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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: December 2009

7 - Welfare or Means-Tested Benefits, Part II


In Chapter 6 I argued that egalitarianism and its prioritarian cousin should consider private charity to be at least as just as state conditional welfare. In this chapter I come to the same conclusion with regard to the positive-rights theory, communitarianism, and the requirement of epistemic accessibility.

The Right to Welfare

If one thinks that there is a basic right to welfare, it may seem obvious that state welfare is preferable to voluntary aid. After all, no one who receives aid from charitable institutions or donors has a right to that aid. So how could state welfare fail to be clearly superior to a voluntary alternative? However, things are not quite what they seem. If one believes that there is a right to welfare, it does not follow that state welfare has a clear and easy victory over voluntary assistance.

The Content of the Right

A legal right to welfare is either a right of the needy or those below a certain income to cash transfers or certain services, or a right to have or obtain a certain level of well-being that these transfers and aid are supposed to provide. If a right to welfare is the former, then virtually by definition state welfare beats voluntary aid. Whether unconditional or conditional state aid is better is unclear because this depends on who should be the bearers of the right. If it is anyone who falls below a certain income, then unconditional state welfare is superior.