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The Voluntarism Fantasy
March 18, 2014 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Mike Konczal, for Democracy Journal: The Voluntarism Fantasy
Ideology is as much about understanding the past as shaping the future. And conservatives tell themselves a story, a fairy tale really, about the past, about the way the world was and can be again under Republican policies. This story is about the way people were able to insure themselves against the risks inherent in modern life. Back before the Great Society, before the New Deal, and even before the Progressive Era, things were better. Before government took on the role of providing social insurance, individuals and private charity did everything needed to insure people against the hardships of life; given the chance, they could do it again.

This vision has always been implicit in the conservative ascendancy. It existed in the 1980s, when President Reagan announced, “The size of the federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern,” and called for voluntarism to fill in the yawning gaps in the social safety net. It was made explicit in the 1990s, notably through Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion, a treatise hailed by the likes of Newt Gingrich and William Bennett, which argued that a purely private nineteenth-century system of charitable and voluntary organizations did a better job providing for the common good than the twentieth-century welfare state. This idea is also the basis of Paul Ryan’s budget, which seeks to devolve and shrink the federal government at a rapid pace, lest the safety net turn “into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” It’s what Utah Senator Mike Lee references when he says that the “alternative to big government is not small government” but instead “a voluntary civil society.” As conservatives face the possibility of a permanent Democratic majority fueled by changing demographics, they understand that time is running out on their cherished project to dismantle the federal welfare state.

But this conservative vision of social insurance is wrong. It’s incorrect as a matter of history; it ignores the complex interaction between public and private social insurance that has always existed in the United States. It completely misses why the old system collapsed and why a new one was put in its place. It fails to understand how the Great Recession displayed the welfare state at its most necessary and that a voluntary system would have failed under the same circumstances. Most importantly, it points us in the wrong direction.
posted by tonycpsu (33 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I agree with the broad description and the critique of it given here, with the following caveat.

Before government took on the role of providing social insurance, individuals and private charity did everything needed to insure people against the hardships of life; given the chance, they could do it again.

I think it's empirically false that proponents of dismantling the welfare/regulatory state would actually argue that the hardships of life were effectively forestalled under this previous voluntaristic system. They don't think that it's wise or good or efficacious to comprehensively protect people against those things in the first place, in my perception. They'd be happy to do it for their little communities, for their families, but not for everyone. They're not egalitarians, which is exactly why they want the wealthy to be in direct and explicit control of any potential advances in living standards for the poor.
posted by clockzero at 12:57 PM on March 18 [8 favorites]


Yeah, there are two distinct types of poor to conservatives - at least the ones I know. The deserving poor who are decent, hard-working people who have been screwed by the system or have had bad luck, and the undeserving poor who are poor because they are lazy and shiftless or have otherwise made life choices that the conservatives in question are offended by.

They are willing, eager even, to help the first group directly - mainly through church outreach - but absolutely spittle-flecked furious that they have to pay tax dollars to help the second.

So yeah, private charity great if you're the right kind of people and don't mind being in the ideological control of the people helping you (i.e., willing to give off the right religious signifiers).
posted by Naberius at 1:02 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


clockzero: "I think it's empirically false that proponents of dismantling the welfare/regulatory state would actually argue that the hardships of life were effectively forestalled under this previous voluntaristic system. They don't think that it's wise or good or efficacious to comprehensively protect people against those things in the first place, in my perception"

If we're talking about died-in-the-wool libertarians who aren't concerned with running for office, I agree. If we're talking about hucksters like Paul Ryan or Mike Lee who want to convince people they can have their cake and eat it too, I think Konczal's on point. There's definitely a shell game going on where they rail against big government on one hand, and insist they'll "protect" the existing programs on the other hand.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:02 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


The glory of voluntarism (to those who sing its praises) is that it is not subject to the 14th amendment.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:05 PM on March 18 [14 favorites]


If we're talking about died-in-the-wool libertarians who aren't concerned with running for office, I agree. If we're talking about hucksters like Paul Ryan or Mike Lee who want to convince people they can have their cake and eat it too, I think Konczal's on point. There's definitely a shell game going on where they rail against big government on one hand, and insist they'll "protect" the existing programs on the other hand.

That's a good point. Political speech is importantly distinct from political attitudes.

Also, for anyone interested in a really fascinating cultural-sociological perspective on those narratives about charity emerging from the halls of power themselves, here's a great scholarly article on the topic.
posted by clockzero at 1:07 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Before government took on the role of providing social insurance, individuals and private charity did everything needed to insure people against the hardships of life; given the chance, they could do it again.

