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“Only the Government Could Spend So Much Money So Stupidly”

Davidson, NC, given politics that have earned it the noble title of “People’s Republic of Davidson” from some, isn’t the most likely place for one of the best known and most influential libertarian thinkers to unveil his latest work. But that’s what happened last night at Davidson College where Charles Murray, social scientist at the American Enterprise Institute and famous (infamous to many) author of The Bell Curve and Losing Ground, gave his first public lecture for his new book, In Our Hands: How to End Poverty and Restore the American Dream, which won’t be in print until March 25th..

The lecture, as provocative as that title, ran through the book’s themes and the plan itself, which is as simple as Jeff summed up below.

Murray claimed his plan would cost a half a trillion dollars less than the status quo welfare state by 2020 and a full trillion less by 2028.

But the plan isn’t just cheaper. Murray argued that it would also give the poor a better deal: with an extra 10,000 in pocket each year, even someone making minimum wage would have enough money to get by, signaling the end of “involuntary poverty” as Murray put it, or people truly trying to work hard and failing to raise themselves out of poverty.

But the most interesting potential benefit—and the one Murray focused on the most—draws heavily on Murray’s discussion of how we can construct meaningful lives in “In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Governance.” Murray sees three primary institutions—vocation, family and community—as the most important means that people use to construct meaningful lives, but that the welfare state undermines each of them. His plan, however, he says would repair this damage in a variety of ways. The most interesting of these, especially for libertarians, is that it would strengthen private mutual aid networks that people decline to participate in due to government charity, and which Murray argues have historically worked better than government at strengthening communities.

I was quite impressed by most of Murray’s arguments, but I think the feasibility question is the most problematic. Murray thought that while the plan won’t be implemented anytime soon, it was somewhat “inevitable” that reform of the welfare state would move in his direction, because more and more people would recognize that it is “not in government’s inherent capability to solve complex problems” and that mutual assistance works far better. While one might wish this to be true, the experience in Western Europe suggests that voters may stick to the well-trod path of handouts even when all events around them suggests that their social model is on the verge of collapse without reform. How long will entitlement spending explode before Americans come to their senses?
Then again, Murray has shown results in the past.

Also, I should report that Murray has a pleasantly mellifluous voice that could have earned him a career in radio if he hadn’t chose number-crunching.

2 Responses to ““Only the Government Could Spend So Much Money So Stupidly””

  • Mar
    16
    2006

    Human feelings continue to trump logic and numbers. I don’t know that there’s a way to stop that.

  • Mar
    16
    2006

    Practical matters aside, it is an interesting thought experiment. What would people do with their lives if they knew a few basic needs were in the bag?

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