Monday, October 24, 2011

Drug-testing before welfare

Is it OK to require people to pass a drug test before getting welfare benefits?

If you're a conservative, you probably think: "Sure! It is against the law to take drugs, and giving welfare to drug addicts just encourages their illegal, self-destructive behavior."

If you're a liberal, you probably think: "No! Drug users are some of the most disadvantaged members of our society, denying them benefits is just heartless and will make their problems worse, and testing innocent people is demeaning and violates their human rights."

Who is right? What should the government do?

I wish people would spend less time arguing about questions like this and realize that the real problem is we've got a winner-take-all system where "There Shall Be One Correct Answer."

It doesn't have to be that way.


Rob Kohr said...

Just give a welfare check to everyone, rich and poor alike. It will remove the odd disincentives that occur that cause people to lose welfare when then engage in productive behavior.

Gavin Andresen said...

I like the give-everybody-a-check idea; anybody know how much state and federal govts spend on programs for the poor every year? How big would the checks be if that money was just split 300 million ways?

Anonymous said...

$1653.33 per person under current levels.

If you took the whole $3.5 trillion budget, it would be $11,666.67 per person.

Gavin Andresen said...

Anonymous: You don't happen to know how much State governments spend, do you?

Anonymous said...

Different anon here - just a bit of a tangent on eliminating perverse incentives:

I'm a fan of Negative Income Tax, combined with a flat income tax. For example: You get $10k negative tax per year, then pay 25% income tax. So if you do nothing, you get $10k. If you earn $20k, you get taxed $5k, and get a net negative $5k tax. If you earn $40k you have zero net tax. If you earn $80k you pay $10k tax.

This has numerous advantages: You can eliminate welfare entirely ($10k is enough for food and shared shelter), and with it the welfare trap; you can eliminate minimum wages; it creates a progressive tax structure without requiring tax brackets; it eliminates a lot of wasteful bureaucracy (administering all of the above).

The idea is an intriguing mix of libertarian and socialist thinking. Unfortunately that means that it's doomed, since everyone's ideology can find something to hate about it. Still, it's an interesting thought.

Anonymous said...

Why should we give money to people who are addicted to drugs? does that help them? It will only make them more comfortable in their habit and not promote a positive change.