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My latest research study was released today: a detailed look at whether we could replace the current welfare state with some form of guaranteed national income. The case in favor of a GNI turns out to be surprisingly strong, at least in theory. It would be far simpler and more transparent than current welfare programs, and would break up the institutions and special interests that push for more spending. It would treats recipients like adults, dissipate concentrations of poverty, and have better incentives when it comes to work, marriage, and savings. In theory such an income could be set high enough that no American would live in poverty.
But what sounds good in theory tends to break down when one looks at implementation. There appear to be serious trade-offs among cost, simplicity, and incentive structure. Attempts to solve problems in one area would raise questions in others. In the end, there simply appears to be no practical way to establish a guaranteed national income that does not create as many problems as it solves.
The idea of a guaranteed national income should not be dismissed out of hand, but neither should we allow good intentions to cause us to rush into something we could soon come to regret. That, after all, is what got us into the mess we are in today.
You can also listen to this podcast on the topic:
I’ve long had a soft spot in my heart for Baltimore. Maybe it stems from my love for The Wire, perhaps the best TV show of all time. Or maybe it’s because my wife works in the city, and I have numerous friends who live there. Regardless of the reason, it saddens me greatly to see the rioting, looting, and destruction that has taken place there over the last few days.
Ironically perhaps, even as the rioting was taking place, I was participating in a Youth Summit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History to discuss the War on Poverty. Most of my fellow panelists were full of praise for the War on Poverty, and called for renewed federal spending on social welfare programs. Yet, if the War on Poverty was such a success, why – trillions of dollars in government spending later – do we still see so much poverty, hopelessness and despair in a city like Baltimore.
My column today for National Review Online looks at the underlying causes of the Baltimore riots and suggests that decades of big government failed the city and its residents, particularly its poorest residents. From high taxes to failed government schools to the War on Drugs, Baltimore has been a victim of government.
No doubt, we can expect to hear the usual chorus about neglected neighborhoods and the need for government jobs programs or additional social spending. But, we learn nothing from five decades of big government failure — if we simply go back to throwing money at the same tired old programs — it will be just a matter of time until the next riot.
UPDATE: I have some additional thoughts in this column for Newsweek.
Last week Cato sponsored a conference at Columbia University on “Can We End Poverty?” The program looked at the failures of the War on Poverty and asked whether private charity can do a better job of helping the poor than can government welfare programs.
In addition to myself, participants included: John McWhorter, Center for American Studies, Columbia University; Ron Haskins, Co-Director, Center on Children and Families, Budgeting for National Priorities Project; Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink; Christopher Wimer, Co-Director, Center on Poverty and Social Policy; Robert Doar, Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies, American Enterprise Institute; Jo Kwong, Director of Economic Opportunity Programs, Philanthropy Roundtable; Harriet Karr-McDonald, Executive Vice President, Doe Fund; Robert Woodson, Founder and President, Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; David Beito, Professor of American History, University of Alabama; and Ruth Rathblott, President and Chief Executive Office, Harlem Educational Activities Fund, among others.
You can now view the livestream of that event at
Last month my conference on “Can We End Poverty,” at Columbia University was snowed out. It has now been rescheduled for March 26.
We will be looking at the failures of the War on Poverty and nongovernmental alternatives.
Speakers will include, in addition to me, John Allison, President, Cato Institute; John McWhorter, Center for American Studies, Columbia University; Ron Haskins, Co-Director, Center on Children and Families, Budgeting for National Priorities Project; Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink; Christopher Wimer, Co-Director, Center on Poverty and Social Policy, Columbia University; Jo Kwong, Director of Economic Opportunity Programs, Philanthropy Roundtable; Harriet Karr-McDonald, Executive Vice President, Doe Fund; Robert Woodson, Founder and President, Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; David Beito, Professor of American History, University of Alabama; Eloise Anderson, Wisconsin Secretary of Children and Families; and Tess Reynolds, CEO of New Door ventures in San Francisco.
I hope that you can join us. To register, go to:
During this year’s State of the Union Address, President Obama defended his change in Cuba Policy by saying, “When what you’ve been doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.” In my latest column for National Review Online, I suggest he apply that logic to big government more generally. After all, there’s no shortage of government programs that haven’t been working.