Dismantling the Welfare State

There is increasingly a basic assumption in America that there are certain things the government must provide. Health care is the most contentious example. Many have written, on this blog and elsewhere, that providing health insurance to all citizens, and especially to children, is a basic necessity, and that the government should do whatever necessary to create universal health coverage. At some point, one has to ask what makes health insurance so special?

For example, picture a middle-class couple in their late twenties, with two kids just entering school. For simplicity's sake, let's say that their choices are to forgo health insurance (for the parents) and send their kids to private school, or to keep their kids in public school and purchase a generous health care plan. When viewed in these terms, what makes health insurance so vital for a healthy couple that it must replace something essential, such as education? A voice from the left might respond that if public education were better, the choice wouldn't be necessary. That's a nice idea, but the reality is that massive increases in education spending over the last decade have failed to produce a discernible impact.

Speaking of education, why public schools? When you want health insurance, you shop around. When you want a car, you shop around. But for most of America, when you want education, you're stuck with whatever is in your neighborhood. If you live in Princeton or Riverdale, this is pretty good, because the high property-tax revenue has boosted per-student spending to near private-school levels. If you live in Trenton or the South Bronx, that option is not so good, prompting many parents who can ill-afford it to send their children to Catholic prep schools. What if, instead, we gave each family $10,000 (or so) per school-aged child, and told them to spend it, and more if they desired, to send their children to the school of their choice. I'm speaking, of course, of school vouchers, which virtually every educational group (except the teachers' unions) has endorsed. With such a system, instead of being trapped in overcrowded public schools over which they had no control, parents could send their children where they wanted. This could also reduce the de facto segregation that rich communities practice, where they must keep out poor families in order to keep public schools well-financed.

As unpopular as dismantling pillars of the New Deal is on the left, it is time to find sensible alternatives to the bloated, ineffective government of the last few decades. Such reforms should not be seen as caving to income inequality or as a victory for the rich, but rather as a sensible way to give poor and middle-class families power over their own lives.

No comments: