Summary of Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility (For and Against)

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Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility (For and Against) book summary
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  • Controversial
  • Analytical
  • Background


David Schmidtz and Robert E. Goodin present a point-counterpoint discussion of the role of government in social welfare programs. This book explains the basic disagreements underlying the social welfare debate. David Schmidtz reasonably presents the conservative argument, but does not address what to do with people who truly cannot contribute to the economy. Goodin stays more clearly on topic, particularly when dismantling arguments for "self-reliance," but is less persuasive when he discusses the fate of displaced workers. Schmidtz is willing to accept more people suffering today as the price of progress. However, his argument is weakened by his use of out-dated statistics, which cast a shadow on his other assertions. Goodin prefers to sacrifice some progress to help those who are suffering today. Although neither writer anticipated the recent economic boom, which exposes flaws in both arguments, still recommends this valuable book as a serious study of social policy.

About the Authors

David Schmidtz is a professor of Philosophy and joint Professor of Economics at the University of Arizona. He research interests include environmental ethics and moral theory. Robert Goodin has a doctorate in politics from Oxford. In 1989, he became professor of philosophy at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. He has written various books on political theory, public policy and applied ethics.



David Schmidtz: Taking Responsibility

In a market society, prosperity and profit comes from producing what other people value. Everybody can win when commerce creates prosperity. Some people are always behind, but there is material progress. People see a need, meet it, and create things of value. People are better off when they think of their welfare as their own responsibility, rather than the responsibility of the government. It is more important to create and support institutions that prevent people from being left behind, than to save them after it happens.

Institutions create conditions where people can lead peaceful, productive lives when these institutions lead them to take responsibility for their own welfare. Our institutions should lead people to be willing and able to take care of themselves - and each other.

Distinguish between internalized responsibility and externalized responsibility. Economists call it a negative externality when some people bear the costs of other people’s decisions. People who do not take responsibility for their own problems, externalize responsibility. Those who accept accountability for their own welfare internalize responsibility...

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