Reimagining the welfare state
I have come more and more to believe that America is need of a stronger set of safety-nets and public investment in general. Beyond the need for a more robust safety-net apparatus including some form of universal health coverage, we’re badly in need of infrastructure investment. Water lines across much of the country need to be brought up to code. Roads and bridges are deteriorating. Rising fuel costs will necessitate broader investment in rail as both a means of transportation and distribution of goods. Private industry will need to invest more capital in rail as well I think, since most of our nation’s logistical needs are met via trucking. At some point that will become prohibitively expensive.
As sensible as free market economics are when it comes to driving innovation and promoting the generation of wealth, I think proponents of a more rigid free-market ideology fall short when they attempt to answer the problems of America’s sagging infrastructure and less than satisfactory safety nets. That’s why it’s so refreshing to read someone like Reason’s Matt Welch on the benefits of France’s universal healthcare system, or Bruce Bartlett on the sort of trade-offs Americans will likely have to make in order to make our welfare state and revenue systems more in-line with Europe’s.
The fact of the matter, though, is that conservative policy – aside from that advocated by people like Bartlett – is largely bereft of the sort of ideas and answers that the coming American century will demand. The global economy requires us to invest in education and to make it possible for our labor force to be mobile and confident. Our current healthcare system is a direct impediment to this demand. The fact that more and more children are being raised by single mothers in situations with very little social stability creates a huge drag on the competitiveness of our future workforce. Denying the need for smart, effective safety-nets and clamoring for a return to an 18th century model of government does absolutely nothing to answer the needs of the coming global century.
Will pointed out the need for conservatives to be a part of the serious climate change debate or risk turning over all the solutions to those on the left, leading to possibly some very bad legislation down the road. He’s absolutely correct in his assessment.
Similarly, without some sort of compromise on the welfare state, conservatives promise to return America to an even uglier state of affairs – one wherein social and economic populism collide and protectionism, economic stagnation, and increasing socio-economic divisions further tear at America’s social fabric. That’s the path current Republican domestic policy will lead us unless we see some serious changes in thinking. Free market principles can have extremely beneficial effects on how a welfare state is constructed. If advocates of competition and choice decide to not be a part of the debate, then the welfare state of the future will be constructed without those principles.