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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.)
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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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