Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

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ablasdel
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Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

Postby ablasdel » Sun Nov 02, 2008 7:01 am UTC

My idea isn't exactly new but with all of the "Socialism is evil" going around in this election I thought I would post it here and get your guys thoughts.

Socialist Safety Net: The government provides the following to all citizens desiring it.
1: basic food and water. (i.e. bread, veggies and water)
2: basic shelter. (i.e. a cot to sleep on and a warm place when the weather is dangerous)
3: basic preventative medicine. (i.e. treat any illnesses before they get out of hand to save the government money in the long run)

Notes:
This system would provide only the basics of survival and health.
No luxuries. Citizens must work for any luxuries they wish to possess.
These basics would be available at centralized locations the government is not responsible for delivery of these items over any distance.

The idea is to keep the populous as a whole healthy and alive so they can focus their attention on their other goals and be useful to society instead of using up their cognitive resources on basic survival.

Example 1 a man who has no money can use this system to survive while looking for a job and will help him get a one because he doesn't have to spend his day finding food and a place to sleep (at this point he would be paying taxes and partially paying for his use of the system). He could then save his money until he could afford his own place to live.

Example 2 a man has a common disease that can be treated with antibiotics but has no money to pay for them. With this system the government covers the antibiotics to stop the infection before it gets out of hand incurring a small upfront cost. (note in our current system the government instead would pick up the tab for the emergency room visit once the infection is critical which costs significantly more money)

I am most interested in discussion of how this would effect the economy and quality of life in a country.
Would the free rider problem be manageable?
Would this bankrupt the country?
Would this cause people to take more risks with their health and wealth?

Well it is late so I am not sure how well I articulated this.
I look forward to discussing it.
Thank you.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby qinwamascot » Sun Nov 02, 2008 7:11 am UTC

I don't think this would be bad at all (I'd go farther, but this is probably not a bad thing). It doesn't make sense to me that people can work 2 jobs full time and still not make enough to pay for their basic needs (food, shelter, medicine, clothing) while the average CEO makes over $10 million, which would pay for probably over 500 families (or we could cut it by just a little and still pay for quite a few). I don't see how solving problems like that are somehow bad for America.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Sun Nov 02, 2008 7:53 am UTC

Don't we already have more than this, just with obscene amounts of bureaucracy? Between welfare, foodstamps, Medicaid, etc. these things are already done by the government.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby qinwamascot » Sun Nov 02, 2008 8:32 am UTC

healthcare is still private, but the others we do.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Sun Nov 02, 2008 10:54 am UTC

It sounds like a good idea to have a central place at which to get these basic human needs. I admit I'm not intimately familiar with the US social system, but if I understand it correctly, getting some sort of welfare at all is quite a lot of work already (I wouldn't go so far as to claim it's a full dayjob, but you get my point). By creating a system in which everyone is eligible to these things, a lot of the bureaucracy can be scrapped completely, which I doubt anyone would consider a bad thing.

I don't think freeriders be that much of a problem. The only thing you should prevent is that people get welfare twice, which a stamp on the palm of the hand could do, for the most part (scrubbing it off is not something that's easily done for several days in a row). KISS.

There are many countries with a much more extensive social system, and it doesn't bankrupt them; I see absolutely no reason why it would bankrupt the richest country in the world.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby spacefem » Sun Nov 02, 2008 2:02 pm UTC

you might find some debate about where "basic preventative healthcare" starts and stops. does this mean that the government will pay for my birth control pills, because they're cheaper than labor & delivery? or will it not even pay for pregnancy costs because that's my fault? if one guy gets antibiotics so his strep throat doesn't get out of control, can another guy get chemo so his cancer doesn't go out of control?

you could put "basics" at a dollar amount... i'd be all for giving everyone $500 worth of free health care every year. but you'll get a bunch of sob stories about how that's not enough, i'm almost sure.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Gunfingers » Sun Nov 02, 2008 2:20 pm UTC

Bear in mind we've got the 10th amendment in the US. There is no singular "Welfare program" in the US; each state has their own, and i'm sure many of them delegate to the city or county level. There is a degree of federal oversight, but mostly it's in the states. According to this website the state of illinois (where i live, which is why i picked it as an example) gives out some $2 billion a year in welfare programs to some 1.8 million people. I'm pretty sure we've got it covered.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby psyck0 » Sun Nov 02, 2008 2:46 pm UTC

Gunfingers... you DO realise that $2 billion to 1.8 million people is about $550 apiece per annum, right? That is very obviously not enough to live on.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Gunfingers » Sun Nov 02, 2008 2:50 pm UTC

That's 1.8 million people that receive benefits, not 1.8 million people that live off of benefits.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby a thing » Sun Nov 02, 2008 4:35 pm UTC

Simpler solutions: single-payer healthcare (government provides insurance, medical care provided privately) and living minimum wage ($10/hour)
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby ablasdel » Sun Nov 02, 2008 4:46 pm UTC

First off thanks for the thoughtful posts.

