SOCIOECONOMIC RIGHTS AND AMERICAN VALUES
Patterns of Resource Inadequacy and American Values
Craig was five when his father died in an automobile accident. Since the accident involved only his father's car, which skidded on an icy patch of roadway, there were no suits for damages. At the time of the accident Craig's parents had little in the way of savings or other assets, and the father's life insurance coverage was quite modest. Craig's father was in his mid-twenties and had been a high school teacher for several years. Craig's mother had never worked, apart from summer jobs in high school and between her two years of college. Grandparents from both sides of the family offered assistance of various kinds: emotional support, food, child-care, and money.
As survivors of a member of the labor force, Craig and his mother might each expect to receive social security benefits from Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI). The amount of these monthly support checks would depend on the father's earnings history. Under current rules Craig would receive benefits until he finished high school. The same benefits would be accorded to Craig had his father been permanently and totally disabled rather than killed in the accident, or had Craig's parents divorced prior to the accident so long as Craig had not been formally adopted by a stepfather.
But under slightly different circumstances, social security would not protect Craig. For example, suppose Craig's father had not yet
worked long enough to earn social security survivor's eligibility for his family. Or suppose that Craig's father had contracted an illness that forced him to stay home from work for several months. No general public program provides protection against this contingency. (State workers' compensation programs cover only job-related illnesses and injuries.) Rather, Craig's fate would depend on whether his father's employer provided for paid sick leave and private group medical insurance. Or suppose the crisis was that Craig's father had been indefinitely laid off from work. The family would then have to rely on state unemployment compensation, which provides benefits of limited duration.
As a final example of the inadequacies of current programs, consider Darlene, a two-year-old whose father deserted Darlene's mother during pregnancy. Darlene's mother, like Craig's mother, is young and has no experience or work skills that would command good wages in the labor market. Further, Darlene's extended family cannot afford to offer assistance other than intermittent child-care. With no savings and no family support to fall back on, Darlene and her mother will qualify for public assistance from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), more commonly known as "welfare." Like workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, AFDC benefits follow general federal guidelines but vary markedly from one state to another and even within states. Generally, eligibility for AFDC provides access to Medicaid benefits, food stamps, and limited public housing assistance.
AFDC benefits provide crucial support, but the recipients pay a price, for welfare, unlike social security, is not considered an earned right but a form of public charity. Because eligibility for welfare is not based on prior contributions but on need, many Americans—including many welfare recipients—view being on welfare as a sign of disgrace, a mark of failure in a land of opportunity, an affront to personal dignity. And surviving on the largesse of public charity rather than on one's personal accomplishments sets recipients apart from the members of—and thus membership in—mainstream society.
Let us suppose that Darlene's mother is determined to be off welfare and to be self-supporting as soon as possible. Once she finds a job, the AFDC benefits will begin to disappear. The specific income levels at which benefits are withdrawn vary from state to state, but the following pattern is typical. For several months the
first few dollars of earnings that Darlene's mother makes each week do not affect AFDC benefits. Thereafter, an allowance is made for work-related expenses—child-care, for example—but above that allowance each three dollars of earnings reduces benefits by two dollars. After four months nearly all earnings above limited work-related expenses reduce benefits dollar for dollar, and earnings above modest cutoff points lead to the cessation of AFDC and Medicaid benefits. If earnings subsequently drop below the cutoff points, benefits are not reinstated until the family again reaches a designated level of destitution. If Darlene's mother is typical of many AFDC recipients, she will manage to obtain independence from welfare, perhaps more than once.
I could add variations to these predicaments, but two points should already be clear. First, Craig and Darlene's needs for food, clothing, housing, child-care, and medical care remain about the same regardless of the scenario we pick. While a few children have exceptional medical-care or dietary needs, generally what varies from one scenario to another is not the child's needs but the availability of public and private resources to meet those needs. Second, no matter which scenario we pick, we cannot reasonably blame Craig or Darlene for ending up in a situation that may or may not provide resources to meet their basic needs. All these disruptive incidents—death, illness, layoffs, desertion—are well beyond the children's control.
While these points are clearest in a discussion of the plight of young children, they apply to all citizens of advanced industrial societies. Because we no longer live in an era of economically self-sufficient homesteaders, individuals' needs for public policy protection from certain social hazards are greater than they were a century ago. We can no longer look to the model of the society that prompted the liberal tradition—the society that grew out of Locke and Adam Smith's ideas. The gradual transformation of America into an advanced industrial society has left us more, not less, vulnerable to social hazards.
Wage Dependency and Vulnerability
Through the first half of the nineteenth century America was a nation of farmers, shopkeepers, and small businessmen living in small towns. Capitalism was local and commercial, rather than national
and industrial, and the family was a self-sustaining economic unit. Family members worked largely within the confines of the household, on the family's land, or in the family's shop or other small business. Gradually, however, technological development and increases in economic centralization and differentiation combined to erode households' self-sufficiency. More people began to work outside the family for wages or salary. And as needs came to be more commonly supported by participation in the labor market, fewer families held their own land or other businesses. Today, only a small fraction of Americans owns household-sustaining property. The vast majority of us, including many professional and managerial people, are dependent for our livelihoods on selling our labor in the market.
Wage dependency creates the preconditions for wage vulnerability. Any disruption in wages threatens a worker's ability to meet basic needs. And many disruptions to participation in the labor market—disabling injury, aging, recession, plant closings due to loss of international competitiveness—lie beyond the control of an individual worker. Even households in the top quintile of income distribution are not immune to such hazards. Only the very wealthiest households can sustain themselves over lengthy periods without labor market participation and without recourse to outside assistance, such as public social programs.
Other trends characteristic of advanced industrial societies reinforce the problems of wage dependency and vulnerability. As people go to work for others, they tend to move from rural to urban environments, and urban settings afford fewer opportunities for household production of food and shelter. Additionally, the nuclear family, itself an adaptation to urban industrial society, has been splintered by desertion and divorce, events that often leave women and their children without a source of adequate income. New households based on remarriage, sibling ties, and friendships have reduced some, but by no means all, of these difficulties. Finally, as life expectancies increase well beyond society's conception of the duration of people's economic usefulness, a growing proportion of elderly people find themselves excluded from regular participation in the labor market.
In addition to these trends associated with wage dependency and vulnerability, the prices of customary and essential services
have far outpaced normal income levels. The rural household of the early nineteenth century was largely self-sufficient not only with respect to basic goods but also with respect to services. For example, home remedies were the rule for illness or injury, in part because of the expense of hiring a physician, particularly the cost of transportation, but in part because a professional healer could not always be expected to achieve results more encouraging than those of a layperson.
Today, in contrast, the efficacy of sophisticated medical services is far superior to lay remedies, and people who cannot acquire access to the most crucial of these services cannot successfully claim full membership in contemporary society. Indeed, in a wage-dependent economy, individuals rely heavily on medical care to cure the illnesses or injuries that disrupt their ability to earn a living. Yet while medical care is increasingly important, it is also extremely expensive, beyond the reach of most people's incomes. The fortunate have their medical bills paid for by private insurance or public social programs; the unfortunate often go without even the most basic care.
In sum, an intrinsic characteristic of advanced industrial societies is that families are no longer independent economic units. In light of the family's loss of self-sufficiency, modern societies have created social programs to provide a measure of protection for their citizens. In the United States, as in other advanced industrial societies, these social programs are intended to cushion people against episodic disruptions of income as well as to sustain people whose economic resources are persistently insufficient.
Patterns of Resource Inadequacy
Resource inadequacy refers to two related but distinct problems: episodic financial shortfalls and persistent poverty. These are not hard-and-fast categories. Some households are beset by both problems at once, and others experience alternating periods of each. But this distinction highlights two general patterns of social distress that require different public policy responses.
Episodic resource inadequacy results from a particular event or crisis—childbirth, illness, aging, unemployment, divorce—that overwhelms a household whose income is usually well above the
poverty line. Suddenly, the household's income is disrupted or expenses for necessary goods and services (most often medical) exceed its income. These episodes sometimes drive households into poverty, but often the shortfall is covered by savings, private or public insurance, changes in household membership, or the entry of unemployed household members into the work force.
In contrast, poverty is characterized by an ongoing low level of income and wealth. In this sense, poverty is a time- and culture-bound circumstance. A standard of living that we would deem impoverished in the United States in 1988 might well be superior to that of a nineteenth-century American family or a present-day Mauritanian family—neither of which would be considered impoverished by its own culture's standards.
By current American norms, about four households in ten experience at least one year of poverty in the course of a decade. Households impoverished by contemporary American standards generally suffer from both material and cultural disadvantages vis-à-vis more mainstream households. Three of these households experience poverty-level incomes in more than one year during the decade, and roughly one in ten falls below the poverty threshold for the entire decade. For every household that is impoverished all or much of the time, then, there are many more that experience poverty intermittently, frequently spending years only barely beyond outright destitution.
Episodic Inadequacy and Social Insurance
With the exception of aging, the conditions that trigger episodic resource inadequacy are unpredictable and, as a rule, people beset by such problems are not blamed for their difficulties. Unemployment was once an exception to this rule, even when dismissal was caused by macroeconomic forces, but this tendency seems to be changing. Nor is blame usually cast in situations that may reasonably be seen as the consequences of purposive action (divorce, childbirth), although in specific instances such acts may be deemed irresponsible or negligent.
That such episodic problems call for social insurance to prevent beleaguered citizens from falling into poverty is an idea that has taken hold across the world. Indeed, in comparison to many
Western European societies, the United States has been laggard in accepting the concept of social insurance and in implementing this concept through public social programs. Nonetheless, even here social insurance now has an extensive history and public support and government funding for specific programs are high.
The essential task of social insurance is to widely distribute, over time and a broad population, much of the cost of individual crises. Though programs vary widely, several principles are common to all. First, the more short-lived the hazard, the more easily it may be handled. Lengthy episodes can be accommodated so long as they are relatively rare or their annual costs are either relatively low or balanced by high contributions. (Longer life expectancies, which create longer periods of retirement for a larger proportion of the population, upset this balance and are now posing serious difficulties for social insurance programs like social security.) Second, social insurance programs must have some mechanism by which potential beneficiaries contribute to the support of the system. Such contributions take various forms: labor, service in the armed forces, and payment of income or payroll taxes. Third, programs must establish guidelines and formulas for distributing the resources to beneficiaries. Typically, social insurance programs redistribute resources horizontally (across an individual's life cycle) rather than vertically (from rich to poor). Although some vertical redistribution occurs, cross-strata reallocation is neither the primary objective nor consequence of these programs.
In the United States the largest social insurance program by far is social security (OASDI); smaller insurance programs include: Medicare, railroad retirement, black lung payments, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, and veterans' benefits. If we measure American public provision against the programs of many other advanced societies, universal medical-care insurance and general child-care assistance are the most obvious gaps in American social policy.
One explanation for these gaps is the widely accepted notion that American political culture supports a peculiarly strong preference for market as opposed to public solutions to social problems. In this cultural climate private insurance flourishes, but it is inherently unable to meet all the basic needs of many individuals and remain profitable. For example, there are no realistic private coun-
terparts for public benefits for dependent children, support for single-parent households, and unemployment insurance. And profitability requires that private insurance contracts for illness, disabling injury, retirement, or death pose limitations on eligibility or on the size and duration of benefits. Further, contributions are generally risk-rated, with participants who face the greatest risks paying the highest premiums. But because individual risk and ability to pay are often inversely related, those with the greatest need for insurance are also those least likely to be able to afford it.
Among those fortunate enough to have private insurance, there are wide variations in the breadth and depth of coverage. Many professionals, managers, and unionized industrial workers acquire fairly thorough private coverage through group insurance. But large portions of the population do not belong to such groups and do not have the resources to purchase individual policies. Even people who succeed in obtaining, say, private medical insurance find that exclusionary riders, deductibles, and coinsurance and copayment provisions may leave them personally liable for substantial medical costs. Similarly, workers covered by private retirement pensions often discover that inflation, not to mention fund mismanagement or the demise of the sponsoring firm, cuts deeply into the value of their pensions. Other difficulties arise when workers change employers. Sickness, disability, and life insurance are less troubling in these regards, but good coverage can be quite expensive.
Some of the deficiencies of private insurance are amenable to reform through legislative pressure and initiatives. But the ultimate responsibility for meeting the needs of vulnerable citizens is apt to remain a public matter.
Poverty and Social Merging
Poverty associated with varying degrees of material and cultural disadvantages, the second pattern of resource inadequacy, is not so obviously constructed of discrete problematic episodes. Relatively few households are perpetually impoverished, but many face lengthy spells of poverty or near poverty. Thus the distinction made earlier between problems arising from income disruption and problems stemming from occasional need for expensive services is rather
irrelevant to the plight of households for which even fairly modest expenses can pose a continuing problem.
Nor do the needs of the poor lend themselves to traditional social insurance solutions. People in poverty are not generally coping well with their material needs, and they require both intangible and material resources in order to merge with more materially successful portions of society. As I will detail in subsequent chapters, it is possible to link this infusion of resources to a beneficiary's contributions, but it is generally less feasible to make public benefits a reward for prior contributions as is the case with social insurance. Rather, the crux of social merging involves concurrent self-help contributions: people near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder receive benefits that facilitate and supplement their own efforts to increase their material resources in socially acceptable ways, with the ultimate goal of merging with the socioeconomic mainstream.
