Monday, December 23, 2013

De-Federalize welfare -- hand it all over to the States

Americans need government for some things but no American needs TWO governments for anything

The welfare state is a nightmare.  Programs such as Medicaid are fiscal catastrophes. The food stamp program is riddled with waste. The EITC is easily defrauded, even sending checks to prisoners. And housing subsidies are a recipe for the worst forms of social engineering.  The entire system should be tossed in the trash.

Why not take all income-redistribution programs, put them into a single block grant, and then transfer the money - and responsibility - to state governments?  Here's my argument for decentralization and federalism.

 In an ideal world, the block grant would gradually diminish so that states would be responsible for both the collection and disbursement of all monies related to welfare. But that's a secondary issue. The main benefit of this federalist approach is that you stop the Washington-driven expansion of the welfare state and you trigger the creation of 50 separate experiments on how best to provide a safety net. Some states might choose a basic income. Others might retain something very similar to the current system. Others might try a workfare-based approach, while some could dream up new ideas that wouldn't stand a chance in a one-size-fits-all system run out of Washington, DC. And as states adopted different systems, they could learn from each other about what works and what doesn't work. And since it's easier to influence decisions that are closer to home, taxpayers at the state level almost certainly would have more ability to impact what happens with their money.

Last but not least, I'm just a policy wonk, but I think the federalism strategy also has political appeal. As just noted, it worked with welfare reform. And I suspect a lot of non-libertarians and non-conservatives will intuitively understand that you'll get better results if you allow diversity and experimentation at the state level.

P.S. There would be some bad news if we decentralized the welfare state. It could mean an end to the Moocher Hall of Fame.

P.P.S. Replacing the welfare state with a (hopefully shrinking) block grant only addresses the problem of "means-tested" programs. If you also want to solve the problem of old-age entitlements, that requires Medicare reform and Social Security reform.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

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