IDLE, ABLE-BODIED AND UNDESERVING: THE PERSISTENCE OF UNDESERT IN WESTERN POLITICAL THOUGHT
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This essay argues against the idea that desert of a good life must be contingent on work. To do so, I document the increasing preeminence, over time, of conceptions of desert based solely in the work ethic. The idea that some people wilfully choose not to work due to moral perversity – and are thus undeserving of social assistance – stems from these conceptions. I argue that this position suffers from normative and logical weaknesses and is increasingly anachronistic in advanced post-industrial societies. If the scope of analysis is limited in this manner, and we assume that, in this context, goods and wealth are increasingly abundant, and redistributable without adverse economic consequences, while opportunities for employment are scarce – particularly during recessions – then the force of these ideas is considerably weakened. However, their persistence is explained not by their philosophical force, but rather by how they sustain the diffuse power relations endemic to market society.