Chapter Overview

An entitlement is a governmental benefit to which a person is legally entitled if he or she meets certain eligibility criteria. For example, if an individual is accused of a serious crime and is unable to afford an attorney, he or she is entitled to legal representation at public expense. Similarly, an individual who loses his or her job might be entitled to unemployment compensation from the state in which he or she resides. Entitlements play a very important role in the promotion of sustainability in several ways. First, social and economic justice are core elements of sustainability. Sustainability entails more than just survivability—it is survivability within the context of an equitable social, political, and economic value structure. In modern democratic societies, the value structure providing for an equal voice in elections and equal protection under the law points us in the direction of fairness in the distribution of goods and services (often expressed in terms of the "social safety net" concept). The challenge of promoting sustainability into the future will bring us face-to-face with issues of limited resources again and again, and the difficult trade-offs to be made among the economic vitality, environmental protection, and social equity core values of sustainability will require the utmost care and skill to manage. The nation's state and local governments, and the citizens of the communities involved, will be called on to engage in this difficult trade-off management process repeatedly in the coming decades. Given the importance of this area of concern to every community, this chapter is included in this book as a key element of the study of state and local government.

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