The annual Ferrando Family Visiting Lecture Series in PPE was endowed by Jonathan and Kathryn Ferrando in 2012. This event brings distinguished thinkers and practitioners to speak at the University of Michigan and engage with the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics students. Lecturers include both academics and practitioners in business and public policy.
The 2022 Ferrando Family Lecture
Wednesday, November 16th, 2022
4:00 PM–6:00 PM
Pendleton Room, Michigan Union
In the age of individual responsibility, those at the bottom of the income hierarchy are routinely shamed. Out-of-work benefits claimants are subject to particularly severe forms of vilification, their unemployment being portrayed as resulting from personal failings. When these shortcomings are constructed as moral failings, we enter the space of what I call “demonization”. Demonization is the portrayal of individuals as wicked threats to the community and as worthy of deep moral contempt for their alleged behavior. Benefits recipients are demonized when they undergo sustained attacks on their moral character, when they are viewed as deliberately choosing idleness over hard work. The trope of the lazy free rider living at taxpayers’ expense is remarkably uniform across advanced economies and has been an effective strategy to undermine support for welfare. Because demonization diminishes its target’s moral standing, it pauses a critical threat to our ability to stand as equals, which contemporary theorists allege to be an essential component of a just and democratic society. Starting from the example of benefits recipients, my paper identifies several morally significant steps in the workings of demonization, clarifies its social function, and characterizes precisely what makes it wrong