I'm pretty sure it's that private charity couldn't provide for the sheer numbers of people in-need is why government was compelled to step-in.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:30 PM on March 18


Or, perhaps more to the point, wouldn't.
posted by Naberius at 1:30 PM on March 18


As conservatives face the possibility of a permanent Democratic majority fueled by changing demographics

Two fantasies for the price of one!
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 1:31 PM on March 18


Thorzdad: " I'm pretty sure it's that private charity couldn't provide for the sheer numbers of people in-need is why government was compelled to step-in."

That's Konczal's point -- he's saying those words in the voice of the conservative movement. See how he beings with "And conservatives tell themselves a story, a fairy tale really..."
posted by tonycpsu at 1:32 PM on March 18


It's not that they want to go back to when private entities took care of the poor. They want to go back to when you just vanished if you were poor.
posted by Legomancer at 1:34 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


They are willing, eager even, to help the first group directly - mainly through church outreach - but absolutely spittle-flecked furious that they have to pay tax dollars to help the second.

Actually I don't think they are that willing to help the "hard working deserving poor" -- otherwise they wouldn't be so bullheaded about the minimum wage. They might show a little concern that people working multiple jobs still can't afford to pay the rent and buy food and medical care for themselves and their children.

I'm not seeing that concern out there. All I'm seeing is the occasional lip service paid to "let charities cover it" -- while at the same time, arguing for the so-called "freedom of religion" to discriminate against LGBT people and women.
posted by Foosnark at 1:42 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Legomancer: "It's not that they want to go back to when private entities took care of the poor. They want to go back to when you just vanished if you were poor."

I think some of them actually believe in charity as fairy dust, and that if we'd just get rid of taxes, people would have enough to take care of all of those in need. I don't know how many really believe this, but I've known some of them, and they weren't obviously arguing in bad faith. At some point, however, it's not really worth teasing out misguided vs. evil.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:46 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


The glory of voluntarism (to those who sing its praises) is that it is not subject to the 14th amendment.

To expand on this a bit: Ta-Nehisi Coates, over at The Atlantic, talks a lot about the lingering toxicity of white supremacy in American politics. One of which is that the push-back against the New Deal and then the Great Society had a lot to do with whites--even poor whites--not wanting to share any benefits with poor blacks.

It's not just "I got mine," but "I don't want mine if that n-----r is going to get some, too."

Which is why a lot of the New Deal and 1960s welfare-state programs were implemented in a way that was not, actually, race-neutral. Blacks didn't get nearly as good a deal from many federal programs, like student loans, mortgage guarantees, small business loans, and so forth--because doing so would have threatened the whites whose political support helped pass those programs to begin with.
posted by suelac at 1:49 PM on March 18 [11 favorites]


There's a sort of weaker version of this myth or lie driving politics in the Netherlands, where the idea is that "we" need to move from a welfare society to a participation society, where "we" need to help ourselves; the cliche story being that of old age pensioners doing voluntary work in gratitude for their pension, as if you don't work and pay for it in the first place.

Straight up budget cuts, partially disguised by transfers of responsibility from the central state to the provinces and municipalities, are further sold to us as that we need to take responsibility for our own society, that we can take over part of the state's job through volunteerism.

What's the most disgusting thing about it is that our pathetic excuse for a social democratic party has signed off on this through their government coalition with the fecking liberals who are pushing this.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:52 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


What I think people who advocate turning the social safety net over to voluntary charity fail to see is that it isn't some kind of gift that only goes one way. It's good for EVERYBODY to have a population that isn't starving, homeless, riddled with disease, and dying in the streets. It's good for everybody to have a healthy, educated workforce. When times are tough and business is slow, it's good to have a population who has a few nickels to spend in the shops to keep them open and running.

Sometimes it seems to me like you'd have to have been born as the result of spiteful revenge sex between The Grinch and pre-conversion Scrooge to have an ideology bleak enough to blind you to the benefits to yourself and your country of having that kind of secure population assured.

