The Ockham Society (Thursday - Week 7, TT19)

Ockham Society

Many government transfers programmes are in-kind, not in cash. Eligible citizens in the UK and many other rich countries receive healthcare, housing assistance, student loans, council vouchers for food, clothing and petrol as well as pre-paid cards for heating and utility bills. Despite the ubiquity of many different in-kind transfers, many philosophers reject in-kind transfers outright on the grounds that they are paternalistic. The argument is often that restrictions placed on welfare programmes presuppose that the recipient is untrustworthy, and that all transfers should instead be made in cash.

First, I argue that libertarian critiques of all in-kind transfers are too simplistic, and that in many cases the charge of paternalism is misplaced. Instead, I think that the existing worries around in-kind transfers are highly context-dependent. I propose a broad systematisation of these worries to capture our intuitions that some in-kind transfers are less problematic than others (e.g. student loans vs food vouchers). Some of the factors that make a difference in the assessment of the moral status of in-kind transfers include attitudes expressed about the recipient’s reliability, universality of the programme and quality of the in-kind transfer. Second, I think that this last factor speaks to an underexplored argument in the discussion around in-kind transfers. In-kind transfers that are of inferior quality than what would be available under cash regimes cause status harms, and chip away at relational equality. In many cases, this is a more successful argument in favour of cash than the argument from paternalism.

Ockham Society Convenor: Sean Costello | Ockham Society Webpage