"In Our Hands"

You can read Charles Murray's new book, "In Our Hands," in about an hour; you'll be thinking about it for much longer. Inourhands I'm not an expert in government accounting, so I defer to others in a professional assessment of the data, but, as usual, it's an elegant and daring argument. The reason is that Charles essentially bifurcates the conservative insight into two arguments. The first is that government's obligations be as limited as possible. The second is that where government is inescapably embedded in our lives, it place as many decisions and choices in the hands of citizen/consumers as possible - and out of the hands of bureaucrats and planners. Since many conservatives seem to have given up the dream of smaller government, Charles focuses on the second. No tinkering. Just convert all social programs into one lump sum of $10,000 a year, and give each person who needs it the money to spend on services and investments they choose, rather than on those the government chooses for them. (Yes, it's more complex than that, but this is a blog item, not a review). By locating decision-making at the level closest to those with the most direct knowledge of their own needs, Murray's proposal suggests we can maintain the investment in a welfare state while avoiding the pitfalls of centralization, planning and paternalism. It's worth reading merely as a thought experiment. I've come reluctantly to believe that we will have a hard time getting to smaller government incrementally. The million small losses need to be counter-balanced by a radical, large, collective gain. Abolishing the bureaucracy of the welfare state would qualify - and appeal.