The article touches on the same idea, quoting a speech from President Truman:
I like the campaign slogan this year: Everybody Gives, Everybody Benefits. It marks a significant change in our thinking about the word “charity.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:56 PM on March 18 [9 favorites]


The plural of anecdote is not data, but when I was growing up in an oversized family whose head of household earned exactly $0 per year, churches and private charity gave us stuff like too-big hand-me-down sweaters, whatever off-brand toys their own kids didn't want, the occasional frozen turkey for Thanksgiving and, of course, Bibles! SO MANY BIBLES. Spoiler alert: You can neither eat nor pay rent with Bibles. And as noted in TFA: "The largest single category of charitable giving in the United States goes not to caring for the poor but for the sustenance of religious institutions (at 32 percent of donations). Using very generous assumptions, Indiana University’s Center for Philanthropy finds that only one-third of charitable giving actually goes to the poor."

On the other hand, the government? The government gave us food. The government put us in school. The government trained us for future employment. The government kept a roof over our heads. The government taught me to aim high, to aim for higher than my current station. I sincerely doubt I would have ever ventured outside of the projects if it weren't for the kind of government handouts today's GOP wants to do away with altogether. Actually, I probably would have grown up in a cardboard box under a bridge. But I digress.

I honestly don't understand what the fuck else we're supposed to be paying taxes for, if not to repair our sagging infrastructure, build anew, buttress the underpinnings of our presumably civilized society, and help provide material support to our fellow citizens in their time of need -- yes, even if that need lasts a lifetime! Even if the person is actually really lazy, even if they never work a day in their lives! Who cares, it's a human being! There is no such thing as "deserving" food, shelter, clothing, and a basic education. Everyone starts deserving those things as soon as they're born. So as always, I'm left wondering who's meant to bear the brunt of the responsibility for the oft-cited children (as in: what about the?) when the good ol' U.S.A. magically transforms into Galt's Gulch. I probably shouldn't be surprised that they're using a book that is apparently very earnestly titled The Tragedy of American Compassion as their blueprint.

Since the people in our country who don't have jobs are often pointed to as people who simply don't want jobs, and a Randian POV necessarily excludes pursuing anything that is not specifically/exclusively beneficial to you and yours, I presume all those lazy bums will be given the patriotic freedom to go hungry, blessedly unburdened by onerous governmental intervention. OK, once all those folks have freely starved to death because the much-touted private charity network that would be required to deliver consistent, widely-available nutritional assistance never quite materialized... what happens to the kids? They're already here, and I guess we have to do SOMETHING with them, so... are we sending them to the bootstrap factory, putting them in jail, or just letting them starve to death, too? (No prisons? No workhouses? &c.) Because I was one of those kids. I would not be where I am today if our government did not offer its citizens welfare, and I know a lot of people who are in the same boat. So now I work, donate, volunteer, and vote hard in hopes of seeing a day when everyone who is raised in a similar environment is consistently able to go about their lives without ever worrying that they're going to wind up in debtor's prison if they go to the doctor or go hungry if they can't manage to make, beg, or steal enough to eat.

From a bracing article on Paul Ryan, zombie-eyed granny starver, this paragraph provides a nice summary of all the elected officials whose entire MO is apparently "for me, but not for thee":
Paul Ryan is an authentically dangerous zealot. He does not want to reform entitlements. He wants to eliminate them. He wants to eliminate them because he doesn't believe they are a legitimate function of government. He is a smiling, aw-shucks murderer of opportunity, a creator of dystopias in which he never will have to live.
posted by divined by radio at 2:08 PM on March 18 [56 favorites]


For me, debate about public vs. private welfare systems (or joint public-private) always calls to mind the following example from the early days of the Ontario Mothers' Allowance or OMA. In the early days, private charities and organizations were involved in the administration of OMA money. This meant that various "pillars of the community" would be on selection committees to decide who was "deserving" of the money, or be involved in monitoring recipients. For example, the Kiwanis Club was involved in the monitoring OMA mothers and their families:
Another charity which regularly monitored the homes of OMA recipients was the Kiwanis Club. One annual report explained the Club's program for sons of OMA mothers:

The boy is enrolled at the Public Library, without any expense, and the Kiwanis Daddy supervises the choosing of literature that would be in line with the boy's inclinations as far as possible. To promote the spirit of thrift, a bank account is opened for the boy, in the joint name of the boy and the K. Daddy ... The boys are supposed to visit the K. Daddy at his office and at his home at least once every 2 weeks, and the K. Daddy, in his turn, is also supposed to visit the boy in his home and offer suggestions as to the improvement of conditions.

As a result the Kiwanis Club activity encouraged extensive surveillance of the single mother's home, under the guise of charitable work.