In contrast to the essential task of social insurance programs—spreading the costs of episodic individual problems—the basic task for merging programs is to improve people's long-term incentives, opportunities, and capacities for meeting basic needs in socially acceptable and personally dignified ways. This is a more demanding enterprise than providing social insurance, but the progress made in the last 150 years by advanced societies offers hope of further reducing the proportion of their citizens who cannot meet basic needs.
The United States does not now have prominent social programs whose primary efforts are focused on merging objectives. Instead we have a series of programs that provide resources for basic needs to people with little or no income and wealth at the time of application. These means-tested public assistance programs include AFDC, Supplementary Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, food stamps, general assistance, veterans' pensions, housing assistance programs, and basic educational opportunity grants. Throughout the 1980s the largest public assistance income maintenance program, AFDC, has had 10–11 million beneficiaries a year (largely single women and their children), slightly less than a third as many as social security. These recipients received $13–15 billion in benefits annually—a bit less than one-thirteenth the amount spent on social security in the early 1980s. And overall
AFDC expenditures have remained fairly constant, while social security outlays have risen sharply from year to year.
According to the measures used by the federal government, at any given time roughly 30 to 35 million Americans experience poverty. But there is significant turnover among the poor, and "the poor" are not a homogeneous group. Indeed, one may wonder whether a single label—the poor—adequately describes the life situation of all Americans whose income and wealth are at the lowest levels. In the sociological literature we find two contending schools of thought. What we could call the attitudinalist position is exemplified by the analyses of Edward C. Banfield. For him, the predicament of lower-class people is miserable, not because they are sound persons without opportunities, but because they are flawed individuals who cannot take advantage of constructive opportunities. Banfield attributes this improvidence to an individual's inability to delay gratification, to a general incapacity to take the future into account. Accordingly, he faults social policies aimed at this underclass for creating unrealistic expectations and for encouraging flawed individuals to continue, indeed to expand, their improvidence.
In contrast, Herbert J. Gans offers a situationalist interpretation of the plight of the poor. Gans describes the poor as generally sound people who face unusually discouraging circumstances beyond their control. Where Banfield sees improvidence, Gans contends that what constitutes rational action for severely disadvantaged people may differ sharply from what is rational for middle-class citizens. Specific forms of public intervention, he argues, may provide the resources and skills the poor need to overcome some of the social disadvantages they suffer.
Few views about the impoverished are capable of bridging these two schools of thought. But if we acknowledge the obvious—that the poor, like other large social groups, includes both miscreants and relatively sound persons—our attention shifts from speculating about the character of these persons as a class to trying to understand how individuals end up in one category rather than another. For instance, what life experiences set apart the underclass that Banfield discusses? What kinds of disadvantages are germane and how frequently do these experiences arise? Such investigations belie many popular generalizations about the poor. For example,
minorities do not constitute a majority of the poor, although some minorities are disproportionately represented. And the vast majority of low-income Americans either work, sometimes full-time, or have compelling reasons for not working. Most members of this latter group, which constitutes well over half of the total, are single mothers and their children; in smaller numbers are the elderly, the physically disabled, and the blind. It is this group that holds a near monopoly on the receipt of public assistance supported by the federal government. The working poor, in contrast, receive little or no public assistance and their number includes higher proportions of single persons, childless couples, and two-parent families.
More importantly, it does not appear that attitudes alone are responsible for poverty. Across the socioeconomic spectrum most Americans profess nearly identical attitudes toward matters such as work and family obligations. Realizing what these attitudes call for does vary markedly, owing to a variety of subtle psychological factors as well as obvious sociological factors that are beyond an individual's control. Thus we might reasonably ask that social programs encourage responsible activity. For instance, we should expect them to support the efforts of the disadvantaged to merge with mainstream society or, at the very least, programs should not foster the growth of an underclass that makes no sustained effort to live by the values of mainstream society.
Unfortunately, American means-tested programs not only fail to support merging objectives, they may actually discourage them. In chapter 6 I will examine this issue in detail, but for now two points are of particular relevance. First, public assistance programs rarely emphasize improving incentives, opportunities, and capacities for constructive activities among impoverished people. With the exception of basic educational opportunity grants for needy college students, public assistance programs are designed to provide subsistence-level material support for specific categories of impoverished people.
Second, the major means-tested income maintenance program, AFDC, is not limited to persistently poor people. There is substantial turnover among recipients, and leaving or joining the program often hinges on discrete events, such as a change in household composition or finding or losing a job. In this, AFDC addresses episodic resource inadequacy, similar to the forms of insurance
discussed earlier. Equally important, AFDC and allied programs (most notably Medicaid) contain significant financial disincentives for recipients to improve their lot in the work force. The strength of these disincentives has led some policy analysts to assert that these means-tested programs are functioning as poverty-maintenance devices, perhaps with the latent purpose of social control by regulation, rather than as social merging programs.
Although expenditures for AFDC are but a fraction of those allocated to social security, the United States does spend an unusually high proportion of its income-maintenance budget, about 12 percent, on means-tested programs. Only a few other industrial nations come close on this score. One disputed interpretation of this statistic is that the United States has a larger proportion of low-income persons. An alternative interpretation proceeds from the fact that we spend a smaller proportion of gross national product on social insurance forms of income maintenance than do other advanced societies. Perhaps, then, we rely on means-tested programs to meet some needs that other societies address through social insurance. Whether or not this interpretation explains the discrepancy, it raises the notion that a change in the balance of social insurance and means-tested programs might be beneficial. As a concept, social insurance seems truer to American values of self-reliance and individual effort. Social insurance programs, therefore, are more likely to be perceived as fair and would be less politically vulnerable than our present means-tested programs.
From this analysis of resource inadequacy problems, we may conclude that American public policy could be strengthened in three ways. First, because the concept of social insurance is fairly widely accepted and works reasonably well in the American context, social security should be expanded to cover a broader range of both hazards and people. Specifically, people overwhelmed by episodic crises would be covered by social insurance rather than having to apply for means-tested public assistance programs. Second, we need to devise programs that improve the opportunities available to disadvantaged people and provide the incentives and training they need to take advantage of these opportunities. Third, we need some type of income-maintenance and medical program to provide for those people who cannot on their own join the mainstream because of mental illness or retardation, addiction to
various substances, chronic and disabling physical afflictions, and criminality or other serious psychological deficits. Policy recommendations concerning the first two of these enterprises constitute the final goal of this book.
Public Programs and American Values
It is frequently argued that the United States lags behind other advanced industrial societies in public social provision because a broad social policy agenda conflicts to a peculiar degree with core American values. Samuel P. Huntington identifies six such values: liberty, equality, individualism, democracy, the rule of law under a constitution, and concerns for limited and local government. In the next three chapters I will expand this set a bit, but already we see the crux of the problem. In Huntington's terms, these core values collectively provide American political culture with an antistatist tinge that makes ambitious state programs directed against resource inadequacy difficult to achieve. This view is consistent with Donald J. Devine's earlier thesis about the Lockean character of the American political culture.
Nonetheless, there is an undeniable pragmatic, or operational, strand running through American political culture. Anxiety about and instances of vulnerability to various social hazards lead most Americans to support public programs such as national health insurance. Thus in pragmatic affairs liberalism, in the contemporary American sense of the term, predominates, and herein American political culture rather resembles the cultures of other advanced societies. Pragmatic liberalism, however, repeatedly clashes with America's more abstract or ideological principles, which are the domain of the antistatist values of classical liberalism (Locke and Adam Smith).
An alternate analysis of the disjunctions in American values, presented by Jennifer L. Hochschild, observes that with respect to assessments of fairness, or distributive justice, Americans tend to apply different principles to particular domains of life. Concepts of distributive justice tend to be more egalitarian within the family (the socializing domain) and within the realm of public issues (the political domain) than in the workplace (the economic domain). Situations that cross domains (for example, cases in which partici-
pants can be viewed both as fellow members of the labor force and as fellow citizens) frequently provoke confused responses.
It is not clear, however, that the mass culture is especially relevant for the character of American public programs. Various political scientists and sociologists argue that the values of the American elite have been particularly influential in directing American social policy and shaping public opinion. Scholars generally agree on the distinctive character of elite values in the United States, but some question whether all segments of the elite are adequately characterized by Huntington's antistatist collection of values. In general, American bureaucrats are less homogeneous than their European counterparts (broader recruitment patterns), while American politicians are more homogeneous than the Europeans (no leftist parties). Finally, the attitudes of many American bureaucrats and legislators are more favorable to state involvement in social provision than Huntington's description of core values would suggest.
Three assumptions about American political culture inform my analyses and recommendations. First, Huntington's list of core values provides a useful starting point, although it needs to be expanded and the multiple and frequently conflicting meanings of these values must be enunciated. But basically we must accept antistatism as setting some limitations on American public policy.
Second, this collection of values does not form an internally coherent ideology relatively impervious to change. Rather, these values are loosely defined, ambiguous, and inconsistent. In Huntington's words, "Defined vaguely and abstractly, these ideas have been relatively easily adapted to the needs of successive generations."
Third, because these core values are adaptable, a capable and determined group of elites could today—following the example of the originators of social security—reshape American political institutions. In particular, the early Social Security Board successfully distinguished social security from public assistance and placed social security in the category of earned rights, similar to public education, rather than gratuitous public benefits. This emphasis on earned benefits challenged the near stranglehold that self-reliance had previously held with respect to human dignity. Especially against the macroeconomic forces of the Great Depression, a contributory system of earned benefits came to be seen as a dignified
way for individuals to cope with social hazards beyond their control.
The central implication of public social programs is that market distribution is flawed in some respects. This implication leads us to an inquiry about the nature of distributive justice. Wholehearted proponents of laissez-faire argue that free markets represent a natural evolution and that although one may wish to fiddle marginally with distribution, the topic of justice is as irrelevant to a discussion of distribution as to a discussion of mountain lions killing deer. But I want to approach the topic of distributive justice through the concept of socioeconomic rights, rights to basic material resources that sustain human activity. And these rights both reinforce and pose problems for other values of importance to the American cultural context, most notably for negative liberty and economic efficiency.
Before I turn to the matter of distributive justice, the compatibility of socioeconomic rights and two core values can be mentioned quickly and then set aside. There is no inherent incompatibility between socioeconomic rights and the rule of law under a constitution. A particular conception of socioeconomic rights or a particular manner of realizing socioeconomic rights through public programs might be incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. But since 1937, when the Supreme Court held that social security fell within Congress's powers to tax and appropriate funds, there have been no general challenges to the constitutionality of social programs and the rights they create. Additionally, there is no incompatibility between socioeconomic rights and procedural democracy in Huntington's sense of popular control of government. Throughout advanced industrial societies systems of multiple political parties competing in frequent elections held under rules of universal adult suffrage coexist with socioeconomic rights. With these two points behind us, let us examine the compatibility of socioeconomic rights and American conceptions of distributive justice.
Socioeconomic Rights and American Conceptions of Distributive Justice
Social programs shielding people from selected hazards now have a history of slightly over a century, but only since the 1940s have the benefits these programs provide been commonly considered beneficiary rights. In the postwar period this view has been most clearly enunciated in the United Kingdom. Increased British social solidarity during the war years, while not without its limits, facilitated William Beveridge's effort to gain recognition of standard, minimum social program benefits as rights of citizenship. While the character of British social program benefits has changed over the years, the idea of benefits as a class of rights, socioeconomic rights, has flourished both in Britain and throughout industrial societies generally. This trend has been more pronounced in the "corporatist democracies" than in other nations, but even the United States has shared in this tendency. The status of some American program benefits as rights marks something of a watershed in the nation's history, denoting a period in which distributive justice has been affirmed as a value and as a phenomenon distinct from market distribution. The nature of a just distribution may vary with the good being distributed. After examining how social program benefits might be called rights, I will discuss a particular concept of socioeconomic rights tailored to American beliefs about just distributions for the goods these benefits entail.
Socioeconomic Rights in Theory
Following Joel Feinberg, I construe rights as a certain type of claim. Claims are cases meriting consideration, and rights are claims "whose recognition as valid is called for by some set of governing rules or moral principles." Legal rights are recognized by rules of positive law, and existing social program benefits may be thought of as rights in this sense. But Feinberg extends the category of rights beyond existing statute: moral rights are claims "the recognition of which is called for—not (necessarily) by legal rules—but by moral principles or the principles of an enlightened conscience" (p. 277). For Feinberg, entitlements represent a different dimension of rights than do claims. If I have a legal right to retirement benefits, Feinberg explains, this right merges an entitlement to benefits with a claim against anyone who might obstruct my receipt of them, a recalcitrant social security administrator perhaps.
Let us set positive law aside for a while and not rest claims for socioeconomic rights on the convenience that throughout advanced societies many such rights are found in law. Instead, we may turn to the logical, empirical, and normative underpinnings that give validity to claims for such rights. I start from the premise that the sophisticated sorts of conscious agency which are the distinguishing features of human life hinge on both freedom and well-being. Since well-being is just as important a prerequisite for this agency as freedom is, the two deserve coequal status as rights. More broadly, "Any consistent moral code, whatever it might be, is going to have to recognize certain kinds of capacity and needs among persons that will have to be fulfilled if persons are to be able to pursue the ideals enshrined in any moral code." That freedom is both a prerequisite to a distinctively human life and a right of humans is widely accepted in Western thought. That securing well-being through meeting basic material needs should hold a similar status is a more recent and, particularly in the American context, a more controversial point.
