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Basically, I agree with this gloss on Hayek: there is a difference between "welfare states of law" and "welfare states of administration." The former are objectively good. The latter are best avoided.

First, regulatory regimes which attempt to control the economy through miscellaneous narrow rules rules have greater administrative overhead than regimes with a few broad rules. Administrative overhead is self-perpetuating and self-validating, and should generally be avoided, though it does not generally result (as Hayek thought) in totalitarianism. It results in a total misregulatory shit-show like Italy.

Second, if we accept that coercion is best avoided, states which engage in the minimal coercion required for taxation should avoid compounding the issue by distributing the proceeds coercively. In the United States, for instance, we raise a great deal of money for the poor, then spend most of it in an attempt to tell the poor what to spend it on. Instead, we should just distribute it as basic income, provide voluntary guidance to people who genuinely have no idea how to spend it, and then rely on policing (if absolutely necessary) to regulate the worst expenditures.

This all seems like a relatively simple outlook. Why is it so uncommon?

(H/T: +Alex Scrivener.)
Every once in a while folks in the political corner of the blogosphere start talking about Hayek’s argument in The Road to Serfdom. As Matt Yglesias said Monday, lots of people, conservatives and libe...
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...we raise a great deal of money for the poor, then spend most of it in an attempt to tell the poor what to spend it on. Instead, we should just distribute it as basic income, provide voluntary guidance to people who genuinely have no idea how to spend it, and then rely on policing (if absolutely necessary) to regulate the worst expenditures.

I really like this notion. When you give or lend money to a friend or family member, it can be tempting to expend a lot of worry or oversight to see that your idea of how the money should be spent is, in fact, how it is spent. However, by divorcing yourself from that responsibility, you'll likely find the experience much less stressful. Sure, some will take advantage, but overall, I think it's less costly to worry about your own life. And the added benefit is that the majority of the recipients will likely feel better about themselves if they're not under a microscope and consequently make better decisions.

Feel free to pick it apart.
 
Well, we don't like giving people money because:

If they use it to take a class in auto mechanics or hairstyling, well that's good, but...

If they buy a case of scotch and drink it away, that's really, really bad - it's cause to rend clothing and gnash teeth and so on.

Bad is stronger than good.
 
+Jay Gischer that reminds me of this Greg Giraldo quote - "This one homeless guy came up to me the other day, and he was asking me for money. I was about to give it to him, and then I thought, 'He's just gonna use it on drugs or alcohol.' And then I thought, 'That's what I'm gonna use it on. Who am I to judge the guy, really?'"
 
This is a pet peeve of mine, actually. My wife (then girlfriend) was working for Americorps and was eligible for food stamps. The gyrations that they made people go through in order to collect a relatively paltry amount of money was amazing. And I think it comes from this idea that the Worst Thing Possible is a person getting money from the government when they don't deserve it. How about we let that slide? It's not like the majority of people want to be on food stamps. So, yes: let's make it easy for the vast majority of people and put measures into place to catch the bad-acting minority.
 
+Matthew Montgomery I have seen the red tape associated with enrolling in assistance programs. But I have also seen a cottage industry arise to assist people with the process. Many of recipients of government aid in this area use these service providers to understand and complete the process. Unfortunately some of those who help with the streamlining are gaming the system through kickbacks. They will misrepresent the need documentation in exchange for a piece of the action. The bureaucracy is slow (or unable) to stop this type of fraud.
 
To expand on what +Jay Gischer said: I think there are certain kinds of perceived injustice where visceral revulsion at that injustice overwhelms reasoning about efficiency or even about some other sorts of equity. At least in the US, being taxed to pay for those who are perceived as useless layabouts is one of those kinds of injustice for most people.

Now certainly part of that is people overestimating, due to ugly prejudices, the number of people who are in fact useless layabouts, and in particular the number of poor people who are. But that's not the whole story. A basic income really would mean that some nonzero number of people would get taxpayers' money to sit on their asses and we wouldn't even try to stop them getting it. And most Americans find that prospect deeply offensive.

You may say, well, you're going to be taxed on their behalf anyway, and the alternative ways it might happen are more costly. They will respond, more or less: but then at least we're trying to get them to do something better, we're not just giving up and handing them a check. You may say: why spend time worrying about this part of your taxes when the tax cost of bank bailouts and corporate welfare is far greater? They will respond, more or less: yes, but it's totally unclear what to do about those things-- cutting those checks or not is a simple thing under our control.

These aren't theoretical responses, by the way. These are, as faithfully as I can represent them, the arguments given by my sister-in-law, with whom my wife and I had a long argument last Christmas about her firm belief that there should be mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients. She is intelligent, well educated, well informed, generous, sympathetic, tolerant: in short, she doesn't hold this position for any of the stereotypical reasons you might guess. She just looks at the prospect of people shamelessly putting their drug habits on her dime and says: gah, that's intolerable. And I think most people here are like her in that respect.
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