The Burdens of Benefits

USC Law School, Olin Working Paper No. 99-14

54 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 1999

See all articles by Edward J. McCaffery

Edward J. McCaffery

University of Southern California Gould School of Law


All benefits programs impose burdens on some groups -- those that have to pay to finance them, those that are excluded, those whose conduct is regulated by the benefits program itself. Notions of normative family structure have typically been at the center of American benefits programs. This article compares and contrasts programs that benefit "core" families, with a working man and a stay-at-home wife, with those that benefit "non-core" cases. In each case, one example is drawn from the tax system, one outside. The social security system and marriage bonuses within tax illustrate benefits for the core cases; the welfare/workfare system and the earned income tax system illustrate benefits for non-core cases. In the former case, the status of the programs as benefits ones becomes lost in a reconstituted sense of the status quo or baseline; these programs are taken for granted, their burdens are not noticed, and they are not analyzed as instances of social engineering. In benefits programs for non-core cases, in contrast, the burdens are keenly noticed, support for the programs is fragile, and they are constantly analyzed in consequentialist terms.

Suggested Citation

McCaffery, Edward J., The Burdens of Benefits. USC Law School, Olin Working Paper No. 99-14. Available at SSRN: or

Edward J. McCaffery (Contact Author)

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-2567 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

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