Welfare and ethics (23-2-17)




What is welfare - how extensive is it?


Is it co-terminus with the idea of a welfare state?


Might we talk about Global welfare or only national welfare? (we owe welfare duties only to those like us)



History: 43rd of Elizabeth 1st that links welfare of all citizens of the nation to go about their business unimpeded...to the desperation of dangerous vagabonds


No money and unemployed = death unless welfare = Poor Law 1832 and before that the Speenhamland system of what we came to know as supplementary benefits or more recently, tax credits..which in the late 18th C proved an incentive as they would today, to pay below market wages = state subsidy to capitalism


This gave rise to the workhouse under the 1832 Act



But welfare off the parish could be varied according to what the guardians thought was a right amount of welfare support to give their supplicants, thus the absence of universal principles made welfare a rather arbitrary system.


And this went through to the 1930s when as a result of the balanced budget policy in the years of the depression, welfare payments to families varied so as to manage the national budget and moreover, maintain treasury policy despite Keynes's advice that perhaps Govt should move to borrowing in one year and pay back alter when the economy had improved.


Welfare and its links to Poverty - but how defined? Objective? subjective - somewhere in between inasmuch as Townshend by 1979 suggests that TV is a basic item and thus we should all contribute tax-wise to a family so they may have a TV



The old Charles Booth (London studies) and Seebohm Rowntree idea (York studies)


What was new, and was to have a long term impact on poverty measurement, was his attempt to measure the causes of poverty. Rowntree distinguished those whose income was so low that even if they followed complete sobriety and total purchasing efficiency they would not be able to live at a level of ‘physical efficiency’.


He knew that any figure was likely to be attacked, so he sought a harder, he hoped  unchallengeable, measure. The adviser he turned to Professor W. O. Atwater, whose specialist area was human nutrition and energy, backed up by two nutritionists from Scotland. How much food of what kind did a working man need to function as an effective worker? That depended on the type of work he was doing, Atwater argued, and he produced a range of minimum diets from that needed by workers who used little physical exercise, through moderate to active muscular work. The moderate standard was chosen.

Rowntree concluded that ‘the labouring classes on whom the bulk of the muscular work falls,

are seriously underfed’ (1901, p. 259). Rowntree challenged his critics: ‘Are you seriously suggesting that you can expect families to live on less than this?’ It was this harsher, apparently more ‘scientific’, measure he called ‘primary poverty’. The difference between the judgemental levels of ‘squalid living’ and his primary poverty level formed the controversial gap he called ‘secondary poverty’. These were ‘families whose total earnings would be sufficient for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency were it not that some portion of it is absorbed by other expenditure, either useful or wasteful (1901, p. 115.


The difference between the judgemental levels of ‘squalid living’ and his primary poverty level formed the controversial gap he called ‘secondary poverty’. These were ‘families whose total earnings would be sufficient for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency were it not that some portion of it is

absorbed by other expenditure, either useful or wasteful.




Several interesting questions arise here:


Is welfare reducible to a question of poverty? i.e. lack of some set of agreed basic resources (which may vary according to socio-cultural changes in public perceptions)


Can we derive a new distinction between primary and secondary poverty not dissimilar from Booth and Rowntree along the lines of:


Primary: maintenance of physical functioning correspondent to a set of basic needs


Secondary: resources such as TV, internet.... that are enabling of basic cultural/economic/social expectations.



This sort of idea a la Booth et al links (weakly) to positive liberty - that there should be provided a basic set of resources that enable us to have a formal equality to the average condition of the rest of society, namely that we are able to bodily and mentally function so as to be economically productive and not obviously precluded from self-motivated advancement (a popular victorian notion = Samuel Smiles best-seller: 'Self-Help')




perhaps a negative liberty version:


should some direct or indirect system of welfare be provided which simply precludes people from being forcibly/coercively deflected from their normal chosen course of activities or their existing state e.g. police to stop violent thieves or a la 43rd of Liz 1 some welfare to stop the desperate resorting to thievery. This can be public or private provision.



But the problem here is that it is a) regressive and b) has non-excludable incentives to not pay up or join.


i) if publicly provided: it is regressive in that where all are expected to contribute, it is the richest who most benefit; no point in robbing the poor...and in the 17th C the poor were usually always working not travelling the roads in coaches




ii)  there is a disincentive as, if it is privately provided at all, then all will be protected whether they pay or not = it becomes a public good and thus no incentive for others to join the scheme (especially the poor)



Thus there are a number of questions the are prior to what we usually take to be THE Q of welfare -  which is: what is the  right distribution pattern? (the rules for/of entitlements - who should get what and how much?)


that is to say we should not just presume that welfare is necessarily a right thing to have available...other questions we might ask are:



1) Why do we need welfare? Is welfare a right thing MORALLY speaking

What does the egoist say? Why MORALLY ought I to support the very idea of welfare especially if I can pay for all my 'welfare' needs myself and as such it is not a moral requirement?


Does the recognition of the rightness of there being 'welfare' turn on a tender-mindedness rather than a tough-mindedness, that is to say, rests on an altruistic disposition. Otherwise, it is unwarrantable State coercion?




