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Published: Sat, 24 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 24 Mar 2018 17:11:43 -0400


Nordic 'Glass Ceiling' Shows How Gender Equity Suffers From Government Overreach

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 15:02:00 -0500

Nordic countries beat the United States at a host of measures related to gender equality. But while this is widely believed to be an effect of their social welfare policies, ample data suggest that women in these countries thrive in spite of heavy-handed government policies, not because of them. "While Nordic societies are indeed role models when it comes to gender equality, this equality stretches back centuries before the modern welfare state and reflects traditional Nordic culture," writes Nima Sanandaji in the intro to a new look at the "glass ceiling" in Nordic countries. In analyzing the effects of corporate gender quotas and other popular Nordic policies, Sanandaji—a Kurdish-Swedish policy analyst and the president of the European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform—observes what a good deal of recent scholarship has been showing: that "the rise of the Nordic welfare state has been a double-edged sword" for feminism, "creating some benefits for women's careers, but also creating barriers to women's professional progress." Nordic countries can trace some of their workforce quirks to their large public sector, which "has been both positive and negative for women," writes Sanandaji: It played an important historical role in women's entry into the labor market because many women entered through the expanding public sector. Public-sector services also facilitated the combination of work and the fulfilment of family responsibilities. The expansion of the public sector partly explains why Nordic nations reached a high employment rate among women earlier than other Western countries and stayed that way. The provision of public daycare was particularly important in this regard. But labor-force participation is only one measure of female professional success. Another measure is female business ownership. Anita Lignell Du Rietz studied women's business ownership in Sweden and found that many businesses, including taverns, tailor shops, breweries, and stores were run by women entrepreneurs during the 19th century. Over time, women dominated businesses such as schools and pharmacies. However, government monopolies crowded out private enterprise as the Swedish welfare state grew during the 20th century. Meanwhile, male-dominated sectors, including manufacturing, mining, and forestry, remained under private control. The transition toward welfare-state monopolies meant that women's business ownership suffered. Government monopolies have combined with a strong influence of union wage-setting to undermine incentives for work: wages in the female-dominated public sectors in Nordic countries are flat, and rise based on seniority rather than achievement. Although there are public-sector managerial positions, the opportunities for individualized careers and business ownership are comparatively limited. Women in Nordic countries are less likely to hold management positions as their U.S. counterparts, according to data from the International Labour Organization, from 15 percent less in Denmark to three percent less in Iceland. Sanandaji finds that high taxes, mandated paid-leave policies, and the high cost of paid services also impede Nordic women's professional advancement. Overall, he concludes, "Nordic public-sector monopolies, tax policies, and welfare and family policies, along with ineffective gender quotas, combine to create the Nordic glass ceiling." (Read the whole paper here.) In a recent Bloomberg column, Megan McArdle pinpointed another factor that taxes women in certain Nordic countries (who still, like their American counterparts, wind up doing an uneven share of domestic labor and child care): "High Danish wages translate into sky-high costs, especially for services. At a McDonald's in downtown Copenhagen, a Big Mac meal set me back more than $10." McArdle came away from her trip to Denmark noting that Danes' complaints about their countries are generally, "on the scale of things, reasonably minor problems. They can be fixed. Moreover, there's some chance that they will be fixed because Denmark's political [...]

