What Government Can Do-Dealing with Poverty and Inequality

By Wooster, Martin Morse | Ideas on Liberty, October 2001 | Go to article overview

What Government Can Do-Dealing with Poverty and Inequality


Wooster, Martin Morse, Ideas on Liberty


What Government Can Do-Dealing With Poverty and Inequality

by Benjamin I. Page and James R. Simmons

University of Chicago Press * 2000 * 309 pages * $29.00

One of the major triumphs of liberty in the 1990s was in welfare reform. In the 1980s, scholars-notably Charles Murray-who contended that welfare demeaned those who accepted it and ensured lifetimes of dependence on the dole were condemned as mean-spirited extremists. But that view is now the consensus.

Although socialists are in retreat, they have not been totally routed, as political scientists Benjamin I. Page and James R. Simmons show in What Government Can Do. Page, who teaches at Northwestern, and Simmons of the University of Wisconsin (Oshkosh) have prepared a treatise that provides comfort to the statist and a bitter pill for lovers of freedom.

"We find," they write, "that government can act effectively and that it can do so in ways that can serve economic efficiency, contribute to economic growth, and preserve individual liberty, while at the same time reducing poverty and enhancing equality."

Page and Simmons support all of the programs created during the New Deal and the Great Society. They argue that the problems of the welfare state can be solved by raising taxes on the wealthy and then channeling the additional taxes into expanded welfare state programs. Except for farm subsidies to large corporations, they would maintain or expand all welfare programs.

In the authors' view, the solution to every social problem is to give the government more money. Social Security and Medicare's impending bankruptcy? To them, that's an accounting fiction that can be fixed by raising Social Security taxes on the well-to-do. Collapsing schools? Teachers aren't paid enough. People on the dole for decades? Raise the amount they are given.

Moreover, Page and Simmons want to expand the welfare state in two areas. They consider, and reject, the notion of a guaranteed national income, but support a national "right" to housing, health care, and food. They call for Washington to establish a "food card" so that everyone from Bill Gates to a homeless drunk will be entitled to a food ration. They also want the government to establish a network of medical clinics for the poor, as a prelude to nationalized health care. It's unabashed old-style socialism. …

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