Dr. Marc Aidinoff works at the intersection of technology policy and social policy. Aidinoff’s current research traces the computerization of the welfare state and the rise of new liberal politics in the US. He argues that digitization of government services has shaped expectations about what government can and should be. Most recently, Aidinoff served as Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where he helped lead a team of 150 policymakers on key initiatives including the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and guidance to ensure federally funded research is publicly accessible. His research has been supported by the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, the Charles Babbage Institute, and the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative among others. He is currently a National Fellow in Technology and Democracy at the Jefferson Scholars Foundation and a visiting lecturer at the University of Mississippi. 

Talk: Digitizing Welfare: How Social Policy Became Technology Policy in the United States

Abstract: Politicians, policy wonks, and the public have long debated which aspects of the state should be computerized and how: should enrolling in healthcare be like purchasing a plane ticket on Kayak.com or should federal student debt relief require a log-on with a password? This talk traces the history of welfare computerization in the US, the process by which the New Deal program to support impoverished families came to rely on complex interstate digital infrastructure. I argue that the computerization of welfare administration, beginning in the 1970s, restructured the welfare state from a localized system of uneven entitlements to a national regime of punitive and carceral extraction. This shift was epistemic, rooted in new ways the state would know citizens; operational, contingent on automated mechanisms to sustain administration; and political, offering a new liberal social contract that was particularly appealing to a new generation of Democratic leaders. By centering the development of one state’s case management technology, Mississippi’s MAVERICS system, this talk refutes popular narratives that government power simply receded under a neoliberal welfare regime. Instead, I show that the welfare state expanded its authority with new digital tools to discipline and networked mechanisms to punish citizens. Examining this historical change reveals how the work of technical experts and system designers determines both the outcomes and the aims of public policy.