USDA’s ‘Harvest Box’ Food-Shipping Proposal Is Truly Absurd

Sat, 24 Feb 2018 08:00:00 -0500

When I was around 12 years old, my grandfather, a stockbroker, had a debilitating stroke. My grandmother hadn't worked, so my grandfather had served as the sole breadwinner for the couple. He'd also apparently been in charge of the family's finances and, in this role, had neither saved a dime in his life nor planned for retirement—unless, that is, consuming copious amounts of Budweiser (my dad insists it was Ballantine Ale) was part of some unrealized retirement plan. With my grandfather in a rest home, my grandmother moved from a rented apartment near my family and into an elderly housing complex that was even closer by. (Our house lacked a spare bedroom or else, I like to think, we'd have taken her in.) My grandmother's indigent status meant she qualified not just for housing but also for food aid. It came in the form of government cheese, butter, and peanut butter. Maybe there was more to it, such as other foods or food stamps. I never knew. But I did know about the food aid because my grandmother, who I spent time with every week, would give whatever peanut butter the government provided to her to my family. I guess, in retrospect, that she didn't like peanut butter. My mom didn't know what to do with the peanut butter, which came in a giant tub and wasn't as creamy as our usual Skippy. But I always wolfed it down. I'd spread it on crackers or celery or even spoon it out of the starkly labeled government container while parked in front of our television. As a kid, I never thought even a little about how it was weird that I was gorging on taxpayer-provided peanut butter that my family didn't need—both because we could afford to buy peanut butter and because we in fact did buy it. In more recent years, though, I've often thought about that peanut butter as a metaphor for many of the problems—including fraud and waste—that are evident in government-funded domestic food aid programs. Which brings us to the U.S. Derpartment of Agriculture's plans, proposed last week, to replace its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) with something called Harvest Boxes. Under the plan, the USDA would slash the food-purchasing benefits of SNAP and replace them with delivered packages of canned fruits and meats, cereal, pasta, and the like. A USDA official tried to spin the proposal as akin to Blue Apron, the upscale (and Juicero-level pointless) meal delivery service. That's the spin. But criticism of the proposal has been both widespread and withering. Reason's Eric Boehm likens it to "Amazon Prime, but for terrible canned food selected by bureaucrats." Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called the proposal a "'cruel and demeaning and an awful idea' that would strip families of the ability to choose which groceries they buy." USA Today's editorial board dubbed the harvest box proposal "a program fresh from Cold War Bulgaria." "The proposal has drawn widespread criticism from advocates for the poor, who see it as a paternalistic 'nanny state' approach that also happens to favor agricultural producers," reports the L.A. Times. "Retailers who accept SNAP debit cards also worry about lost sales, even as leaders of food banks worry about additional work preparing the meal boxes." The USDA has gone on the offensive and has defended the harvest box idea as a "bold proposal." "It's a real idea. It's not a sham. It's not a silly proposal," USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in remarks apparently designed to convince everyone that this wasn't some sort of early April Fools' joke. "It's something that we'd like to see seriously considered, and debated." I'm not a knee-jerk Perdue hater. On school lunch reforms, for example, I'd previously noted he'd "got[ten] all his facts right." But the harvest box idea is truly rotten to the core and unworthy of consideration. Supporters outside the USDA offices have been difficult to locate. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which I refer to in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws W[...]

