Democrats care about the poor, the minorities, children, the elderly, and women, and Republicans just want to give tax breaks to the wealthy so they can get richer… or at least that’s what we’ve been told our entire lives.
But what if this is just a picture that has been painted that we are all so familiar with, that we believe it whether it is true or not. What if I told you that the Mona Lisa didn’t have eyebrows because it was the fashion at the time to shave them off? You would probably think I’m crazy, but then you’d probably be curious and look it up. You would find out that something was not the way you always assumed it was, and you’d never look at it the same way again.
What if I then told you that programs designed to help people with low incomes actually encourage them to keep their income low? I challenge you to go beyond the political rhetoric and actually look into the numbers to see the unintended side effects of government assistance programs. Do not think that this is a call to remove these programs. It is our duty as Americans to help those in their time of need, but please realize that these programs need a serious overhaul. Welfare, housing assistance and other benefit programs should not be a floor, under which no family should fall, but a trampoline that is there when people stumble that helps them bounce back up again and encourages personal success. There’s plenty of room in the middle class for anyone who wants to be better off than they are now. We need to remove the barriers that are keeping people from seeing the benefits of their hard work and create pro-growth policies that help those of us that are in the middle class continue to succeed and provide a constantly improving lifestyle for our families.
When we look at welfare, housing assistance, medical insurance, food stamps and other benefit programs, they are designed to give the biggest benefits to families at the bottom of the income scale and phase out as income goes up. At first glance, this seems to make sense. Give more help to families that make less money. But when we start digging into the numbers a little more, what happens when one of those families make an extra $10,000 per year? Do they see $10,000 more income? With taxes and reduced benefits do they make $5,000 more? $1,000 more? Well, a family of 3 going from $20,000 to $30,000 or from $30,000 to $40,000 per year may have as much as $2,500 LESS money to spend per year. It isn’t until almost $50,000 per year in household income where you start seeing a benefit to bringing in more money.
The typical response to this problem would be to provision more funding for these programs. This seems like the right thing to do. If we have the resources to help someone, we should make every effort to help them. However, if we look at what the Federal and State governments are already spending on these programs, the math doesn’t add up. The government is currently spending over a trillion dollars per year on these programs. That is over $60,000 per family in poverty per year. I’m not saying we should just give cash payouts to people, but if that money had gone directly to the families we would have completely wiped out poverty. That would actually bring those families to more than double the poverty line. Even if we were 50% efficient, that would be enough to bring almost every family in America out of poverty. We have laws in place that require health insurance companies to spend at least 80% of the money they collect on benefits (the 80/20 rule), but clearly we are not even close to that level of efficiency in government distribution of benefits.
Whenever someone brings up the prospect of privatizing any of these programs, especially health care, they are immediately criticized by people claiming that it would create some sort of Wild West free for all instead of the nice, orderly government administered programs. With a complete lack of regulation, that could be the case, but if there are certain standards implemented then we would have a base level of coverage for a base cost, but there would be options to have additional features for additional costs.
The reason we should support this type of benefit distribution is that the private insurance companies are already required to have high levels of efficiency that are just not found in government. Additionally, they are accountable to us, the consumers. It is up to the consumer to put their own money toward the option that they feel will give them the greatest benefit for the cost. There can still be government administered healthcare, but if there is an option to get more benefits for the same cost in the private sector, it can lead to direct competition and improvements in the public option. We want to get more of the tax dollars and benefits to the people, not keep them tied up in bureaucracy and going to an ever expanding government. If we increase the efficiency enough, we can actually get more benefits to people for a lower cost to taxpayers. This means more assistance for the poor and more money in the pockets of the middle class. This is not slashing benefits, it is slashing waste.
Please understand that when someone says they care about people in one breath and that they want to cut spending in the next that those concepts do not necessarily contradict each other. It’s just easier to explain “dump more money into the system” in a 30 second commercial than it is to describe a detailed plan to increase efficiency in administration and distribution of benefits. We’re all working toward the same goal, regardless of party affiliation, but some of us are looking for a path that doesn’t bankrupt the nation with good intentions. Once we begin to question the political clichés of the last several decades we can seek out the changes that need to be made and work together to fix them, not just argue the positions of parties.