Bubbles, Pinwamscot: Do we have more than this? In san fran the homeless shelters can get so overcrowded at times that you have to wait in hours long lines. Which hurts their ability to hold jobs.

Mzyxptik: You make a good point I didn't even think about doubling up. While it would be a revenue loss I think that would be relatively controllable.

Spacefem: I wouldn't let fault factor into it. Remember if the person can't pay the government would ultimately be picking up the bill anyway. Thus if the preventative medicine could be argued to save the government money it would be provided. I would draw a line at anything that isn't going to kill you, disfigure you or cause you to lose mobility/dexterity.

Gunfingers: I see your point that we already spend a lot. Though I would think that if we still have people sleeping on the streets and eating out of dumpsters and people dying because of diseases that cost $20 in pills to treat it isn't exactly covered.

a thing: Single payer health care could sub in for my health care. In fact when Obama gets elected if his health care plan goes through (which is not single payer I know) it would just be a matter of subsidizing the cost of purchasing it for the poor. I would agree that a living wage is a good idea but I would be concerned about those who can't find work. How do they live?

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby a thing » Sun Nov 02, 2008 5:05 pm UTC

ablasdel wrote:a thing: Single payer health care could sub in for my health care. In fact when Obama gets elected if his health care plan goes through (which is not single payer I know) it would just be a matter of subsidizing the cost of purchasing it for the poor.


Obama's plan would certainly be an improvement over what exists today. However, it is like cutting down the stalk of a plant that just grows back; it does not remove the root of the problem. The pesky plant may not grow back as tall, but it still will. As long as there is a profit motive for insurance, insurers will find every little excuse and loophole (like "our bloated bureaucracy needs to employ more people" and outright billing fraud) to charge people more and deny insurance to those who will not be profitable.

ablasdel wrote:I would agree that a living wage is a good idea but I would be concerned about those who can't find work. How do they live?


Good point. Obviously, create more jobs, especially in renewable energy. For the few that are still left, the system proposed in the original post (minus the healthcare) should be implemented.
Last edited by a thing on Sun Nov 02, 2008 8:07 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby ablasdel » Sun Nov 02, 2008 5:38 pm UTC

a thing wrote:As long as there is a profit motive for insurance, insurers will find every little excuse and loophole (like "our bloated bureaucracy need to employ more people" and outright billing fraud) to charge people more and deny insurance to those who will not be profitable.


I think you have hit on the root cause of our healthcare problem quite effectively. The question is can regulation solve this problem?

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby a thing » Sun Nov 02, 2008 5:51 pm UTC

ablasdel wrote:
a thing wrote:As long as there is a profit motive for insurance, insurers will find every little excuse and loophole (like "our bloated bureaucracy need to employ more people" and outright billing fraud) to charge people more and deny insurance to those who will not be profitable.


I think you have hit on the root cause of our healthcare problem quite effectively. The question is can regulation solve this problem?


Theoretically, yes, regulation could solve the problem. But it would be a perpetual race with Congress versus health insurance companies. It would be more efficient to just remove the profit motive of health insurance entirely.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby ablasdel » Sun Nov 02, 2008 6:37 pm UTC

a thing wrote:Theoretically, yes, regulation could solve the problem. But it would be a perpetual race with Congress versus health insurance companies. It would be more efficient to just remove the profit motive of health insurance entirely.


Some might argue that removing profit motive would remove its drive to improve. I would think instead tying its profit directly to the quality and universality of the healthcare it provides would be a better idea. That way they would be pulling their hair out to give out more quality care because it would make them more money.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby a thing » Sun Nov 02, 2008 6:42 pm UTC

ablasdel wrote:
a thing wrote:Theoretically, yes, regulation could solve the problem. But it would be a perpetual race with Congress versus health insurance companies. It would be more efficient to just remove the profit motive of health insurance entirely.


Some might argue that removing profit motive would remove its drive to improve. I would think instead tying its profit directly to the quality and universality of the healthcare it provides would be a better idea. That way they would be pulling their hair out to give out more quality care because it would make them more money.


But they do not actually produce any product or provide any service to improve upon. All they provide is potential access to a pool of money if a medical situation arises.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby psyck0 » Sun Nov 02, 2008 7:10 pm UTC

Thing: very good point.