The 5 Best Arguments Against Immigration—and Why They're Wrong

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 11:15:00 -0500

No issue is more hotly contested today than immigration, with restrictionists calling for the deportation of illegals and a 50 percent cut in legal immigration. Here are the five strongest arguments against immigrants and immigration—and why they're wrong. They take our jobs and lower wages. President Donald Trump has said that illegals, who are mostly low-skilled, "compete directly against vulnerable American workers" and that reducing legal immigration would "boost wages and ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first." But as the president himself likes to point out, unemployment across virtually all categories of workers is at or near historic lows, so displacing native-born workers isn't much of an issue. Virtually all economists, regardless of ideology, agree that immigrants, both legal and illegal, have little to no effect on overall wages. The most-vulnerable workers in America are high-school dropouts and economists say that low-skill immigrants from Mexico reduce that group's wages by less than 5 percent—or that they increase drop out wages by almost 1 percent. But it's also true low-skilled immigrants make things cheaper for all Americans by doing jobs such as picking fruit or cleanup on construction sites. And consider this: In the developed world, "There is no correlation between unemployment and immigration rates." Immigrants go to hot economies and they leave when the jobs dry up. More important, immigrants grow the population, which stimulates economic growth, the only way over the long term to improve standards of living. They're using massive amounts of welfare. Since the late 1990s, most legal immigrants and all illegals are barred from receiving means-tested welfare. The only real taxpayer-funded services most immigrants use are emergency medical treatments that account for less than 2 percent of all health-care spending and K-12 education services for their children, who often times are U.S. citizens. For those immigrants who do qualify for programs such as Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), or supplemental Social Security income (SSI), they use all these programs at lower rates that native-born Americans or naturalized citizens. It's also worth noting that immigrants come here to work, not collect WIC. Legal immigrant men have a labor-force participation rate of about 80 percent, which is 10 points higher than that of natives. Illegal immigrant men have a participation rate of 94 percent, precisely because they can't access welfare. They don't pay their fair share. Whether legal or illegal, all immigrants pay sales taxes and property taxes (the latter are factored into the cost of rental units for people who don't own homes). And all legal immigrants pay all the payroll and income taxes that native-born Americans do. Amazingly, most illegals also cough up income and payroll taxes too. That's because most of them use fake Social Security cards and other documents to get hired. Somewhere between 50 percent and two-thirds pay federal income and FICA taxes. In 2010, for instance, administrators of Social Security said that "unauthorized immigrants" contributed $12 billion to Social Security trust funds that they will never be able to get back. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, about half of illegals paid state and local taxes worth over $10 billion. They broke the law to get here and they're bringing all their relatives. Critics of illegal immigration often say that unauthorized entrants refuse to stand in line and wait for their turn. That's true but misleading. For many immigrants, especially low-skilled immigrants from countries such as Mexico, there is really no line. In 2010, for instance, just 65,000 visas were given to Mexicans, with the overwhelming majority going to close family members such as spouses and minor children. The wait list had 1.4 million people on it, effectively meaning there is no chance of ever getting in the country. Similarly long wait lists exist for the Philippines, China, India, and[...]

Trump's Food Stamp Overhaul Sounds Like a Boondoggle Waiting to Happen

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 09:15:00 -0500

As part of the budget proposal unveiled earlier this week, the Trump administration is calling for a radical overhaul of so-called "food stamps" that would have the U.S. Department of Agriculture shipping boxes of nonperishable food to low-income Americans every month. Think Amazon Prime, but for terrible canned food selected by bureaucrats. The problem here isn't the general idea of reforming the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). The Government Accountability Office has raised red flags about abuse of SNAP benefits, and the U.S. Department of Agricuture's inspector general says "the magnitude of program abuse due to recipient fraud is unknown," in part because states do not have uniform reporting requirements about beneficiaries. There's also a glorious history of outrage journalism focused on particularly egregious abuses of the SNAP system, like the infamous California surfer dude who told Fox News in 2013 that he was eating lobster on the taxpayers' dime. And while those stories may be more anecdotal than systematic, there's also plenty of run-of-the-mill government waste in SNAP. Meanwhile, spending on food stamps doubled under George W. Bush, despite the fact that most of his presidency saw relatively low unemployment, and it continued to climb under Barack Obama, thanks to the Great Recession and the stimulus bill, which eased income requirements for recipients. Enrollment in SNAP has fallen slightly since peaking in 2013, but there were still more than 42 million Americans getting food stamps in 2017, up from just 17 million at the turn of the century. The average benefit is about $125 per month. But Trump's "America's Harvest Box" proposal is a boondoggle waiting to happen. There are many, many good questions about how the program would actually work, and very few answers in the budget proposal. Even if the USDA figures out how to deliver food to the homeless or account for possible nut allergies, there's still the bigger fundamental question of how the government is going to pack and ship hundreds of millions of food boxes each year. The USDA claims the America's Harvest Box system will save about $129 billion over 10 years. That may sound like a lot, but USDA spokesman Tim Murtaugh told Politico it "does not include shipping door-to-door for all recipients," which, you know, seems like a pretty big expense to leave out. Making 5 billion food shipments over the next 10 years—that's 42 million people, times 12 shipments per year, times 10 years—will surely wipe out a good chunk of those savings. It may well wipe out all of them. On a fundamental level, SNAP benefits are a voucher system—they distribute public benefits without having the government directly involved in the distribution. This is generally a better way to go about providing welfare and other government services (like schools!) because it allows the market to do the work of providing goods and services to consumers, while the government's role is reduced to merely helping fund the operation. They're not perfect, of course, as the history of waste and abuse in the SNAP system demonstrates. Voucher systems also require bureaucratic oversight—SNAP spent more than $4.3 billion on "administrative costs" in 2017—that consume tax dollars without helping anyone, and they create rent-seeking opportunities for the businesses that collect government voucher money in exchange for providing goods and services to the needy. In fact, that latter phenomenon is likely to be the thing that stops the administration from implementing its plan to replace SNAP with these weirdly paternalistic government-issued food boxes. Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer for the Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocery stores and other retailers that sell food, has already declared that the food box proposal "would increase costs in other areas that would negate any savings." Her institute warns that government-delivered food boxes would be far less efficie[...]

