Reimagining the welfare state


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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49 Responses

  1. There’s an implicit point in here that I’d like to make explicit: “stronger” safety nets and “larger” safety nets need not be the same thing. Indeed, it is entirely conceivable to create a system of safety nets that is not only “stronger,” but also “smaller.”Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      That’s absolutely correct, Mark. I should have made that more explicit, but it’s a part of my larger point about conservatives being a part of the conversation rather than doing what they’re doing now.Report

      • So which do we go with it?

        My personal opinion is that as long as people aren’t dying in the streets or dying of things that wouldn’t kill someone with a job…we’re doing pretty good.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          I think we can rise above mediocrity in this country, even in our provision of state services.Report

          • It could be argued that a ‘stronger’ or ‘larger’ safety net actually breeds mediocrity.Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

              Certainly. But looking at nations like Denmark I don’t see that. I see a population largely pro-free-trade, full of innovation and creativity, good schools, and so on and so forth. Obviously the wrong sort of welfare state can produce terrible mediocrity, but efficient, smart safety nets shouldn’t do that, and that’s also why it’s so important that conservatives are part of the conversation (and libertarians I might add).Report

              • I think though that those nations institutionalized their social programs in much different ways. In Denmark, essentially eveyone uses some sort of social program, so there is no stigma. In that sense I don’t know if it is fair to call them ‘safety nets’ at all. I assume the US model would primarily be just for the down-trodden. When the safety net is only being offered to the lowest members of society, the challenge in not having it abused is much greater. In other words, the CEO who loses his job and finds his family in the poor house is pretty likely to fight hard to get back to a certain level of personal success, whereas a third-generation welfare mom might be significantly less motivated.Report

              • Avatar 62across says:

                One of the things that makes the conversation E.D. wants to have so difficult is a lot of the assumptions that Mike lists here in his response. Why would some Dane not be stigmatized by having to rely on the state when he is not able to provide for his family. Why are the “lowest members of society” more likely to abuse a social system? (AIG, anyone?) Why would a CEO who’s lost it all be more motivated to succeed than a welfare mom who’s never had anything to begin with? Is personal success really dependent primarily on how motivated someone is and is financial benefit the only legitimate motivator?Report

            • Avatar Barry says:

              Mike, a lot of things could be argued. For example, the Khmer Rouge argued that anybody in Cambodia wearing glasses should be killed (excluding Khmer Rouge officials, I imagine).Report

        • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

          As some one who considers himself a ‘results-based’ liberal, the kinds of social welfare programs I would like to see aside exceptign healthcare are programs that do the following: First they need to distinguish between the those we can teach to fish and those we cannot. Second we need to make sure that the incidence of perverse incentive is reduced as much as it can be without reducing administrative efficiency. Third, for those who can be taught to fish we need to make sure that we are doing it efficiently and removing roadblocks. Fourth we need to avoid excess moral panic and worry in general, especially in the case of those whom we will never teach to fish.

          Healthcare is a different topic to me and one I think we have talked to death. The non-fishers I am talking about are those such as the persistent homeless. I have read claims that it is both cheaper and more humane to simply provide them with cheap apartments that don’t require them to clean-up. It keeps them safe and warm while keeping them off the street. If they want to try to improve their lives we should be there to help but they aren’t going to quit drinking just to have a warm place to sleep.Report

    • Avatar Freddie says:

      There’s an implicit point in here that I’d like to make explicit: “stronger” safety nets and “larger” safety nets need not be the same thing.

      +1. My thoughts exactly.Report

    • Avatar 62across says:

      I’d be very interested in reading some ideas of how a “stronger” yet “smaller” safety-net might be designed. Contra Scott below, I think there are no small number of liberals and centrists who would favor small, if there was some assurance that it would be strong. And please define “strong” when you’ve got folks like Mike defining success as no corpses in the street.Report

  2. Avatar Scott says:

    Funny, I’ve never heard of any liberals arguing for “smaller” but “stronger” safety nets. If anything they seem to be exclusively focused on larger and more generous welfare programs in hopes of replicating Europe’s follies. Besides, what does improvements in infrastructure have to do with welfare unless you see it as a new welfare program?Report

  3. Avatar mike farmer says:

    There is plenty of libertarian literature showing innovative alternatives, but as usual, they are ignored in favor of the position that limited government proponents have no answers for infrastruture and “safety-nets”. It’s sad that this continues unchallenged. Congratulations, E.D., you have become a full-fledged statist.