Gunfingers: $500 apiece still isn't much. I wonder if they have a breakdown of how many people got how much; that would be more informative. There must be a large number of people getting small amounts, but I can't think what they'd be getting it for.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Sun Nov 02, 2008 8:48 pm UTC

I don't know how things work in Illinois, but in California there's around $50 billion (maybe its more like $40, I don't have my budget book on hand) spent by the state on health and social services, and federal welfare provides quite a bit more (I think we also have some sort of insurance program for work, but how exactly it works I do not know). The $50 billion would make for $1400 dollars per resident, but I do not know how many people are directly receiving such aid. From what I could find online, Illinois spends $13 billion on health alone, so I think Gunfinger's number is a little low in any case.

Health insurance does tend to go beyond mere insurance these days, seeing as many plans cover everything from cancer to dental cleanings (hell, my mom's even covers acupuncture, but I doubt that it's common to do so). I think when it comes to quality discussions, people refer to how insurance companies act as negotiators between pharamucetcal companies and medical facilities to obtain lower prices. I think this tends to work against the consumer in the long run, though. I can understand catastrophic health insurance, as the general idea with any form of insurance is that you want to collectivize unusual loses that an individual may experience but will not be able to finance themselves should they prove to be so unlucky. Once you have insurance covering every possible medical need, you create a bureaucracy that provides no particularly useful function. I think I'm digressing a bit much from the OP seeing as we already have had a health discussion, so I'll stop here.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby phonon266737 » Sun Nov 02, 2008 9:00 pm UTC

On living wage: I am for this, IF it includes a clause that you must have graduated high school (or some other age related system, possibly educational as well) Becuase, thruthfully, many of the jobs my friends and I had in HS, we weren't even worth the $6.00 we were making - but it was just play money. If we use the federal government's definition of independent for student loans, it is even more strict than that.

the downside to this: People start preferentially hiring high school kids at a lower minimum wage, and hoping graduation turnover keeps them with an endless payroll of high schoolers? (versus adult employees) . Truthfully, I just want to make sure that kids in school have the opportunity to work - easy to get a cashier /stocking job for $7, but jack it up by 50% and these jobs go away. Now we have 19 year olds with no work experience trying to get their first job for $10 an hour. I did my Bs in mechanical engineering, and on average we only made $12-$16 on our internships

On healthcare insurance: my solution is simply to mandate a direct percentage of premiums that may not go anywhere but A: paying claims or B: returned to customers. companies with low overhead would have send refunds at years end, versus making more profit. But this is just a thought, not deeply investigated..

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Kachi » Sun Nov 02, 2008 9:10 pm UTC

Ah, what you call a socialist safety net, I have always called a minimum standard of living, which is something that I think the U.S. should adopt. My idea is more or less a soup kitchen with cots and a contract with local hospitals... kind of like a prison without the bars or extensive security staff.

I don't think it's the kind of place most people will aim to stay in just to avoid having to do any work. I think more often people will use it when they've fallen on hard times and need to collect themselves... so that they can avoid being homeless without falling into debt.

The "free riders" are people who are probably already taxing the system by being on welfare and other social services, homeless shelters, or even prison. If it does so happen that droves of otherwise marketable workers are just giving up and turning the place into a roach motel, then I'd treat it more like welfare, where you have to be looking for a job to stay. Really, it should probably have someone there to help with building resumes, handling interviews, etc., anyway.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Griffin » Sun Nov 02, 2008 11:27 pm UTC

and living minimum wage ($10/hour)


I still think this is crappy way to improve, well, everything ... if you provide people with what they need to survive, then they don't have to take those super crappy jobs and can bargain pay levels more competitively - pay should rise as a function of that.

But if all you do is raise the minimum wage, then you have the problem where certain people can't get jobs because companies can't afford to hire as much cheap labour as before.

I mean, sure, minimum wage has a place, maybe, but I still don't think by itself or even close to that its enough to fix anything.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby qinwamascot » Mon Nov 03, 2008 1:17 am UTC

Except that by raising the minimum wage, a larger portion of the population is saving money, which can later be invested in creating new businesses and hiring more employees. So in the short term, some people will not be able to find work, but in the long term it stimulates economic growth as a whole and eventually will raise the equilibrium wages of workers as well above a living wage (at which point, the minimum wage is all but unnecessary).
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby psyck0 » Mon Nov 03, 2008 3:03 am UTC

qinwamascot wrote:Except that by raising the minimum wage, a larger portion of the population is saving money, which can later be invested in creating new businesses and hiring more employees. So in the short term, some people will not be able to find work, but in the long term it stimulates economic growth as a whole and eventually will raise the equilibrium wages of workers as well above a living wage (at which point, the minimum wage is all but unnecessary).


If that were true, why hasn't it happened the past many times that the minimum wage has been raised?