Woman Still Getting Civil-War Survivor Benefits Shows How Federal Policies Mortgage the Future

Sun, 04 Feb 2018 00:01:00 -0500

Twenty or 50 years from now, the uproar over the House Intelligence Committee memo will be no more than a footnote to history, and many Americans living then will have fading memories, if any, of the Trump administration. But they will be sure to feel the consequence of other policies, little noticed now, that will weigh more heavily with each passing year. You may have never heard of Irene Triplett, who illustrates something politicians often forget: Decisions made for immediate purposes can reverberate for a long, long time. During the Civil War, to bolster military recruitment, the U.S. government established pensions for veterans wounded in battle and widows of those killed. After the war, the system was repeatedly expanded to cover ever more beneficiaries, including men whose disabilities had nothing to do with their service in uniform. As economist John Cogan of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution notes in his new book, The High Cost of Good Intentions, Congress eventually granted pensions to widows of Union veterans who married after 1890. Then it included all widows whose marriages had lasted 10 years. "In 1957," he writes, "Congress dropped the 10-year requirement. Incredibly, a year later, Congress granted pensions to widows of Confederate soldiers." In 1924, Mose Triplett, who had served in both the Union and the Confederate armies, married a woman who bore him a daughter named Irene. Born five years later, she is still getting survivor benefits from the Civil War, 153 years after it ended. Cogan's book chronicles the steady growth of federal entitlements. Social Security was originally meant to ensure protection against poverty to about half of future retirees. But "every Congress, save one, and every president during the years from 1950 to 1972 took action to expand the program." The pattern is logical. New programs "confine benefits to a group of individuals who are deemed to be particularly worthy of assistance," says Cogan. But groups outside the category push to be included and ultimately prevail. The change puts another group closer to qualifying, and that group does the same thing. The process repeats until the original rationale is lost. Today, federal entitlement assistance of one type or another goes to more than half of U.S. households—and 31 percent of beneficiaries are in families whose income exceeds the national average. In 2015, households in the top fifth of earners collected $225 billion in federal benefits. Restraining the cost of entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare is especially hard now. The ongoing retirement of the baby boom generation automatically swells their rolls. With a commitment to fiscal responsibility and regard for future generations, our elected officials might devise humane ways to curb this growth. But to the extent that commitment ever existed, it is gone. It vanished on December 22, when President Donald Trump signed a tax bill that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget projects will generate $1.8 trillion in additional deficits over the next decade—on top of the $10.2 trillion already in the pipeline. The bipartisan watchdog group also says, "Congress is likely to consider increasing discretionary spending caps for the next two years, disaster relief to deal with last year's hurricanes, (and) extensions of temporary tax provisions that expired at the end of 2016." In that scenario, the extra 10-year deficits would be more like $2.2 trillion. Conservatives claim the gap will force Congress to slash domestic spending. Fat chance. In the late 1990s, President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress could envision and reach a clear achievement: balancing the budget. But once that goal is hopelessly out of reach, politicians have nothing to gain from spending discipline. Once deficits are considered the immutable norm, elected officials have every reason to enlarge them, delivering ever-richer benefits to current voters without [...]

Resolved: 15 Million Americans Would Be Better Off Without Welfare

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 16:42:00 -0500

Fifteen million able-bodied adults on government welfare would have a better chance at economic betterment if they were taken off welfare.

