Marvin Mandell, Matthew Onstott, “The dissemination and utilization of welfare-to-work experiments in state policymaking”, in Maureen A. Pirog (ed.), Social Experimentation, Program Evaluation, and Public Policy (Malden: Wiley, 2008), 519-34 (526).
  • [42]
    Paid by the Rockefeller Foundation (<>).
  • [43]
    The firm’s budget fluctuates between 70 and 80 million dollars annually, two-thirds of which it receives from the government (both local and federal); the rest comes from foundation donations.
  • [44]
  • [45]
    Interview no. 6, 8 October 2009 (expert, MDRC).
  • [46]
  • [47]
    James A. Riccio, “Treatment and custody in juvenile correctional facilities: a study of staff and resident behavior”, Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton, Princeton University, 1984.
  • [48]
    Data for the years 1974-1979 were not available.
  • [49]
    Judith M. Gueron, “Welfare reform at the state level: the role of social experiments and demonstrations”, in David L. Featherman, Maris Vinovskis (eds), Social Science and Policy-Making. A Search for Relevance in the Twentieth Century (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001), 165-86. More recently, the author has emphasised the “objective” aspect of the MDRC evaluation process: Judith M. Gueron, Howard Rolston, Fighting for Reliable Evidence (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2013).
  • [50]
    On this idea, see Olivier Ihl, Martine Kaluszynski, Gilles Pollet (eds), Les sciences de gouvernement (Paris: Economica, 2003).
  • [51]
    Contemporary political leadership in fact relies on, to use the words of Murray Edelman, “the willingness of followers to follow”: Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964), 74.
  • [52]
    Frank R. Baumgartner, Bryan D. Jones, Agendas and Instability in American Politics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2nd edn, 2009), 222. More generally, their concept of “policy venue” has the advantage of highlighting the importance of place – the institutional locations within which policy entrepreneurs act – even if the allegedly authoritative nature of decisions could be nuanced further.
  • [53]
    Interview no. 25, 11 November 2009 (executive, foundation, donor to Opportunity NYC).
  • [54]
    A proven technique, of which an overview can be found in Jack L. Walker, “The diffusion of innovations among the American states”, American Political Science Review, 63(3), 1969, 880-99.
  • [55]
    “Mayor Bloomberg and the Rockefeller Foundation announce launch of a learning network to share design and implementation of a cash transfer program. Learning network will include countries and cities developing or implementing incentive-based poverty reduction programs as a strategy for information sharing”, Press Releases, 26 March 2008 (<>).
  • [56]
    Interview no. 6, 8 October 2009 (expert, MDRC). The MDRC received 250,000 dollars to establish this network (<>).Online
  • [57]
    For a comprehensive look at this relationship, see Robert F. Pecorella, “The two New Yorks in the twenty-first century: the city and the state”, in Robert F. Pecorella, Jeffrey M. Stonecash (eds), Governing New York State (Albany: State University of New York Press, 5th edn, 2006), 7-26.
  • [58]
    The mayor Rudolph Giuliani had defended and implemented a “new urban agenda” for New York, based on what he called “self-reliance”: David R. Berman, Local Government and the States. Autonomy, Politics, and Policy (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2003), 156.
  • [59]
    Interview no. 1, 21 September 2009 (expert, academic).
  • [60]
    On this topic, see Bruno Palier, Yves Surel (eds), Quand les politiques changent. Temporalités et niveaux de l’action publique (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010).
  • [61]
    Margaret Weir, Harold Wolman, Todd Swanstrom, “The calculus of coalitions: cities, suburbs, and the metropolitan agenda”, Urban Affairs Review, 40, 2005, 730-60.
  • [62]
    Interview no. 9, 13 October 2009 (member of the Commission for Economic Opportunity).
  • [63]
    In the United States, municipal budgets generally allocate about 40% of their revenue to education, compared with approximately 10% for social services.Online
  • [64]
    David C. Nice, Federalism. The Politics of Intergovernmental Relations (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987).
  • [65]
    John P. Pelissero, Robert E. England, “State and local governments’ Washington ‘reps’: lobbying strategies and President Reagan’s new federalism”, State & Local Government Review, 19(2), 1987, 68-72.
  • [66]
    Hearing on 26 April 2007 before the US House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support (<>).
  • [67]
    In the sense that the number of people living in poverty is artificially lowered by not including the homeless, illegal immigrants, or those who do not apply for social assistance. See David Macarov, What the Market Does to People. Privatization, Globalization and Poverty (London: Zed, 2003), 29. This criticism comes mainly from the left in the United States, as shown by David Brady, “Rethinking the sociological measurement of poverty”, Social Forces, 81(3), 2003, 715-51.