I think that it does need raising, but not for that reason.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby ablasdel » Mon Nov 03, 2008 6:43 am UTC

Kachi wrote:Ah, what you call a socialist safety net, I have always called a minimum standard of living, which is something that I think the U.S. should adopt. My idea is more or less a soup kitchen with cots and a contract with local hospitals... kind of like a prison without the bars or extensive security staff.

I get the impression that we had nearly the exact same vision. Even down to the possible conversion of unused prisons if the prison system was reformed.

Kachi wrote:I don't think it's the kind of place most people will aim to stay in just to avoid having to do any work. I think more often people will use it when they've fallen on hard times and need to collect themselves... so that they can avoid being homeless without falling into debt.

I agree. People would have to completely lack any vision to say "this is pretty good I don't need more".

Kachi wrote:The "free riders" are people who are probably already taxing the system by being on welfare and other social services, homeless shelters, or even prison. If it does so happen that droves of otherwise marketable workers are just giving up and turning the place into a roach motel, then I'd treat it more like welfare, where you have to be looking for a job to stay. Really, it should probably have someone there to help with building resumes, handling interviews, etc., anyway.

This was the other plus of having a centralized system. You could set up job training centers and workshops nearby or inside and it would basically be a factory with homeless in on one side and trained workers coming out the other end.

Various minimum wage raising ideas

I think the basic idea of minimum wage is to make sure people can afford to live where they live. Personally I think it should be a floating variable based on housing costs and food costs in the area where you live. (haven't thought about this one much so I don't know how it would be implemented.

Thanks for the good conversation everyone. I am leaving on an international trip so I will be away for awhile.
I probably should have started this after I got back because it feels kind of unfinished to me so when I return I will surely read through this and possibly resurrect this thread for further discussion.

Thanks again everyone!

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Mon Nov 03, 2008 8:20 am UTC

spacefem wrote:you might find some debate about where "basic preventative healthcare" starts and stops. does this mean that the government will pay for my birth control pills, because they're cheaper than labor & delivery? or will it not even pay for pregnancy costs because that's my fault? if one guy gets antibiotics so his strep throat doesn't get out of control, can another guy get chemo so his cancer doesn't go out of control?

you could put "basics" at a dollar amount... i'd be all for giving everyone $500 worth of free health care every year. but you'll get a bunch of sob stories about how that's not enough, i'm almost sure.

You're forgetting that many people don't need it at all, while some need much more. I haven't had a serious illness since I turned 1 year old. On the other hand, my mother has a chronic illness which costs more in medication per month than what you're willing to spend per year.

While you can estimate that you'll be spending $500 a year on the average citizen, you can't realisitcally give every citizen $500 and tell them they're not getting any more.

(Dismissing possible objections to your suggestion by qualifying them as "sob stories" ahead of time is mildly offensive to me, by the way)
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Marquee Moon » Mon Nov 03, 2008 8:28 am UTC

qinwamascot wrote:Except that by raising the minimum wage, a larger portion of the population is saving money, which can later be invested in creating new businesses and hiring more employees. So in the short term, some people will not be able to find work, but in the long term it stimulates economic growth as a whole and eventually will raise the equilibrium wages of workers as well above a living wage (at which point, the minimum wage is all but unnecessary).


People on the minimum wage aren't going to be saving money, and the extra money they do receive because of the minimum wage is coming out of the pockets of their employers who would be far more likely to save and invest it.

I think having the government providing food is silly. Why not just give them money and let people decide what they want to buy? What happens if I'm allergic to the food the governments provides? What if the government gave me too much food but I have a tiny living space? If you give people money and let the market do its thang these problems are solved.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby sakeniwefu » Mon Nov 03, 2008 12:22 pm UTC

Marquee Moon wrote:I think having the government providing food is silly. Why not just give them money and let people decide what they want to buy? What happens if I'm allergic to the food the governments provides? What if the government gave me too much food but I have a tiny living space? If you give people money and let the market do its thang these problems are solved.

This is why food coupons exist. You don't want Joe the lowly drug dealer to get money instead of food for his kids. Or books for their schooling. Whatever happened to equal chances for everyone. The western world is slowly moving back to feudalism with hereditary fortunes replacing the old nobility.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Dr Strangelove » Tue Nov 11, 2008 6:14 am UTC

I quite honestly have no idea how America has avoided instituting a safety net of this kind. Perhaps it is because the last truly "left" president was Lyndon B Johnson, who instituted a heap of social programs that were never rescinded, on account of him being swept into office with a huge majority and being able to pass whatever he wanted. Perhaps it is because the lower class of America somehow manage to be against the "big government" that would give them sufficient money to live away from the edge of the poverty line. It really is truly baffling to me.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Marquee Moon » Tue Nov 11, 2008 8:07 am UTC

sakeniwefu wrote:
Marquee Moon wrote:I think having the government providing food is silly. Why not just give them money and let people decide what they want to buy? What happens if I'm allergic to the food the governments provides? What if the government gave me too much food but I have a tiny living space? If you give people money and let the market do its thang these problems are solved.

