Egalitarianism and the undeserving poor

Journal of Political Philosophy 5 (4):327–350 (1997)
Abstract
Recently in the U.S. a near-consensus has formed around the idea that it would be desirable to "end welfare as we know it," in the words of President Bill Clinton.1 In this context, the term "welfare" does not refer to the entire panoply of welfare state provision including government sponsored old age pensions, government provided medical care for the elderly, unemployment benefits for workers who have lost their jobs without being fired for cause, or aid to the disabled. "Welfare" in contemporary debates means "cash, food, or housing assistance to healthy nonaged persons with low incomes."2 In the U.S., the main policy that qualifies as welfare in this sense is Aid to Families with Dependent Children.3 Although contemporary attacks on welfare are identified with conservative policy analysts such as Charles Murray, in fact dissatisfaction with the policies Murray targets for criticism is widespread among liberal intellectuals. For example, in a sharply critical review essay on Murray's book Losing Ground, Christopher Jencks worries that "the social policies that prevailed from 1964 to 1980 often seemed to reward vice" instead of rewarding virtuous conduct by the poor. The problem as Jencks, following Murray, views it is not easy to repair, because "if you set out to help people who are in trouble, you almost always find that most of them are to some extent responsible for their present troubles. Few victims are completely innocent. Helping those who are not doing their best to help themselves poses extraordinarily difficult moral and political problems."4 David T. Ellwood writes that Murray “is almost certainly correct in stating that welfare does not reflect or reinforce our most basic values. He is also correct in stating that no amount of tinkering with benefit levels or work rules will change that.”
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Serena Olsaretti (2009). Responsibility and the Consequences of Choice. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 109 (1pt2):165-188.
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