  • [68]
    Interview no. 1, 21 September 2009 (expert, academic).
  • [69]
    The White House. Office of the Press Secretary, “Obama Announces White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships”, 5 February 2009 (<>).Online
  • [70]
    Robert J. Wineburg, A Limited Partnership. The Politics of Religion, Welfare, and Social Service (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 78ff.
  • [71]
    On the contractualisation of social programmes, see the seminal work by Steven Rathgeb Smith, Michael Lipsky, Nonprofits for Hire. The Welfare State in the Age of Contracting (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  • [72]
    Interview no. 10, 15 October 2009 (executive, non-profit organisation, coordinator for Opportunity NYC).
  • [73]
    Thomas Frinault, Christian Le Bart, “L’exemplarité de l’étranger”, introduction to the special issue “L’étranger ou la question des modèles et transferts”, Revue française de science politique, 59(4), 2009, 629-31 (629).
  • [74]
    Alan Deacon, “Learning from the U.S.? The influence of American ideas upon ‘New Labour’ thinking on welfare reform”, Policy & Politics, 28(1), 2000, 5-18; David P. Dolowitz, Policy Transfer and British Social Policy. Learning from the USA? (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000).
  • [75]
    Philip Webster, “Cash for families that beat poverty trap”, The Times, 15 February 2008.
  • [76]
    “Statement by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Contract Out of Poverty Program for the UK”, 15 February 2008 (<>).
  • [77]
    David W. Chen, “At 10 Downing Street, Bloomberg Meets Prime Minister”, City Room for The New York Times, 7 October 2008.
  • [78]
    Translator’s note: RSA stands for Revenu de solidarité active, a French form of social welfare.
  • [79]
    Monique Dagnaud, Martin Hirsch, le parti des pauvres. Histoire politique du RSA (Paris: Éditions de l’Aube, 2009), 22.
  • [80]
    Martin Hirsch, Secrets de fabrication. Chroniques (Paris: Grasset, 2010), 223-4.
  • [81]
    Judith Mitchell Gueron, “The economics of solid waste management: the provision of public services with interindividual and interlocal externalities”, Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge, Harvard University, 1971.
  • [82]
    Some of which were published independently as books: Judith M. Gueron, Reforming Welfare with Work (New York: Ford Foundation, 1987); Judith M. Gueron, Edward Pauly, From Welfare to Work (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1991).
  • [83]
    “Experimentation and social welfare policymaking in the United States”, November 2007 <>.
  • [84]
    Patrick Hassenteufel, “De la comparaison internationale à la comparaison transnationale. Les déplacements de la construction d’objets comparatifs en matière de politiques publiques”, Revue française de science politique, 55(1), 2005, 113-32 (125).
  • [85]
    “Experimentation and social welfare policymaking in the United States”, November 2007 <>.
  • [86]
    Richard Rose, Lesson-Drawing in Public Policy. A Guide to Learning across Time and Space (Chatham: Chatham House, 1993).
  • [87]
    Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy. The Mask of Pluralism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 192.
  • [88]
    More than a dozen large social organisations have their headquarters in New York, most of them inside the United Charities Building on East 22nd street, the building still largely serving this purpose today. Martin Shefter, “New York City and American national politics”, in M. Shefter (ed.), Capital of the American Century. The National and International Influence of New York City (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1993), 95-115 (99).
  • [89]
    Nathan Glazer, “Neoconservatism and liberal New York”, in John H. Mollenkopf, Ken Emerson (eds), Rethinking the Urban Agenda. Reinvigorating the Liberal Tradition in New York City and Urban America (New York: The Century Foundation Press, 2001), 23-40.
  • [90]
    Julian Brash, Bloomberg’s New York. Class and Governance in the Luxury City (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 257-8.
  • [91]
    Michael Barbaro, David W. Chen, “Bloomberg enlists his charities in bid to stay”, The New York Times, 18 October 2008.
  • [92]
    A phenomenon central to major American cities and known as the “urban democratic split”, it pits on one side “working-class, white, Catholic” voters against “upper class, liberal, Protestant and Jewish” voters on the other, the latter allied with “Black and Latino voters”: Thomas R. Dye, Susan A. MacManus, Politics in States and Communities (Boston: Pearson, 14th edn, 2012), 371.
  • [93]
    Income data was not available; these numbers are from 2009 (<>).
  • [94]
    Marguerite Bey, “Le programme social PROGRESA-Oportunidades au Mexique”, Revue Tiers-Monde, 196, 2008, 881-900.