Support for the inclusion of resources aimed at basic human needs among people's rights is not hard to come by, however. Food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education may be viewed as prerequisites to the exercise of rights of a more distinguishingly human character—free expression. Precedence and priorities come
into sharper focus when one ponders the order in which people would give up rights under duress. Voicing one's opinion is surely a more distinguishingly human activity than is eating, but it is not a more basic need and is unlikely to be the preference of many forced to choose between speaking freely and eating.
Arguments supporting coequal status for rights to freedom and well-being confront at least four sorts of practical difficulties. First, free speech and eating are usually not perceived as inhibited by the same forces. Locke taught us to regard the state as a perpetual source of danger to free expression. His predecessor, Hobbes, stressed the threats that our peers pose to freedom of action. While these threats are generally less obvious and brutal today than those envisioned by Hobbes, in most advanced societies informal social pressures—fears that voicing one's opinion will offend one's associates—are probably a more frequent problem than state intervention. Yet the state and one's associates rarely impose similar pressures with respect to eating, particularly for citizens or acquaintances on the brink of starvation. ("Let them eat cake!") The liberal tradition has held that the distribution of material resources is now and ought to be governed largely by impersonal market forces. While many still hold this view, others see conscious human design and manipulation behind market forces. An extensive market system necessarily creates wage dependency and vulnerability for many as well as highly asymmetrical reward distributions. And other social practices such as intergroup prejudices exacerbate the disadvantages with which some have to cope in attempting to meet basic material needs through the market.
Bernard Williams makes an interesting case that it is immoral for society, especially a society wealthy in material resources, to follow practices that leave some of its members' basic needs unmet. The purpose of basic goods, Williams argues, is straightforward. For example, medical care is for healing the sick and injured, not just the sick and injured who are rich; medical care that enriches the provider at the expense of those who need but cannot pay for treatment is an artificial perversion of the concept of healing. For Williams any differences in the treatment humans receive in regard to medical needs should be supported by reasons that are relevant (sick or well) as opposed to irrelevant (rich or poor). But in America arguments revealing the human hand behind market
distribution have been stymied by the inertia of the "invisible hand" theory in the political culture.
A second issue raised by arguments for the coequality of rights to freedom and well-being involves conflicting value hierarchies. Robert Nozick, for example, uses the same Kantian point of departure as Williams—that humans must be ends in themselves rather than means—to deny any individual's right to welfare or duty to help others with their material needs. For Nozick, the individual's freedom not to be treated as a means to another's ends is a paramount value. Grudgingly, he allows for taxes used to finance local police and national defense, purposes that sustain freedom in the long run, but he deems taxes to ensure basic material resources for the unfortunate to be inappropriate constraints on human agency. From this perspective, any claim to such resources runs afoul of the superior and incompatible claims of personal freedom.
Henry Shue proposes instead that we use a priority principle to distinguish among basic rights (food), nonbasic rights (public education), cultural enrichment (Shakespeare over Stallone), and preference satisfaction (Haagen Dazs over Sealtest). No one's liberty, according to Shue, should extend to the area of preference satisfaction if others are thereby blocked from meeting basic needs. Your yacht should not come at the expense of my starvation.
Nozick's position also introduces a third problem for the coequality of freedom and well-being: the difficulties involved in providing freedom and well-being are different. Here we need to distinguish negative rights—the rights associated with negative liberty or freedom from external constraint—from positive rights, the rights to resources that enable individuals to engage in activities previously beyond their reach. Free speech is a negative right; eating is a positive right.
Negative and positive rights are widely held to differ in the demands they make on public policy and the obligations they place on other citizens. The negative civil-political rights now broadly recognized among advanced societies are thought by many to require only forbearance on the part of others; whereas, positive socioeconomic rights are said to require some form of active cooperation or help. For example, allowing a destitute malcontent to praise socialism on a city street corner requires no positive acts of cooperation. But if he is to receive expensive medical care, others
will have to contribute, either directly or through the tax system. Suppose, however, that irate citizens attack this soapbox orator. Then, maintaining his freedom of speech will require the intervention of the police and possibly the courts and prisons, all public institutions supported by taxes. Or suppose that he needed medical care for an injury he had sustained while in the army. Then we could say that had the state not called him into service, no cooperation to help him overcome his current malady would now be necessary. These latter examples blur the distinctions between positive and negative rights and their characteristic balance of government activity and citizen obligation.
Other considerations distinguish negative and positive rights. Negative rights, products of the natural rights of the seventeenth century, may be seen as focusing on procedures, as, in effect, tools of procedural or formal justice; whereas positive rights may be described as products of the twentieth-century human rights movement and as concerned with outcomes or substantive justice. To ensure the rights to freedom, then, all we need to do is identify a set of procedures—a uniform legal code, for instance—as appropriate. But to ensure well-being we would need to examine whether all individuals have the resources (money to hire an attorney) to make use of the code.
Even for those who do not insist that, as a result of these distinguishing provision problems, positive and negative rights differ in kind, differences in degree are important. For instance, the financial burdens that police, courts, and prisons place on the state are small in comparison to those arising from social programs. Additionally, some have argued that it is "easier to state a negative right without reference to degree than a positive one" —although the degrees of, say, free speech are also uncertain and frequently controversial. Among the limits we place on this negative right are restrictions on slanderous speech and statements that exacerbate a "clear and present danger," as well as the perennial injunction against yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater.
A fourth problem for the coequality of rights to freedom and well-being is posed by the following argument.
Negative rights are generally only valuable to those whose rights they are if they are able to do or have that which the right involves, for example to
walk. If they cannot or do not, then a merely negative right could be useless. A positive right, on the other hand, will not normally be of much help to someone who already has what such a right would require others to help supply him with. A negative right, then, can be useless and a positive one redundant. And if negative rights are all we grant, then we may expect the poor and unadvanced to be disgruntled, while if we insist on positive rights as well, the wealthy and powerful might similarly be unhappy. [Narveson, "Human Rights," p. 177]
In other words, rights to expressive freedom and basic resources benefit different groups and rely on varying concepts of liberty. In the United States, a nation steeped in the tradition of negative liberty, negative rights have been more thoroughly supported than positive rights. The well-known association between political participation and socioeconomic status, particularly strong in the United States in the absence of large-scale working-class organization, reinforces the dominance of negative rights of interest to the politically active, materially comfortable portion of society.
The Reagan administration's recent attacks on social programs and through them, socioeconomic rights, are not the first instances of the powerful resisting the extension of opportunities they already possess as rights to a broader section of society. In London at the turn of the nineteenth century, wealthy and politically powerful citizens who could afford private security forces denounced a proposal to establish a public police force as an infringement on liberty. The nineteenth-century British struggle over the extension of political rights also exemplifies this pattern. Suffrage was extended to some middle-class males in the 1830s, but universal male suffrage was opposed by many in the socioeconomic elite who, enjoying extensive political privileges, had no use for political rights. Time and again elites have argued that severe, even civilization-destroying consequences would follow the extension of rights to the masses, whom the elites depicted as too flawed to exercise any new rights in a constructive fashion. Clearly, extensions of political and socioeconomic rights are quite different matters, but the constancy of the opposition's themes is note-worthy. On the subject of socioeconomic rights, in the United States today we again hear the privileged decrying the character of those less fortunate than themselves. Distinctions between negative
and positive rights thus derive not only from abstractions and theoretical premises but also from the material interests of different groups.
In sum, rights to freedom and well-being differ in the typical fashions through which they are constrained, their relative positions in conflicting value hierarchies, the manners of their provision, and their primary beneficiaries. Depending upon one's philosophical perspective, these differences are modest, amounting to minute variations of degree, or so sharp as to be contradictory in their implications. No set of conceptual tools can bridge the gap between philosophical positions supportive of rights to well-being and those hostile to such rights, but I believe some headway can be made.
Let us begin, then, from the relatively uncontroversial logical-empirical position that well-being is a prerequisite to human agency and is a coequal of freedom in this regard; that is, well-being and freedom are each necessary but not alone sufficient. Then we must ask, What sort of moral right to well-being might be persuasively argued, particularly in the hostile American context? As Maurice Cranston suggests, "the standard way of justifying a moral right is to demonstrate that it has been earned." Let us see what we can make of this. It is not unreasonable to assume that a society can agree on the rough limits of basic material needs within the context of its time and culture. Federal guidelines about dietary needs and the proportion of household budgets appropriately allotted to these needs represent a working attempt to do this. Some aspects of these needs are universal, like the need for protein, while others are time or culture bound, such as what sources of protein—fish or fowl or insects—are suitable. With respect to these needs, let me suggest a rule: Those who contribute to the product of society shall in return have secured the resources for meeting these needs. Stated differently, justice in the distribution of basic goods resides in reciprocity: goods in return for contributions. This formulation of earning rights fits the dominant "work ethic" in the United States. Those who consciously strive to help themselves and their households by working should receive in return for their efforts the goods necessary for meeting basic material needs.
Such a formulation raises the issue of how to measure contributions to the social product. Somewhat reluctantly, I propose to use
GNP, or more simply, paid labor, as the index of the social product. In moral terms this is a needlessly restrictive conception, for the social product may be reasonably thought to imply the result of more than earnings-generated labor. Parents assuredly contribute to the social product by rearing children, homemakers contribute through their household activity, and hospital volunteers and struggling artists contribute as well. But even though many of these contributions are as or more important than some activities of the paid labor force, within American political culture at this point in time, only income-producing work has a realistic chance of being accepted as earning socioeconomic rights. Since my purpose is to show how systematic social program protection can be compatible with existing American values, I have made the pragmatic choice: Those who contribute to the social product earn rights to support for basic needs in the face of social hazards. (The choice of GNP as an index of the social product also raises the issue of how paying jobs can be made available to all those who want to contribute and thus earn socioeconomic rights. I devote considerable attention to this matter in chapters 6 and 8.)
The principle of reciprocity in the earning of socioeconomic rights must be complemented by provisions to extend socioeconomic rights on the basis of need to people who are physically unable to work and to those who should not work, including children.
This linkage between rights to resources and duties to produce creates a tight fit between my conception of socioeconomic rights and Cranston's first test of human rights: practicality. The means for providing the resources these rights entail are generated at least in part by earning the rights. The conception also meets another of Cranston's tests for human rights: paramount importance. The benefits these rights bestow are not aimed at equalizing income or assuring that everyone has a videorecorder. Instead they focus on those basic material resources that by general agreement are deemed to be prerequisites to full human agency.
The conception of socioeconomic rights I am proposing, however, departs from Cranston's third criterion, universality, in two respects. First, the resources to be provided would vary from one society to another. I would not expect Tanzania to support basic needs in the same way the United States might. As Michael Walzer
says: "rights beyond life and liberty . . . do not follow from our common humanity; they follow from shared conceptions of social goods; they are local and particular in character." In fact, the underlying justifications for rights—life and liberty included, Walzer notwithstanding—may be of little interest beyond the frontiers of Western culture. There are ways of recognizing human dignity apart from rights. Second, these socioeconomic rights would be extended only to participants in the paid labor force. They do not arise simply from being human, and they are thus not human rights, nor even what Beveridge called citizen rights. They are, with exceptions, producers' rights. Again, such restrictions are based on a pragmatic assessment of the kind of socioeconomic rights American political culture will support.
Though distributed somewhat more narrowly than Walzer's counterparts, such socioeconomic rights do fit his conception of independent spheres of justice and autonomous distributive criteria for these spheres. Holding modest consequences for the essential character of many spheres of social life, my suggestion is a fairly conservative one. For instance, the market remains the primary device for production and distribution decisions. Although the latter are constrained with respect to basic resources, a wide range of goods and services would continue to be distributed through the market. And matters such as the criteria for office or the relative autonomy of family and religious life would remain largely unaffected. It is generally the case that changes in one feature of an interdependent social system will have repercussions for other features, and it is not clear how far the ripples of these socioeconomic rights would reach or how high their crests might be. It does seem unlikely that they will precipitate anything remotely resembling simple equalities.
This conception of socioeconomic rights does not allow for private claims of one individual randomly on another or others. The indigent malcontent on the street corner has, by virtue of these rights, no immediate claim on the money in the pockets of passersby for his medical care. He does, under certain circumstances involving prior or concurrent contributions to the social product, have a
valid claim—a right—to a portion of the resources that government has already removed (or might remove) from the social product and authoritatively allocated to the support of such problems. That is, contributions to production develop a claim against the public allocation process, not directly or randomly against other citizens. Government, in turn, derives the resources to be allocated to meeting basic needs by taxes approved by elected officials. As I will argue later, payroll taxes are a particularly appropriate vehicle.
Second, these socioeconomic rights do not involve simply redistributing resources vertically from rich to poor. Significant socioeconomic leveling seems unlikely in the United States, and the egalitarian results of any such efforts would likely be short-lived. But the principal intention and result of programs based on this conception of socioeconomic rights is horizontal redistribution, the shifting of resources over an individual's life cycle to meet episodic social hazards. In this, my proposals follow the example of social security and most existing social insurance programs.
