Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Radically Reforming Welfare. A Guest Post By @nosaintjoe

Welfare Reform:  Time To Remove The Middleman?
Close down the bureaucracy and give these folks cash
(photo from The Atlantic)

A piece titled "The Conservative Case For A Guaranteed Basic Income" in the Atlantic last Summer cooked up plenty of food for thought. Given the self-evident failures of existing welfare programs at every level of government to substantially reduce, much less eliminate, poverty in this country, some radical thinking is in order. The Atlantic piece took a look at some efforts to shake things up both here and abroad. A guaranteed basic income is indeed a radical scheme, but one worth considering. Before you reflexively write this off as another looney liberal idea, consider that the laissez-faire icon Friedrich Hayek endorsed the plan in the 19th century. So did Milton Friedman of much more recent vintage. Based on some personal experience with Lyndon Johnson's anti-poverty programs from the 1960s, which I might elaborate on if the discussion advances from here, I'm inclined to consider it. Meantime, from a friend who knows the story first hand as an urban social worker, comes this missive: "What I think is we need to radically reform the American welfare state as we know it. That does include eliminating / gutting / redirecting gov’t funds & services from the programs you mentioned like SNAP, Medicaid, Section 8 to support a universal income program that is sufficient enough to cover the costs of food, healthcare, housing, etc for a family.
Now I know how hard it will be for America to swallow that pill. Not to mention the politics surrounding the subjectivity of “basic”.
The inconvenient truth is liberal bureaucracy is part of the problem. Good intentions are wasted when a challenge comes along that puts their self interest and the preservation of their programs / institution against the welfare of those they are claiming to serve. In my personal experiences, they’re always an opportunity to scapegoat the failure of your program on the shortcomings of those being aided or on the funding stream.
We’ve been operating under the basic assumption, that a dollar spent by an agency does more social good than a buck given directly to the needy. But that theory hasn’t been seriously tested until recently, there’s finally studies being done comparing direct and indirect welfare spending.
Culturally, we don’t trust each other, especially the poor, ironically (imo) because they “do what they must” to keep afloat. People work the systems, try to outsmart the bureaucracy (which is easy to do, because it’s slow and dumb). All this makes it hard (and resource intensive) to sort the bad apples and those truly deserving.
What I like about universal basic income is it controls an extremely important variable: where / when the next paycheck is coming from. It will be steady and will cover one’s basic needs making any taboo social behavior (fraud, slinging, crime, etc.) much less rationale / justifiable. And with that we can address / sort what might social ills are rooted in individual habits / mental health issues and what might be hard circumstance.
A good social worker, one who is honest about their intentions, knows their goal is to work themselves out of a job. Unfortunately, what I often encounter are self-preservationists.
Still, this policy will not solve issues like drug abuse, crime, employability, even homelessness, because undoubtedly not all people will use their basic income appropriately because of whatever (but I’d be confident in saying there would be a hell of a lot less of those problems) so their still be a place for social workers and social service agencies.
Lots left to say but there's my start. Anyone want to talk about incentives to do x, y, or z if I have sure money coming my way should bring tested facts not assumptions. I’m going to get back to my grad school app."

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Some additional and provocative thoughts from Tasiyagnunpa Livermont  "My only concern is for people who have never had money of their own, even those who have, and don't know how to manage it. In third world settings, influx of cash often ends up in drug problems, especially meth and according to law enforcement I've heard that it can lead to first time use. The stigma would also need to be eradicated somehow. Fortunately there are many good economic development entities and credit unions working in our communities who could perhaps be worked with to provide opportunity for financial education. They are already doing the work, but often people have no freaking money to manage! Trust me, you can't budget if you have less than you need. I also don't think this will work if we eradicate housing vouchers and low income housing or count this towards it. Rents have skyrocketed and many developments count on low income cash and loans as part of their business. Those would need to be left in place. I do think this is probably the BEST thing for those who want to start their own businesses and yes, employers may need to offer more money to entice people (women especially) to leave home to work for them. However, the more people with time the more we have opportunity to rebuild our communities through volunteer work. People could return to school or otherwise skill up, start businesses, etc. I also think we should run a cash incentive for not having children. Sounds crazy, I know, but I think we need to provide a basic income to young people if they don't have children. If they choose to do so, then the family type basic income comes into play, but perhaps there's strings attached (for daycare assistance or something). IDK. I think we live in a post-child society and need to make adjustments without leaving children and their parents in the cold. Young people who know they want children could save that income and receive matching grants for when they do have children...a dowry of sorts for men and women. Child support, mostly for men, is also crippling our society and forces parents to sue each other often to receive basic government services to begin with. That must stop. The war on poverty (and against welfare) became a war on fathers."


  1. In basic training a long line of us would ready ourselves for target practice. We were not allowed to shoot until given permission. Our drill sergeant would nearly beg us to let 4 or 5 shots come out first from other people, another platoon. Quite often someone would before the signal. Who did it? No one would raise their hand until threats of removing and counting all shells. Then that guy (or guys) would get rapped on his helmet and other disgraces (although this would happen again). There will always be a radical so certain they have a simple solution to a complex problem, so let Switzerland or some other country shoot first.

    The older I get the more appreciation I have for people who can see a problem from many different angles. If you give people money will they pay their rent and utilities? Some think we will always have a steady percentage incapable of being responsible in a state of poverty as a result. I'm not saying things are perfect but I'm reminded of the movie As Good As It Gets. Maybe we're close to it and just don't appreciate how good things are. So many people lack restraint. They're intelligent and educated. Some certainly some have poor examples in their family history. The left says give them money and the right pull themselves up by the bootstraps. There can only be so much efficiency for complex problems that have to be addressed in more than one way. jgh

    1. I doubt that the results of this effort in a country like Switzerland could be transposed to the United States anyway, jgh. I grew up among the poorest of the poor as a postwar refugee to the United States, and we relied on welfare to get us through the first few years of becoming Americans. A social worker would come to our house on regular visits, every other week, I think, and just hand over a couple of twenties (pretty good money in the early '50s), to my single mom. Seemed to work out okay, given my family's economic and social status within a few years. Anecdotal, I know, but I've seen a direct cash payment system work, so I know it isn't entirely unprecedented.

    2. Your experience is quite different from today though, isn't it? Your parents were instilling a value system so welfare would be temporary. Certainly that is the case sometimes, but how often? With what I do I see people with housing vouchers and this is their life it seems we're enabling. In our county people can get in to public housing within one month and sometimes not wait long for a voucher. Then assistance with utilities and food. Those are the basics. We are at full employment with jobs for unskilled workers advertised at $14 an hour. There's not one answer but I think we do have to be careful not to magnify our experience to the whole. My grandmother raised 8 kids after her husband died in 1932 without any net, had to run a farm and get a retirement, so I might say hands off entirely. Everyone's situation is so unique there's no one answer.

  2. Those of us who were raised on 1980s failures of the welfare system are very much interested in this, as it becomes fairly apparent that, especially among movement conservatives, pushing 1980s solutions toward the issue has hit the Diminishing Returns wall hard. At some point and time, policymakers are going to have to admit that the zero-interest rate policy environment creates a situation where the natural rates of income growth cannot apply.

    This means that certain outside measures (like the SD minimum wage initiative, which is quite extraordinary for SD) have to be undertaken. Which means that a Guaranteed Basic Income could very well have a lot of appeal, and could be much more workable than previous experiences would indicate.

    There is a bit of issue in DC, however. That trust issue has to be broken, and broken HARD.