  • [95]
    In 2012, the city’s population was 28.6% Latino, 25.5% African-American and 12.7% Asian (<>).
  • [96]
    Pierre Dubois, Alain De Janvry, Elisabeth Sadoulet, “Effects on school enrollment and performance of a conditional cash transfers program in Mexico”, CEPR Discussion Paper no. 6069 (London: Centre for Economic Research, March 2008); Alan de Brauw, John Hoddinott, “Must conditional cash transfer programs be conditioned to be effective? The impact of conditioning transfers on school enrollment in Mexico”, IFPRI Discussion Papers no. 757 (Washington: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 13 June 2007).
  • [97]
    Interview no. 1, 21 September 2009 (expert, academic).
  • [98]
    Interview no. 9, 13 October 2009 (member of the Commission for Economic Opportunity).
  • [99]
    Interview no. 10, 15 October 2009 (executive, non-profit organisation, coordinator for Opportunity NYC).
  • [100]
    Manuel Castells, John H. Mollenkopf (eds), Dual City. Restructuring New York (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1992), 3.
  • [101]
    Bruce F. Berg, New York City Politics. Governing Gotham (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007), 269.
  • [102]
    They were paid out once every two weeks, adding up to 1,500 dollars a year, in addition to a base welfare payment of 2,400 dollars (Anonymous, “‘Brownie Point’ welfare”, The Social Service Review, 46(1), 1972, 111-13).Online
  • [103]
    The two programmes were judged unconstitutional by the federal court. Nelson Rockefeller won an appeal in the Circuit Court when he was about to become Gerald Ford’s Vice-President: see Blanche Bernstein, “The state and social welfare”, Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, 31(3), 1974, 146-60 (155).Online
  • [104]
    William J. Daniels, James E. Underwood, Governor Rockefeller in New York. The Apex of Pragmatic Liberalism in the United States (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982), 212.
  • [105]
    Felicia Kornbluh, The Battle for Welfare Rights. Politics and Poverty in Modern America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 137.
  • [106]
    Joel F. Handler, “U.S. welfare reform: the big experiment”, in Jonathan Zeitlin, David Trubek (eds), Governing Work and Welfare in a New Economy. European and American Experiments (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 215-39 (215).
  • [107]
    Rebecca M. Blank, “The new American model of work-conditioned public support”, in Jens Alber, Neil Gilbert (eds), United in Diversity? Comparing Social Models in Europe and America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 176-98 (179).
  • [108]
    Kim Moody, From Welfare State to Real Estate. Regime Change in New York City, 1974 to the Present (New York: New Press, 2007), 139-40 and 285-6.
  • [109]
    Richard Clayton, Jonas Pontusson, “Welfare-state retrenchment revisited: entitlement cuts, public sector restructuring, and inegalitarian trends in advanced capitalist societies”, World Politics, 51(1), 1998, 67-98 (91).Online
  • [110]
    Maeve Quaid, Workfare. Why Good Social Policy Ideas Go Bad (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), 100.
  • [111]
    Manuel Castells, Communication Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  • [112]
    Mitchell Moss, Sarah Ludwig, “The structure of the media”, in M. Castells, J. H. Mollenkopf (eds), Dual City, 245-66.
  • [113]
    The “NYT Stories” are among the indicators used by F. Baumgartner and B. Jones to measure “public policy interest” in the process of “allocation of attention” by government agencies. Frank R. Baumgartner, Bryan D. Jones, The Politics of Attention. How Government Prioritizes Problems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 233.
  • [114]
    Following the publication of the report conducted by the MDRC (J. Riccio et al., Toward Reduced Poverty Across Generations).
  • [115]
    Julie Bosman, “City will stop paying the poor for good behavior”, The New York Times, 30 March 2010.
  • [116]
    These evaluations can be found in the publication of later reports: David Greenberg, Nadine Dechausay, Carolyn Fraker, Learning Together. How Families Responded to Education Incentives in New York City’s Conditional Cash Transfer Program (New York: MDRC, 2011); Pamela Morris, J. Lawrence Aber, Sharon Wolf, Juliette Berg, Using Incentives to Change How Teenagers Spend Their Time. The Effects of New York City’s Conditional Cash Transfer Program (New York: MDRC, 2012); Nandita Verma, Betsy Tessler, Cynthia Miller, James A. Riccio, Zawadi Rucks, Edith Yang, Working Toward Self-Sufficiency. Early Findings from a Program for Housing Voucher Recipients in New York City (New York: MDRC, 2012). A new study (2013-2015) will be conducted in collaboration with the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, thanks to a donation of 299,997 dollars from the William T. Grant foundation.
