One of the most important and absorbing questions of our time is whether governments should extend or retrench their efforts toward assisting people who do not seem to be able to make it on their own. Those who believe that governments should expand their programs to help the needy argue that a compassionate and affluent society has both the ability and the responsibility to do so; those who believe that governments have already pushed too far and too fast argue that the advance of the welfare state must be halted. Closely related to this basic disagreement is the question whether society must sacrifice in one area in order to build in another, that is whether one government program must come at the expense of another. Those who argue that governments should do more for their less fortunate people tend to believe that high levels of defense spending are a hindrance to expanding welfare programs. Conversely, those who believe defense needs are under funded generally feel that welfare expenditures are a limitation on national security.

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