Unconditional welfare benefits and the principle of reciprocity

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 4 (3):331-354 (2005)
Abstract
Stuart White and others claim that providing welfare benefits to citizens who do not, and are not willing to, work breaches the principle of reciprocity. This, they argue, justifies placing a minimum work requirement on welfare recipients. This article seeks to rebut their claim. It begins by rejecting the attempt to ground the work requirement on a civic obligation to work. The article then explores the principle of reciprocity, and argues that the practice of reciprocity depends on the particular conception of distributive justice adopted. An examination of different interpretations of egalitarian justice and their corresponding patterns of reciprocity demonstrates that unconditional welfare benefits are compatible with, and sometimes even warranted by, the principle of reciprocity. Thus, imposing a work requirement on welfare recipients is by no means a mandate of reciprocity. Key Words: contractualism • unconditional basic income • reciprocity • welfare state • work.
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