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Welfare Economics on Welfare State - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 218
Welfare state/Welfare economics/Moon: In spite of the importance of functioning as
opposed to possessing, most evaluations of welfare state performance focus on what people have, rather than on what they can do.
Rothstein: One common measure, for example, is 'percentage of poor households lifted out of poverty as a result of taxes and transfers', where poverty is defined as having an income below 50 percent of adjusted median household income of the country in which one lives (Rothstein, 1998(1): 183—4). But if the objective of the welfare state is to enable citizens to participate effectively, this measure is problematic because income, or income alone, does not provide the capability to achieve many of the most important functionings.
Susan Mayer: In a recent study aptly titled What Money Can Buy (1997(2)), Susan Mayer has examined the 'functionings' of children, adolescents, and young adults, and correlated them with family income.
Work: The argument about the necessity for effective functioning, as opposed simply to having access to resources, has been most heated in the area of work. If democratic citizenship requires that all be enabled to participate fully in society, then people must have not only certain resources, but also certain capacities, skills, and dispositions.
Gaus I 219
One can acknowledge that people rely upon 'welfare' because their options are so limited, and so
their condition represents an indictment of the society rather than the individuals concerned, but
the fact remains that receipt of social assistance does not enable one to attain full citizenship or
membership in society. It simply sustains one in a marginalized condition. Social inclusion requires
more than receiving benefits.
Lawrence Mead: this line of argument has been advanced by a number of 'conservative' critics of the welfare state. Lawrence Mead (1992)(3), for example, argues that the character of poverty at least in America has changed in the past several decades, and that the social exclusion represented by poverty reflects the inability of poor people to act as rational agents in pursuit even of their own interests. * >Labour/Lawrence Mead.
Nikolas Rose: Nikolas Rose has pointed out that the emphasis on paid employment is not a monopoly of the right: 'From the "social democratic left", too, work [is] now seen as the [principal] mode of inclusion, and absence from the labour market the most potent source of exclusion' (1999(4), 163).
David Harris: In some solidaristic accounts, the emphasis on work invokes an older language of duties. In Harris's account, for example, the duties correlative to our welfare rights are
'strict obligations' and may be enforced by 'coercion' (1987(5): 161).
Marshall: In this, [Harris] echoes Marshall, who looked beyond the social rights of citizenship to consider the duties of the enriched and inclusive model of citizenship he advocated, including 'the
duty to work', which he thought was of 'paramount importance'.
Gotmann/Thompson: Similarly, Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson offer a justification for enforcing work obligations that draws on the idea of citizenship, arguing that 'work should be seen as a necessary part of citizenship' (1996(6): 293), because it is 'essential to social dignity'. Since 'earning is not only a means of making a living but also a mark of equal citizenship', paid employment has a 'political dimension' that 'provides a further justification for the obligation to work' (1996(6): 302).

* It should be noted that Mead would reject the charactenzation of his position as 'conservative', arguing that at least in America the conservative position shares the liberal assumption that the poor are 'competent', and believes that the problem of poverty is caused by the way in which welfare programmes distort the incentives poor people face. The solution, then, is not to reform the poor, but to abolish welfare programmes. No doubt this view reflects the thinking of some conservatives, but other self-identified conservatives do view the issue in terms similar to Mead's.


1. Rothstein, Bo (1998) Just Institutions Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2. Mayer, Susan (1997) What Money Can 't Buy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
3. Mead, Lawrence M. (1992) The New Politics of Poverty. New York: Basic.
4. Rose, Nikolas (1999) Powers of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge Umversity Press.
5. Harris, David (1987) Justifying State Welfare. Oxford: Blackwell.
6. Gutmann, Amy and Dennis Thompson (1996) Democracy and Disagreement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Moon, J. Donald 2004. „The Political Theory of the Welfare State“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Welfare Economics
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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