(Libertarian Welfare State) Introduction
Here is a first draft of an introduction to my book.
Comments are welcome.
Despite all the rhetorical polarization in modern day America, there is central ground on which both the Democrats and Republicans agree. The Democrats are not socialists (they will not completely nationalize industry and hand it to politically appointed technocrats) and the Republicans will not eviscerate the institutions of the welfare state (in fact, the last time that Republicans controlled both the Congress and the Presidency, they expanded the welfare state, in the form of Medicare Part D). No matter who wins the next election, the American government will be about as big as it is now (at most a few percentage points bigger or smaller). Of course, there are differences, there are important issues at stake, but that should not blind us the middle ground on which progress can be made.
The question is not whether to have a government or not, not whether the government is the problem or the solution (it is rarely either, but it can often be a hindrance or a help), nor even whether to have a welfare state or not. The question is, which forms the government it should take. This book will be part of this conversation.
There is a role for the state in guaranteeing everyone a set of basic goods so that they may fully participate in society as equal citizens. This book will not question this premise. However, the way in which state institutions perform their tasks does not always respect the recipients of such aid. The usual charge is that they breed dependency or complacency. I will also argue that they insult its recipients.
The welfare state is a big subject. I will focus on a few subjects: education, health care, basic income provisions, and the environment. The environment is, strictly speaking, not a welfare state topic, but it fits the rest of the book.
I will discuss how American institutions currently operate and talk about alternatives. These will not be utopian alternatives, but we will see examples from both American states and local regions or other societies. In particular, a few societies will keep coming up, the S-countries: Singapore, Sweden, and Switzerland. Neither is a perfectly good model for the US to follow. Singapore is a dictatorship and, no matter how mild of a dictatorship, its political system is abhorrent. Still, we can look at some of their economic policies as examples. Sweden and Switzerland are both democracies, but are small countries, with a culturally and racially homogeneous population (very different from the US). Still, we can learn from their examples. Denmark and Finland, even though they do not start with an S, will show up as well. The Nordic countries are often darlings of the Left, but they could as well be darlings of the free-market Right.
It may be the case that a complete rewrite of the system to a Universal Basic Income as favoured, for example, by Charles Murray, is a much better alternative. However, my focus here is, to borrow a phrase from the blog Marginal Revolution, small steps to a much better world.
There are a few interlocked goals to this book. One is to save the economic freedom arguments from those who have used them (and often abused them) from the conservative side. For example, conservative activists will often use the language of property rights to defend zoning laws that keep poor, dark-skinned, people away from rich people. However, zoning laws are very much anti-free-market. See the quote in this blog post for a perfect example. Matt Yglesias makes the same point in his wonderful book The Rent is Too Damn High.
The other is to present free-market solutions to social problems not only as more efficient than current alternatives (which is how they are typically defended), but as morally superior. Not morally superior only because they involve less coercion or better respect property rights (the traditional libertarian goals), but morally superior because of the way in which recipients are treated. At the interface of the welfare state and the recipients, there are no magic rights, but a real interaction between recipients and bureaucracies. The alternative models I propose here will empower (in the literal sense of the word, will give power to) the recipients.
A family who approaches a school system with a voucher that gives them choices is more empowered and will get more respect than a family who, because they cannot afford a private school, approaches their failing neighborhood school.
There is always almost complete choice for parents who can afford it. Well-off parents can resort to private schools or simply buy a house in their desired school district. The discussion is only whether that choice should be extended to not so fortunate parents. We should not lose track of this simple fact.
In fact, if the current system was a voucher system, then I do not think that there would be very strong arguments against moving to a limited-choice system (currently, in the US, we can find systems ranging from voucher to assigned school as well as many systems in between where there is a certain amount of choice, but not complete choice).
In the Eduction chapter, I will discuss the empirical evidence on school choice and whether children benefit from switching schools under that system. I think that there is evidence for a small positive effect, but even if there was no effect on grades or other outcomes, school choice would be the more moral system because it treats recipients with greater respect.
In other chapters, I will reverse the focus and look at provision of services. Too often the focus of welfare discussion is on the demand side. That is, how to pay for it? Almost all of the discussion on health care reform in 2008--10 was about how to pay and who should pay, given a fixed set of resources. In the health care chapter, we will look at the other side of the ledger, how to provide services and I will argue that health care costs are so high, at least in part, due to over-regulation in the provision of services. If it was easier for doctors trained abroad (including Americans who attended medical schools in other countries) to practice in the US, if it was easier to provide medical services in innovative ways; then health care could be cheaper for everyone. But over-accreditalization (demanding that even subsidiary staff have advanced degrees) and too many barriers to innovation have driven up costs. Again, we need not see the alternatives as either no-regulation or our current system. Every regulation has costs and benefits and the US has too often taken the view that no cost is high enough.
This is not a partisan book. I hope that both Democrats and Republicans can learn something from it and see that the middle ground is larger than the rhetoric lets on.blog comments powered by Disqus