"America's population is wealthier than any in history. Every year, the American government redistributes more than a trillion dollars of wealth to provide for retirement, health care, and the alleviation of poverty. We still have millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty. Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectually." From the War on Poverty, on, however, too many still think we can finally succeed...if only the problem is bombarded with yet more cash. Charles Murray disagrees. "The problem," says he, "is that we are spending the money badly." The "limited competence of government---not our government in particular, or the welfare state in particular, but any government" is the problem. Government, by its inherent nature, Murray posits, is simply "far out of its depth" when it "begins trying to administer to complex human needs." Mr Murray offers a Plan herein, picking up on the notion that, in the War on Poverty, Poverty has won (as a former president has opined). But poverty can be alleviated, and the other failings enumerated above improved on, according to Mr. Murray, if we nuetralize what's called "moral hazzard" by economists. "People who are in need through no fault of their own can be given generous assistance with no downside risk. But people who are in need at least partly because of their own behavior pose a problem: How to relieve their distress without making it more likely that they will continue to behave in the ways that brought on their difficulties, and without sending the wrong signal to other people who might be tempted. Bureaucracies have no answer to this dilemma." "They cannot provide help to people who have behaved irresponsibly in a way that does not make it easier for others to behave irresponsibly."
So, what's the solution? No, not endless cascades of funding. "The solution," in Mr. Murray's view, "is to give the money [now allocated by government on a slew of programs---give it, instead, directly] to the people." Consider this: As of 2002, the American federal government spent "about $6,900 for every man and woman in the United States age twenty-one and older" to fund workers' compensation programs, social security, medicare, medicaid, welfare transfers, and assorted smaller transfer programs of a nature similar to these aforementioned. In lieu of such Mr. Murray suggests that, instead, government "shall make no law nor establish any program that provides benefits to some citizens but not to others. All programs currently providing such benefits are to be terminated. The funds formerly allocated to them are to be used instead to provide every citizen with a cash grant beginning at age twenty-one and continuing until death." At the outset he proposes this sum to be $10,000. Think about it for a minute. As it would be indexed to cost of living increases, everyone would be assured of a bare minimum of retirement and access to health care (since everyone could purchase their own insurance out of the 10 grand annually. (Donald Trump, you say, needs another $10,000 a year? No, Mr. Murray's plan does progressively tax the individual $10,000 credit as one's income rises, but interestingly, will revert back to its full value should a high-earning person go bankrupt or something.) With such a guaranteed income, unemployment benefits, food stamps, and welfare transfers would be superflous. Nobody would be without the wherewithall to provide for their own basic necessities. How many teen moms, for instance, would risk a pregnancy, or at least a second pregnancy if they weren't going to get any government support should they do so? In a similar vein, the "current decline in marriage," Mr. Murray argues herein, "is not a function of modernity, but of the welfare state."
The central point of the Plan, thus, is make people more individually responsible. "Under the Plan, people have ample raw materials for a [safety] net, but they must weave it for themselves." In short, the welfare state as a notion simply "drains too much of the life from life,"''exacerbat[ing] the very problems it is supposed to solve." Mr. Murray offers the example of Europe in this regard. The European ideal, he suggests, "is an ideal only for a particular way of looking at life. It accepts that the purpose of life is to while away the time as pleasantly as possible, and the purpose of government to enable people to do so with as little effort as possible." Hence in Europe fertitlity rates are below replacement levels, entrepreneural spirit lacking, voluntary associations scarce, and the notion of charity is a notion for government to alleviate with rich folks money. (Americans as individuals, by far, are more generous with their money than any other people in the world, for instance.) "Europe's former scientific preeminence has vanished." It no longer has "the political will to defend itself;" "a continent with neither dreams of greatness nor the means to reacquire greatness." "The real purpose of the Plan," the author concludes, "is the revitalization of the institutions that enable us to lead satisfying lives." "Happiness consists of something more than feeling good." "A person permanently high on drugs cannot be happy. A selfish or cruel person cannot be happy." There's a reason, is there not, why Americans are more inclined to feel proud of their identity than Europeans; why Americans volunteer their time; why they are far more charitable, embrace community through membership in assorted associations and/or religious houses of worship; who work hard...and are proud of it; and who, generally speaking, recognize a higher being & think we are on this planet to do some good while we are here rather than to while away the time with our feet up sipping wine. The welfare state machinery in Europe has certainly encouraged negative behavior...and has already done too much damage in the USA, in Mr. Murray's opinion. This well argued and concise book (the heart of which is only 127 pages in lenth) suggests how we may reverse what societal negativity we have unconsciously wrought; or, at a minimum, to encourage introspection and debate. It's just one man's view, but it's certainly a thinking-person's book, worth contemplating. (06Oct) Cheers