That was the provocative proposition debated at the most recent Soho Forum debate, held on December 11 at New York's Subculture theater in the East Village. Sponsored by Reason and moderated by Gene Epstein, the Soho Forum is a monthly, Oxford-style debate series that explores issues of particular interest to libertarians.

At the December 11 event, the Foundation for Government Accountability's Tarren Bragdon defended the proposition while Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress opposed it. As an Oxford-style debate, the audience (including those watching via Reason's Facebook live stream) voted before and after the debate, with the winner being the person who moved more people to his or her side. It's a lively conversation that features audience questions toward the end.

The next Soho Forum takes place on January 16 and features the proposition that "selfishness is a virtue." Yaron Brook, the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, will defend selfishness and Gene Epstein will move from moderator to debater in opposing the resolution. Moderating the debate is Fox News' chief legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano. Tickets for the event are $18 ($10 for students) and must be purchased in advance. To buy tickets, go here now.

Produced by Kevin Alexander.

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Watch a Live Debate on the Welfare State's Impact on the Poor

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 18:45:00 -0500

Fifteen million able-bodied adults on government welfare would have a better chance at economic betterment if they were taken off welfare.

That's the subject of a debate happening right now at the Soho Forum between Neera Tanden from the Center for American Progress and Tarren Bragdon from the Foundation for Government Accountability. Watch below, and submit questions in the Facebook comments. We'll read aloud a couple of the best during the Q&A session.

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Would the Poor Be Better Off Without Welfare? Participate in Live Debate Tonight!

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:20:00 -0500

(image) Reason is honored to partner with The Soho Forum in offering monthly debates that take place on the cutting-edge of libertarian thought and policy matters.

Tonight, that means Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, and Tarren Bragdon, president of the Foundation for Government Accountability, will be debating the costs and benefits of welfare at New York City's Subculture Theater. Specifically, they will debate the following proposition, with Bragdon defending it and Tanden opposing it.

"Fifteen million able-bodied adults on government welfare would have a better chance at economic betterment if they were taken off welfare."

The doors open at 5:45 P.M. and the event starts at 6:30 P.M. There's a cash bar and food is included with admission. Tickets cost $18 ($10 for students) must be purchased in advance and are still available. A special bonus: You can bring a friend for free. Go here for more information and to purchase tickets now.

The Soho Forum runs Oxford-style debates, meaning that the audience votes before and after the conversation gets underway and the winner is the person who moves more listeners in his/her direction.

If you can't attend, Reason will be live streaming the debate on Reason's Facebook page, where you'll be able to vote for the winner and submit questions for Tanden and Bragdon.

For past Soho Forums, which also get released at our YouTube channel and as Reason Podcasts, go here.

Would the Poor Be Better Off Without Welfare? A Debate Next Week in New York City.

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 12:00:00 -0500

"Fifteen million able-bodied adults on government welfare would have a better chance at economic betterment if they were taken off welfare."

That resolution will be debated by Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, and Tarren Bragdon, president of the Foundation for Government Accountability, on Monday, December 11 at New York City's Subculture Theater. The event is part of the Soho Forum, a monthly Oxford-style debate series that's sponsored by the Reason Foundation. Its mission is to feature "topics of special interest to libertarians" while enhancing "social and professional ties within New York's libertarian community."(image)

Doors open at 5:45 p.m. and the event starts at 6:30. There will be a cash bar and food that's included with admission. Tickets are $18 ($10 for students) and must be purchased in advance. You can bring a friend for free.

For those who can't attend, we'll also be live streaming the event on Reason's Facebook page, where you'll be able to vote for the winner and drop questions for Tanden and Bragdon in the comments. We'll take a couple of the best and read them aloud at the event.

Later, we'll also run the event the event at Reason TV's YouTube Channel and on the Reason Podcast. For past Soho Forums, go here.

Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage is Hurting the Workers It's Intending to Help

Wed, 05 Jul 2017 15:15:00 -0400

Three years ago, the city of Seattle voted to gradually raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour in the name of human decency and basic fairness. Several cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have done the same thing. Critics argue that boosting wages by bureaucratic diktat leads to fewer hours and jobs for low-income and low-skilled workers.

Now what The Washington Post calls a "very credible" study from researchers at the University of Washington finds that the critics are right. The Post calls this bad news for liberals. But the real victims are low-skilled workers.

(image) The study finds that when wages were increased to $13, employers cut hours by 9 percent. That means that low-skilled workers saw their monthly compensation decrease by an average of $125.

Studies that downplay the effects of minimum wage hikes have mostly focused on teenagers and fast food workers. But the study at the University of Washington paper looks at the impact on workers spanning all ages and all demographics.

The findings may surprise progressives who believe that the only limit to higher pay for workers is the greed and selfishness of business owners. But it doesn't come as a surprise to those who remain unconvinced that the law of supply and demand can be amended by city councils. Labor is simply another cost for any business, and when the price of something goes up, we tend to buy less of it.

Another takeaway from the study is that if you want to raise the income of low-skilled workers, taxpayers should pay for that burden through direct cash payments or other forms of welfare. Offloading the cost to employers has unintended consequences, even though it's a lot easier to demonize business owners for being greedy cheapskates than to build a consensus around raising taxes.

The lesson from Seattle that all cities should pay attention to is that forcing business to pay more hurts the very people minimum wage hikes are supposed to help. That such ordinances are usually passed in the name of low-income, low-skilled workers only makes that reality all the worse.

Edited by Todd Krainin. Written by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander. Still photos by SEIU Local 99 on a Creative Commons license. Seattle video by Max Seigal on a Creative Commons license.

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The British Elections Are Turning Into the Revenge of the Elderly: New at Reason

Thu, 08 Jun 2017 09:30:00 -0400

(image) British Prime Minister Theresa May tried to go after seniors' homes to pay for their welfare benefits, and the seniors are going after her today in the special parliamentary elections she called.

Ever since she proposed the so-called dementia tax to pay for long-term care, her double-digit lead in the polls has basically vanished and she is in a dead heat with her Labor opponent. Even the dastardly Manchester attack hasn't helped her tough-on-security party.

England's welfare state is running out of other people's money, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia. And the Tories, instead of trying to roll it back, are turning themselves into tax collectors for it. But they'll learn today that that is not a winning election formula either.

The Indestructible Idea of the Basic Income

Sat, 03 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Andy Stern is a former president of the Service Employees International Union. Charles Murray may be America's most prominent right-wing critic of the welfare state. So when they appeared onstage together in Washington, D.C., last fall to discuss the basic income—the idea of keeping people out of poverty by giving them regular unconditional cash payments—the most striking thing about the event was that they kept agreeing with each other. It isn't necessarily surprising that Stern and Murray both back some version of the concept. It has supporters across the political spectrum, from Silicon Valley capitalists to academic communists. But this diverse support leads naturally to diverse versions of the proposal, not all of which are compatible with one another. Some people want to means-test the checks so that only Americans below a certain income threshold receive them; others want a fully universal program, given without exceptions. Some want to replace the existing welfare state; others want to tack a basic income onto it. There have been tons of suggestions for how to fund the payments and for how big they should be. When it comes to the basic income, superficial agreement is common but actual convergence can be fleeting. In Stern's case, the central issue driving his interest in the idea is the turmoil he expects automation to bring to the economy. In the future, he and Lee Kravitz predict in their 2016 book Raising the Floor, tens of millions of jobs will disappear, leaving much of the country stuck with work that is "contingent, part-time, and driven largely by people's own motivation, creativity, and the ability to make a job out of 'nothing.'" A basic income, he hopes, would bring some economic security to their lives. Read Murray's first detailed pitch for a guaranteed income, the 2006 book In Our Hands, and you won't see anything like that. Its chief concern is shifting power from government bureaucracies to civil society. It doesn't just propose a new transfer program; it calls for repealing every other transfer program. And automation isn't a part of its argument at all. But onstage at the Cato Institute in D.C., Murray was as worried as Stern about technological job loss, warning that "we are going to be carving out millions of white-collar jobs, because artificial intelligence, after years of being overhyped, has finally come of age." Meanwhile, Stern signaled that he was open not just to replacing welfare programs for the disadvantaged but possibly even to rethinking Social Security, provided that people still have to contribute money to some sort of retirement system and that Americans who have already paid in don't get shortchanged. He drew the line at eliminating the government's health insurance programs—but the other guy on the stage agreed that health care was different. Under Murray's plan, citizens would be required to use part of their grant to buy health insurance, and insurance companies would be required to treat the population as a single pool. The Murray/Stern convergence comes as the basic income is enjoying a wave of interest and enthusiasm. The concept comes up in debates over everything from unemployment to climate change. Pilot programs testing various versions of the idea are in the works everywhere from Oakland to Kenya, and last year Swiss voters considered a plan to introduce a guaranteed income nationwide. (They wound up rejecting the referendum overwhelmingly, with only 23 percent voting in favor. I didn't say everyone was enthusiastic.) This isn't the first time the basic income or an idea like it has edged its way onto the agenda. It isn't even the first time we've seemed to see an ideological convergence. This patchwork of sometimes-overlapping movements with sometimes-overlapping[...]