Three categories of social hazards would trigger resource assistance. First are episodic needs for income maintenance and medical care that result from disabling injuries or illnesses, childbirth, and aging. In these cases the conditions can be defined physiologically, and resources in the form of income maintenance and group medical insurance can usually be productively applied. Social security now provides reasonably adequate substitute income for a large portion of our aging and disabled populations. But current retirement eligibility and benefit rules create government funding problems. SSI covers additional cases of both retirement and long-term disability less generously, and except for social security recipients (Medicare) and the extremely poor (Medicaid) the medical-care aspects of illness, childbirth, and non-work-related short-term disability remain uncovered. (Workers' compensation provides assistance with respect to job-related injuries.) Under a theory of socioeconomic rights, then, the category of physiological hazards covered by social insurance would be expanded.
Unemployment represents a more troublesome hazard. Income maintenance during short periods of unemployment (say, up to a month) could be covered by social insurance in nearly the same fashion as income maintenance for short-term illness or injury. But chronic or extended unemployment and resulting resource inade-
quacy present problems beyond income maintenance, and traditional unemployment insurance does not address the fundamental difficulties:
Social insurance, however, has not been effective in correcting long-term chronic poverty. The contribution/benefit orientation of a social insurance system automatically leaves uncovered those who cannot contribute and pays small benefits to low contributors. . . . For this reason, social insurance programs can do little to alleviate existing poverty, however effective they may be in preventing households from falling into poverty if their normal flow [of income] is interrupted.
But once we are willing to credit concurrent contributions, not just past ones, this obstacle to full participation is overcome. Public programs that offer earned benefits while expanding incentives, opportunities, and capacities for self-support are the sorts of enterprises we should turn to for helping impoverished households merge with the socioeconomic mainstream. Just as students learn from daily application and earn their grades and scholarships, so too the unemployed who attend meaningful training programs could earn maintenance benefits. This emphasis on training and education to facilitate labor market participation nicely reflects Americans' traditional tendency to rely on education, frequently as an alternative to other social programs. Additionally, disadvantaged individuals who are employed might thereby earn specific social-merging program benefits that would supplement their market rewards.
Problematic episodes that shatter ties between a household's dependents and their major wage earner form a third hazard category. These episodes more obviously raise troubling issues about the manner of vesting socioeconomic rights than do the two preceding categories. As social programs have expanded in this century, it has become general practice that they serve households. For example, many programs provide the primary beneficiary with additional allowances based on the number of dependent household members—a characteristic that no doubt contributes to Ronald Dworkin's perceptions of program benefits as policies rather than rights. But when the wage earner through whom benefit eligibility has been derived breaks off from the household, eligibility issues arise. Children, as a group that our society thinks
should not work, are already covered by my conception of socioeconomic rights. But eligible workers also leave behind noneligible working-aged adults—generally unemployed or marginally employed spouses, most of whom are women and many of whom are parents as well. Since their situations represent problematic episodes of a severity similar to those introduced above, I will later argue that some forms of earned protective response need be made available to them.
In practice, then, the socioeconomic rights I am proposing draw on five principles. First, social programs ought—as much as possible—to be based on reciprocity; those who contribute to the social product may in turn draw on that product when social hazards confront them. Second, social program assistance should generally be aimed at supplementing recipient households' efforts at self-support. Third, programs should be inclusive; while programs need not benefit recipients equally, those who face a social hazard for which benefits are accorded and have made whatever prior or concurrent contribution is required should have similar access to programs. Fourth, we should rely insofar as possible on social insurance for meeting the needs of those confronting various social hazards. And fifth, social merging programs that incorporate features similar to those of social insurance are preferable to public assistance efforts.
Socioeconomic Rights and Distributive Justice
Any notion of socioeconomic rights amounts to at least a partial concept of distributive justice. The concept I have introduced is partial, covering only the most basic material resources. In examining how this concept compares with American beliefs about distributive justice, I will draw heavily on Jennifer L. Hochschild's What's Fair? American Beliefs About Distributive Justice (Harvard University Press, 1981).
Hochschild conducted in-depth interviews with a small number of respondents, who differed in income and other background characteristics, in order to probe Americans' thoughts about the fairness of the existing distribution of income and other resources.
From these interviews, Hochschild distinguished three domains of life—social (family, school, local community), economic or workplace, and political—and several criteria of substantive justice: strict equality, need, investment, results, ascription, and procedural principles such as lotteries or free consent. While some respondents had consistent conceptions of distributive justice, most of her respondents held beliefs that changed from one domain to another. Briefly, egalitarian criteria—strict equality, need, and investment in the form of effort—prevailed in the social domain; differentiating criteria—investment, results, ascription, and procedures such as free consent or social Darwinism—were applied in the economic domain; and egalitarian criteria were used with respect to most areas of public life—including matters of welfare and social policy.
Hochschild's central discovery is that the nature of the domain, rather than the respondent's socioeconomic status, ideology, or other characteristic is the primary determinant of judgments of fairness. But some of her subsidiary findings are equally interesting for my purposes. Her respondents suffer considerable ambivalence about their beliefs in part because, despite liberalism's separation of the political and economic domains, many issues of well-being relate to both. For instance, in some situations her respondents were uncertain whether to apply the differentiating norms of the marketplace (treating a person as a fellow worker) or the egalitarian norms of the political domain (treating a person as a fellow citizen). Additionally, while respondents initially trotted out fairly standard tenets of classical liberalism, as the conversations continued they frequently offered more egalitarian views.
Specifically, most respondents supported selected public efforts—providing jobs being the most popular—to alleviate poverty, which they tended to perceive as a consequence of societal structure. Rich and poor alike, they "support much more equality than they realize, as long as it is couched in terms of need, investments, or results—anything except equality per se." This conclusion presents some interesting challenges to any proposals concerning socioeconomic rights. One might expect to find public opinion generally favorable toward public social provision, but only as long as the policy is not based on the most general and obvious moral appeal—economic redistribution in accordance with the equality of basic human material needs.
No comparable study has been made of elite values and attitudes, and available studies offer contradictory interpretations of elite beliefs. There is reason to imagine that public-sector elites apply egalitarian beliefs similar to those Hochschild's respondents apply to the political domain; however, there is also reason to suspect the limited utility of addressing appeals for equality to elites. So the importance of relating socioeconomic rights to other values probably holds with respect to American elite culture as well. Accordingly, my conception of socioeconomic rights makes minimal reference to egalitarian appeals and relies instead on other criteria of distributive justice—such as investments and need—that enjoy wider support. In particular, the notion of earned rights to basic resources fits the American elite's preferences for rewarding work and reducing relative inequalities through securing minimum thresholds. In order to reveal the points of conflict and compatibility between this conception and the various norms of distributive justice examined by Hochschild, let us consider a series of norms that start from an egalitarian position and become progressively more differentiating.
My conception of socioeconomic rights does not realize strict equality either procedurally or subtantively. Procedurally, not all people are treated equally because the necessity to earn benefits by labor-market participation is set aside for people who are physically unable to work or whom society would not have work. Further, people who do not contribute in acceptable ways fail to earn these rights. This deviation from strict equality is a practical political necessity required to bridge the worlds of inquiry and power. One consequence of this insistence on earning rights through active participation is that some people will slip through the safety net or socioeconomic floor that social programs would provide, either because they are unwilling to cooperate, or fail to understand how to cooperate, or perhaps never hear of the opportunity.
Substantively, the most obvious deviation from the criterion of strict equality lies in the restriction of these socioeconomic rights to basic material resources. My proposals for social programs make no effort to achieve substantive equality by redistributing resources from rich to poor. While the social merging proposals in-
volve greater vertical redistribution, the focus of these rights is restricted to basic material goods, which means that the limits of this redistribution are reached rather quickly. The experience of other advanced industrial societies that have extensive social programs is that horizontal, or life-cycle, redistribution predominates over vertical.
In its substantive focus, my conception of socioeconomic rights is needs-driven: it aims to provide for the most basic, universal human needs when problems of resource inadequacy arise. Of course, a host of nonmaterial needs, the need for love or companionship, lie beyond the scope of these rights and beyond the capacity of modern bureaucratic governments.
More importantly, procedurally, need alone does not, in most cases, activate the provision mechanism. The basic material needs of those who do not contribute to the social product lie beyond the protective umbrella these rights offer. Only those who cannot contribute or for whom contribution is deemed undesirable are entitled to the benefits of these rights on the basis of need.
Hochschild distinguishes two categories of investments. One comprises more or less infinitely renewable investments that everyone or nearly everyone can make: effort is one such investment. The second category—specific forms of education or training, for example—includes activities or resources not equally available to all, and renewal is neither always possible nor always necessary.
Investment in the sense of effort in the labor force lies at the heart of my conception of socioeconomic rights. While many unpaid and voluntary efforts are assuredly no less important contributions to society, as a practical matter it is not likely that our political culture will consider such efforts on a par with income-generating work. This same distinction between paid and unpaid labor is used in calculating eligibility and benefit levels for social security, and it seems prerequisite to ensuring the political viability of broader social programs.
Since socioeconomic rights are to be earned through participation in the paid labor force, the efforts made by individual workers
must be measured and recorded. Again, social security provides a model: a system of individual accounts of monetary contributions arising from payroll-tax deductions.
Individual investments in the form of advanced education, Hochschild's second category, are relevant to socioeconomic rights in that such activities tend to enhance one's ability to contribute to the social product. But investments of this sort also pose problems for my conception. For in contrast to effort and exertion, which we may expect of all able-bodied adults, an advanced degree lies beyond the reach of many people. Since the needs that socioeconomic rights address are essential and universal, it would be unfair to demand that these rights be earned by achievements that only a few can realize. So while this type of investment is to be encouraged, it is unacceptable as a criterion for the distribution of crucial basic resources.
Hochschild equates the criterion of results with market achievement. In her view market achievement is to some degree attributable to factors neither so impersonal nor natural as libertarians suggest. Rather, the results of market forces represent in part the relative capacity of different individuals or groups to use government—an artificial device for libertarians—to define property, delimit appropriate employer or employee activities, or constrain markets (as through tariffs). The criterion of results then represents a mixture of what others refer to variously as achievement, merit, and desert; results in this sense also include the distributive consequences of such factors as the favorable market position that inherited wealth provides, advantages similar to, only more subtle than, the use of government by the working class to enhance material well-being through social programs. This definition of results might be seriously problematic in a work of abstract philosophy, but for our purposes it has no importantly deleterious effects.
Other scholars do not see market operations as appropriately categorized by a principle of distributive justice that focuses on outcomes. For them the market represents an example of procedural justice in the form of free consent. This consent emphasizes a natural, impersonal, and noncoercive perspective on market operations.
For our purposes, we may accept Hochschild's criterion of re-
sults as an end-oriented principle designed to justify the consequences of a system of distribution dominated by varying market influences. Both social programs and subsequent notions that these programs realize socioeconomic rights have developed as a result of the disturbing consequences market allocation has held for basic human needs. In the United States results offer the stiffest competition, in terms of the breadth and depth of their popular appeal, to my preferred criterion of exertion-type investments as a principle of distributive justice for basic material goods. In part this popularity stems from the contention of market proponents that free markets allocate rewards in proportion to contributions. However, it is indisputable that market success is not directly proportional to investments in the form of exertion and effort. Oligopolies or monopolies with respect to indispensable inherited resources and asymmetries in the distribution of narrow capacities skew the relation between effort and market rewards. For the very wealthy, minimal efforts may reap enormous rewards; for the very poor, extensive effort may not return sufficient material goods to support a household.
Under my conception of socioeconomic rights, the distribution of those basic resources essential to well-being, and therefore human agency, would be insulated from market allocation. Rather these resources would be distributed in a fashion consistent with our cultural norms—Americans should not have to turn to crickets for protein—according to exertion in creating the social product that is used to supply those resources. Exertion in this sense is a criterion for distribution that both lies within the reach of all and satisfies the familiar principle of desert being determined by effort. Nonessential goods and services, in contrast, will continue to be distributed by the results of market performance.
The distinction between those who can and cannot contribute to the social product is appropriately viewed as an ascriptive criterion for it rests on time- and culture-bound conventions. Only fairly recently, for instance, have we expected youths of fifteen to be in school. And some societies might be more inclined to include childrearing among contributions to the social product. But I have used
these distinctions to determine only the manner—exertion or need—of entitlement, not whether or in what amounts basic resources should be distributed. On these latter questions ascription is irrelevant: the conditions one is born into (gender, race, social class) should not affect one's right to basic resources.
It is extremely difficult, however, to ensure this type of equality by means of public programs in a society afflicted with sexism and racism. Even programs that are broadly inclusive, operating without regard to sexual or racial differences, cannot assure these results. Those who have suffered the most from sexism or racism are apt to be among those with the lowest stocks of personal resources—both material and intangible—to apply to meeting their needs in conjunction with supplemental public programs. I will return to this problem in chapters 4 and 6.
