The notion of the "deserving poor" used to refer to those who were poor
through no fault of their own, providing the basis of selection on welfare
policy. Increasingly, across a wide range of policy initiatives throughout the
developed world, it is coming to refer to contractual and quasi-contractual
entitlements. Morally, this is a dubious proposition: contractual entitlements
are based on bargaining power in a way that is antithetical to morality as
commonly conceived. Institutionally, it is inappropriate: the whole point of the
welfare state, as commonly conceived, is to adjust and override market-based
distributions of precisely the sorts that contractualist prescriptions would
enshrine in social welfare policy.
Because the poor lack the bargaining power available to the rich, contractual bargaining between the two sides merely reinforces the ability of the rich to turn their "might" into "right." Rather than base social welfare policies on contractual bargaining, policies should focus on the duties the strong members of society have toward the weak: the poor should clearly receive more, and the rich pay more, than either group has bargained for.
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