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In Our Hands : A Plan To Replace The Welfare State Hardcover – February 21, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Libertarian Murray's Losing Ground laid the groundwork for controversial welfare reform proposals. His latest volume continues in the same vein, positing that government support has exacerbated dysfunctional underclass behavior, and offering a compromise to social democrats who call starve-the-beast policies cruel. In "The Plan," all the money currently used in transfer programs Murray doesn't deem universal (Social Security, agricultural subsidies, corporate welfare, as opposed to national defense, clean air, etc.) would be redirected into a new program that gives each citizen an annual $10,000 cash grant, beginning at age 21. The plan would slice one Gordian knot: everyone would be required to buy health insurance, insurers would have to treat the entire population as a single pool and changes in tort and licensing laws would enable low-cost clinics for minor problems. But Murray's purposes are larger: to enable the search for a vocation by making it easier to change jobs; to encourage marriage among low-income people; and to move social welfare support from bureaucracies back to Tocquevillian civil society—a nostalgic argument that deserves a more cyber-era analysis. His volume makes an intriguing contrast to 1999's left-meets-libertarian book The Stakeholder Society (unmentioned by Murray), which proposed $80,000 grants, financed by taxing the rich. Given Murray's track record—he coauthored The Bell Curve—and his think tank backing, expect much discussion of this book in print and on air. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Murray has ardently advocated scrapping the welfare state since well before his best-seller Losing Ground (1984) cogently argued that welfare harms recipients. He has been criticized most for not proposing something to replace welfare. Now he does. Give $10,000 (to begin with) per year, tax free, to every adult over 21, with the stipulation that $3,000 of it be spent on health insurance and the strong recommendation that $2,000 be invested toward retirement income. Once an individual's earned income reaches $25,000, surtax on the grant begins, and those making $50,000 and more would pay back half the grant. The grant plan is accompanied by not that many legal changes, and they're worth doing, anyway (e.g., creating a single pool of the insured for health insurance, greatly compressing rate differentials). After a first few expensive years, the plan would develop much less expensively than the present welfare system. Gone would be Social Security, Medicare, and the rest, and everyone would have at least $5,000 annual discretionary income. Sweet? As lucidly argued by Murray, seems practical, too. Ray Olson
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He maintains that this plan will change major dynamics of our society. For example, it will minimize government influence to achieve soi-disant desirable ends through the power of the purse. It will, he maintains, incentivize individuals to make responsible decisions. For instance, it will encourage people to form stable relationships, because two can live better on $20,000 per year than one on $10,000. He says this no-strings-attached stipend will incentivize private charity, as was the norm through the early part of the Twentieth Century. He describes other ramifications of this plan which will, generally empower individuals, and reduce their dependence on government programs.
His arguments are persuasive to me, but I can't work through their nuances or address the many obvious objections to the idea of a no-strings-attached stipend for everyone in a brief review. The book itself, though, works through many of these and outlines the wide scope of changes that such a plan would bring about. No matter whether the reader agrees with the conclusions or not, the book may stimulate thought and discussion.
This book presents a plan that would do away with all current transfer programs by the government and replace them with a yearly grant of $ 10,000.00 with the proviso that $3,000 of it is used on health insurance and that $2,000 be invested toward retirement. The concept is that individuals would be more efficient and the transfers a moral method in dealing with the issue of social welfare. It is pointed out that this form of transfer would foster a return to a Tocquevillian civil society, where individuals freely provided social safety nets rather have them imposed compulsorily by government. I enjoyed Murray's discussion of the view of morality described by Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. This to me clarifies the difference between libertarians and communitarians. I see communitarians arguing that a state must impose the social safety net while libertarians believe that the arrangements come about naturally by individuals themselves, like the invisible hand of God.
We are asked in the beginning of the book to suspend our disbelief and consider the plan to be nothing more than a thought experiment, then once the plan is laid out Murray provides interesting points on why the plan is not only feasible but a realistic possibility considering rapid changes in technology, economic growth and political disenchantment.
In an era, when we can no longer truly hope for "reform" of our national economy, except through the minor adjustments of economic instruments favored by one administration over another, Charles Murray challenges us to question our tactics for fighting poverty.
If we want to give money to the poor, in order to give them a "leg up," why don't we just give them a lump sum? Why do we distribute the money through several different government programs? And, why do we give it out piecemeal?
Murray's book is short, because his idea and his premises are so simple and straightforward.
The unfortunate effect of Murray's book is the uncomfortable realization that his "$10,000 solution" makes so much sense that it won't be approved by Capitol Hill.
Of course, Murray realizes this. But, his counterpoint is even more ingenius. If we acknowledge now that the 5 trillion dollars we have spent in the War on Poverty has had no effect, then there is hope that after we have spent 10 trillion with no effect, we will actually take steps to change our tactics. At that time, the "$10,000 solution" will look like the most attractive option.