  • [117]
    Murray J. Edelman, Political Language. Words that Succeed and Policies that Fail (New York: Academic Press, 1977).
  • [118]
    Emery Roe, Narrative Policy Analysis. Theory and Practice (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994).Online
  • [119]
    “RFP for SIF Family Rewards Program”, New York Nonprofit Press, 24 January 2011. (<>).
  • [120]
    The Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is a federal organisation.
  • [121]
    NYC Center for Economic Opportunity, Corporation for National and Community Services, Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, “Family Rewards: A Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program”, December 2010, 1-2.
  • [122]
    David W. Chen, Michael M. Grynbaum, “‘Pilot’ label lets mayor’s projects skip city review”, The New York Times, 26 June 2011.
  • [123]
    Jean Leca, “Sur le rôle de la connaissance dans la modernisation de l’État et le statut de l’évaluation”, Revue française d’administration publique, 66, 1993, 185-96.
  • [124]
    Pierre Favre, “Vers un nouveau basculement des paradigmes dans la science politique française?”, Revue française de science politique, 60(5), 2010, 997-1021 (1002).
  • [125]
    Comparative politics in the traditional sense is more focused on the various forms taken by the state. Specifically within this area, see Bruno Théret, Protection sociale et fédéralisme. L’Europe dans le miroir de l’Amérique du Nord (Montréal/Brussels: Presses de l’Université de Montréal/PIE-Peter Lang, 2002).
  • [126]
    Vivien A. Schmidt, “Ideas and discourse in transformational political economic change in Europe”, in Grace Skogstad (ed.), Policy Paradigms, Transnationalism, and Domestic Politics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 36-63.
  • [127]
    The main results were published in Élisa Chelle, Gouverner les pauvres. Politiques sociales et administration du mérite (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012).
  • [128]
    Patricia A. Adler, Peter Adler, “The reluctant respondent”, in James A. Holstein, Jaber F. Gubrium (eds), Inside Interviewing. New Lenses, New Concerns (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003), 153-75 (157-9).
  • [129]
    That is to say, circumvent the codes of conduct to turn a situation of domination to their advantage: Michael L. Schwalbe, Michelle Wolkomir, “Interviewing men”, in J. A. Holstein, J. F. Gubrium (eds), Inside Interviewing, 55-72 (60).
  • [130]
    Nada K. Kakabadse, Eddy Louchart, “Delicate empiricism: an action learning approach to elite interviewing”, in Andrew Kakabadse, Nada Kakabadse (eds), Global Elites. The Opaque Nature of Transnational Policy Determination (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 286-307.
  • [131]
    Christopher R. Williams highlights the importance of these “elite” and “leadership roles” in understanding interview material: Christopher R. Williams, Researching Power, Elites and Leadership (Los Angeles: Sage, 2012), 86.

Based on field research, this paper analyses the role of a city in the dissemination of a particular kind of anti-poverty scheme: the conditional cash transfer model. Questioning the neoclassical economic postulate that policy models and policy makers interact freely, the case of Opportunity NYC sheds light on the asymmetry of the circulation of policy ideas. The staff of Mayor Michael Bloomberg developed and implemented a series of local, inter-state and international strategies to turn their pilot project into a policy. Despite mixed results, the initiative also received a great deal of attention within the United States and had some influence in Great Britain and France. This article attributes the leadership exercised by this urban policy laboratory to socio-spatial characteristics (political, sociological, economic). Finally, it demonstrates that building a policy model does not rely so much on the excellence of the recipe as on the dissemination strategies specific to a city.

Élisa Chelle
With a doctorate in political science, Élisa Chelle specialises in comparative social policies as well as contemporary philanthropy in the United States. She teaches at Sciences Po Grenoble and is a research fellow with the PACTE laboratory. Her recent publications on the subject include: Gouverner les pauvres. Politiques sociales et administration du mérite (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012) (Res Publica); and “Un patronage philanthropique. La fondation Rockefeller et le traitement de la pauvreté à New York depuis 2007”, Lien social et Politiques, 65, 2011, 101-19. A specialist in the study of financial incentives in public policy and new public management, she is also the author of several articles on the introduction of new public management in high-level French public service sectors. Her current research is part of the regional programme “Industrialisation et Sciences de gouvernement” (ARC8 région Rhône-Alpes) and is focused on electronic voting and healthcare reform in the United States (Sciences Po Grenoble, BP 48, 38040 Grenoble cedex 9, <>)
Translated from French by
Sarah-Louise Raillard
Uploaded on on 29/07/2014
Distribution électronique pour Presses de Sciences Po © Presses de Sciences Po. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Loading... Please wait