A radical idea: put down the rotten fruit, please [Universal safety net proposal]

I like it. Everyone should be entitled to a basic level. Its annoying and offensive when that person is lazy, but there are plenty of non-lazy people that want to pull themselves out of the minimum so overall, if it saves money and provides affordable care, I’m for it even if there are moochers


The “law of supply and demand” doesn’t function in controlled (non-free) markets, which the markets for basic services would be. (For that matter, it doesn’t really function in so-called “free” markets.)

Capitalism fails in many aspects of allocation–specifically, “market failure,” which happens for many reasons. The broken health care market is an example of that–it meets the definition of a failed market perfectly: there are sellers that want to sell, and buyers that want to buy, but the transactions can’t be carried out. The role of government, as I see it, is to intervene when markets fail. Another example of this is the current large number of people who would like to buy some of the huge inventory of vacant homes, and the banks that would dearly love to sell some of that inventory, but the transactions don’t occur because of market failure. Yet, the health care and housing markets function pretty much according to a capitalistic ideal.

Capitalism is a good tool for maximizing total wealth; however, it fails at minimizing human misery. I submit that the latter, rather than the former, is the more worthwhile goal.

I wish. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been called a (bleeping) socialist for even suggesting this idea (as if “socialist” equated to “radioactive, diseased, insane, evil devil-spawn”). I’ve been frankly amazed at the rabid, almost visceral opposition to this idea, even when I couch it in terms of actual economic efficiency, as opposed to, say, compassion or morality.

That’s sort of my point–that we may have evolved sufficiently away from the “rugged individual” mythos. That’s always been an American trope, and has always been wrong. For instance, the ultimate “rugged individual,” the 1830s mountain man, was utterly dependent for his livelihood on the market for beaver hats in London and Paris, not to mention the massive transportation infrastructure that would get his pelts from St. Louis to Europe. He also didn’t make his own gun, powder, and shot. The rugged individual was actually no such thing.

Likewise, Horatio Alger would have died in an alley in short order if it hadn’t been for the thousands of people who interacted with him and provided him with opportunity: he didn’t do it all himself.

If we were all rugged individuals, we would still be wearing deerskins and hunting rats for food with pointed sticks. There would be no art, no science, no human achievement other than learning how to throw rocks. I wish some of those who believe in “the individual” would realize that.

No, the state would provide everyone with a certain amount of credit in each category, which could be used as the individual saw fit. Your housing voucher could only be used to purchase housing, your clothing allowance for clothing, etc. Health costs, however, since they are so intermittent and variable, would be paid by simply providing access to care when you needed it–obviously, such a system exists right now in the more civilized world.

It would, of course, be possible to earn and pay for goods over and above your allowance. The first $X of your annual earnings would go to pay for Basic Maintenance. Anything over and above that would be subject to taxes that paid for all the other functions of government, ideally on a fixed-percentage basis (not a graduated scale). The remainder would be yours to keep and spend as you wished.

You’d have the government entirely control the supply of basic housing and food? What happens when people decide to move? Would they do a better job at coordinating housing, with its millions of households moving around each year, than the open market?

The alternative to that would be to have government purchase these things from the private sector. Which is subject to the law of supply and demand, in that if the government limits the amount of profit there won’t be as many people willing to sell, which would force the government into the business of housing. And if the government pays market rates such that there are enough people willing to go in, since the government is increasing demand by paying for people who can’t afford it, the rate the free market will charge will go up. So it would wind up costing more than you project.

Insurance reform will create efficiencies and save money, but it still comes down to having enough personnel to treat everyone. I don’t see many sellers that want to sell. The sellers would be the hospitals and the doctors, and they are already selling close to every service they can. Do you have a cite that medical personnel are woefully underutilized in America? Because simply paying for medical care is not going to make the doctors and hospitals magically appear.

Indeed, this is a limitation on supply and demand. If the government offered to pay for basic health care, then according to naive theory, the goods would show up for purchase at a high enough rate. But in reality, there won’t be enough health care for all, at any price, unless we train a lot more doctors and other medical personnel.

You misunderstand. A controlled market does not imply that the government provides all supply. It merely means, in this case, that the government provides an alternate method of payment for housing. The only mandates would be price controls and that all providers accept vouchers in lieu of cash. Demand for housing would actually go up, since the entire population would be buyers. If the value of the vouchers was set properly (redeemable for cash equivalent by landlords), the supply of housing would go up as more would be produced to fill the increased need/demand.

The objection to universal health care is likewise misplaced. If demand increases (because those who previously could not afford health care are now buyers), then supply should and would increase. Obviously, there are not enough resources in place right now, but that’s because of the broken health care market.

Also, consider that many of those lacking health care could be perfectly adequately served by five minutes with a physician and a prescription. Most basic care is neither complicated nor costly.

Ironically, your arguments would do better if they were reversed between health care and housing.

But your mentioning of this did remind/convince me that in this environment, government could in theory lubricate transactions – not in health care like where you claim there is a mismatch between sellers and buyers – but in housing. There are currently lots of homes being vacated, and government could subsidize rentals thereof, and thereby fully utilize society’s resources rather than have housing stock going to waste vacantly.

But if it is price-controlled, there would still tend to be less of it available since there are not as many incentives for people to build housing. Which lead me to my remarks about government-supplied housing which is the obvious alternative. But I do agree that in the current housing climate, a government subsidy could work. Whether it would be better once you take into account the administration and setup would remain to be seen.

