Paul Ryan is the man of the century. Unfortunately, that century is the 14th.
Ryan basically wants to divide the poor up into two groups: the deserving poor (elderly and disabled people), who will get special protections from his plans; and the undeserving poor, who will be his guinea pigs. This group would have to sign contracts promising to meet specific goals and would lose aid if they didn’t meet the goals, and they’d be trying to hit their goals with lots of personal supervision from the government or a private company with a government contract.
The notion that some poor people are “deserving” and others are not can be traced all the way back to the English Poor Laws, which (among other things) prohibited people from giving “alms to the sturdy beggar.”
Supporters of social welfare programs and the critics of those programs are still arguing about policies dating to 1349, when England enacted the Statute of Laborers, prohibiting alms, or charity, for those who had the ability to work–that is, to “sturdy beggars.” (Never mind whether work was available to them.)
The distinction between the “worthy” and “unworthy” poor was substantially grounded in the Calvinist belief that poverty is evidence of divine disapproval, while virtue is signaled by material success. That belief has morphed somewhat (the undeserving poor now lack “middle class values” rather than divine approval), but it continues to influence American law and culture.
In the early 1900s, this moral opprobrium directed at the poor found an ally in psuedo-science, and poverty issues were caught up in the national debate between Social Darwinists like William Graham Summer and their critics. In language reminiscent of those earlier admonitions against rewarding “sturdy beggars,” Sumner wrote: