Though I saw it yesterday, I immediately dismissed the Charles Murray article (subscription required) in the Wall Street Journal on the entitlement state. The big turn-off is that Murray is selling a book. I am instantly suspicious of anyone with an idea who, while discussing it, tells the reader to buy their book for the details. Then today, I began to browse The Journal again and, for some reason, it was listed as unread, so I gave it a quick once-over. And then a twice-over. And a thrice-over. It is disarmingly seductive.
The place to start is a blindingly obvious economic reality that no one seems to notice: This country is awash in money. America is so wealthy that enabling everyone to have a decent standard of living is easy. We cannot do it by fiddling with the entitlement and welfare systems--they constitute a Gordian Knot that cannot be untied. But we can cut the knot. We can scrap the structure of the welfare state.
Instead of sending taxes to Washington, straining them through bureaucracies and converting what remains into a muddle of services, subsidies, in-kind support and cash hedged with restrictions and exceptions, just collect the taxes, divide them up, and send the money back in cash grants to all American adults. Make the grant large enough so that the poor won't be poor, everyone will have enough for a comfortable retirement, and everyone will be able to afford health care. We're rich enough to do it.
I have to say, I have recently despaired of watching the massive waste that is a government spending program. I am entirely certain I will not, myself, see a dime of the social security "contributions" I make. It seems clear that the lessons of tax reduction are not sinking in. Even as the whining begins about the need to raise taxes, tax revenue is at a record high even after the tax cuts. Government spending seems to be a one-upsmanship game for both parties. Don't even get me started on how a social liberal (read: non-religious fanatic) but fiscally conservative type like myself has absolutely zero representation in the political system today. (Even the party that claims it wants government out of our lives seems happy to put cameras in every bedroom to make sure we're not fucking someone in some unapproved way. It makes me wonder why there's not an airline safety card for approved and unapproved acts. The illustrations would be cool anyway). It is time for a moderate party in this country. But I digress. The Journal continues:
The Plan confers personal accountability whether the recipient wants it or not, producing cascading secondary and tertiary effects. A person who asks for help because he has frittered away his monthly check will find people and organizations who will help (America has a history of producing such people and organizations in abundance), but that help can come with expectations and demands that are hard to make of a person who has no income stream.
I despair of this ever happening. Or any change really. America looks headed for bankruptcy. People are too enamored of a system so complex and inefficient that they can keep manipulating it to their benefit. Change would be "inequitable." "Inhumane." I used to think this last accusation quite unfair. Now I see it for truth. Corruption, in all its forms, is uniquely human.