All Wet

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Charles Murray has a new idea: abolish the welfare state and replace it with an annual cash grant of $10,000 to every American. He has a book about it which I haven’t yet read, but I did read his long piece in the Wall Street Journal (March 26).

My first thought was, “of course this is not going to be done.” Some of the recipients would take the $10,000 and rip through it in three days – down their gullets, up their noses, into their veins. A lot of people would do that. Of course Mur- ray would say that was their affair, and I would agree with him. But people wouldn’t accept that. What if it was a kid who should have used the money as school tuition? What if it was a wino with liver disease? Or a mother with a baby?

My second thought was, “This is an ingenious proposal.” Of course it is not serious. It is illustrative. It shows how big the welfare state is, and how much it is costing us. And by imagining this proposal, and the irresponsibility its implementation would create, one is forced to contemplate how much irresponsibility there is now. One is forced to separate the questions of self-responsibility and money.

Still, it is a snare. I think of the wet apartments. This is the street name for a new public housing project about six blocks from where I work. It’s for bums. It’s open only to roll- ing-down drunks who will not stop drinking. The idea is that the chronic inebriates will drink in their rooms, not on park benches, and will roll over in a warm bed rather than in the cold gutter. There will be fewer expensive calls to 911.

Actually there have been quite a number of 911 calls since the wet apartments opened – more than the proponents predicted – but they argue that it is costing the public less than before, when these sponges were out on the street.

So the public authorities provide the rooms, and the win- os provide the wine. This is in Seattle. Vancouver, B.C., two and a half hours to the north, is more progressive. There it is proposed that the government provide the wine also, on the theory of harm reduction.

Ten thousand dollars each. Sounds cool. I am afraid, though, that when it is mentioned in the future, it will be like Milton Friedman’s proposal, decades ago, for a “negative-in-

According to a poll cited in The Economist, three-quarters of young French people want to become civil servants. Such ambition!

 

come tax”: it will be mentioned by supporters of the welfare state in arguments for more. They have many arguments. A typical claim is that a new program will save the public money. The wet apartments are supposed to do that. Probably the free wine in Canada is supposed to do that, too.

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