(p. 96, Margaret Little, "The Blurring of Boundaries: Private and Public Welfare for Single Mothers in Ontario")
Talk about a situation ripe for abuse.

While Little's article is Ontario-specific in its examples, its main points may be extrapolated to the general problems posed by the marrying of public welfare and private charity systems. Until the notion of "deserving" and undeserving" poor goes away, I don't want to see privately administered charity being touted as any kind of replacement for a public welfare system.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:18 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


The plural of anecdote is not data

And data is not the only form of information
posted by thelonius at 3:32 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


"Until the notion of "deserving" and undeserving" poor goes away..."

But isn't that the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals? Liberals (or "progressives," in this American context) believe that everyone has the same worth, so we're better off helping each other when bad things happen. Deep down, Conservatives have the religious inspired belief that everyone is not deserving. Some people are good and some are just bad, and the "Four Horsemen" of the article are a natural way of sorting one from the other.

Historically the progressives are winning, because there wasn't even the concept of a welfare state until the 20th century. The fact that there was a great recession in 2008 and not a depression is a definitive win for progressive policy. (As the article states.) But there will always be this fundamental difference of belief between liberals and conservatives, and some version of this battle will probably be fought until the end of time.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:35 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I think some of them actually believe in charity as fairy dust, and that if we'd just get rid of taxes, people would have enough to take care of all of those in need.

Yeah, I’ve heard that one, too. And it’s true that without taxes, some people WOULD have more money to take care of those in need. Only trouble is, you don’t know if they’d WANT to use it for that purpose. For all we know, they’d just as soon sock it away in another Swiss account or pick up another trinket to show off.

I sometimes hear the occasional extremist say that we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn the institution of chattel slavery in the U.S., because a lot of slaveholders were TOTALLY decent folks who treated their slaves really well. OK. I don’t know. How do you measure that? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because it was a system in which they were completely free to NOT be decent folks who treated their slaves really well if they didn’t feel like it.

“I’m not going to pay taxes, but I’ll totally take that money and pay it to a voluntary charity that will fill the same societal need.” Sure, I believe it. The check’s in the mail. You’ll call me tomorrow and respect me in the morning and everything.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:44 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Why Don't Republicans Talk More About The Rural Poor? "Why is Ryan only focusing on black people when the problems of poverty and poverty culture clearly impact millions of rural whites as well? Does he do that because he's a racist? Probably not. However, it's pretty clear he's doing that because it's 'safe' for someone from his party to bash heavily-Democratic minorities like blacks. If he applied the same critique to rural whites, part of his party's base, he would likely be losing votes and support from people he needs to win elections."

broadening out the debate a little: Keynes and Hayek - Prophets for today
Hayek argued that the extension of central planning is the start of the growth of constraints on individual liberty, which inevitably leads to the emergence of tyrannical regimes, both communist and fascist in nature. It was the culmination of four years' work—and several decades challenging many of Keynes' new economic theories, particularly on what governments should do during depressions...

But Keynes himself in fact did not dislike many of Hayek's ideas in the "Road to Serfdom". On the contrary, he had indirectly helped Hayek to write it. When Hayek and the rest of the London School of Economics moved to Cambridge in 1940 to escape the Blitz in London, Keynes found him rooms at his college, King's, to live and work in, and the two remained in regular contact until Keynes' death in 1946. Ideologically, they also sang from the same hymn sheet: both were liberals with a distaste for authoritarian regimes such as communism and fascism...

Keynes rejected the populist interpretation of Hayek's argument—that any increase in state planning is the first step on the way to tyranny—but agreed with the overall view that the bounds of state intervention needed to be clearly defined for liberal democracy to remain safe (and more explicitly than even Hayek himself did in the book). Receiving an early copy of the "Road to Serfdom" from Hayek personally, Keynes wrote back to him, praising the book. But Keynes thought Hayek should have been more explicit in what sort of red lines would be necessary for increased state intervention not to imperil liberty:

"You admit here and there that it is a question of knowing where to draw the line. You agree that the line has to be drawn somewhere, and that the logical extreme [total lassiez-faire policies] is not possible. But you give us no guidance as to where to draw it... as soon as you admit that the extreme is not possible and that a line has to be drawn, you are, on your own argument, done for, since you are trying to persuade us that as soon as one moves an inch in the planned direction you are necessarily launched on the slippery slope which will lead you in due course over the precipice."
also btw from konczal recently: A public option for banking - "We already have one, it's a major success, and we can use the post office to expand it rapidly" (previously) altho i'd rather bank at the fed and have my account magically filled with sweet, sweet (digital!) cash :P
posted by kliuless at 3:45 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


I think some of them actually believe in charity as fairy dust, and that if we'd just get rid of taxes, people would have enough to take care of all of those in need.

