Wednesday, April 16, 2014

More on the Case for Government Programs

If you haven't yet taken the bait from one of my recent posts mentioning writer Matt Bruenig, here's another chance. He recently published a piece called The one part of the charity vs. social welfare argument that everyone ignores.

It's about status quo bias and the effect it has on policy debates. Basically, it's harder to take away a benefit than it is to prevent one from being given because "the way things are" has a lot of power with the human brain.

My favorite quote:

If you believe, as most claim to, that the aged and infirm should not die hungry on the streets, why exactly would you want to take their existing public benefits from them, give the money to other people instead, and then hope that those other people give it right back to the aged and infirm through charity? Even if it did somehow work out as planned, it would be a whole bunch of work to arrive at the same outcome.
That's based on not only status quo bias, but also on the efficiency argument.

A couple of other recent pieces on the question of the best way to provide a humane life to the most people:

Does Christianity really prefer charity to government welfare? "While often overlooked, there is a strong Christian case for their coexistence." By Elizabeth Stoker.

The Voluntarism Fantasy. "Conservatives dream of returning to a world where private charity fulfilled all public needs. But that world never existed—and we’re better for it." By Mike Konczal.
...the Great Recession offers the perfect case study in why the voluntary sector can’t solve these problems. If people like [Utah Congressman] Mike Lee are correct, then the start of the Great Recession would have been precisely the moment when private charity would have stepped up. But in fact, private giving fell as the Great Recession started. Overall giving fell 7 percent in 2008, with another 6.2 percent drop in 2009. There was only a small uptick in 2010 and 2011, even though unemployment remained very high. Giving also fell as a percentage of GDP (even as GDP shrank), from 2.1 percent in 2008 to 2.0 percent in 2009 through 2011.
The problems of philanthropic insufficiency were on parade in that example. But there are also philanthropic particularlism (giving to the "deserving" is common, for instance) and philanthropic paternalism. "As the judge Richard Posner once wrote, a charitable foundation “is a completely irresponsible institution, answerable to nobody” that closely resembles a hereditary monarchy. Why would we put our entire society’s ability to manage the deadly risks we face in the hands of such a creature?"

Plus my earlier ruminations on the question of private charity vs. government programs.

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