THE MEANS TEST
A relief or social security system designed exclusively for relieving need with a minimum collection and distribution of funds procured through taxation or compulsory contributions will use a means test. The present chapter will deal with the defects and the merits of a means test.
The means test is to many persons anathema. Almost anything, except total neglect of need, is better than a means test. The explanation of this antipathy lies at least in part in the fact that the means test was an essential element in a system cursed with many other defects. To it are attributed faults that on analysis appear to have resulted from other features of law or practice. In considering defects those that are putative will be taken up as well as those that are inherent.
Inherent in the use of the means test is ascertaining the facts to establish need or eligibility in the individual case. The person or a member of a family must supply the basic facts, for no government so far as we know keeps for all its citizens detailed records of all the essential facts. When facts are supplied by an individual to be used in determining whether or not he is to receive a grant or a benefit from public funds, it is essential that they be verified. Verification of facts regarding the resources and the activities of individuals or families means that public officials are inquiring into, even probing into, personal affairs. There was a time when such government inquiries were rarely made on a large scale except in connection with relief administration; but under modern conditions with wide use of income taxes, inheritance taxes, and other taxes based on capacity to pay, the state frequently inquires into matters that used to be regarded as private and personal, and the government may check these reports by methods that strike the subject as inquisitorial.