I think they don't want to pay, so they're claiming other people will. Well, what makes them think so? Whereas the government has an obligation to its constituents, charities aren't obligated to anyone but themselves.

I don't think they actually think the charities will provide enough for people in need, but I also don't think they care. If they actually cared, why would they even object to using tax money rather than relying on charities? I think this "charity" stuff is just sophistry, it's just convenient.

I honestly don't understand what the fuck else we're supposed to be paying taxes for, if not to repair our sagging infrastructure, build anew, buttress the underpinnings of our presumably civilized society, and help provide material support to our fellow citizens in their time of need -- yes, even if that need lasts a lifetime! Even if the person is actually really lazy, even if they never work a day in their lives! Who cares, it's a human being! There is no such thing as "deserving" food, shelter, clothing, and a basic education.

QFT. We pay taxes so we can pay for public goods. What those public goods are might be debatable to a point, but in a democracy, the *bare minimum* must include the goods necessary to maintain a constituency that's educated, informed, and safe enough to vote and, for the more "able," to run for office/govern. When people argue against collecting and spending the tax money that's necessary to keep swaths of the population from living in such degradation that they can't fulfill the civic duties that define a democracy as a democracy, it shakes my trust that they're acting in good faith.

There's also a key difference between charity and the public safety net: unlike charity, the public safety net is part of the social contract between the government and its constituents. The protections (including protections from want) that people receive from the government are *not* charity, the government owes its people those protections in return for governing them. If the government refuses to sufficiently protect its people, it's breaking the social contract and is tyrannical.

Anyway, I appreciate that the article gives lots of background on how social insurance programs/trends have played out over different eras, but I think that the government's obligation to provide social insurance (and the minimum of what that social insurance needs to consist of) is an issue of integrity, not money and maybe not even efficacy. A government is only valid if its citizens are entitled to certain protections from it, and democracy is only valid if those protections include the protections citizens need in order to fulfill their civic duties (at least). If we care about having a valid government and a democracy then we need to pay for those goods (and taxes are how we do that). To me, it's shameful to try and weasel out of paying.

I sometimes hear the occasional extremist say that we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn the institution of chattel slavery in the U.S., because a lot of slaveholders were TOTALLY decent folks who treated their slaves really well. OK. I don’t know. How do you measure that? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because it was a system in which they were completely free to NOT be decent folks who treated their slaves really well if they didn’t feel like it.

First of all, I'm shocked. Second of all, chattel slavery is wrong because human beings aren't property. It doesn't matter if a slave owner treats his slaves well, the institution of [chattel] slavery violates fundamental human rights so it can *never* be acceptable. Any other crimes anyone might commit against enslaved people are just more horrors piled on top of what is already an atrocity. Third of all, someone arguing that chattel slavery isn't condemnable on its face is so ignorant that I fear his education has utterly failed him. What I hear from his argument is that his society needs to put a higher priority on and more money into education.
posted by rue72 at 5:21 PM on March 18


broadening out the debate a little: Keynes and Hayek - Prophets for today

Right there in The Road to Serfdom, Hayek proposed not just the State giving everyone a set of social insurances but also a straight-up no-shit guaranteed minimum income. In a way that implied that the provision of at least the insurances is so blindingly obvious that it doesn't really need to be said.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:59 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


What those public goods are might be debatable to a point, but in a democracy, the *bare minimum* must include the goods necessary to maintain a constituency that's educated, informed, and safe enough to vote and, for the more "able," to run for office/govern. When people argue against collecting and spending the tax money that's necessary to keep swaths of the population from living in such degradation that they can't fulfill the civic duties that define a democracy as a democracy, it shakes my trust that they're acting in good faith.

Oh, the same lunatic fringe element has that one covered, too. In the same conversations I've referenced above, I've had people tell me in all seriousness that anyone poor enough to need any kind of assistance shouldn't be allowed to vote.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:14 PM on March 18


Oh, the same lunatic fringe element has that one covered, too. In the same conversations I've referenced above, I've had people tell me in all seriousness that anyone poor enough to need any kind of assistance shouldn't be allowed to vote.