The preceding five criteria—equality, need, investments, results, and ascription—for distributive justice each focus on achieving a desirable outcome. Other criteria place their faith in a procedure—procedural justice—and allow the outcomes to fall as they may. A lottery, for instance, may be perceived as a fair way to distribute discrete goods (tickets to a championship game) when the demand vastly exceeds the supply. But when the goods to be distributed are basic resources—surplus food, public housing—a lottery seems less fair in that its procedures ignore characteristics of individuals that by substantive criteria—need—might be thought relevant to the distribution of the goods. No procedural system for distributing scarce material resources—lottery, free consent, social Darwinism, Pareto optimality, or competition—can ensure the sorts of outcomes with respect to basic needs that my concept of socioeconomic rights demands.
Socioeconomic Rights and American Beliefs
From this comparison of my conception of socioeconomic rights and various norms of distributive justice, two salient points emerge. First, we have in effect arrived at an altered rationale for this con-
ception: namely, consistency with the most rigorous generally applicable form of earning such rights. Persons who exert the relevant sorts of effort to produce the resources required to fulfill basic material needs will, quid pro quo, be entitled to adequate sustaining resources. For those few who are unable, or in the case of children for whom society considers such contributions premature, need alone will entitle persons to benefits.
Second, we have seen that these rights rest on criteria compatible with Americans' beliefs about distributive justice in the social and political domains, in which other people are viewed as family members or fellow citizens. Socioeconomic rights in effect link these two domains, and such linkage may be long overdue given the demise of the family as a self-sustaining economic institution. In the economic domain, where Americans typically apply investment, results, ascription, and differentiating procedures, my proposal for socioeconomic rights would create difficulties were it to include a wide range of nonessential material goods (yachts, for instance). But since these socioeconomic rights extend only to those material goods that support basic needs, they do not threaten marketplace norms. Further, an investments approach meshes with the work-ethic principle of effort and reward.
This conception of socioeconomic rights earned through a specific type of exertion might well be unnecessarily stringent for other cultures. The United Kingdom follows a citizens' rights notion that until the Thatcher government was applied so liberally in the area of medical care as to approximate a human rights conception. It is doubtful that such a practice would be supported in the United States. But in the process of moderating politically dangerous enthusiasm for meeting human needs, we must avoid as well the terrors of the workhouse that might befall an exertion-oriented conception of socioeconomic rights. I will devote attention to this problem in later chapters. For the moment let us turn to the consequences this conception of socioeconomic rights holds for related values.
Implications for Prominent American Values
Distributive justice is not a value that has commanded exceptional attention in postcolonial American society. Prior to the last half century only a small portion of American political commentators distinguished distributive justice even implicitly from the results of market operations. And as the distinction has become more widely accepted, distributive justice has come into increasingly prominent conflict with the values that the American political culture has long considered the primary virtues of market operations: freedom and economic efficiency. In this chapter I will examine the consequences that my conception of socioeconomic rights holds for six prominent American values: liberty, economic efficiency, equality, democracy, community and social solidarity, and human dignity. I will attempt to tease out the contradictions within and tradeoffs among these values. In doing so I am mindful of our limited capacity to explain the effects of social phenomena, such as specific public programs, on society.
Let us follow Isaiah Berlin in differentiating positive and negative liberty, and let us also adopt C. B. Macpherson's dissection of three aspects of positive liberty. First is the freedom to participate in political decision making; these political rights are compatible with, but distinct from, negative liberties, or civil rights. Second, and ac-
cording to Macpherson at the heart of the concept of positive liberty, is developmental liberty, the freedom to be one's own master, to act on one's conscious purposes, and to develop and apply one's capacities and abilities. Unfortunately, developmental liberty is often transmogrified into the third aspect, a distorted form of liberty by which those who think they know human truth more perfectly than others coerce others to act accordingly.
The importance of negative liberties—freedom from external constraints on speech, press, and association—in American history is partially responsible for the characterization of the United States as a nation in which individualism reigns. In the Lockean tradition, American political culture generally holds government to be the principal external threat to liberty. But as Hobbes reminds us, the actions of individuals may pose threats to fellow citizens, in which case government is expected to step in to help. Marketplace operations may also be seen as infringements on liberty, though America has been more reluctant than other advanced industrial societies to adopt this view.
There are potential clashes between my conception of socioeconomic rights and Americans' negative liberties in at least four areas: participation would be compulsory, rather than voluntary, for all members of the paid labor force; increased payroll taxes would further reduce discretionary income; the professional autonomy of physicians and perhaps other providers of essential services might be restricted; and program beneficiaries could be subject to certain requirements. Let us take up each of these in turn.
The kinds of social insurance programs I am proposing require the compulsory participation of all members of the labor force so that the costs are spread as widely as possible. Compulsory participation would also preclude the individual and societal problems that arise when people decline optional enrollment but are subsequently beset by social hazards. Yet compulsory participation in a program addressing hazards that may never afflict some participants seems a poor fit with the aspects of negative liberty that Americans denote with the term individualism.
Nonetheless, there was no widespread public protest when Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI—Part B of Medicare) to cover physicians' bills was changed from an option that social security recipients had to explicitly elect into an automatic enrollment that
recipients had to explicitly decline. Indeed, the change in procedure was made because more than 95 percent of recipients were opting to pay the extra monthly premium for the additional coverage. In general, the opposition to compulsory social insurance has come not from the general public but from employers, private insurance companies, and the American Medical Association (AMA), with the AMA being the most persistent in its resistance.
As to the cost of social insurance programs, certainly increased payroll taxes would reduce workers' discretionary income and the freedom of choice that it supports. To the degree that new taxes were progressive they might be all the more obnoxious in that those least likely to receive benefits—high-income taxpayers—would be required to pay a disproportionate share of the costs. Such complaints, however, always arise in any discussion about the American tax system. On this count, the theoretical constraints posed by socioeconomic rights are no different than those posed by the overall revenue-gathering system.
The practical importance of progressive taxes is unclear, for we cannot precisely discern how regressive or progressive the current American tax system is. What is the overall effect of various federal, state, and local levies: income taxes, property taxes and assessments, sales and excise taxes, and taxes on estates and inheritances? Suppose we assume that the overall system is moderately progressive and that the well-off do pay more heavily for social programs that serve the poor. Does this mean that our tax system places unfair constraints on the liberties of the well-off?
Surely some vertical redistribution takes place, but, as noted in chapter 1, a substantial portion of social program benefits involves horizontal rather than vertical redistribution. The social merging programs I am suggesting would create some vertical redistribution, as does the current AFDC program, but social insurance does not involve much vertical redistribution since a good portion of today's taxes for social insurance programs will be returned to a worker in benefits as he or she encounters social hazards. Thus constraints on current income are the means of providing a citizen with freedom in subsequent situations.
Further, while socioeconomic rights do make substantial demands on government budgets, one cannot say that cutting social program expenditures would reduce taxes or the constraints on
liberty that they represent. The savings might simply be shifted to defense or other programs, as has occurred to some degree during the Reagan administration. It is also reasonable to ask, as I will in the next section, whether the developmental liberty that socioeconomic rights create offsets the constraints to negative liberty that taxes pose.
As to how socioeconomic rights might challenge the liberties of providers of basic services, possible restrictions on physicians are the most commonly discussed. In Britain's National Health Service (NHS), American providers see fearful restrictions on income and professional autonomy. It is possible, however, to ensure broad access to medical services without following the British model. In the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, a system of decentralized private organizations operates within federal guidelines to secure socioeconomic rights to medical care.
The fourth type of constraint on negative liberty concerns various restrictions on the recipients. For instance, programs that distribute basic goods in kind—food stamps and some housing programs—offer recipients less freedom to choose goods than do transfer-payment plans. Public assistance programs such as AFDC and related efforts in other nations in some instances dictate constraints on personal activities, including household membership.
In summary, socioeconomic rights pose or can pose several problems for negative liberty. Libertarians who place negative liberty above all other values and tolerate conflicting concerns only reluctantly can never be expected to exhibit any enthusiasm for socioeconomic rights nor, in many instances, for social programs. But the libertarian position is an extreme one, even in America, and we need not end our inquiry here because libertarians object to the way in which socioeconomic rights infringe on negative liberty. Rather we need to focus our attention on the breadth and depth of the problems socioeconomic rights pose for negative liberty—that is, whose liberty is constrained and how severely—as well as on what practical measures can be taken to reduce these difficulties.
In this vein neither the compulsory character of social insurance nor its characteristic life-cycle redistribution has by and large created problems for participating citizens. Instead, these issues have been used by professional groups such as the AMA as stalking
horses for other concerns. The public may, however, protest if the level of benefits from social insurance programs drops and payroll deductions continue to rise.
The tradeoff of reduced discretionary income against social program benefits has been more problematic for public assistance programs than for social insurance, particularly when vertical redistribution is widely perceived as failing to facilitate improvements in recipients' lives. The investments approach attempts, through social merging efforts, to overcome this problem by assuring that, to the widest degree possible, recipients of these programs earn their benefits by contributing to their self-support in socially approved ways. All other restrictions on recipients could be reduced, for they are not inherent to socioeconomic rights.
This leaves us with the most politically troublesome problem that socioeconomic rights pose for negative liberty: the freedom of private service providers, doctors in particular. But we need look no further than Medicare to see that socioeconomic rights can be implemented in ways that allow providers relatively high incomes and considerable professional autonomy. Unfortunately, the British NHS, which does restrict providers, has so dominated the thinking of the AMA and other American medical organizations that they have exerted their considerable political resources—money, organization, and social position—toward blocking the development of all social programs intended to realize basic socioeconomic rights without stopping to differentiate among proposals according to the degree of threat to their interests.
By developmental liberty , I am referring to situations in which the application of external resources, tangible or intangible, opens up to a person new choices or opportunities that would otherwise not exist and that encourage the development of individual human potential. In practice, the fostering of developmental liberty involves devising ways by which limiting circumstances may be overcome—ignorance or indigence set aside—so that choices may be expanded. Here, governments often play a constructive role through infusions of resources that enable people to engage in choices denied them by market distribution. Developmental lib-
erty thus comes at some expense to negative liberty (taxes on discretionary income) of either the same or similar people at other points in time (social insurance) or of different and generally more prosperous people (public assistance or social merging). Among social scientists and the public at large, one hears diverse assessments of this tradeoff.
Americans have generally been supportive of developmental liberty as applied to public education, though this support is generally expressed in terms of meritocratic equality of opportunity rather than developmental liberty. Indeed the United States has been more inclined than most other industrial societies to attack problems of resource inadequacy through education (and the upward social mobility that it presumably provides) than through programs that directly upgrade the material resources of desperate households. My emphasis on self-help in socioeconomic rights, particularly in terms of acquiring better preparation for the labor market, fits well with these American predispositions. Beyond the realm of public education, however, the United States has generally been less supportive of developmental liberty, perhaps seeing in it troubling egalitarian manifestations of equal results. The British, in contrast, are quick to point out that the NHS contributes to citizens' liberty by healing and allowing normal activity as well as by relieving citizens of some of the costs and anxieties associated with medical care under market circumstances.
In contrast to what we found in the case of negative liberty, socioeconomic rights mesh nicely with the spirit of and the more prosaic material contributions to developmental liberty. Social programs that supply basic material goods and services such as education and medical care during difficult periods can open or reopen constructive avenues of activity. Of course, human development also requires intangible support, love and encouragement from others, for example. But social programs can help, and the basic resources they provide are more essential to developmental liberty than those directed through the police, courts, prisons, and defense programs. Nonetheless, we must be mindful that while basic resources are necessary, they are not sufficient for socially constructive developmental liberty. Food stamps may help to keep an impoverished child alive, but development can take ugly turns if the child grows up in a destructive family environment, faces stul-
tifying prejudice from society, or receives social program support of a form that stifles self-actualization.
As I pointed out above, the tradeoffs between negative and developmental liberty appear to be less bothersome to Americans in the case of social insurance than in programs designed to address persistent problems of social disadvantage. Self-interest may well play a part in this: most Americans expect to make use of social security, while far fewer expect to rely on AFDC. But the difference also rests on the public's perceptions of the recipients and on the style of redistribution. Social insurance recipients are viewed as sound people facing episodic problems involving life-cycle redistribution, while public assistance recipients are often viewed as persons of dubious character on the fringes of society who take resources from others. Here, the investments approach may be salutary in changing both the nature of programs directed at disadvantage and the public's perceptions of program recipients. People who receive benefits from social merging programs in return for their contributions to the social product are legitimized in a way that recipients of current public assistance are not.
In order to be politically viable, any concept of socioeconomic rights must limit its conflict with economic efficiency. Specific issues include the consequences of socioeconomic rights on work incentives, savings patterns, risk taking, and international competitiveness.
A prominent American view is that existing social programs reduce work incentives and productivity generally. The three principal arguments are that a system of extensive social programs: (1) emboldens organized mainstream labor to press for wage increases and other demands, because workers know they will be protected during strikes or interludes of unemployment; (2) reduces workers' motivation, since increased earnings will be taxed to the benefit of others; and (3) discourages people from accepting jobs that pay about the same amount as might be obtained through generous social programs, especially if those jobs are dirty, dangerous, dreary, or degrading in other ways.
If we look overseas, we have no trouble finding evidence that
casts doubts on each of these contentions. In Sweden, for example, the extensive realization of socioeconomic rights accompanies high levels of productivity and strong work incentives; the Federal Republic of Germany is frequently mentioned in this context as well. Lester Thurow finds little relationship between economic efficiency and economic equality, and Harold Wilensky finds that state spending on social programs is positively associated with levels of productivity.