    When someone can’t even go so far as to say that private means are the first choice and all private sector ideas should be exhausted and proven unworable before turning it over to government, there’s no use in even discussing the issue, because the default is always the State.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Mike Farmer –

      Congratulations – you’ve become the most predictable commenter on this blog.Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

        Perhaps, but Mr. Farmer is exactly correct.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          But it really doesn’t matter if Mr. Farmer is correct. The point I’m making is that this die-hard thread of limited government reasoning is a non-starter regardless of its merits. It’s not what people want – even in the conservative base. And it will inevitably transform into anti-small-government populism in the end.Report

          • Avatar Herb says:

            Nor is the small-government “principle” applied evenly. I wonder, Mike, do you support reducing the border patrol? Do you support removing the FCC’s authority to regulate obscenity on TV? Are you for or against giving the government authority to ban abortion/gay marriage?

            These are rhetorical questions, of course. We all know the views of the GOP on these issues….and they don’t have much use for the “small government principles” they hold so dear in other arenas.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Herb, it is important to keep in mind that Mike does not in any particular way support the GOP.Report

              • Avatar mike farmer says:

                Thanks, North. No, I don’t promote statism at all, in any form, Republican or Democrat. It’s a curious fact that the State has been in charge of infrastructure, and the infrastructure is sagging.

                I take pride in being predictable where principles are concerned.Report

              • Avatar mike farmer says:

                The argument that the people don’t want limite government is ludicrous. Several people have moaned and groaned about the intellectual poverty on the right, and they are right for the wrong reasons. They think conservative intellectuals should be reasoning about policy and how to guide the State to good, statist governance, when intellectuals should be convincing people that statism will fail and that the American people will be the losers — all American people, majority and minority. Intellectuals on the right should know the philosophy of individualism, capitalism, liberty, rights, and how to convey this messge to people who are confused by all the statist intervention and power-grabs. Rather than capitulating to statism and becoming the statist-lite alternative, intellectuals on the right should be articulating the benefits of limited government and innovative solutions in the private sector.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I used to agree, mostly. Now I’m not so sure.

                People want an exceptionally powerful government to enforce moral codes by threat (and if threat doesn’t work, by force).

                They just want their own moral codes enforced. People who don’t care what they do in the next valley are few and far between. Why, the people in the next valley are cannibals who will corrupt our children, after all. We need these laws to protect ourselves from people who wish to harm us and dismantle our oh-so-important social contracts… and they are willing to be inconvienienced a little if this means that you are inconvenienced a lot.Report

              • Avatar mike farmer says:

                I think we’re outgrowing the need to enforce moral codes. Each generation is more open to different lifestyles — more tolerant — especially since cultures are entermingling through the internet — we haven’t yet seen this influence, but I suspect it will be libertarian-leaning.Report

  4. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    I might be just as predictable, but I mask it with infrequency of commenting.

    My stock response to such ideas is, simply, “why?” Toward what end? Ostensibly, once you get down to the bottom, the answer is something like human flourishing. So then you have to ask, are welfare and safety nets and comfort the necessary and/or sufficient conditions of that? Aside from basic order and freedom from arbitrary coercion—both of individuals and the state itself—the general premise I think we can all agree on is that we’d like to err on the side of the government staying out. Free marketeers err far on that side, moderates a bit less, and progressives…well, maybe we can’t count on their agreement.

    Someone was talking about Robert Heinlein’s idea, expressed in his posthumously published For Us, The Living, of the “inheritance dividend,” or “social credit,” in which the government pays every citizen a monthly paycheck. If anyone wants to work, whether for the enjoyment of the labor or for extra spending cash, they are free to do so. But man in this utopian society is free from the worry of having to provide for his own survival, and is left only to provide for his enjoyment. I could hardly believe the notion, so I went out and bought the book and read it within a day. Apparently, it is (or was, at any rate) a real idea with real advocates.