If I simply contribute to the welfare budget because I might get something out of it, is that moral?



Does this violate kantian virtue - the good will? and thus a good kantian should not make welfare contributions unless he believes in welfare?



So is the justification for welfare  a matter of its likely contribution to each individual welfare function or is it a structural good - an aggregative welfare function irrespective of questions of deserving and un-deserving cases or more or less likely users.



Not because it makes for a better society (what sense can we make of this?) qua 'better society' but because it is a holistic 'insurance' system where, for the most part, key elements of  a widely shared idea of how one should live (an agreed welfare function) are provided of everyone's use if so needed (objectively) - the latter assumes no hypochondria, unjustifiably wanting attention etc.




that the use-pattern may vary for different goods - we do not all use the same goods to the same extent


but we work on the 'sense' that 'it all comes out in the wash' - that your use of this set of welfare goods is sort of balanced out by my use of this other set of goods - I had a good education you did not but my greater use of educational goods is sort of matched by your greater use of social security goods that are more likely needed if you have poor education.


As such neither of us can complain about contribution or distribution



AND neither of us could have any of these goods to any degree by another means of provision e.g. under anarchism




the effort to provide such goods is insuperable or at least too much like hard work.





2) Why ought I (e.g. Mr Rich) to contribute to welfare (Q of motivation)

How can I convince the very rich, or indeed the very poor but could just about cough some money) to support welfare?


Kantian argument: we all ought to pay otherwise the whole system will break down but the assumes (1) has been answered positively


What motivates welfare morality?



Is Rawls's Veil of Ignorance argument sufficient?

Imagine that I do not know where I shall be in society - rich or poor etc, what principles of justice would I choose?


Would I, as Rawls suggest, choose to create a welfare system that would aim to make the worst off better off


Not if I did not have a sense of justice in the first place.



Is Goodin's uncertainty argument good enough?

This seems a bit like Rawls V of I arg but it has a bit more bite: the world is in flux; I do not know what will happen to me or my circumstances - the might be hit by a bus arg. And as we know from the work of Kahneman and Tversky,  human beings are amazingly bad at calculating risk (rule of optimism)


Goodin does not rely on a prior sense of justice but on a) objective risk AND b) the Golden Rule - reciprocity - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.



BUT what if we start from some claim about human nature of which the psychology of inaccurately rational belief and risk-taking and risk aversion is a part.



If that IS who we are why should either RTs or RA wish to contribute to welfare


RA avoid in welfare-requiring actions

RTs do but do not believe they will need welfare



and as to inaccurate probability assessors; the thing is that they DO believe that they will not get hit by a bus the next time they go out...



And as such they are not motivated to endorse welfare whatever the objective evidence may suggest.





3) What are the justifiable forms of welfare provision in the first place (the Rowntree/Booth issue) = How much welfare - just physical maintenance appropriate to an expected state?


... so that, for instance, we provide specialist maternity/children's hospital care even though neither babies nor children are economically productive.



But no greater range of welfare goods/provisions? and certainly none simply aimed at our entertainment.




BUT setting aside doubts about welfare and taking that it is a fact, we come to the distibution question:


who gets what.


Rowntree and Booth saw that they were undermining the idea that welfare was a matter of a chosen form of life - it was a matter of moral character...


But does this not point in the direction of it being distributed and 'deserved' by all in regard of their objective situation and not who they are?



so should we give a violent criminal welfare payments knowing what he is like and that this make him likely to use a proportion of that money to engage in further wickedness?



What would you do? Doe dessert have a place?



Rawls and Nozick




Rawls -



a) 'difference' principle = social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that are to the benefit of the least advantaged



but this is prefaced by a rule of liberty - and this rule has 'lexical' priority (it must be satisfied first)



b) that each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.



The difference principle tends towards an unfolding pattern of economic equality but perhaps the liberty principle is dependant upon the difference principle - which upsets the lexical ordering?



That is to say, one equal rights to liberty are intrinsically determined by one's welfare function and without a fair distribution of under (a) how can I have an equal right to (b)?


And would it be right to restrict the entry of well-off pupils to a great school and let in the worst-off? (Thus against (b) restricting equal liberties for the same or welfare compensatory policies (a))



Nozick - Anarchy, State and utopia (1974)


Entitlement theory of justice - the famous Wilt Chamberlain argument


Assuming you have just holdings (property)


then you are justly entitled to distribute those as you see fit

(set aside args about not giving the money to criminals etc)


of course if you and many others, from say a starting pattern of equality of holdings, wish to give up their holdings or part of them to Wilt Chamberlain


and he ends up very wealthy



then this upsets the initial pattern of just distribution (e.g. of welfare)



But what rule of justice has been violated?



Thus inequality has arisen from liberty and justice


and whatever other patterns of society may result from such 'distortion' of the initial pattern in a 'markovian' chain of consequent choices is neither here not there.



And of course this brings Nozick into conflict with Rawls's difference principle which Rawls's from the starting point of the veil of ignorance, say is rational.