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La filosofia dello stato del benessere: un riesame scettico

The Philosophy of Welfare: A Sceptical Reexamination

Anno XXIV, n. 105, aprile-giugno 1989
Centro Einaudi


Abstract disponibile solo in lingua inglese

This article analyses critically the variety of philosophical foundations that have been used to justify an active state involvement in the provision of social welfare, and explores the implications that they have for particular welfare policies, e.g. housing, education and pensions. It distinguishes two neo-conservative individualist critiques. One derives from typical efficiency considerations. The other is more moralistic and argues that such an approach encourages a "dependency culture".
The paper draws upon both critiques but also challenges the internal logic of conventional welfarist arguments. It argues that equality, social justice, freedom and autonomy are unsatisfactory justificatory principles. It also maintains that typical welfare philosophies neglect the importance of institutional arrangements in the delivery of welfare.
The paper challenges the symmetry between welfare rights and "negative rights" (traditional liberal rights to non-interference from others) which is maintained by Gewirth and Plant. Also it is claimed that welfare philosophers are unclear as to whether a welfare right is universal (worldwide) or confined to particular communities.
It is argued that in a democracy all welfare provision depends on subjective choice. There is no "objective" welfare function for a community. Welfare is a type of public good in that policies to alleviate deprivation are desired by citizens but in the absence of state action there are no great incentives for them to be implemented. Welfare philosophers should therefore devote less time to the construction of elaborate ethical welfare schemes and more to the design of constitutional rules for a more accurate translation of the people's desire for welfare into public policy. In the absence of strict rules, welfare states are vulnerable to "capture" by the middle classes.