This is why food coupons exist. You don't want Joe the lowly drug dealer to get money instead of food for his kids. Or books for their schooling. Whatever happened to equal chances for everyone. The western world is slowly moving back to feudalism with hereditary fortunes replacing the old nobility.


Dependents change things a bit, but if Joe the drug dealer won't buy food for his kids if we give him money, food stamps aren't going to fix things. But food stamps still run into the same problems. What if I have a surplus of food stamps but not enough money to pay the rent?

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Re: Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

Postby Zauderer » Tue Nov 11, 2008 5:57 pm UTC

I think the best way to achieve this would be a guaranteed minimum income. Every citizen, regardless of age, sex, marital status, occupation, ... receives a fixed sum of money (in addition to any other income he/she might have, but instead of unemployment benefits, social security benefits, pensions and the like).

This could be paid for by higher taxes on higher incomes, reduction in bureaucracy and/or legalization of previously illegal drugs (heavy tax inclusive).

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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby clintonius » Tue Nov 11, 2008 7:23 pm UTC

Marquee Moon wrote:Dependents change things a bit, but if Joe the drug dealer won't buy food for his kids if we give him money, food stamps aren't going to fix things. But food stamps still run into the same problems. What if I have a surplus of food stamps but not enough money to pay the rent?

Food stamps won't fix that family situation, no, but they would prevent the person in question from using food money for drugs (I find it hard to imagine that many dealers accept food stamps). Being unable to pay the rent would be the purpose of the the free shelter mentioned in the OP.

I'm curious as to some of the logistics involved in creating the OP's proposed program. Would the federal government step in and take over state and local welfare systems, or would it simply fund those systems and tack on additional requirements? The former creates problems with centralized bureaucracy, the latter with oversight. Is it really feasible to provide food and shelter to anyone who wants it without setting certain requirements? I, for one, could see myself having frequented the free food halls in college if they were convenient enough (and being terribly inconvenient would rather defeat the purpose of a program that people are likely to need three times per day). I can't speak to how the majority of people would react, but I do think more casual usage has to be taken into account.

Also, I'm trying to create an estimate of the food cost, and I figure the best place to start would be looking at the military budget. I assume any major program to feed the public would be run similarly, considering that 1) the DoD has always had an interest in minimizing cost and maximizing nutrition, and 2) it would need to provide balanced meals, with protein in addition to bread and veggies. The only article I could find with any numbers put the cost at roughly $1 billion (which is being investigated) for approximately 160,000 troops overseas (which surely increases costs, but I'm not sure to what degree and don't want to twerk irresponsibly with the already sketchy figures). This article claims that 11.2% of families in the US experienced malnutrition. Presumably those are the ones who would rely on a free food program. As I mentioned, these figures are already balllpark and questionable, but it would be easy to imagine a free food program shooting into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby a thing » Wed Nov 12, 2008 2:03 am UTC

clintonius wrote:I'm curious as to some of the logistics involved in creating the OP's proposed program. Would the federal government step in and take over state and local welfare systems, or would it simply fund those systems and tack on additional requirements? The former creates problems with centralized bureaucracy, the latter with oversight. Is it really feasible to provide food and shelter to anyone who wants it without setting certain requirements? I, for one, could see myself having frequented the free food halls in college if they were convenient enough (and being terribly inconvenient would rather defeat the purpose of a program that people are likely to need three times per day). I can't speak to how the majority of people would react, but I do think more casual usage has to be taken into account.


I do not think it would be a show-up-and-show-you-are-qualified situation every meal. A better implementation would be going through a (somewhat inconvenient) process to get a card that allows you to get 3 meals a day for a specified period.

clintonius wrote:Also, I'm trying to create an estimate of the food cost, and I figure the best place to start would be looking at the military budget. I assume any major program to feed the public would be run similarly, considering that 1) the DoD has always had an interest in minimizing cost and maximizing nutrition, and 2) it would need to provide balanced meals, with protein in addition to bread and veggies. The only article I could find with any numbers put the cost at roughly $1 billion (which is being investigated) for approximately 160,000 troops overseas (which surely increases costs, but I'm not sure to what degree and don't want to twerk irresponsibly with the already sketchy figures). This article claims that 11.2% of families in the US experienced malnutrition. Presumably those are the ones who would rely on a free food program. As I mentioned, these figures are already balllpark and questionable, but it would be easy to imagine a free food program shooting into the hundreds of billions of dollars.


