The welfare state has grown considerably in recent years, not least due to the passage of Obamacare. According to the libertarian CATO Institute, in 2013 there were “126 separate programs targeted toward low-income people, 72 of which provide either cash or in-kind benefits to individuals.”
What if those programs suddenly went away? Conservatives have been impugned by the press and Left as hard-hearted and desiring to do just that–eliminate the welfare state. Eliminating welfare seems politically untenable, but the media continue to promote the idea of a guaranteed basic income in articles, from the Economist to the New York Times; even to PBS’ Making Sen$e.
In two recent PBS articles, Making Sen$e included an interview with the libertarian Charles Murray, who is a strong proponent of a minimum guaranteed income for every American. In the words of the headline of the left-leaning New York Times, this is paying people “for being alive.”
After all, we now legally mandate that people purchase health insurance just because they are alive and citizens, so why not pay them for the same reason?
The media have concluded that this idea ultimately won’t hold water in Switzerland, yet they continue discussing it here at home under the guise that is has bipartisan intellectual support. But abroad the idea is favored by those who want to free us from the marketplace. The leader of the movement in Switzerland describes it as a “civil right that your existence is not negotiable by the market.”
Murray argues in a 2008 article for The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society that “Those on the Right of the political spectrum, including many on the libertarian Right, are already reluctantly convinced that large-scale transfer payments are here to stay, and are consequently receptive to ways of spending the money that does not involve extensive bureaucracies and social engineering.” In other words, conservatives should just give up on fighting redistribution of wealth and instead try to do it more smartly.
If you buy into Murray’s premise, then a “grand compromise is potentially available” which “represents larger government, in that it constitutes a state-driven redistribution of wealth” yet “offers smaller government in terms of the state’s power to control people’s lives.”
“The society is too rich to stand aside and say, ‘We aren’t going to do anything for people in need,’” said Murray in an interview with PBS. “I understand that; I accept that; I sympathize with it.” He argues that we can solve the social ills created by the welfare bureaucracy by just spreading free money around and letting people fail if they want to with the knowledge of their community that they were squandering their government payments.
London School of Economics professor David Graeber, described by PBS as a “key cog in the Occupy Movement,” also sympathizes with the idea.
Read my entire column at American Outrage.