However, I still maintain that this is not the case for health care. I have pretty good health care and still only get 5 or so minutes with my doctors. The days of a 1/2 hour appointment with your friendly family physician are over and there isn’t much slack in the system unless we penalize specialties such as plastic surgery and veterinary medicine (not that I am proposing that). We do need to have government-paid health care in America, as it is more efficient, but we also need to train the medical personnel who are going to be providing it. In the medium term this would also be more expensive than the number you give. But since it’s our health, we stilll need to do it.

If, as is your assertion, there is a deficit in supply in health care, then that is ipso facto proof of a failure of the market, given that demand on a per capita basis is constant/slowly increasing. Naturally, this will need to be addressed, but there are dozens of ways the supply of health care could be expanded, and such expansion would naturally be a component of any reasonable universal health care program.

There is currently a vast oversupply of housing, so quite possibly a government housing program that serves as a disincentive to builders would be a good thing. I recently visited Las Vegas, and saw entire housing developments vacant, like eerie new-buildings ghost towns. Yet, rental prices were at an all-time high. This suggests to me that “something is seriously out of joint.”

Why is the idea offensive? Because humans are inherently selfish beings. Let’s say you run a footrace in grade school. You come in first and you’re about to be rewarded with a gold chocolate. But the teacher decides the kid who came in last needs your reward more than you do and thus it’s given to the last place loser. How do you feel about being number one now? Do you want to run another race? Is it worth anything to you now?

If I earn a reward, I have earned it for myself. I didn’t earn it so someone who had nothing to do with my success gets a 20% share. Why should someone who deliberately opts out of the social contract be entitled to any of the fruits of my labors?

There is also a hidden assumption here, which is the OP’s assumption that I, Mr. Rich Benevolent can fix Mr. Poor Bastard’s problems simply by paying for his shit.

Paraphrased: it should be illegal to be poor in the United States.

In Canada, these areas are called Indian Reserves. They are certainly not utopias.

Considering the massive amount of forced relocation you’d have to do to integrate the poor with the middle class and the rich, you’re basically looking at turning the United States of America into a giant Palestinian refugee camp.

I’m getting 35%.

300,000,000 people times 17,000 dollars, all divided by gdp of 14.6 trillion.

Right. But the poverty level income for, say, a family of four isn’t 4X the poverty level income for an individual; it’s much less. I forget exactly what adjustment I used, but I assumed that a fairly high percentage of people at the poverty level lived in households of two or more. I also adjusted for the fact that a goodly percentage of those 300,000,000 are children.

In any event, I’m not concerned so much about the numbers (since my calculations were rough at best) as I am about the idea.

Counter-question: Assume that things are done “properly,” i.e., the winner gets the chocolate. How does the kid who is slow, small, or awkward feel about the fact that he will never win the race, and thus will never get any chocolate? Does he want to run in the race at all? Is it worth anything to him?

Social philosophies (such as Social Darwinism) that deny rewards to the less fit (in whatever terms “fitness” may be defined) fail to take into account the contributions that the “unfit” can make. We lack the evaluative abilities and the precognition to definitively say that the kid who wins the race will, in fact, be of more benefit to society than the kid that finishes last.

The only possible answer is that everybody gets an equal share of the chocolate no matter who wins the race. This sounds like Marxism, but it is merely an acknowledgement that the most important kid could very well be the one who finishes last. Or third. Or ninth.

Drat those inconsiderate upstart hackers!*****
Where do they get off thinking they can go about endowing their creations with all those inalienable alien rites??

*****Quote; Wikipedia


Why don’t we just cut everybody a check?

Although I’d hate to institute an idea championed by such a left-leaning socialist as Milton Friedman.

Why don’t we?

I did say that it would be a good idea to provide goods, not cash as some percentage of people would simply spend that money on whatever appealed to them, even to the point of neglecting their own basic needs. Then we’d have to scrape them off the sidewalk.

I like how, in that link, it’s mentioned that when negative income taxes have been tried, it has been found that workers “cut the labor supply by two to four weeks per year.”

Or, in other words, they took a vacation. Can’t have that. :rolleyes

I was being sarcastic. I actually DO think cutting everyone a check is preferrable to a hundred government bureaucracies deciding who deserves what goods and when.

That people need a safety net is a given. What they need to buy, how low their income needs to be to deserve aid, how many children they should have and what substances should be allowed in their body are all personal choices and shouldn’t be haggled with bureaucrats and voters.

Also, avoiding a mulititude of application specific bureaucracies eliminates the ability to lobby over what foods are considered “healthy”, what housing is considered “adequate”, what “vices” should disqualify someone, etc. It also removes the ability of moral crusaders requiring drug tests and affidavits of celibacy to qualify for benefits.

Everybody, when they turn 16, starts getting a monthly paycheck for $X (amount to be decided on later). Anything above that amount they have to earn.

I recognize that healthcare should probably be a separate issue, but otherwise I envision this scheme replacing all other benefits and subsidies.

Yeah, I wonder how they instituted that negative income tax?* If it was like the EIC, it was a once a year windfall and I could easily see that spurring more vacations, big screen tv purchases, and used car sales, pretty much exactly like the EIC is used today.

But my idea would be something like a monthly paycheck. Something that could be used in times of unemployment to barely scrape by, and to supplement underemployment, but not really a windfall amount unless you saved it yourself all year. Which is a practice I think should be encouraged. Mostly, I think something like this (combined with UHC) would allow more people to make riskier bets on their livelihood, starting more businesses, taking time off for education, and generally innovating more and being more free to choose their path, rather than staying locked into a safe cubicle job they hate so as not to lose their health benefits and rent money.

*Off topic outrage: I think “cites” behind a paywall (in this case, JSTOR) should be off-limits on Wikipedia, the Straight Dope, the scientific community, and generally everywhere else in life. If I can’t get the information without paying a $50,000 a year subscription (or $40 per article), it’s not evidence.