I think the fact that much of the food has to be shipped a long distance is a significant factor for the cost. Also, a soldier requires more food than a typical civilian ("The IOM indicated that servicemembers (who were classified as highly active men between the ages of 18 and 30) typically burn about 4,200 Calories a day" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meal,_Ready-to-Eat [whereas an average of 2000 calories per day is recommended to civilians]).
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Re: Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

Postby cerbie » Wed Nov 12, 2008 3:37 am UTC

I was wondering the same as Clintonious, and have been mulling it over for a few days. I think Kachi's on to something. Minimum income, and other similar solutions, give plenty to free riders, could lead to poor economic conditions due to businesses not having enough money spare to hire more, expand, or invest as much in their infrastructure.

The best way I can think of is to focus less on the immediate effects than on direction and purpose. What I mean by that is, don't set up the bureaucracy with the idea of, "people need $X money generally, $Y shelter, and $Z food." Instead, look at how a holistic system can be made to encourage and empower people to become productive workers. While there shouldn't be luxuries in terms of things, there should be leisure time given, as a health measure. Basically, like the super soup kitchen idea, but with every possible way to make people get the hell out, by giving them the tools to not need it, rather than just shuffling them through. Eventually, integrate the whole mess into out way of life, rather than being specific ways to help.

Note that much of this text deals with ways in which public education and our health and job markets have failed us in general, and that in time, much of it could be normal or privatized, as long as the majority of people would demand it.

1) Purely progressive taxes, and welfare that decreases gradually at a lower rate than wages increase. So, no person gets back more from taxes than they had withheld. All hand-outs come from the welfare agency. Let's say you arbitrarily get $1000/yr, making $5000; then you make $10,000, and you still get $250. Amounts are arbitrary, again, but the point is that there is no gap of many thousands of dollars per year to overcome before you can really be making more money. All welfare is handled by this one agency, but is policed (watchdog/complaint style) by other agencies.

2) While health care needs major reform in general, cover care based on type of care, not specific drug, doctor, or procedure. Cover more of it if you can show you it was preventative or you went to the doc early on (IE, get a cold, see doc, get get-over-cold-faster meds, etc.). The idea being to encourage people not to wait, which ends up making it worse for everyone, and to know how much and what kind of coverage you get before you step into a doctor's office or ER.

3) Offer subsidized education, and dollar-matching for costs. That is, tuition is X, tools and other materials cost Y, so you get covered 1 dollar for every dollar you spend. Maybe some variant of this, but the idea here is that we need the ability for people to move between different skilled labor jobs, but companies don't want to cover training costs, except in very rare cases. There should be some incentives to train for certain jobs, and incentives for employers to hire people trained using state money (much, or all, of those matched funds would be from the welfare being given out). I'm sure there is a fairly simple way to do this, but of course that way would be passed over, even if I could think of it :).

4) Renovate old buildings, or build new ones, for housing, with requirements for those living there (work for temp agencies, do community service, be active in schooling absed on #3, etc.). And...make it a healthy environment. Cut down noise (between rooms, from nearby business, etc.), don't use carpet, minimize vinyl use, use low-color-temp lighting, good ventilation everywhere, allergy-proof as much as possible (matress covers, that sort of thing), make it unfriendly to bugs by design and operation, etc.. The added costs would be fairly small, if integrated right into the initial requirements and plans. The point here would be to have more than just a crappy homeless shelter type place, but make it annoying enough in some ways that most everyone will be happy to leave--almost a monastery-like, efficient space, with little room, many shared facilities, rotating occupant duties, etc.. Don't just house people--give them quiet time to de-stress and think about where they are going, get healthy if they were working in a crappy environment before, or have chronic health problems, to do written schooling projects, and to help keep the place up. Set it up with one or more good common areas, for various help groups (AA, quit smoking, quit other drugs, let businesses come in and present stuff, etc.). Let people who just want a cot go to a homeless shelter. Possibly make similar housing without the rest of the support net for those who want it, with a low rent (lower than cost--just to handle free riders), rather than your typical crappy apartment complexes. Possibly integrate local food source incentives, here, too.

...So, how do you do 4? It is one that will be much more about our collective set of social values than about how much money is involved, or how much bureaucracy there is. The key being that real people and real businesses are involved in the whole process, including policing it (by real, I mean locals that will have trouble seeing the people there as only numbers and faces, who must interact with them, rather than control being in the hands of insulated bureaucrats, except for macro-level bean-counting). If that can be done, and shelter and incentives worked out to the point where they are effective (IE, they don't need to reach an ideal state, yet), I believe that the rest would fall into place over time. We should not only have a net for individuals, IMO, but a social system to help bolster the economy from the bottom up, rather than just keep the bottom from moving farther down (and in many cases, discourage upward movement).