Britain Is Turning Into a Welfare State Dystopia

Wed, 31 May 2017 11:30:00 -0400

Across the pond where our former colonial rulers live, British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered a maelstrom of protest that threw the Tory(image) Party in a crisis ahead of special elections June 8. What did she do? She proffered the heretical idea of scrapping a proposed cap on the out-of-pocket expenses of seniors who need long-term care. Her Tory predecessor David Cameron had promised to implement the cap by 2020 and May's suggestions was a breach of faith, not just for her Labor opponents but even her Tory friends.

She beat a hasty retreat on that plan, but the problem for England's welfare states is that it's fast running out of other people's money, to use the immortal words of another British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. And to deal with that situation, May is now proposing something even more intrusive, I note in my column at The Week.

She wants to be able to collect the state's share of spending on the long-term care of seniors' against the sale of their homes after they die. This might strike most people as defeating the whole purpose of a welfare state, but it does demonstrate the truth of the old adage that a government that is powerful enough to give you what you want is also powerful enough to take away what you've got.

Go here to read the whole thing.

No, LGBT Rights Are Not and Should Not Be Dependent on Census Questions

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 12:45:00 -0400

This week in ginned-up Donald Trump administration outrage that distracts from actual issues: The Census will continue to not ask questions that they haven't been asking about LGBT people. This in some quarters has been presented as some sort of LGBT "erasure." It's not. At least when activists within the LGBT and progressive community freaked out about the possibility of an anti-gay executive order coming from President Donald Trump's administration, there was actual documentation. It turned out that Trump was not interested in signing such an executive order and it never came to be. But at least there was smoke to be concerned about if not an actual fire. Such is not the case with this week's LGBT anti-Trump outrage, which turns out to fundamentally be less about gay and transgender rights and more about organizations who want a slice of the great federal spending pie. To explain: The U.S. Census put out a proposal earlier in the week for questions it may ask during the 2020 census. Sexual orientation and gender identity were among the potential discussion topics. This was not something the Census had asked previously, which you know if you've participated in a census, ever. Then, the Census quickly explained that it had not intended to include the questions about sexual orientation and gender identity this time and withdrew the topics. So the Census, which had never asked people if they were LGBT before, is not planning to ask in the 2020 census either. Cue the outrage. The first headline I saw came from Out Magazine, a top gay-targeted publication. The headline read "Trump Administration Omits LGBTQ People from the 2020 Census." My initial reaction was "Woo hoo! I don't have to participate in the census!" But even before reading I suspected that wasn't what the story actually meant. The Trump administration is not omitting LGBT people from the census, and a writer actually analyzing how the announcement played out notes that the Trump administration might not have even played any role in the consideration of the questions at all. Even Snopes has gotten into the act with an explainer. What actually happened is that the National LGBTQ Task Force, an activist group with an open, stated agenda of having these questions added to the census, put out a press release declaring their unhappiness in seeing the questions get deleted. I don't use "agenda" as a negative here, and I don't necessarily see an issue with the Census Bureau asking people their orientations for demographic purposes, as long as it's made very, very clear that answers are completely voluntary. But there is a deliberately misplaced outrage here that wants to trick LGBT people into thinking that their rights and equal protection under the law is dependent on whether the federal government knows that they're gay or transgender. This is a seriously unsettling proposition. Here's a quote from Meghan Maury, criminal and economic justice project director of the National LGBTQ Task Force: "Today, the Trump Administration has taken yet another step to deny LGBTQ people freedom, justice, and equity, by choosing to exclude us from the 2020 Census and American Community Survey. LGBTQ people are not counted on the Census—no data is collected on sexual orientation or gender identity. Information from these surveys helps the government to enforce federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and to determine how to allocate resources like housing supports and food stamps. If the government doesn't know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we're getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need?" What does demographic inclu[...]