Whether these patterns are relevant to the United States is a question that admits no easy answer, and the evidence is quite mixed. For example, from 1900 to 1980 aggregate labor trends among men exhibit little change except for a decline in labor-force participation among men of retirement age, retirement presumably as a result of social security; women, again except those of retirement age, have dramatically increased their participation in the labor force across the same period. The negative income tax experiments conducted in stages in several locations in the 1970s, however, show moderate declines in hours worked by people, particularly women, whose income levels were assured. Overall, the rate of growth in American productivity has declined since social programs were expanded in the 1960s, but this association may be attributed to any number of confounding variables.
In a society as atomized or individualistic as the United States, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that particular forms of social programs represent threats to work incentives for people trapped in low-paying jobs, often called the secondary labor market. Characteristically, such jobs not only return low wages and few fringe benefits but also tend to be subject to frequent termination on short notice. Often dreary, dirty, or dangerous, this sort of work does not lead to pay raises, job security, or promotion in rank or responsibilities.
Popular perceptions of the secondary labor market show vestiges of the notion of two races or two species, a conception prominent in early-nineteenth-century Britain. The superior class comprised property-owners, and they were motivated by desires for profit, or what we might call positive reinforcement. In contrast, "the poor," or the class that had to work for a living, was alleged to be motivated by the threat of punishment, that is, by adversive control, such as the prospect of starvation.
Today most Americans have to work for a living, but no one would suggest that professionals, paraprofessionals, white-collar workers, or skilled manual workers are primarily motivated by adversive control. For while their jobs are imperfect in many ways, they do afford varying measures of positive reinforcement: good wages, a sense of personal pride, and the development of personal expertise, among others. But for people at the bottom of the income and job-status distributions, it may well be reasonable to suppose that adversive control remains an important factor in decisions about work and therefore that some forms of social programs reduce work incentives. If so, what is called for is a long-range effort to revitalize these incentives through positive reinforcement rather than adversive control. But in the near term we should also question the wisdom of social programs that, like the policy initiatives of the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s, tended to provide benefits without asking for specific forms of constructive activity in return.
The effects of existing social programs on work incentives seem to reflect distinct program features. Wilensky, for instance, argues that retirement pensions provide a powerful incentive for developing a regular work history—a thesis consistent with the aggregate labor trends cited above. But current American practices with respect to AFDC and unemployment insurance may be destructive of work incentives. Even the disability aspect of social security may be more problematic in this regard than are pensions for the elderly. Overall, social insurance programs aimed at clearly episodic problems are less troublesome with respect to work incentives than programs aimed at social disadvantage, although both types of programs may improve the payoffs for socially undesirable activities.
The effort requirement introduced in chapter 2 reduces the work-incentive problems posed by some existing social programs. By facilitating labor-market participation and supplementing its rewards, thereby making household support both necessary and more feasible, the investments approach positively reinforces desirable activity, unlike most current social programs for working-aged adults.
A second criterion of economic efficiency is the personal savings rate. Martin Feldstein, among others, argues that since American
social insurance programs operate on a pay-as-we-go basis, they create no funds that can be used for investment. Further, he maintains that social insurance discourages relatively prosperous citizens from accumulating personal savings to protect themselves against social hazards. Feldstein's first point is accurate, but its significance in this context hinges on the second: Would Americans save more and would the nation have more capital for productive investment if there were less social program support? The historical evidence suggests that the answer is no. The personal savings rate, expressed as a proportion of gross national product was 16 percent in 1973, the same as in the 1920s, before any national social insurance programs existed. Nor does Henry J. Aaron's analysis of American savings patterns in the last fifty years reveal any discernible trends in personal savings.
Even if we assume that Americans would start to save more, we cannot be sure what proportion of the new savings would be available for capital formation rather than locked into collectibles or real estate. We may also wonder whether productivity-enhancing investments would rise with the savings rate. If Americans saved more, they would purchase less, and if social programs reduced their benefits, consumer demand would also drop. Thus the combination of higher savings and lower social benefits might dampen demand to the point that American producers would see little motive to invest in improved domestic capital stock. In that case public policy could structure incentives to channel savings in specific directions and to stimulate domestic capital investment, but such incentives are fully independent of funding for social programs, neither following from reductions in social programs nor requiring such reductions as a preliminary step.
A third aspect of economic efficiency involves business's attitudes toward risk taking. Production costs (including payroll taxes for social insurance programs), the incentives of workers, and the availability of capital all affect the willingness of American entrepreneurs and corporate managers to take risks with new enterprises or to expand or modernize existing facilities. In the United States, indeed, business enjoys an unusual independence in risk-taking decisions. Whereas French state managers and Swedish labor officials may routinely participate in corporate investment decisions, American businesses expect relative autonomy in their
decision making. The prospect of government "interference" regarding worker safety or environmental impacts makes American private managers hesitant to invest capital in a new enterprise. Similarly, a restive or powerful workforce, or the perception of one, tends to curtail risk-taking.
For this reason, American businesses are wary of social programs that strengthen labor's hand. In offering substantial benefits to limited segments of the working-age population without a clear quid pro quo, programs like unemployment insurance and AFDC could be interpreted as counterproductive. But this does not mean that economic benefits must be denied to vulnerable individuals in order to allow business managers to feel more confident about risking capital. Rather, it suggests that we try to provide these basic benefits in a way that will be less troubling to business. Again, the investments approach to socioeconomic rights is designed to address this concern.
Increasingly, economic efficiency is discussed in the context of global economic competitiveness. Once, American businesses argued that if social programs were inevitable, uniform national programs were preferable to interstate variations that would put some businesses at a disadvantage. Today they envision the United States as a relatively homogeneous unit competing with other advanced industrial societies, and they ask whether national social programs may hamper the competitive position of American products and services. Among the potential dangers cited are deleterious effects on work incentives, additions to labor costs, depletion of capital, and constraints on business managers' willingness to take risks due to uncertainties about such problems.
As noted earlier, however, the United States spends a smaller percentage of gross national product on social programs than do most other industrial societies. Thus any lack of competitiveness of American products cannot be attributed to anomalous social program costs. Nonetheless, one might argue that reducing social program costs might increase the competitiveness of American products or that reducing future increases in social program costs might improve the competitiveness of American products over time.
Such arguments, however, exceed our understanding of the practical consequences of existing social programs and alternatives to them. There is simply no clear consensus among economists or
other analysts about the macroeconomic costs and benefits of social programs. Recent debates about deregulation suggest that business managers perceive social programs as conflicting with their interests—and perhaps with economic efficiency too. The perceptions of this exceptionally influential group carry significant political weight, but we have no way of objectively judging whether they are accurate.
Despite these uncertainties, two points seem indisputable. First, social programs are merely one factor contributing to work incentives, savings patterns, risk taking, and international competitiveness. And if social programs were shown to impinge on the realization of economic efficiency, it might be possible to counterbalance this effect by other actions. For example, changes in management style might enhance work incentives, and various taxreform strategies have been proposed to stimulate savings.
Second, we can easily see that some formulations of socioeconomic rights are more inconsistent with economic efficiency than others. On this criterion my proposal seems less disruptive than, say, the guaranteed-income approach of the Nixon and Carter administrations. Again, anticipated conflicts between socioeconomic rights and core American values may be reduced by careful design of social insurance and social merging programs.
Equality is a value frequently set in juxtaposition to both negative liberty and economic efficiency. We may usefully distinguish between equality of results, which has not achieved considerable support in theory or in practice among Americans, and equality of opportunity, which in limited senses, at least, has become a core American value.
The essence of the relationship between socioeconomic rights and equality of results was presented in chapter 2. Because equality of results remains a controversial value in American political culture, my proposal for socioeconomic rights is based on a limited conception of this principle, one designed to minimize the conflict with negative liberty and economic efficiency. My contention that people who contribute to the social product from which basic resources are derived have rights to these resources beyond
what market allocation provides entails a reduction in the relative inequalities of some results. But both the manner of assuring certain minimums for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy and the means of rewarding efforts at self-help fit reasonably well with American political culture. Beyond these basic resources, for which distributive justice demands allocation on the basis of effort, market or other means of distributing tangible and intangible resources are acceptable; my proposal for socioeconomic rights does not attempt what Michael Walzer calls simple equality or roughly equal shares of resources.
As we have seen, these limited socioeconomic rights involve some sacrifice of liberty by some persons to meet the needs of others. While the United States has engaged in a variety of practices that sacrifice liberty to achieve greater equality of selected results, the nation has characteristically done so grudgingly, complaining all the way, and frequently implementing the redistributive mechanisms in a hostile manner inimical to the abstract intent of achieving greater equality of results. By requiring contributions to the social product as a prerequisite to recipient status, I intend to make more palatable such tradeoffs between liberty and equality. Like beneficiaries of social security and public education, recipients would be entitled to benefits in return for constructive activity. And the requirement that effort be exerted in the paid labor market brings equality of results within the bounds of economic efficiency as well.
In contrast to equality of results, limited senses of equality of opportunity have achieved considerable support, in both theory and practice, within the United States. One aspect of this value is procedural fairness, the use of performance-related criteria rather than sex, race, or age in the distribution of work or educational opportunities, unless such native characteristics are directly relevant to performance. While the historical record of American practice leaves a lot to be desired and our progress has been slow and painful, it is probably appropriate to identify this aspect of equality of opportunity as part of the American creed.
The most obvious shortcoming in this regard evinced by existing social programs involves race. Because social security and other public insurance programs serve a broad cross-section of the population, while AFDC and public assistance programs have a
disproportionate number of minority recipients, many socioeconomically comfortable Americans view public assistance as an "us-versus-them" issue. If programs created to help our most economically vulnerable citizens are to acquire greater political viability, they must be designed to emphasize inclusiveness, serving minorities as an indistinguishable aspect of serving a much broader and more representative constituency.
A second aspect of equality of opportunity relates to differences in developmental opportunities, or the equality of life chances. Obviously procedural fairness will not in itself equalize opportunity among youngsters who attend private preparatory schools and the children of migrant farmworkers. Nor can efforts to equalize life chances by giving disadvantaged youngsters extra preschool or afterschool activities put them on a par with children whose lives are richer in the developmental experiences and role models that foster abilities to compete successfully for educational and occupational positions. Related efforts to give preferential consideration to school or job applicants who have disadvantaged backgrounds have been highly controversial.
The sources of resistance to efforts to realize greater equality of life chances are several: such efforts necessarily constrain negative liberty and procedural fairness, and they sometimes unnecessarily abridge other values as well; and racism and related forms of prejudice predispose some constituencies to oppose any form of affirmative action. While conservatives in the late 1970s and 1980s made a constructive contribution in emphasizing the desirability of eliciting greater responsibility from people who sought social protection or assistance, conservative thinkers have balked at fathoming the full array of problems that profound social disadvantage presents.
The socioeconomic rights that I have suggested are necessary, but far from sufficient, for improving the life chances of the disadvantaged. Government programs can and should provide food for hungry children, but social programs cannot supply these children with the supportive parents, peers, and school environments that encourage intellectual and emotional growth.
The situation in the case of episodic social hazards is more encouraging, for here benefits serve to mitigate the effects of problematic episodes in the lives of those who generally cope relatively
well. In such cases equality of opportunity greatly resembles developmental liberty, with socioeconomic rights expanding the opportunities of those whose fortunes, were they limited to private means, would be more restricted.
Though socioeconomic rights lead us in the direction of greater equality of life chances, these rights are not forceful facilitators of this value. And they are of less help in cases of disadvantage than when applied to episodic problems. But in the process of lending minimal support to equalities of results and opportunities, these socioeconomic rights reflect some of the tension inherent in our nation's troublesome commitment to two incompatible values, negative liberty and equality.
In the late eighteenth century democracy was rescued from political obscurity and given a representational structure. Civil rights—to speech and assembly, for example—were gradually established, and in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries political rights were added. The distinguishing features of democracies of this sort were depicted by Joseph Schumpeter as procedures involving periodic elite competition within widely accepted guidelines. Civil rights formed the background rules of political competition, and the exercise of political rights—roughly one person, one vote—determined winners and losers.
As more recent empirical studies have revealed, this conception of democratic practices harbors several inadequacies. For one, levels of political information and participation are not as high as the conception of electoral competition suggests. For another, this description largely overlooks how elected and appointed officials reach public decisions. Additionally, the focus on democracy as a process of selected procedures tends to downplay the outcomes—who gets what—and the values or ends those outcomes support.
Specifically, empirical studies show that individual information and participation levels are associated with socioeconomic status as well as membership in politically minded groups—unions and other interest groups, political parties, churches. And whereas the electoral competition conception of democracy focuses on individuals who are organized into parties at elections, in practice
we see a range of groups, many of which are well-organized and backed by extensive financial resources, relevant expertise, and impressive social connections, and which are active during and in between elections, lobbying public bodies to support their interests.
These findings have led some to argue that average citizens are only marginally involved in contemporary democracies. And even their interests are represented largely by groups reflecting a limited portion of the citizenry and subject to the iron law of oligarchy.
