In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State

By Tanner, Michael | Freeman, September 2007 | Go to article overview

In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State


Tanner, Michael, Freeman


In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State by Charles Murray AEI Press * 2006 * 140 pages * $20.00

Reviewed by Michael Tanner

If, as Richard Weaver famously wrote, "ideas have consequences," then Charles Murray is a truly consequential man. Only a handful of thinkers over the past quarter century have had as much impact on public policy. It was his 1984 classic, Losing Ground, that led to a bipartisan consensus about the failure of the Great Society welfare state. Now, ten years after the welfare reform that owes its existence to Murray's ideas, he is back with a thought-provoking approach to government antipoverty policies.

Murray's latest book, In Our Hands: A I'liin Io Replace she Welfare State, provides a blueprint for doing just that.

By Murray's estimate, federal, state, and local governments spend roughly $522 billion per year on antipoverty programs, yet poverty rates have barely budged over the past 40 years. As he notes, "Only government could spend money so ineffectually." His answer, therefore, is to take the money away from the government and give it directly to the people.

Murray would abolish all welfare programs. Hewould also terminate all other government transfer programs: Social security, Medicare, and even agricultural price supports. In their place he would provide every American citizen with an annual grant of $10,000 to do with as he or she pleases. The grant would be untaxed for those earning less than $25,000 per year, thereby establishing a floor of national income, and entirely taxed back for high-income earners. There would be no work requirements or other restrictions. All Americans would get that check-but nothing else.

This, of course, wouldn't actually abolish welfare. In fact, Murray's proposal would initially be more expensive than current programs. Yet it would sweep away the vast edifice of the modern welfare state-not just the agencies and bureaucrats who administer the dozens of overlapping aid programs, but the rules, regulations, and restrictions that make the welfare state as much the overseer of the poor's behavior as a dispenser of alms. At a time when big-government conservatives seek to use welfare as a weapon to micromanage the lives of the poor, this comes as a breath of fresh air.

For example, it is widely acknowledged that existing welfare laws act as a disincentive to family formation. Recipients are frequently penalized for marrying. Biggovernment conservatives would counteract this by creating federal programs to teach the poor about the benefits of marriage, or even bribe welfare mothers into marrying with the offer of additional benefits.

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