    Even leaving alone the economics of such things, I can’t see how they’re a good idea. I’ll grant you I would love to be able to sit around and collect a paycheck ad mortem. But it would inevitably leave our society pusillanimous and soft, as Tocqueville put it.

    So I’m serious when I ask: why should safety nets, big, strong, or otherwise, be a desirable, legitimate end of government? Is there much more reason than we don’t like hearing sad stories about folks down on their luck?Report

  5. Avatar greginak says:

    Well lets see:

    The moral argument. People have inherent value and we should help them just because it is the good , right, moral thing to do. ( refer to religion)

    The no person is an island argument. People in a society are not simply individuals, we, and our welfare, are connected. By helping others we create a better society. A society with people who are healthy/doing better is a better place to live with more good stuff in it and less bad stuff like crime.

    The karma/contract argument. By helping others we create an implied contract that they will help us out when we need help ( as most of us will at some point).

    That’s a start. Add water and mix. Season to taste.Report

    • Avatar Scott says:


      Sorry I simply don’t believe that someone has inherent value just because they are taking up space on this planet. Given that I fail to see why I should have to support others just because liberals think that is the moral thing to do.Report

  6. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    The moral argument trips over itself badly when it forcibly extracts from some to give to others. Now that doesn’t sound like “the good, right, moral thing to do.”

    I’ve not come upon the karma argument before. Now that I’ve seen it, perhaps I know why.

    The “no person is an island” argument is the most interesting of the three, although it is essentially an economic one. And macroeconomics might as well be religion or karma or voodoo. I’m afraid it doesn’t give much to go on other than how persuasive you find whatever economist happens to be opining on it.Report

    • Avatar 62across says:

      Understanding that forcible extraction is an issue, I’m wondering what your take is on greginak’s moral argument leaving that aside. That is, do you believe that people have inherent value and we (meaning any other people, not necessarily the government) should help them out when they are in need because it is the good, right and moral thing to do? Is the problem the mechanism or should it not be a concern to anyone if someone else is suffering, as long as we don’t have to hear the sad stories?Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


        Your question is well taken. I sometimes suggest that libertarians advance a relativistic moral view, given their strict rule against imposing any moral values in law. I’m sure this is true for some libertarians, but I grant the two are not logically linked.

        For myself, I wrestle with how to feel about the less fortunate. Generally speaking, it is the good, right, and moral thing to do, and it is the mechanism of doling out charitable support rather than the charitable support itself. Indeed there are many who simply make bad choices, and of course I will feel less bad about their state of affairs.

        In short, there should be rigorous discussion about our respective personal moral obligations to the poor. But this debate is profoundly different than the one that occurs in the context of political theory.Report

        • Avatar 62across says:

          Tim –

          Thank you for your thoughtful response.

          I’m glad to hear you wrestle with how to feel about the poor and that you implicitly acknowledge that some people find themselves in need through no choice of their own. Here’s the rub: the rigorous discussion about our moral obligations will feed no one, deserving or not, until some action is taken. Then it all comes down to the mechanism, which will be either private or public or some combination.

          To return to your original question “why?” the response need merely be because it is the right thing to do. “How?” is a much dicier question and it is the debate that needs to take place. Though I don’t know this about you, too many libertarians are far too glib about “why” in order to avoid contending with the truth that a purely private “how” is untenable.Report

        • Avatar mike farmer says:

          libertarians don’t advance a relativistic moral view — they may be more morally conscious and vocal than most – it’s just that the libertarian doesn’t want the State detemining morals and enforcing them. I don’t understand why this is difficult to understand. You will understand when some facist regime takes over America because of our great democratic system, and all a sudden you become a wild-eyed libertarian.Report

    • Avatar Freddie says:

      “Extracting from some to give to others” suggests that, in fact, the some have what they have because of their own labor. Which is entirely reductive. Here’s what we will do: we will put you in the jungle of anarchy, and see what you have after awhile. The likely answer is “nothing,” because outside of a system of rules, laws and government structures, no human flourishing, economic or otherwise, is possible.

      The idea that you are largely responsible for what you have and thus deserves it rests on the false notion that you aren’t taking a great many things from the society which you refuse to deign to help support. But without that society, without it’s innumerable structures that support, protect and comfort you every day, in many ways, you would likely have nothing. And if you think that people take things from you when there is a government, again, try the jungle. In Somalia, the people who take what you have from you kill you first, and you don’t get anything in the bargain.

      Nobody is more certain of their own justification to have what life has given them than the person who has no idea how privileged he has been by chance, accident of birth and the government that provides for him in every aspect of his life.

      And, incidentally, your whole comment begs the question. You are assuming there is some greater moral salience to letting people have what they already own than there is to ensuring people don’t starve on the streets. I reject that morality and refuse to let you impose yours as the limits of the debate.

      You better get used to it, too, as the history of Western civilization shows slow but inexorable progress towards an ethic of compassion and towards providing for those with the least.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


        I appreciate the benefits of the social compact, but it does not follow that we owe our lives and livelihoods to it. Whether I can trace my plasma tv and playstation and wireless internet access to my own two hands is not the relevant question. You are right that I would not have these things without political society. But the fact remains that no one has a greater moral claim to those things than I do.

        And this includes people dying in the streets. Now, if they are dying in the streets because of some armed conflict or barbarians running around pillaging people, the state has the right and obligation to exercise its powers to stop it. But when people die in the streets because they were unable to exercise the liberty granted by nature and secured by a government of laws, there is markedly less moral justification for the state to get involved. This is not to say that no political theory could be imagined in which things could be otherwise. But the political traditions and founding documents for our country do not support the state seizing property that is by moral and legal right my own in order to appropriate to others for the alleviation of suffering caused either by natural calamity or poor choices.

        You need not accept the morality of that political theory, but its history is more difficult to deny. Incidentally, I’m not sure what “history of Western civilization” you are referring to, other than the Progressives’ history of the past 80 years or so.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      I don’t share the view that paying taxes to have a social safety net= forcible extraction. Part of living in society is agreeing to abide by its laws, so I don’t see paying taxes for things that don’t help you as forcible extraction. To be clear, I think when most people complain about taxes/pork/the eevvviiiilllll gov stealing from them, they actually mean, “how dare they spend money on things I don’t use.” And there is the notion, touched on by Freddie, that part of the success and continued flourishing of our society is based on communal projects. Plenty of people who never saw or used the federal highway system or the water projects that built the west, still benefited in a tangential or long term manner.Report

      • Avatar Freddie says:

        I find that people who are naturally fiscally conservative/anti-tax can have a better attitude towards taxes if they think of the society to whom they are paying taxes as investors in the project that allowed them to make the money that is being taxed in the first place. And it’s a fairly accurate way to think about things.Report

        • Avatar historystudent says:

          As a fiscal conservative, I reject that view of how I supposedly think. My commitment to a small government and low taxes is not just a “business decision.” It is a conviction that human beings are best served by an opportunity to live their lives with a minimum of oversight by the State.

          Government has legitimate obligations, but those should be determined by a policy called subsidiarity which is an organizing principle that dictates matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Health care and many other things which the federal government now has or wants to have power over are not wisely left to an organizer of that magnitude. Quite often individual, family, and local decision-makers are in a better position to make choices than a bureaucratic behemoth in an insulated, self-important city called Washington D.C.

          I don’t trust large organization (and that includes mega-corporations) to care properly about me, my family, and my friends and neighbors because they (large organizations) concern themselves with laws of averages and other statistics. They may (giving them the benefit of the doubt) want to do the “most good” for the most people, but the sheer scale at which they approach matters will often result in more harm than good. Bureaucrats care about meeting quotas, about the probabilities, about their programs, and in the process, individuals get lost, abused, ignored, or set aside as a part of the percentage that is statistically disposable.

