Sunday, February 22, 2009

What we deserve

I had a moderately interesting e-conversation this week about government "entitlement spending." In general, I loath the sort of rhetoric that suggests that federal funds are being wasted on an undeserving class of citizens.

In case you're new to this blog, let me state up front: my heart bleeds liberally. Got that? I think that part of living in a civilized society means that sometimes our tax money will be used to provide for poor single mothers, underprivileged youth and seniors whose pensions don't cover enough of their needs. Even if they're prone to making ridiculous decisions.

I feel this way not only because I have a general concern for my fellow citizens, but because I'm smart enough to realize that life doesn't always unfold according to my plans. Anyone can be laid low by terminal illness, unemployment (I have two good friends who have a total of four kids that were laid off in the past few months) or even divorce.

That said, Atrios pretty much echoes my thoughts about this issue:

It is, of course, true that any government program may provide a benefit to someone who "we" think is "undeserving." That could be because of corruption, poor program design, mistake, gaming of the system, etc. But as Hilzoy suggests, setting up some elaborate system to weed out undesirables is costly and intrusive and often more trouble than it's worth.

Even simple means testing, very common of course, sets up perverse incentives for people. But one day I hope this country grows up and recognizes that the fear that maybe someone is getting something I'm not and they don't deserve shouldn't be the primary philosophy of governance.

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