Finally, I'm sure there are simple solutions to much of this, if they are done enough different ways.

Now, I will take off my optimist hat, because I really don't have that much faith in the people of my country. Also, you can pick it apart and show me how its even more of a pipe dream than I can see it being now :).
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Marquee Moon » Wed Nov 12, 2008 4:23 am UTC

clintonius wrote:
Marquee Moon wrote:Dependents change things a bit, but if Joe the drug dealer won't buy food for his kids if we give him money, food stamps aren't going to fix things. But food stamps still run into the same problems. What if I have a surplus of food stamps but not enough money to pay the rent?

Food stamps won't fix that family situation, no, but they would prevent the person in question from using food money for drugs (I find it hard to imagine that many dealers accept food stamps). Being unable to pay the rent would be the purpose of the the free shelter mentioned in the OP.


I'm saying its such a small benefit that comes at a bigger cost. I think it would be a lot more intelligent to have a policy that actually focuses on helping children at risk. Maybe food stamps can be part of that policy, but I don't think it should be used as the primary unemployment benefit. On the rent thing: what if I need clothes for my new job? Or I'm having trouble paying car petrol? You can't have the government own and supply everything that could be a necessity for someone, and I personally think even non-emergency shelter is taking things too far.

I think the government should get involved when there's an actual problem with the market, not if something is a necessity. If there is a problem in a necessity market (like a monopoly supplier) then that obviously a very important problem. But if there's no problem there's no need to get involved. The food industry is fine. If an evil CEO through a series of hostile takeovers and unethical business practices manages to gain absolute control over the banana industry and hikes up prices, people will switch to oranges, or apples, or pasta, or tuna etc. Supermarkets get large savings because they buy in bulk, and many of their products are sold at a loss to attract people into their stores. They already have very efficient supply chains set up, and the stores are already built and are up and running. So there's no need for the government to get involved. Just give some money to people who don't have jobs.

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Re: Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

Postby Vaniver » Thu Nov 13, 2008 12:17 am UTC

There are pretty much three ways to provide a social safety net- soup kitchens, food stamps, and income guarantees. The shelter versions would be homeless shelters, living assistance (I think that's what they call housing subsidies these days), and again income guarantees. Medical versions are free clinics, Medicaid, and income guarantees. Educational versions are public schools, school vouchers, and income guarantees.

The first runs into problems with a government monopoly- there's no real punishment for not improving service or cutting costs, administration costs may be higher, and quality will probably suffer. This one has some efficiency benefits in dense regions- instead of requiring every family to have a kitchen and spend time in food prep, you can go down to the Public Cafeteria to get a free meal. You run into maintenance problems; if I don't own my cot down at the Public Shelter, then I have little incentive in using it in ways that minimize wear. Especially with housing, you run into serious problems with the concentration of a large number of impoverished people- theft will be rampant (and hinder people's upward climb), drug and gang activity can cause serious problems, etc. They're called the Projects for a reason. There are also significant problems in rural and low-density areas; having a Public Cafeteria in a town of 500 people is most likely a waste of money, while food stamps can be accepted everywhere.

The second doesn't have the possible efficiency gains of the first, but it gives the recipient some degree of control and allows the market to provide for their needs. It's generally the optimal solution, but it doesn't have the "bare necessities" draw of your plan; if you want to feed the poor a nutritious but cardboard-flavored mash, it's hard to do so with food stamps.

The third runs into problems with conflicting priorities. The aforementioned Joe is a good example, but it's easy to come up with any number of them. They range from the rational (I'm willing to skimp on food to save up for my education, but I can't convert my food stamps into cash) to the irrational (when I win the lottery, my children will have plenty to eat, so it's ok for them to be a little hungry until that happens!), but there's no perfect system. Ultimately, it comes down to how much you are willing to let people deal with the consequences of their choices.

As for accessibility- if it's cheap enough (which it pretty much has to be to be widely implemented), there's no reason to limit it to the poor. If I want to eat a flavorless mash or sleep in a barracks that my tax dollars paid for I should be able to- but the point of the system has to be to make the alternative far more desirable.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net idea. Would it destroy the US?

Postby Ixtellor » Thu Nov 13, 2008 7:45 pm UTC

qinwamascot wrote:Except that by raising the minimum wage, a larger portion of the population is saving money, which can later be invested in creating new businesses and hiring more employees. So in the short term, some people will not be able to find work, but in the long term it stimulates economic growth as a whole and eventually will raise the equilibrium wages of workers as well above a living wage (at which point, the minimum wage is all but unnecessary).


