Are You Worthy?
Current U.S. Welfare Programs
We now know what a just economic distribution should look like and realize there are some practical limitations on making it totally just. The task in this chapter is to evaluate our current public assistance programs to determine how well they achieve the goal of justice. 1
The main point of the evaluation is that the philosophy behind our present programs is quite different from the dictates of justice developed thus far in this book. The primary evidence of this is the "categorical" nature of these programs. They attempt to segregate those who are deemed to be "worthy" of benefits from those who are not. 2 At the base of this approach is a belief that certain people who are in poverty are deserving of public assistance and others are not. Since we have argued previously that the notion of "deserving" cannot form the foundation for a just system, the current philosophy is flawed.
In discussing our present public assistance programs my emphasis is on the significant characteristics, with minimal attention to details. The significant characteristics are those subject to criticism from the vantage point of the requirements of justice as established earlier in this book. As indicated in the Introduction, I won't attempt to prove any points through the use of facts. Details change frequently, as evidenced by the recent "welfare reform" legislation; the underlying philosophy and the implied attitudes toward the poor, as revealed by the major provisions, are the relevant targets.