The Calculus On Unconditional Welfare, Ctd

Reihan responds to Dylan Matthews on the merits of unconditional cash assistance to the poor, arguing that the findings that Matthews cites don’t carry over from international development to domestic welfare programs:

The trouble is that there is a big difference between the conditions that give rise to poverty in a domestic context, where brute survival is not generally at stake, and in a global context, where it is. My argument rested in large part on the legitimacy of the welfare state. Work requirements for the able-bodied poor help ensure that the beneficiaries of public assistance are perceived as deserving. This matters in societies in which a broad base of employed middle-income taxpayers help finance transfers. It matters less in societies in which transfers are largely funded by outsiders, via government-to-government transfers from affluent countries, or through the exploitation of point-source natural resources, like oil and gas. …

In weak states that aren’t funded by local tax revenues, the “legitimacy” question doesn’t arise in the same way, particularly when it comes to the disbursement of public assistance. The communities that benefit from direct assistance aren’t divided between those who fund direct assistance, and who work, and those who benefit from it, and who might or might not work. Rather, it is more common that the funds are coming from outside of the community, and virtually everyone “works,” albeit in the informal sector. That said, norms around “conditional reciprocity” do indeed obtain in many poor societies — but these norms operate through the kin-based social networks that the dominant mode of social organization in traditional societies. Modern societies, in contrast, are dominated by non-kin-based social networks, and the most successful states, or rather the states that do the best job of cultivating solidarity among citizens, appear to be, and this is my subjective judgment, those that build in norms of conditional reciprocity into their institutions.