That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one part of the argument:
As it stands, most U.S. welfare programs are tied to the institution of work. That leaves gaps in the safety net, and frequently analysts will decry this imperfect coverage. I take this criticism seriously, but I see merit in tying welfare to work as a symbolic commitment to certain American ideals. It’s as if we are putting up a big sign saying, “America is about coming here to work and get ahead!” Over time, that changes the mix of immigrants the U.S. attracts and shapes the culture for the better.
I wonder whether this cultural and symbolic commitment to work might do greater humanitarian good than a transfer policy that is on the surface more generous. If you think of the U.S. as the major source of innovation for the world, prioritizing a work ethic over comprehensive welfare coverage might prove beneficial.
If the kinds of jobs created by the modern service economy can be made more attractive, I think much (not all) of the work problem will take care of itself. Most people do wish to work in jobs they enjoy, as a source of pride, money, and social connection.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for how to get there, but I worry that permanent subsidies for those who don’t work wouldn’t lead toward solutions. That means effective safety-net policies will continue to be messy and complex. Although the universal basic income idea sounds like a good direct fix, it probably leads in the wrong direction.
There is much more at the link.