Who Should Government Help?

Which do you believe?

A) Government should help all Americans equally.

B) Government should focus on those in most need.

Now consider this:

When we design for “A” we create things that we universally value (think Social Security, Medicare).

  • They are devoid of stigma because we know they are meant for all for us and we each expect at some point to use them.
  • They are generally easier to manage as they are centralized, simpler and the same rules apply to everyone.
  • They become woven into the fabric of American life and are seldom challenged.

When we design for “B” we still create things that we all value but some don’t have access to (think food or education assistance).

  • They are laden with stigma because we make judgements on why some people are able to provide these things for their families while others need government help.
  • They are more difficult to manage as they are decentralized, sometimes create unintended disincentives and are by nature more bureaucratic.  
  • They are under constant scrutiny.

In option A, we build a solid new floor under which no American would fall. In option B, we spend our time constantly trying to fill cracks through which millions of American children, families, seniors still slip through despite our best efforts.  

Consider, this recent New York Times article that suggests we give every child in America a monthly check for an even start. It makes for a very compelling case for Option A.

In other words, is one answer to inequality more equality in how government dispenses help? Fund the few basics that every American needs for at least a decent and humane life and we can all go from there.

Ironically this would mean both more government (in terms of the number of people benefiting and upfront costs) and smaller government (in terms of fewer programs and smaller bureaucracy).

To put it on more personal terms, what if we all received food stamps and free public college but no one received a mortgage interest deduction or welfare?

Would you take that deal?

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