          All one has to do to find a perfect example of large-scale government posing a threat to the welfare of its citizens is look at the mess our feds have made of our monetary system. If you think that the crisis is over, you had best think again. The dollar could cease to exist in the next year or two. And the continued expansion of our government’s current spending and future entitlement promises, together with its poor regulatory choices concerning banks and corporations, has brought us to this juncture. If the voters had all been fiscal conservatives and and voted in people who were likewise dedicated to subsidiarity and who understood that any government that tries to do too much must inevitably fail, we would not be where we are: very close to the edge of economic disaster.Report

          • Avatar 62across says:

            If you don’t trust large organizations, including mega-corporations, do you then favor the dissolution of large corporations by governmental fiat? If matters are best handled by the smallest and least centralized organization, then certainly commerce would benefit by a legal requirement that it can only be local. Through that arrangement at least some individuals would have a fighting chance when they came up against a corporate organization that has a conflicting interest. When the local health insurance company rescinds their coverage, they could use word of mouth with neighbors to drive business away from that carrier to the other local carrier with better policies. That sounds like a lovely arrangement. Let’s get to work on that right away.

            But somehow, I don’t think that is what you had in mind.Report

            • Avatar historystudent says:

              That’s your scenario, not mine.

              As you know, businesses (including legal corporations) come in all sizes, and some do better with smaller economies of scale while other do better with larger ones. It depends on the product, demand, production inputs, etc. So, no I would not recommend a government fiat that would dissolve all large corporations. However, there may well be many federal and state regulations and laws that are currently assisting corporations in becoming mega-size that might benefit us by being withdrawn. Do we really need laws that encourage corporations to send their production and jobs overseas? Do we really need laws that allow hundreds of thousand of guest workers into the U.S. even though we are experiencing record high unemployment? Do we need some of the tax incentives extended to corporations? I would definitely approve of the reassessment of some of these.

              The global economy is a reality, but American laws should not favor fictional legal corporate “persons” that feel themselves citizens of the world but are still incorporated here and/or doing heavy business here over real flesh and blood Americans.Report

        • Avatar Art Deco says:

          And it’s a fairly accurate way to think about things.

          Some of the time. A certain share of public resources are devoted to the production of public goods; others are redistributed in a manner that might have the general assent of the public. There is, however, quite a bit of rent extraction involved in public expenditure, quite apart from the systemic deficiencies as service providers from which public agencies can suffer.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        Taxes are forcibly extracted, whether or not the proceeds go to services and programs we like. Do you write a check to the IRS or your state’s tax board for more than you are required? Why ever not, if you truly believe that those dollars are put to such good use?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          This is the problem with “legislating morality”.

          It’s never enough to ask that Evangelicals have strong marriages, they insist on protecting marriage from other people abusing it. The divorce rate among the churched is pretty much indistinguishable from the divorce rate among the unchurched.

          Same with taxation. It’s not enough for me to send my money to the government to allocate to departments that deliver services.

          You have to do it too, lest the entire edifice crumble.Report

          • Avatar Art Deco says:

            Married couples are not isolated on Robinson Crusoe’s island. Collectively, the form a social matrix. The dissolution of any marriage generates bad examples as well as free agents, which weakens marriage generally within the matrix.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              “No, seriously, the morality that I want to legislate is important! The morality that they want to legislate is utter crap!”Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                The state has a regulatory aspect, Jaybird. Antecedent to positive law are conceptions of justice and prudence, and there is moral and ethical reasoning incorporated within these conceptions. Sorry that bothers you.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m down with that.

                Which is why we have to use my morality which is founded upon ancient concepts of Justice kinda instead of your backwater patriarchical mumbo-jumbo.Report

  7. Avatar Art Deco says:

    You have conflated common provision with the production of public goods.

    With regard to public goods, please recall that a synonym for ‘infrastructure’ is ‘public works’ and a synonym for that is ‘pork barrel’. Periodic caterwauling about ‘our deteriorating infrastructure’ has been a feature of public life for at least thirty years now (John Anderson incorporated in his platform tens of billions for public works). Coincident with the collapse of a bridge in Minnesota some years back, a trade association of civil engineers released a report the burden of which was we just had to puke money into public works spending or seven plagues would descend upon the land. The newspapers were all a twitter about that: the experts say…we ought to hire them.

