Posted on June 8, 2017
Means-tested welfare programs are “efficient” in the narrow sense that they cost less up front than general entitlements. However they are always penurious, are extremely expensive to administer, as administered are privately grossly demeaning to their clients, and are publicly stigmatizing. Even more importantly, politically they cannot stand up over time to the demonization of poor people.
General entitlements, on the other hand, build up large constituencies and are nearly immune to demonization. (Think Social Security and Medicare.)
Therefore progressives should shift from supporting targeted welfare programs to supporting general entitlements.
1. Single payer health care is the only politically sustainable method of achieving universal health care.
2. A universal, generous, refundable child care credit for all working parents should replace many welfare programs.
3. Food stamps (SNAP) is a tougher problem. Poor people need the program, and it is hard to make a persuasive case for giving everyone food stamps. I suggest however folding it into the income tax as a refundable demogrant that can be paid monthly on a simple application showing need.
4. The earned income tax credit is defensible as a reasonable income tax policy and should be defended and expanded. It is not seen as stigmatizing.
5. Federal housing programs are an unfair and ineffective mess and far too tiny. The only real housing program we have is the income tax deduction subsidy, and it mostly goes to rich people. We should replace both with a unified refundable housing grant linked to income taxes, designed in such a way that the grant could gradually replace the income tax deduction. At first give folks the option to choose between the grant and the deduction. Then gradually phase out the deductible share of housing costs so everyone shifts to the housing grant.