Selling out

Charles Murray and Peter Saunders both want to dismantle the welfare state — they just have different strategies for doing it. Murray’s plan is to convert current welfare state spending into cash grants for every adult American (except those in prison) while Saunders’ plan is to replace unemployment allowances, Medicare and other benefits with privatized savings accounts.

At Catallaxy Jason Soon favours Murray’s model. Introducing a universal cash grant or negative income tax would pave the way for "a vast slash and burn exercise for the remaining welfare and labour market regulatory machines to facilitate a freer labour market…" For libertarians like Jason, it’s the possibility of finally being able to set the market free that justifies the large income transfers. At the Fly Bottle, Will Wilkinson suggests that:

The cause of classical liberalism as a really existing possibility for political reform has been harmed by bundling free markets with a ban on transfers. This package deal has influenced people who think justice requires transfers to eschew free markets.

One of the advantages of the transfer strategy is that opens the possibility of an alliance with the libertarian left. The new left have long regarded the welfare state as an instrument of social control. Some see Murray’s plan as a version of their own basic income proposals — a way to liberate the oppressed, not just from bosses and landlords, but from social workers, case managers and workfare supervisors. Murray’s scheme looks like a path to the freedom they’ve always dreamed about.

At Larvatus Prodeo Mark Bahnisch says:

I’m with Jason. I’ve been arguing for a long time we should get rid of the intrusive and paternalistic bureaucracy which obsesses about turning people into compliant ‘work ready’ citizens.

But as Ken Parish reminds readers, liberating the dependent from bureaucratic paternalism is only half the bargain. The whole point of the cash transfers is to allow the government to deregulate the labour market and dismantle the welfare state. It’s worth thinking through what happens after the deal goes down.

For young, healthy, educated citizens without children a cash grant and a private health insurance policy might seem liberating. It means that you can work on your masters thesis in peace without having to invent excuses to get out of work for the dole or pretending you’re looking for warehouse work. You can do voluntary work, travel, learn to play the guitar, take care of other people kids — you can be a civilized and productive human being instead of an angry, frustrated wage slave.

But what if you’re not healthy, not educated and have a home filled with disabled or hyperactive children? There’s no public housing. There’s no government funded childcare. There are no services to help you care for you children. There are no government subsidies for the drugs you and you children need. If you get behind on the rent or are evicted because your kids are traumatizing the neighbours there’s nowhere to go but the charities. The new regime liberates your boss from laws about terminating your employment contract. It liberates your landlord from irritating bureaucratic restrictions on what can go into a lease agreement. And it liberates the government from having to help you. Everyone seems to be liberated… except for you.

It is one thing to insist that adults lie in the beds they’ve made for themselves but what about their children? Parents who are too dysfunctional to use their education vouchers properly or choose the right kind of health insurance will impose the consequences of their choices on their offspring. Unconditional payments may create a new kind of intergenerational disadvantage.

Under Murray’s plan every adult gets the same amount of money — no matter what their circumstances. It’s a plan that redistributes money, not opportunity. It’s odd that leftists like Mark find this so appealing.

5 thoughts on “Selling out

  1. At Larvatus Prodeo Mark Bahnisch says:

    I’m with Jason. I’ve been arguing for a long time we should get rid of the intrusive and paternalistic bureaucracy which obsesses about turning people into compliant ‘work ready’ citizens.

    But as Ken Parish reminds readers, liberating the dependent from bureaucratic paternalism is only half the bargain. The whole point of the cash transfers is to allow the government to deregulate the labour market and dismantle the welfare state. It’s worth thinking through what happens after the deal goes down.

    Let me clarify my position for you, Don. I hadn’t read Murray’s plan, and still haven’t. I’m with Jason on the principle of a guarenteed minimum income and getting rid of the compliance obsessed and inefficient Centrelink and employment service bureaucracies which in practical terms do little to achieve the aims that labour market programmes should.

    It seems to me that it doesn’t logically follow that you have to go down Murray’s route. I’m just suggesting that we need a different and less oppressive and bureaucratic approach to income support. So yes it would be odd if I found Murray’s ideas appealling in toto. I don’t – but if you care to go back and read my post again, you’ll find that I set out what I support.

    I certainly don’t believe in replacing all government services to assist disadvantaged people with a cash grant. I believe in replacing the dole and benefits with a guaranteed minimum income payment at one (higher) rate and continuing to fund labour market programmes for those who choose to take advantage of them. Of course I would envisage that things like housing assistance, etc. would continue. There may well be better ways to deliver them, and I’m agnostic as to whether there might be non-statist ways of doing so which achieve the saim aims more efficiently and with less imposition on people’s freedom, but that’s a debate I’m not entering right now.

  2. Don
    I’m open minded about how much of the ‘welfare state’ gets ‘cash granted’ (Murray sounds like he wants all of it treated that way) and how much of it gets voucherised or earmarked in some way even though ultimately all of it in the end is treated like a ‘portfolio’ of the individual. Voucherisation (the most obvious application here is for education) introduces an element of paternalism because it means that some of this money must be spent for specific purposes. So I’m quite open minded on the details. In the end my system might end up looking like a combination of Murray’s, Friedman’s vouchers and a variation of the Singaporean provident fund system.

  3. Pingback: Club Troppo » Charles Murray vs Mal Brough

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