    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.

    Practices of common provision were not an innovation of either the Roosevelt Administration or or Otto von Bismarck. There was prior to 1929 a different balance between public provision and philanthropic provision and between action by local authorities and action by the central government. Also, the modality favored for public provision was institutional care by state agencies: veterans’ hospitals, asylums, sanitoriums, orphanages, city hospitals, poor houses, and common schools (n.b. schooling, unlike roadways, is something readily produced and vended by private enterprise).

    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.

    I will submit the events of the last month are evidence toward the proposition we listen less intently to propheteers, even if it bothers Sharon Begley.

    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.

    It would seem the logical sequence of your thinking has some gaps.

    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.

    It is not immediately evident you have anything to say.

    You have the state, commercial enterprise, philanthropies, and families. Some suggestions:

    1. You do not want the state to usurp any of the functions of the other three.

    2. You do not want to conscript commercial enterprise to perform the functions of any of the other three.

    3. You want principles of common provision not to encourage atavistic behavior.

    4. You do not want the purposes of common provision to be subverted and supplanted by the imperative to create and maintain employment for a class of salaried caregivers (‘leave no social worker behind’) for for the miscellany of grubby sectoral interests (e.g. the public employee unions and the construction industry).

    5. The most pareto efficient way to improve well being is to improve their discretionary incomes (i.e. see that they have more cash, not more ‘services’).

    European models have been coincident with countries sinking into a demographic death spiral, so there is much to avoid there.Report

  8. Avatar historystudent says:

    I wish I had more time to discuss this important subject, but these quick observations will have to do:

    One of the reasons we have an infrastructure problem in the U.S. is that national, state, and local governments have been neglecting the implementation of a steady renewal timetable. Rather than using tax dollars for bridge, road, and other maintenance, they have listened increasingly to those who want to constantly expand government spending into new social programs. Since there has been pressure from conservatives to reduce taxes, state and local governments (which don’t have their own personal Federal Reserves to “print” money for them like the federal government does) especially have allocated funds for those programs that should have gone toward infrastructure. And the federal government, despite the Fed, has not only expanded entitlements and programs but has been conducting cold and hot wars, so it too has tended to neglect infrastructure renewal for which it is responsible. Market economics is not to blame for sagging infrastructure. A government that overreaches its most effective boundaries is.

    As for safety nets: The best safety nets we can have are close-knit communities in which people know, love, and care for each other. But the Nanny state that the Obama administration and many in Congress would institute over us actually discourages those local bonds. It discourages people from depending on themselves and those nearest them and encourages dependence on the faceless State. Government, as a reflection of us, can certainly be involved in promoting the general welfare, but it should not pass legislation or regulation that binds citizens to itself with promises of cash and services.

    For a reminder of how republics can turn into dictatorships, I suggest reading Robert Harris’ new sequel to IMPERIUM. It will be out next year in the U.S. and will be called CONSPIRATA. I’ve read the British edition, which is entitled LUSTRUM. It is purposely written to reflect not only the time of Cicero, but also modern political follies. In LUSTRUM, certain people in Rome decide to expand the welfare state….Report

    • Avatar Art Deco says:

      Rather than using tax dollars for bridge, road, and other maintenance, they have listened increasingly to those who want to constantly expand government spending into new social programs.

      I once asked an economists whose specialty was the study of municipal water provision why governments favor cash accounting over accrual accounting. He said as far as he understood, it was just convention; there was no technical impediment to adopting accrual accounting and having a balance sheet and profit-and-loss statement. This may (or may not) account for observed neglect of capital spending.

      Dittos on one of your points. What is impressive about contemporary political economy is the obsessive-compulsive quality of public programs, and this applies both to the scope of goods and services provided or subsidized by the state and the lack of respect for local prerogatives and local responsibility on the part of the U.S. Congress. Why not have county, state, and federal authorities each tackle three or four large and systemic problems of common provision and let philanthropies fill in the blanks?Report