Hands Out

, Evan Sumortin, Leave a comment

The welfare state has perpetuated its own disaster: more people than ever are voluntarily poor, young men increasingly reach adulthood unprepared for work even when there are jobs available, poor young women are having more babies without husbands, and poor children are growing up with incompetent parents. The welfare state has created a society that is filled with social as well as economic problems that can’t be solved under the current system. In his 2006 book, In Our Hands, Charles Murray proposed overarching changes in the governmental system, which he conveniently titled “The Plan.”

His plan is one of a market democracy: a mixture of libertarian and social democratic views. Its primary roles are to maintain social justice as well as the economic freedom of all its citizens. It maintains the libertarian and classical liberal concept that economic liberty should be a basic liberty, just as civil and political liberties are. However, unlike the traditional forms, his Plan is fully committed to the concept of social justice. This includes a tax-funded social safety net.

Murray proposed getting rid of the welfare state. He claims that more than one trillion dollars goes into the welfare state every year, yet the problems that the welfare state attempts to fix still exist. Murray contended, “only the government can spend money so ineffectually.”

“Give the money back to the people,” he argued. A trillion dollars split evenly between all American citizens over the age of 21 results in $10,000 per person every year. “If you’ve reached your 21st birthday, are a United States citizen, are not incarcerated, and have a pulse, you get the grant, electronically deposited in monthly installments in an American bank of your choice. If you make more than $25,000, you pay part of it back in graduated amounts. At $50,000, the surtax maxes out at $5,000…you can use the grant for whatever you want. Enjoy,” he wrote.

That is $10,000 every year to spend on retirement, health insurance, and other expenses. The Plan guarantees a universal minimum income that the current system cannot match. “We are watching with the current administration…trillions of dollars that are just simply being wasted or worse they are being used to make the government bigger. This plan would be cheaper than what the Obama administration put through. If you want a stimulus package start putting a check into everybody’s checking account every month. That will stimulate things. But of course that is way too simple for this administration to contemplate,” Murray said during a recent interview with Accuracy in Media.

This plan may be categorized as a viable compromise between liberal and conservative ideals. During the interview, Murray described the compromise this way: “I am libertarian and if I had my way I would get rid of all of these [welfare] programs and not replace them with anything…That is not going to happen. We live in a world where large income transfers are going to occur.” As a compromise, “lets not filter [income transfers] through the bureaucracies…just give people money…at [that] point it is in their hands.”

The most appealing part of the Plan is the end of involuntary poverty because of the social safety net that is put into place, he argues. This includes people who have tried to get out of poverty, but have still failed. In his book, Murray described voluntary poverty as “the product of one’s own idleness, fickleness, or vice.” With Murray’s plan, the money can be used as a supplemental income that can enable people who are just at or below the poverty line to not worry about losing their welfare check, thereby getting rid of the incentive to stay poor. It is in the interest of the individual to get a job to make more money because the extra $10,000 per year will always be there and getting a higher paying job will almost always be more beneficial, he argued.

“The rules of the Plan lure people into working until they are making so much money they can’t afford to quit,” wrote Murray. “Setting the start of the paycheck of the grant at $25,000 is an Alexandrian solution, cutting the knot rather than trying to untie it. ‘Keep every cent until you reach $25,000, then we’ll talk,’ it says. By that time, it is too late to back out. If someone is earning $25,000 a year under the Plan and still getting the full grant he is taking home a cash gross of $35,000. The fact that someone starts paying a few hundred dollars in surtax when he first gets past $25,000 in earned income has no meaningful effect on his calculations about whether to continue working.”

Murray recognizes the fact that people will mishandle their money and he is sympathetic to the fact that people are born of unequal abilities to equip them for economic success. However, under this plan, there is no involuntary poverty. According to Murray, inequality in wealth is mostly because of the way people freely choose to use their own wealth. This doesn’t mean that there will be no poverty, because in any society there will be the gambler that wastes all his money, but the point is that in the end it is his choice, Murray argues. If the gambler chooses every month to use his money to gamble then it is not the government’s responsibility to feed, house and clothe him if his luck takes a turn. There needs to be a point where each individual is responsible for himself. These types of individuals will have more responsibility for themselves because “everyone gets a check, and everyone knows that everyone else is getting a check. A lot of expectations and demands to do better can be put on people who have income streams than on people who don’t,” said Murray.

The main problem that Murray cites with the welfare state is that it limits the economic freedom of its citizens. These constraints on economic freedom are mostly because of the culture that it breeds. The welfare state instills freedom in contentment, while The Plan allows for economic freedom. With this economic freedom comes the freedom to pursue happiness in the sense that Jefferson meant it when he wrote the Declaration of Independence: Murray interprets this in his book as “lasting and justified satisfaction with one’s life as a whole.” Lasting happiness is not the momentary satisfaction that can be found in pleasurable things, like sitting at home and watching TV. Justified happiness implies that “happiness is inextricably linked with the exercise of one’s abilities and virtue,” he wrote. The welfare state distorts our incentives and undermines the responsibility of the individual. This responsibility, according to Murray, should be placed “in our hands.”

Evan Sumortin is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.


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