The Nativist Bias in the Welfare State

Wed, 29 Mar 2017 10:30:00 -0400

The central project of the liberal welfare state is to build a society based on a high-minded ethic of altruism rather than narrow self-interest. The whole point is to create a new kind of person whose humane commitments are driven by a more cosmopolitan sensibility beyond his parochial attachments to self, family, and clan. But the opposite has happened: Protecting the welfare state from foreign moochers has become the single biggest stimulus for nativism in the West. That's true in America, Europe, and, most surprisingly, the paragon of compassion to America's north, Canada. The more the welfare state has tried to elbow self-interest out of our accepted understanding of a "just society," the more this self-interest has asserted itself — and in ever-more vexing ways. In America, the notion that immigrants are a drain on social welfare programs is as popular as it is fallacious. Literally every credible study shows that compared to similarly situated natives, not only do fewer immigrants use welfare, but the average value of the benefits they receive is lower too, including for low-skilled immigrants (many of whom are undocumented). Indeed, the taxes and economic contributions of immigrants — including the low-skilled — dwarf what they consume in public services. This is partly because the 1996 welfare reform act barred immigrants from most means-tested benefits. But the bigger reason is that immigrants come to America for jobs, not welfare benefits. The labor force participation rate of foreign-born men in 2010 was 80.1 percent, a full 10 percentage points higher than that of native-born men. Furthermore, immigrants tend to gravitate to states with the lowest per capital welfare spending — maybe because they have more jobs. Nonetheless, the mere fact that the welfare state exists and that immigrants may theoretically become a drain on it has been enough to trigger a bad case of us-versus-them in this Land of Immigrants. It has become the gateway argument that seduces people to a more general nativist suspicion of foreigners — which is why nativist outfits such as the Federation for Immigration Reform and quasi-nativist ones such as the Center for Immigration Studies constantly pump out studies about immigrant welfare use. One of President Trump's leaked executive order drafts contemplated not only barring immigrants likely to use public assistance, but deporting those who do, perhaps even if no fraud is involved. The situation is even worse in Europe, where nativist politicians have made even deeper inroads — and this despite the fact that many European countries need immigrants even more than America, thanks to their below-replacement fertility rates and aging populations. Austria, Spain, and France — which have never been super-friendly to immigrants — are tightening up. And so are more open nations like Denmark and Sweden, which have introduced a complex set of measures to control their borders. The latest example of this anti-immigrant trend came in the recent Dutch elections, where the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte defeated the ultra-restrictionist Geert Wilders — the Dutch Donald Trump — but only after promising to impose stiff restrictions on migrant benefits to stop alleged welfare tourism. Likewise, although Germany has been heroic in its commitment to absorbing refugees fleeing the war-ravaged Middle East, it is also seeking to expel EU citizens who remain jobless for six months out of fear that they are simply hanging around for welfare benefits — never mind that there is little evidence of mass welfare abuse. Sweden, which prides itself on its cradle-to-grave welfare social programs, is flirting with new [...]