Charles Murray's new book, In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State, is what you would expect from the author of Losing Ground and Bell Curve—a bold and provocative piece of work. As before, only this time more so, Murray thinks big and then dares to share his thoughts out loud.
In Our Hands calls for the whole apparatus of the welfare state to be dismantled—not pruned or reformed, but abolished outright. No more Social Security, no more Medicare or Medicaid, no more unemployment benefits. Nothing. These and all such programs that directly transfer income from one group (taxpayers) to others would be not merely terminated but forbidden: Murray calls for a constitutional amendment to that effect. Taking their place—at, Murray says, far lower cost and with vast side benefits for the country's social well-being—would be a payment of $10,000 a year to every American adult. No more poverty, no more welfare state. Simple as that.
Does Murray think it could ever happen? Yes and no. The plan, he agrees, is politically impossible right now. But look ahead, he argues, and it is not just feasible but maybe even inevitable. The welfare state is doomed, not because it causes enormous damage to the social fabric (which, he says, it does) but because it will be financially insupportable. As he wrote in The Wall Street Journal on March 22, "The welfare state as we know it cannot survive. No serious student of entitlements thinks that we can let federal spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid rise from its current 9 percent of gross domestic product to the 28 percent of GDP that it will consume in 2050 if past growth rates continue."