Entitlements

G. A. Cohen presents two cases meant to illustrate points about distributive justice. (1) Tiny Tim is disabled. He nevertheless has a sunny disposition, sitting happily by the fire with his loving family. The family can’t afford a wheelchair. But Tiny Tim doesn’t mind. Still, a wheelchair would make it possible for him to function in many ways he can’t function otherwise. Would an ideal welfare policy provide him a wheelchair? (2) Jude is a quiet fellow of very modest tastes; it takes very little to make him content. He reads Hemingway, however, and becomes fascinated with bullfighting. He very much wants to travel to Spain to see a bullfight in person. But he can’t afford the trip. Should an ideal welfare policy pay for his trip?

Subsidizing Jude’s trip, let’s assume, would be less expensive than Tiny Tim’s wheelchair. And it would make more of a difference to Jude’s happiness than the wheelchair would to Tiny Tim’s. Moreover, let’s assume that Jude requires so little in social expenditures in general that support provided for him would be less than government expenditures for the average person.

Cohen argues that an ideal welfare policy would support both Tiny Tim and Jude. John Roemer agrees. My own intuitions run strongly in a different direction. I think that support for Tiny Tim is justifiable, but that support for Jude isn’t.

What are your intuitions about these cases? If you agree with me, then evidently you think, as I do, that (a) functioning is more important than happiness in justifying social support, and (b) no one is entitled to an average share of government expenditures.

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