How much should the safety net grow? (and when?)

Lane Kenworthy thinks there is much more to be done.  For instance:

Early education (preschool, child care), beginning at age one, is a very good idea. Not all states have full-day kindergarten; few have preschool for four-year-olds; none have much in the way of public funding of education for kids age one to three.

Paid parental leave is available in only a few states and covers a relatively short period.

Sickness insurance: ditto.

Unemployment insurance covers too few of us.

Unemployment insurance should be supplemented by or folded into a new wage insurance program.

Social assistance benefits have been decreasing steadily over the past generation.

If markets are now structured in such a way as to severely limit real earnings growth for those in the bottom half of the distribution, we may need to massively expand the EITC.

We ought to do more for children, working-age adults, and elderly persons with assorted physical, cognitive, emotional, and social disabilities.

These questions could and should be debated with thousands of pages.  But, in the meantime, may I offer my little squib/splat of doubt?

At what wealth level are these protections supposed to arrive?  Now?  One also wonders which risks are considered to be insurable at the individual and family level, either through insurance proper or through social norms, savings, and other voluntary institutions.  What will be the implicit marginal rate of taxation on earning additional income in this new arrangement?  Has it been estimated?  What will happen to the savings rate?  What coercions will accompany these protections?  What will the pressures be, legal or otherwise, to send your kid away at one year of age?  Will job creation for women go down if there is mandatory paid parental leave?  Probably so. Will women end up better off?  Quite possibly not.  How many people would count as falling under these disabilities?  Is this all to be financed by higher taxes on the rich?  We probably can't even pay for our current bills in that manner.  If it is all done by VAT, how many people would prefer to have the government spend the money for them, as opposed to spending it themselves?  Just asking.  How about just sending the needy people some cash?  What is the likelihood that such benefits will, in the longer run, discourage our willingness to take in immigrants, the most effective form of aid we know?

Another way to ask the question is to look for the low-hanging fruit, when it comes to social welfare.  Let's take Social Security as more or less given, though it will see marginal adjustments.  Are the big gains to be had from some new social welfare program, or from showing that Medicare and Medicaid and other regulated health care institutions can work better than the public health systems of other wealthy nations, without running the United States into insolvency? 

In my view it is the latter, and I don't think that fruit is hanging especially low.  Can we agree on a truce, and first improve the programs we already have?  Will the new programs have the problems of the old?

If I were to pick some other piece of low-hanging fruit, I would cite the still-neglected problem of pandemic preparation.

On the Kenworthy post, here are comments from Matt.


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