Magazine article In These Times

For the Welfare of All

Magazine article In These Times

For the Welfare of All

Article excerpt

In this month's cover story ("The Welfare State of America," page 20), Peter Frase and Bhaskar Sunkara propose that the Left inaugurate an anti-austerity campaign that focuses on the expansion of government social welfare programs. I agree.

The Left should fight for programs that provide health services, educate children, bolster the income of the less-well-off and subsidize housing. The reasons are obvious. The first is a simple moral imperative: A good society strives to meet the basic needs of all its people. The second is that government programs that protect people from the exigencies of labor markets, or of old age, or orphanhood, or disability, make people more secure. A sense of security, the reduction of fear, is a good thing in itself. But it also empowers people, and for that reason is essential to a more democratic society. Workers are far more likely to stand up to their bosses when they know they can fall back on decent unemployment benefits, just as women are more likely to stand up to abusive husbands when they know that they and their children can rely on government income supports.

Frase and Sunkara rightly insist that welfare programs should be centralized. They emphasize the legal constraints that force states and municipalities to balance their budgets, no matter the state of the economy, and that justify the right-wing push for austerity. But there are even more powerful political constraints on welfare-state spending at the sub-national level. Because corporations can pick and choose among locales for investment, they have enormous power over state and local governments. They can demand a "good business climate" of low taxes and low welfare spending, and also extort unseemly subsidies, in exchange for promises of investment.

Americans have a romance with decentralization that the Right encourages. …

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