If contemporary democracy involves such modest participation on the part of the citizenry, what makes it democratic? An increasingly prominent answer focuses on a substantive matter: the values a polity realizes. By this line of thought a polity cannot rightfully be considered a democracy by procedures alone, particularly if these procedures appear to benefit primarily a socioeconomic elite. Rather, a democracy must uphold certain ends, including a conception of distributive justice whose policy outcomes benefit the population broadly. In essence, there is an implicit tradeoff: the price elites pay for encouraging political ground rules and mild competition is sharing material payoffs with the many who do not participate as regularly or thoroughly as elites in the expressive freedoms of procedural democracy. This tradeoff fits the suggestion, mentioned in chapter 2, that negative (civil-political) rights may be useless from the perspective of the masses, while positive (socioeconomic) rights are redundant for the elite. The presence of each in contemporary democracies thus provides something for everyone, or nearly so; in effect, the "subsistence rights" of feudalism have been recovered. By this reformulation democracy involves the realization of three types of rights, shared in varying degrees by different groups: civil rights, or rights against the state; political rights, or control of the state; and socioeconomic rights, or claims on the state.
What we have here are alternative conceptions of the contemporary meaning of democracy. By one, democracy is appropriately a procedural matter, and extraprocedural considerations of who gets what are external or anterior, rather than inherent, to the meaning of democracy. Charles A. Beard, for instance, argues that the American system of democracy was designed to leave "the fundamental private rights of property anterior to government and
morally beyond the reach of popular majorities." The alternative view acknowledges some substantive essence to democracy: regardless of procedures, in a democracy political outcomes realize certain other values, among them protecting citizens from the social hazards created by wage dependence and vulnerability.
Socioeconomic rights have little place in the property-rights-as-anterior conception, for they entail constraints on negative liberty—taxes—and perhaps also on economic efficiency—taxes or regulation more generally—that effectively dissolve the special anterior status of exclusionary private property rights. Nonetheless, all contemporary democracies, including the United States, have for some while treated the screen protecting property rights as permeable in at least some instances.
To a considerable degree this desanctification of property rights stems from wide experience suggesting that if the pursuit of property is left relatively unhindered by the state, a tiny proportion of the population ends up with most of it, while the vast majority of people have insufficient wealth to endure common social hazards. To meet these needs, life-sustaining public entitlements—to some a new form of property —have been fashioned. Such programs have increased the legitimacy of the state for many, but they restrict the traditional property rights of the few. Naturally, these restrictions elicit resentment and protest from proceduralists and members of the propertied minority.
Community and Social Solidarity
Individualism has such a hold on American society that the values of community or social solidarity have received relatively scant attention. Most often a sense of national community or social solidarity has appeared in response to foreign threats or natural disasters. This form of social solidarity is not unusual, but other societies, frequently with organic pasts, have been able to transcend community based solely on such threats, and social programs have been relevant to these achievements. For instance, while the British criticize nearly innumerable specifics of their National Health Service, they nevertheless derive a sense of community and comfort from its existence. And the Swedes have made some progress in reducing income differentials through solidaristic approaches to wages.
But Sweden has a tradition of state paternalism, and American individualism may prohibit similar social program contributions in the United States.
Yet we often hear discussions these days of Americans' yearning for a sense of community. Individualism, it seems, fails to fulfill personal needs for fellowship and a sense of meaning derived from contributing to broadly recognized values. Historically most American experience with community has been local and voluntary, but other aspects of social solidarity are relevant to national scales of action, for example, exhibiting concern for fellow citizens' medical-care needs by establishing a national program.
Whether public programs can, outside of wartime, engender social solidarity against the background of the individualistic American political culture is unclear. Up to now the categorical character and political vulnerability of American public assistance has often made these programs sources of divisiveness. More promising is the example of social security, which suggests that Americans are willing to support an involuntary social insurance program that is broadly inclusive. It does not, therefore, seem foolish to hope that socioeconomic rights that are inclusive and generally compatible with American political culture might further the values of community and social solidarity.
Rights are a relatively new means for achieving human dignity, but they have become indispensable to the American conception. One's capacity for self-esteem stems from the possession of rights that others must respect.
During the nation's first century, the civil and political rights associated largely with negative liberty were sufficient supports for dignity for much of the American population. Most people were born into relatively large families and lived in households that owned life-sustaining property. The traditional American conception of human dignity thus came to be closely associated with self-reliance. The dignified American lived free from both predatory government tyranny and supportive government paternalism.
Self-reliance, however, was not well suited to the industrial America that began to develop between the Civil War and the Great Depression. During the progressive era a few state govern-
ments tried to adjust public policy to fit the changing character of American society, but no general progress with respect to wage dependence and vulnerability was made until the 1930s, when worldwide economic calamities led the Roosevelt administration to propose the New Deal. It is well worth remembering that the programs initiated by FDR were largely designed to cope with the nation's immediate problems, rather than to inaugurate a competing concept of human dignity.
But the creators of social security, a relatively insignificant part of the overall effort, used the concept of individual accounts of earned rights to give social security a special status and dignity among American efforts at public social provision. In contrast to public assistance that was applied to indigency, social security benefits were earned throughout the beneficiary's working life. Individual workers paid taxes into a personal account that provided a right to draw on the program's trust fund when aging disrupted wages.
The creators of social security may rightly be faulted for sacrificing the immediate well-being of the needy elderly and others during the depression years in order to develop a long-term social insurance program that was in fact and in symbolism different from public assistance. Benefits were not paid out until 1940, and the program initially provided extremely modest benefits to a limited number of people. However, the concept of individually earned rights enabled Americans for the first time to view public social provision within the realm of dignified human activity.
In the half century since the New Deal, Americans have increasingly come to reject as too restrictive the traditional conception of human dignity. Through the example of social security, we have come to see dignity in planned participation in earned public entitlements that offer protection from social hazards. Put another way, earned rights are now viewed as a dignified way to cope with the social hazards caused by wage dependency. Dignity is no longer afforded solely by self-reliance; it can also be achieved through public benefits earned by conscientious efforts at self-help.
For several core American values—negative liberty, the procedural or property-rights-as-anterior sense of democracy, and the equa-
tion of human dignity with self-reliance—my conception of socioeconomic rights poses incompatibilities. These conflicts are significant insofar as these values have been central to American political culture. So long as these values inspire a following, the realization of socioeconomic rights will require some sacrifice and compromise, but not the complete subjugation of these core values. These socioeconomic rights broaden certain facets of democracy and human dignity; they also entail compulsory participation in social insurance programs, some restrictions on discretionary income, and some limits on the income and professional autonomy of some private service providers.
Thus Americans who place great importance on selected aspects of negative liberty, or particular conceptions of property rights and human dignity, will not be enthusiastic about socioeconomic rights. And the American population may well include a larger proportion of such people than some other advanced industrial societies contain. But these values are no longer the sole constituents of American political culture, especially when the discussion turns from abstract theories to practical affairs.
On the relationship between socioeconomic rights and economic efficiency, empirical uncertainty precludes any easy assessment of the seriousness, even the existence, of incompatibilities. Reputable scholars using different data and methods offer contradictory conclusions. Nonetheless, two points seem clear. First, regardless of the actual effects of social programs on work incentives, propensity to save, willingness to invest, or American competitiveness, there are widespread perceptions that such effects are negative. Any programs created to implement socioeconomic rights must therefore be designed to reduce perceptions of conflict between public social provision and economic efficiency. Toward this end, programs that emphasize personal investments of effort and self-help are preferable to, say, a guaranteed-income system.
Second, all measures of economic efficiency are affected by a constellation of factors. If social programs are shown to reduce, for instance, the propensity to save, we can probably manipulate other aspects of public policy—tax policy—to counter this effect. These manipulations will require careful thought and difficult choices, for values do conflict. But we should not see the issue as an all-or-nothing decision.
Among values less central to American political culture than negative liberty or economic efficiency, we have discussed several that are compatible with socioeconomic rights: developmental liberty, equality of results and opportunity, the triple-rights-conception of democracy, community and social solidarity, and the contemporary conception of human dignity. In most cases, however, basic socioeconomic rights admit only limited or partial realizations of these values so as not to impinge severely on core values. For example, socioeconomic rights will reduce the inequality of some results but cannot enforce equality of results without threatening the fundamental principles of liberty. The realization of these secondary values also depends on the nature of particular programs; a social insurance program, for example, much more clearly realizes the contemporary conception of human dignity than does a public assistance program like AFDC.
Would the cumulative impact of all these conflicting influences produce a situation preferable to current patterns of public social provision in the United States? Despite the incompatibilities I have mentioned, implementing basic socioeconomic rights would neither broaden nor intensify fundamental value conflicts inherent in the American creed. Further, socioeconomic rights offer possibilities for moderating other value conflicts. More-comprehensive social insurance would reduce reliance on vertical redistribution; earned rights would enhance work incentives; the supplementary character of benefits would encourage working and saving; strong work incentives would facilitate managerial risk-taking; and the clear association between beneficiary status and self-help would afford a new measure of dignity to social provision.
Were American political culture based on an internally coherent and relatively fixed ideology, the inconsistencies we have examined would represent impressive obstacles to the implementation of socioeconomic rights. But the values of the American culture have a heuristic openness that permits new nuances to emerge as empirical conditions change. Moreover, the core set of values contains internal inconsistencies. It has been through gradual shifts in the meaning and emphasis of core values that American institutions have been able to accommodate changing circumstances, such as the transformation from rural commercial capitalism to advanced industrial capitalism. In some instances, as in the case of
social security, institutions even lead the way in the evolution of American values.
A set of basic socioeconomic rights tailored to American political culture would not, we may conclude, produce value conflicts novel in kind or degree. The crucial problems, to which I now turn, are practical ones.
Complexity and Compliance
The implementation of basic socioeconomic rights in the United States would require intricate practical support. While such private initiatives as employer-sponsored pension plans have a role to play, public social programs lie at the heart of the matter. Here, two sets of issues seem particularly problematic in the American context: the complexities entailed by large-scale social action and the difficulties of motivating compliance from all parties.
Coping with Complexity
Three distinct problems deserve our attention: selected difficulties arising from the necessity for action, limits and related harmonization issues, and the conflicts between the centralized bureaucracy needed to administer public social programs and the American preference for limited and local government.
Pitfalls Associated with Complex Social Action
All large-scale efforts, public or private, must overcome institutional inertia, human fallibility, unanticipated changes in the social environment, and the like. While such problems are in no way peculiar to public social policy, their negative effects have had an exceptionally high political profile among these programs. One may explain this dissatisfaction by referring to Americans' general
skepticism about social programs or to Americans' frustration with these programs' failure to decisively eradicate poverty. Whatever the explanation, it is clear that public social programs have attracted exceptional attention for rather unexceptional difficulties in managing complexity.
To minimize both the actual difficulties and the perception of such difficulties, my proposals for social insurance and other programs stick fairly closely to activities that our country already engages in and does fairly well. Rather than suggesting that we emulate Western European nations that have well-developed repertoires of public decision-making and implementation strategies, my proposals play to our proven strengths. We have encouraging, albeit controversial and limited, experience with social insurance funded by personal contributions to individual accounts. We have as well a recent history of exceptionally heavy reliance on public assistance, though few are excited by its success. We have relatively modest experience with active labor-market efforts. Given our relatively narrow range of successful practical experience, to suggest programs that would require dramatically different or ambitious machinery would be to invite serious practical difficulties.
Limits and Harmonization Issues
All rights have limits. In the United States we have a good deal more experience analyzing the limits on First Amendment rights than we do with those on socioeconomic rights. We have seen the boundaries of protected speech vary over time, and we have argued over troublesome instances in which freedom to assemble threatens other liberties or civic values.
Placing limits on basic socioeconomic rights raises questions about the nature of human needs. A limit on the amount and type of food necessary to sustain an individual could be based on a physiological assessment, but food is a social good as well as a source of nutrients. Thus basic everyday needs are in part defined by conventional cultural patterns. In our country today a nutritionally sound diet that featured insects as the primary source of protein would not fulfill our sense of basic needs. Needs also have a way of expanding into wants, but there are no steadfast distinc-
tions between the two. For instance, are organ transplants or esoteric life-support systems needs or wants in our society?
Additionally, as William Leiss points out, needs become less coherent in the high-intensity market settings of contemporary advanced societies. We continually reinterpret our concepts of needs in light of market offerings. Further, he argues, in a consumer society people focus less attention on basic needs—food—than on distinguishing features of the commodities—ease of preparation. In combination, these two processes, the "fragmentation of needs" and the "dissolution of commodities," orient our needs toward what is available rather than what is customary or conventional.
Despite these problems, our federal government has devised income guidelines that delineate the boundaries of poverty. These boundaries have often been challenged, but disagreements will always exist over the limits of any right. Thus while socioeconomic rights raise difficult questions about limits, these problems are different only in degree, not in kind, from those raised by civil or political rights. Further, we do not need unanimous agreement about the limits of socioeconomic rights in order to realize some version of them. Public opinion surveys in all advanced industrial societies, including the United States, reveal disagreements on specific points but considerable support for the general principle of providing security from common social hazards through such rights.
Different types of costs are associated with low and high estimates of appropriate limits. Low estimates endanger the human dignity and social membership status of vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens, while high estimates demand more extensive resources and are more likely to overload the system and create inequities between recipients of public social provision and the lowest-paid self-supporting workers. At least in the short term there can be little doubt that if socioeconomic rights are to be politically acceptable in the United States, low estimates about the material limits of such rights are crucial. But benefits even more limited than current AFDC payments could contribute effectively to reasonable levels of household support if they were designed to supplement household efforts at self-support and if external conditions facilitated self-support.