I once had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a person who asserted that opinion and also got himself into rather a pickle as a young man that led to his (not small) family to be on public assistance for some years. I gave his views on the subject the respect that he asked to be given.
posted by sparktinker at 6:31 PM on March 18


Right there in The Road to Serfdom, Hayek proposed not just the State giving everyone a set of social insurances but also a straight-up no-shit guaranteed minimum income. In a way that implied that the provision of at least the insurances is so blindingly obvious that it doesn't really need to be said.

Enough Internet libertarians I see who aren't all Ayn Rand and God are still on board with a basic income. I could see the hypothetical Green/Libertarian coalition backing that.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:41 PM on March 18


I could also see the hypothetical Green/Libertarian coalition being way more Green than Libertarian, meaning we get President Paul, Speaker Boehner, and Majority Leader McConnell for a decade. No thanks.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:43 PM on March 18


Funny thing about a minimum income is that... how to put it... if you're interested in cutting bureaucracies as much as possible out of things that they're not good at, and putting the market in charge of providing efficient welfare services, that's how you do it: you give the money to the people that need the services and you let them buy the things they need from the people who sell it.

Other funny thing: thinking about humans and their organization, if one were to create charities that replaced the welfare-providing function of government, what you would eventually get would be the government we have presently, with a funky-ass interface layer between the welfare bit and the rest of the government bit. And we have already got the government we have got.

The trouble with libertarians is that they don't go far enough in their thinking.
posted by sparktinker at 7:00 PM on March 18


It's too bad the same people funding the assault on "Entitlement Nation" shipped all the ways to earn a decent living overseas.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:51 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I don't mean to pee in anyone's corn flakes, but the math of a minimum income that could actually lift people out of poverty is a bit daunting:
How large is too large? Suppose the employment rate falls from 60 per cent to 50 per cent, and that capital income falls in line with labor income, so that a larger benefit cost is being supported by a smaller income. The cost of benefits is now equal to about 15 per cent of total income, an increase of 10 percentage points from the initial position. Again assuming the cost is shared equally between capital and labour, the average tax rate would now be about 40 per cent. Depending on the design of the tax scales and the mix between income and other taxes, the marginal rate for the average worker would probably be around 40 per cent, and with a moderately progressive tax scale, lots of workers would be paying marginal rates above 50 per cent.
It gets even harder if you want an income that goes to anyone, regardless of means, as noted in the update to that post. And, importantly, most plans for getting to a minimum income involve some kind of concession to conservatives where existing programs are eliminated, which is problematic if people spend their minimum income poorly, and thus have no healthcare or retirement savings to fall back on.

Not totally against the idea, but IMHO a basic income needs to maintain the idea of universal coverage and a retirement safety net, which makes me wonder how many Libertarians would really be on board.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:54 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I've been thinking about this a lot, having conversations with friends and family who are libertarian in their thinking. I've noticed 5 main objections to welfare programs:

1. Self interest (desire to keep what is mine, lower taxes)

2. Compassion (a belief that receiving benefits while doing no work harms people and their communities, concern about kids with no fathers around)

3. Resentment (hate seeing people get something they don't "deserve," only want to help people like themselves, deserving vs. undeserving poor, racism)

4. Pragmatism (govt is corrupt, inefficient; rent seeking; private charity is more effective; creates perverse incentives; hurts the overall economy, destroys jobs)

5. Justice (it's immoral to take one person's property and give to another; "taxation is theft," "taxation is slavery," "freedom!")

You can shame people about resentment and (sometimes) self-interest, but most conversations get derailed when people go back and forth between the last two:

"Obamacare just won't work!" (here's evidence that it is working, or here's how we could make it work better) "But it's just not fair to force people to buy insurance!" (reasons you owe a debt to the community that made your wealth possible) "But it discourages small businesses from hiring employees!" etc.

It's important to separate the Pragmatism argument from the Justice argument. One is an empirical argument about what works and what doesn't. The other is a moral/philosophical argument.

(And of course for some people, especially politicians, talking points about pragmatism and justice are used to hide motives of self-interest and resentment.)
posted by straight at 12:02 PM on March 19


straight: "(And of course for some people, especially politicians, talking points about pragmatism and justice are used to hide motives of self-interest and resentment.)"

Or sometimes they come right out and appeal directly to resentment.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:32 PM on March 20


Social security won’t be around long enough for me to collect it
posted by homunculus at 10:30 AM on March 23


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