There is no reason to believe that raising the minimum wage will increase savings.
I don't think raising the minimum wage will have negative consequences, but if you saw a raise from say $7 to $12, you would see lay offs and inflation.

There is a magic number of what constitutes a safe minimum and a negative one and the trick is finding it. My opinionated, but educated, guess would be something around $7.50 -$8.00 modified by regional cost of living considerations.

Dr Strangelove wrote:I quite honestly have no idea how America has avoided instituting a safety net of this kind. Perhaps it is because the last truly "left" president was Lyndon B Johnson, who instituted a heap of social programs that were never rescinded, on account of him being swept into office with a huge majority and being able to pass whatever he wanted. Perhaps it is because the lower class of America somehow manage to be against the "big government" that would give them sufficient money to live away from the edge of the poverty line. It really is truly baffling to me.


I apologize for no citation, but my understanding is that there is both evidence to suggest economic class movement in reality and in belief.

American's believe they will eventually move up the socio-economic ladder and don't want to pay a peneltly later (see taxes) when they get there.
Then Sowell Thomas (harvard economist) recently did research suggesting that there is a lot of economic mobility in America. Which would help further explain the fact the poor people continue to vote against their short term economic interest.

I didn't see it mentioned, except in bits and pieces but the 4 major componants of the US's social safety net are:
Social Security
Welfare
Unemployment Insurance
Medicare/Medicaid

I have never heard an economist refer to our educational system as a social safety net, but I might just be ignorant, although it seems fairly logical that it is, but I would have to think on it further.


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Re: Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

Postby Gunfingers » Thu Nov 13, 2008 8:01 pm UTC

There's also the issue that what exists in the US doesn't usually exist federally. Many of the safety nets you want are in the US already, but they aren't federal programs.

As an example, see minimum wage laws. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_minimum_wages. Almost half the states of the union have a higher minimum wage than that mandated by the federal government.

Also, while looking that up, i found this little snippet that was interesting.

According to a paper by Fuller and Geide-Stevenson, 45.6% of American economists in the year 2000 agree that a minimum wage increases unemployment among unskilled and young workers, while 27.9% agree with this statement but with provisos.

Does that mean that 54.4% of economists disagree, or that 26.5% disagree? Shit be ambiguous. It's an interesting thing to consider...

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Re: Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

Postby Ixtellor » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:29 pm UTC

Gunfingers wrote:There's also the issue that what exists in the US doesn't usually exist federally. Many of the safety nets you want are in the US already, but they aren't federal programs.

As an example, see minimum wage laws. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_minimum_wages. Almost half the states of the union have a higher minimum wage than that mandated by the federal government.

Also, while looking that up, i found this little snippet that was interesting.

According to a paper by Fuller and Geide-Stevenson, 45.6% of American economists in the year 2000 agree that a minimum wage increases unemployment among unskilled and young workers, while 27.9% agree with this statement but with provisos.

Does that mean that 54.4% of economists disagree, or that 26.5% disagree? Shit be ambiguous. It's an interesting thing to consider...


I would wager a large amount its that 26.5% disagree.
A provision might be that raising the minimum wage from $5.35 to $6.35 would have zero affect in New York city. They probably are taking into consideration regional standards of living.


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Re: Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

Postby Vaniver » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:29 pm UTC

Gunfingers wrote:Does that mean that 54.4% of economists disagree, or that 26.5% disagree? Shit be ambiguous. It's an interesting thing to consider...
It should mean the latter.
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Re: Socialist Safety Net: Implications for the US

Postby tehmikey » Fri Nov 14, 2008 7:30 pm UTC

I do not really have an argument so much as a few questions that may incite a few discussion points that I find interesting.

Should the minimum wage/living wage value be enough to support an individual, or should it support a family? How many hours a week should this be based upon?

People often compare a CEO to the standard population, but many do not realize the involvement of their job requirements. Most people do not work the same number of hours or have such a stressful job that requires such a wealth of knowledge. If a person works 40 hours a week or less and cannot provide for themseives, should they receive these free benefits? If they bring a child into the world under these conditions, the living wage would no longer be enough.

I like the idea of being able to provide the basics for people who cannot obtain it for themselves, but I think we need to distinguish between those who try to make a living and those who are simply free loaders. I want to see the number of hours worked a week or proof that each individual is actively looking for a job before I give them something for free.

In the end, I think that a lot of regulations would need to be inplace to ensure that too much money is not lost.

Just because I want to throw in a religious rhetoric that is somewhat applicable... "God helps those who help themselves." I may not believe in God, but I do belive that people are more likely to help an individual if they are trying their best and not quite making it rather than someone who hardly tries and cannot make it.


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