A related matter involves harmonizing social program practices
with activities in other policy areas. In the United States we have tended to isolate social programs rather than integrate them into broader public policy. But were we to use more-aggressive labor-market tactics in conjunction with social programs, households could rely more on efforts at self-support and less on transfer payments. The most obvious harmonization problems relate to general macroeconomic goals, particularly levels of unemployment and inflation. We will return to these problems in chapters 5 and 6.
Preferences for Limited and Local Government
One element of Huntington's version of the American creed that I did not discuss in chapter 3 is the traditional American preference for limited and local government. As a practical matter, any conception of American socioeconomic rights would require substantial activity by the federal government. This necessity clashes with traditional Lockean preferences for limited government, yet no advanced society—the United States included—has been willing to ignore its most vulnerable citizens for the sake of Lockean ideals. Rather the controversy focuses on the nature of the specific proportions or mechanisms of public social programs. Even some prominent libertarians acknowledge the appropriateness of using public programs to help vulnerable people whose needs market activities fail to address.
In short, Americans prefer limited government, but this preference is generally wistful or abstract, rather than operational, and it does not inform everyday decisions. Indeed, in the absence of a powerful ideology and given the nation's transition from commercial capitalism to advanced industrial conditions, American wistfulness for limited government is anachronistic in practice.
Huntington also discusses Americans' preference for local government. Again, there is little doubt that this preference exists, as Tocqueville noted and other observers have since. Nevertheless, in a society in which centralization is the rule—big business, big labor, corporate agriculture, and big international adversaries—preferences for the predominance of local government are largely as wistful as the ones for limited government.
At various times regional groups have exerted considerable influence to ensure a local voice in the administration of public social programs. In response to regional officials' desires to retain certain features of existing local practice, both the unemployment and public assistance portions of the Social Security Act of 1935 allow for state-level variations. Under these provisions, progressive Wisconsinites retained more-generous unemployment insurance features, while southerners delayed making equal public assistance payments to blacks.
These precedents notwithstanding, there have been growing pressures for nationwide standardization in public social provision. Business groups, for example, favor standardization of the costs of employer contributions to ensure interstate competitiveness. And proponents of strong social programs see national standardization as both just and rational. Why, they ask, should recipients of a federal program like AFDC be subject to enormous variations in state-defined benefit levels? If program benefits sanctioned by positive law are rights or entitlements, then an individual's rights should not vary significantly as a result of place of residence. The growing scope of social security, a program with no regional variations, has probably also contributed to perceptions that regional variations in national social program benefits are undesirable. Finally, regional variation and local discretion have been criticized by some as leading to systematic waste, by others as a tool for discriminating against some potential recipients.
Finally, we must return again to the example of social security, a most highly centralized program that should have stirred the wrath of every American committed to limited and local government. Up until the politicization of the administration of social security in the 1970s, the program was widely regarded as exceptionally sound, fair, and efficient. Social security still enjoys great public confidence and support, even though it is intrusive (levying taxes on 90 percent of the labor force), large (consuming roughly 20 percent of the federal budget and 5 percent of GNP), highly centralized, and highly professionalized.
We should not use this example to advise public program planners to disregard the American preference for limited and local government. Social programs administered by sophisticated, cen-
tralized bureaucracies that allow little if any local discretion do pose some risks. But the histories of various American social programs suggest that these risks may be well worth taking, and that programs consonant with other American values will face less difficulty on this score.
Competing Interest Groups
Social programs, like other public policies, serve multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives, and conflicts among various groups seeking competing benefits from public social provision form another set of practical problems for the realization of socioeconomic rights.
At the top of any list of explicit objectives of public social provision would be helping the victims of social hazards; here the largest single constituency is the elderly. A related and frequently compatible objective of social programs lies in the contributions they make to macroeconomic policy. Since program benefits are usually spent or consumed directly and represent, to some degree, spending that would not otherwise occur, program expenditures encourage aggregate demand. If such demand stimulates employment without fueling inflation, then the national economy as a whole prospers, and both public officials and the public generally enjoy the fruits of prosperity.
From the standpoint of the wealthy and powerful the resources that public social programs provide are redundant, and elites have often fought the establishment or expansion of such programs. Nonetheless, the development of social programs can be interpreted as elite efforts to anticipate the problems of incorporating the working class into advanced societies. For political leaders such programs offer opportunities to achieve their own ends either by building societal support or minimally reducing opposition. Whether or not social program platforms are productive means of electoral competition, political elites have at times perceived them in this fashion. Particularly in the United States it is probably appropriate to link social insurance programs to schemes of electoral competition and public assistance programs to concerns for placating potentially disruptive social groups.
Under some circumstances the agendas of public elites and the needs of vulnerable citizens may overlap. For example, whichever political party increases pensions for the elderly may expect the votes of the elderly in the next election. But elite agendas, even when they call for social program development, may have objectives contrary to the interests of targeted recipients. For instance, Bismarck's pioneering social programs of the 1880s represented the carrot portion of a two-pronged strategy designed to reduce the political and economic influence of the left and to preserve the societal domination of a conservative state. Similarly, contemporary American public assistance programs have been accused of being covert efforts to maintain a potentially disruptive population in a minimal, depreciating fashion that neutralizes recipients' political energies.
Social programs also affect other particular groups: the public provision of medical care has increased the incomes of physicians and nursing homes; public housing programs benefit lending institutions, construction firms, landlords, and realtors; and public education benefits modern corporations and other employers with sophisticated personnel needs. Beneficiaries such as these generally have interests distinct from those of the explicitly-targeted recipients of public social programs, and the former are generally better-organized, better-financed, and more experienced in gaining access to public decision makers. Policies fashioned to fit the political objectives of such groups may serve socioeconomic rights only incidentally and poorly. However, social provision policies that ignore the ends of these groups will probably face stiff resistance and low levels of compliance. For this reason, respect for the values of powerful groups is an important consideration in social program development. Social programs mean socioeconomic rights to some, but they mean income, profits, election success, or social control to others whose cooperation is necessary.
Reaching Potential Recipients
The young and the elderly draw, in different ways, more heavily on social provision programs than do middle-aged citizens. Serving these groups presents a variety of practical problems, to be sure,
but these may be less serious than the difficulties of reaching potential recipients of the lowest socioeconomic status. The following generalizations may oversimplify a bit, but they suggest the kinds of practical problems that must be addressed.
First, the lower a potential recipient's socioeconomic status, the less likely he or she is to know what benefits are available and how to apply for them. Second, the more disadvantaged potential recipients tend to have poorer skills in dealing with the bureaucrats who serve as gatekeepers for social programs. Third, the wider the gap in socioeconomic status between the professionals who deliver social services and recipients, the more both groups are apt to experience anxiety and reluctance about contact. Fourth, persons in the lowest socioeconomic groups tend to be alienated by program features that represent the aspirations of mainstream culture but do not fit with their own experiences. Finally, people lowest in the socioeconomic hierarchy tend to have less personal control over certain aspects of their activities, including those that relate to the objectives of social programs. For instance, their health may be threatened by a variety of environmental factors at work or at home over which they have little control.
One implication of these generalizations is that programs designed to ameliorate social disadvantage face more demanding tasks than do social insurance programs that cover episodic hazards. A second implication is that public perceptions of a program's success are likely to be more negative if the socioeconomic status of recipients is relatively low. For instance, unemployment insurance—whatever its problems—has not been subject to the range and vehemence of criticism that AFDC—a form of unemployment support for the disadvantaged—has endured.
Some programs are also apt to face more difficulties in motivating recipient compliance. Compliance has been more of a problem in unemployment insurance programs than in pensions for the elderly. Murray's argument about the "unintended rewards" of unemployment benefits, the relief from drudgery that these benefits can bring, seems exaggerated. But the incentives to use social programs to escape the unpleasant rigors of the market probably increase as these rigors increase—generally as we move down the socioeconomic ladder.
Guidelines for Action
Together the difficulties described in this chapter suggest that there are clear limits on what government can successfully accomplish in the field of public social provision. There are some meritorious provision objectives that we cannot reasonably expect to fulfill. And expectations for the United States should probably be narrower than those for nations in which popular orientations toward government are more encouraging and public experiences in dealing with resource inadequacy problems are broader. In recognition of the particularities of the American case, I propose four simple guidelines for social programs designed to realize basic socioeconomic rights.
First, these social programs should not expect or require dramatic changes in the activities of any of the actors—public officials, private service providers, recipients, and so on. Realizing basic socioeconomic rights will require some important changes in existing American practice, and incremental changes are not necessarily more apt to succeed than sharp ones. Nonetheless, we can reasonably expect that, when a worker who has disciplined herself or himself to living within her or his income across a working life of four decades receives a pension, he or she will use the pension to support her or his needs responsibly in retirement. But asking for dramatic changes in recipients' activity may be asking for trouble, as we learn when the public schools try to educate a child whose home and peers provide little positive reinforcement for doing well in school. In general, we can expect better outcomes if public social policies do not require people to undertake new, complicated activities that are incompatible with their cultural traditions, preferred life choices, or professional norms.
Second, social programs that require less complicated cooperation from actors—recipients, and public facilitators, or private providers—are apt to be more effective than those requiring more. Disbursing pensions to the elderly, for example, is easier than delivering medical care to the poor in part because the former can be accomplished after a one-time enrollment on the pension distribution list, while the latter requires a series of cooperative endeavors: the sick must consult health-care professionals whenever ill-
ness strikes, these professionals must be willing to provide care, and the recipients must follow their advice. To the degree that complicated cooperation is unavoidable, there are some benefits to centralizing its management and oversight within sophisticated professional bureaucracies.
Third, social programs are apt to produce more encouraging results if their design allows recipients, facilitators, and providers to keep their social status and personal dignity intact. Both specific design features and the general character of a program's targeting and visibility are at issue. A program, such as AFDC, that in effect penalizes efforts at self-support even as American culture creates expectations of self-support is incoherent and stigmatizing. And while there are exceptions, such as veterans' benefits, for which narrow targeting works, generally the more universal program targeting becomes, the less stigmatizing recipient status is apt to be. Broadly targeted programs also tend to have a better public image because elites are less likely to build destructive features into programs that serve broad constituencies. Additionally, inclusive programs that address the most frequent social hazards facilitate public empathy with the plight of program beneficiaries. The visibility of programs, particularly their visibility as social programs, is relevant here as well. Neither suburban commuters who make daily use of interstate highways explicitly constructed for defense purposes nor wealthy citizens whose tax breaks are presented as necessary prerequisites to economic recovery are perceived, by themselves or generally, as recipients of "welfare."
Fourth, social programs are more likely to achieve their objectives if all parties see the program requirements as consistent with desirable prior or concurrent activity. In broad terms, recipients need to know that benefit rights are earned by prior or concurrent contributions, and providers must feel that the services they are delivering meet contemporary professional standards.
Unfortunately, these four guidelines cannot be applied with equal ease (or sometimes even at all) in every instance. Social insurance programs directed toward episodic disruptions of income hold the greatest potential for fitting fairly well with all four. Such programs do not by nature require extensive changes in recipient activity; complicated cooperation can usually be left to centralized state bureaucracies; and rights are earned through prior, respon-
sible activity that leaves the recipients' social status and self-respect unsullied. Programs that entail the delivery of social services run afoul, minimally, of the second guideline. They require complicated cooperation from both recipients and relatively autonomous service providers, and many of these complications cannot be centralized.
Programs directed at persistent resource inadequacy face more difficult problems still. Generally these programs serve recipients of low socioeconomic status, and if they try to comply with the first two guidelines, they run afoul of the second pair and vice versa. That is, if a program does not ask recipients to substantially change their activities, then the general public is not likely to view recipients as engaging in responsible behavior, and recipients' social status, if not self-respect, is apt to suffer. The AFDC program has tried to cope with this dilemma in a variety of ways, but with no great success to date. If a program takes the contrary tack, it may well run into the problems associated with expecting dramatic behavioral changes and introducing forms of complicated cooperation.
The more general point is that modern governments, which necessarily rely on the impersonal operations of bureaucracies, are better suited to working with people's aspirations, opportunities, and capacities—as social insurance objectives generally allow—than for changing these factors, as programs targeted at severely disadvantaged recipients sometimes attempt to do. Program recipients nestled within the mainstream culture can usually take effective advantage of social programs to accomplish some objective they value—medical care, education, income maintenance—and to accomplish it in a socially approved way. But people located on the margins of society have greater difficulties, both with the bureaucratic mechanisms and the program objectives. Programs designed to help these people enter the mainstream may require complicated changes in recipients' activities; narrow targeting tends to stigmatize recipients; and efforts to link benefits to activities approved of by the mainstream public may seem insulting or menacing to recipients.
Surely public programs can seek to ease the lives of socially disadvantaged citizens. But public efforts to "reform" the poor are frequently not necessary and, necessary or not, are only marginally
productive. Rather than imposing mainstream standards, public programs should try to work with whatever desires the disadvantaged have to merge with the socioeconomic mainstream by facilitating and supplementing their constructive efforts to do so. Little good can be expected of programs that force people into destitution in order to qualify for public social provision and that subsequently discourage their efforts at self-support.