15. “Is There a ‘Libertarian’ Justification of the Welfare State? A Critique of James P. Sterba”


Abstract: James P. Sterba postulates a conflict situation between ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ persons in order to establish the legitimacy of a welfare right superior to unlimited private property rights. Sterba does not recognize the moral options available to the non-poor in his conflict scenario, nor the generally voluntary character of enduring unemployment, or how few people would satisfy his own restrictive criteria for poverty. His definition mischaracterizes the general state of the poor as one of imminent decline when in fact, for most of human history it was one of stasis, and since comparatively free societies emerged, it has been one of general improvement. He fails to grasp that the processes by which others become non-poor in a libertarian society also make most of the poor better off. Consequently, consideration of future generations also turns out to weigh heavily against justification of a welfare right, contrary to Sterba’s claim.