Monday, April 29, 2013

Three problems

Robert Samuelson is warning us that entitlements are going to have to be means-tested:

Sooner or later, the programs called “entitlements,” including Social Security, will be trimmed because they’re expensive and some recipients are less deserving than others.

Jonah Goldberg - and lots of other people - are telling us that an increasing number of disability payments are going to those who aren’t disabled:

... one rural Alabama doctor who signs off on disabilities for pretty much anyone lacking a good education on the assumption that their employment prospects are grim.

That points to the even bigger parts of the story. As the nature of the economy changes, disability programs are sometimes taking the place of welfare for those who feel locked out of the workforce — and state governments are loving it. States pay for welfare, the feds pay for disabilities.

The Washington Examiner (via Instapundit) reports that the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank, is lamenting the fact that food stamps are being used to buy junk food:

Not only should people know how their tax dollars are being spent, but food stamps shouldn’t pay for junk food at all, the National Center for Public Policy Research said Friday. [snip]

...said David Almasi, the National Center’s executive director. “When it comes to public assistance, I want people buying what they need with my money and not what they desire.”

The thrust of these stories is that the government is giving money - our money - to people who don’t need it, don’t deserve it, and/or haven’t met the requirements for getting it; or, alternatively, that the people who are getting the money aren’t using it “right”. So what should we do about this? Well, what can we do except pass more laws and do more oversight: set eligibility guidelines for entitlements - and check financial records for those getting them; set strict definitions of disability - and send people on disability off to government doctors for inspection; limit what foods stamps can buy - and send enforcement officers in to be sure stores are abiding by the rules.

The "regulate and enforce" approach has a certain plausibility and I’m certainly sympathetic to the view that if someone is going to spend my money, I should get to determine whether they really need it and how they spend it. The problem is that the implementation of this approach means we’re going to give an even bigger bureaucracy even more license to paw through people’s lives. That I am not at all sympathetic to, both because of the whole bigger bureaucracy/more license thing and because I’d like to leave my fellow citizens with their dignity intact.

So let’s think about these issues in terms, once again, of the Lifelong Endowment. You can read the whole long explanation of the Lifelong Endowment at the link but, put simply, with the Lifelong Endowment everyone pays some percentage of their income into a pool. Then the money in the pool is divided evenly among all of us. If you make less money, this is a net gain for you; if you make more money, this is a net loss for you. What would these issues look like if we had the Lifelong Endowment instead of our current benefit systems?

First, the means-testing is built in: the less money someone makes, the more he or she benefits from the Lifelong Endowment. That takes care of Samuelson’s problem.

Second, no one has to prove he or she is disabled to get this money and no one gets more money if he or she is disabled. There is nothing to be gained by healthy people claiming disability and nothing to be lost by truly disabled people working as much as they can. That takes care of Goldberg’s problem.

Third, everyone can spend their Lifelong Endowment money however they want. If they want to get all their calories from Coke and chocolate bars, that’s their business. That takes care of Almasi’s problem.

With the Lifelong Endowment, we can rest assured that we are helping the less fortunate among us; we can stop worrying about whether our neighbors are getting away with something on our dime; and we can avoid empowering more bureaucrats to be more nosy. What’s not to like?

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