Miller Center

Molly Michelmore

History, University of Michigan

With the First Penny Paid: Welfare Reform, Tax Policy and Political Change, 1960–1980

Michelmore photo

Molly Michelmore is Associate Professor of History at Washington and Lee University.

Michelmore's research interests lie in 20th century American politics, and specifically in the relationship between fiscal policy, the politics of taxing and spending, and content of post-New Deal liberalism. She explored these concepts in her first book Tax and Spend: The Welfare State, Tax Politics and the Limits of American Liberalism.

Michelmore's dissertation placed the "Reagan Revolution" in historical context by studying the politics of welfare reform and tax policy between 1960 and 1980. Ronald Reagan's 1980 election represented the culmination of a decade-old re-evaluation of national political priorities, the result of which was a political settlement centrally concerned with the costs of the liberal state.

Her dissertation explores how and why "welfare" grew from a policy problem of interest to only a small group of experts into an issue of national political importance, and examines the era's larger political, economic and social changes. Examining social and fiscal policies considered or enacted between 1967 and 1980, Michelmore's dissertation analyzed the process by which taxes and welfare became two sides of the same coin and were politicized to an unprecedented extent in the 1970s. Specifically, she argued that both welfare and taxes became important weapons in the arsenal of the conservative attack on the state and its reification of the market, that the politics and policies of welfare reform played a significant role in the rise of conservatism and the repudiation of the postwar liberal paradigm.

Fellowship year: 2005

Mentor: Julian Zelizer, Princeton University

Selected Recent Publications

"Why the income tax is worth celebrating." Washington Post Opinions, February 17, 2013.

Tax and Spend: The Welfare State, Tax Politics and the Limits of American Liberalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

"'What Have You Done for Me Lately?': The Welfare State, Tax Politics and the Search for a New Majority, 1968-1980." Journal of Policy History 24, no. 4 (October 2012): 709-740.

"Don't Just Blame the Republicans for the No-Tax Pledge -- Democrats are Allergic to Tax Hikes, Too." History News Network, July 9, 2012.

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