With talks of some sort of welfare mechanism for millions of Americans doing the rounds, it looks like Universal Basic Income (UBI) is having a moment of spotlight. Let us not forget that it had its moment during the Democratic Primaries, with Andrew Yang making it his signature policy.
Welfare policies are making a comeback in the U.S. and perhaps around the world, as the world faces one of its worst crises, ever!
So, why should the government give out $1000 or $2000 or any money to anyone? Isn’t it just rewarding laziness and lack of effort? Wouldn’t it be a handout?
There are several perspectives on this issue, but I’ll just deal with one here: the issue of who deserves welfare?
The history of America as a welfare society is somewhat complicated and long one. A solid, scholarly book that you can read about this issue is Arguments for Welfare by Paul Spicker (2017). Of course, there are detractors on the Libertarian spectrum who will disagree and say that most forms of welfare usually are harmful to society.
What Spicker points out about all the arguments for or against welfare is important to remember: these are normative arguments. Meaning that these arguments point to what is good or bad about welfare. And that these are value-laden arguments. Even if someone uses the most sophisticated econometric modeling or in-depth ethnographic study, usually they are making a value-laden judgment about whether welfare is good or bad.
And this value judgment is formed on the basis of one’s political or religious beliefs.
One must also remember that the war on poverty has taken a new turn and since the Regan era, there has been a ‘war on welfare’ as Spicker points out. Even a Democratic Party president such as Bill Clinton ran on a platform to ‘end welfare as we know it,’ effectively changing the very nature of entitlements and cutting millions of people out of welfare programs. Mr. Trump has taken it a step further by limiting who reserves benefits and on what basis.
As his recent Executive Order pointed out, there should be some form of work requirement for people to receive entitlements. The spirit of this EO is very clear, to get people off welfare and make them ‘economically self-sufficient.’
It says “While bipartisan welfare reform enacted in 1996 was a step toward eliminating the economic stagnation and social harm that can result from long-term Government dependence, the welfare system still traps many recipients, especially children, in poverty and needs further reform and modernization in order to increase self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility.” This 1996 reform that the EO is referring to was the one initiated by Bill Clinton.
So, in many ways, the winds of change that have blown towards shaping the world of welfare have been
The Washington Post wrote – as a $2 trillion proposal heads to the Senate – that “But Senate leaders were still working to avoid a number of last-minute snags. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, demanded changes to help his state deal with a flood of new cases. Three Republican senators said a provision in the bill needed to be fixed immediately or it would incentivize people not to return to work. And House Democrats wouldn’t provide a firm timeline of when they would vote to pass the bill.” The stimulus package is seen as an ‘emergency’ measure to help institutions and people whether this terrible situation we are all faced with.
The mood in the country and perhaps around the world is one of reflection and the somber realization that many people will need help. The weakest members of our society, the poor, homeless and destitute will need it more than others. And there is a growing realization that the government should do more.
Whether politicians will get this right is another question, that remains to be seen!