Unlike the ‘Starting From Zero‘ philosphy that fueled the far left of the 1960s, Jonah Goldberg writes that “Howard Dean’s scream notwithstanding, today’s liberalism is a lot of slide-rule wonkery. The smartest and most passionate thinkers of American liberalism are more actuary than revolutionary”:
So where are the real radicals today? Who are the folks who want to rethink the status quo and truly liberate the masses? Pretty much where they’ve always been: on the libertarian right. Witness Charles Murray’s exciting new book, In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State. It’s an elegant little tract that makes a sustained, sober, and fact-driven case for scrapping the whole calcified edifice of the welfare state.
Under Murray’s plan, all transfer payments would vanish, from Social Security and Medicare to corporate welfare and agricultural subsidies. In exchange, every low-income American over the age of 21 and not in jail would get $10,000 a year from the government. And everybody else would still get at least $5,000 a year from Uncle Sam. The only hitch is that people would be required to take out a minimal health insurance policy, and the tax code would stop favoring companies that offer health insurance.
In a flash, the working poor would be richer. Work even for a half a year at minimum wage, and the extra $10k would put you above the poverty line. The whole bloated, nannying welfare state would be a memory. Market forces would finally be introduced to the health-insurance industry, driving down the absurdly high price of health care. Women who choose not to work so they can raise their kids would get the full $10,000 no matter how much their husbands earned, supporting families more than the current system and with less paperwork. Charities and local communities would be revitalized, enjoying a flexibility denied to traditional bureaucrats. Those who wanted to walk on the wild side would get pocket change to do so but would have to live with the consequences. The old problem of subsidizing out-of-wedlock birth would become an anachronism.
Obviously, removing all government safeguards, particularly for the severely disabled, is hardly going to satisfy everyone. But at least Murray is thinking big, while liberals scoff at the idea that the welfare state isn’t permanent. And that’s the point: The liberal imagination is weighed down by the leaden status quo. In 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. defined conservatism as “standing athwart history yelling, stop!” That was when history was said to be on the side of collectivism and the state. Now that the market seems to be driving history, the Left is standing athwart it, occasionally burning a Peugeot or two, yelling, “Forget liberty, give me my perks.”
TCS Daily recently featured a podcast of Murray discussing his idea.