Social Reform (and all that Jazz)

I had a long conversation yesterday with my Republican Atheist brother (now there’s a pairing I bet you don’t see much) about healthcare, welfare, and Michael Moore. Needless to say, it was a really interesting discussion.

My brother’s white, good-looking, and comes from an upper-middle class family. He’s never had to worry about healthcare or buy his own car or pay rent (he’ll be 20 in December). I totally respect him, however, because though I think his politics are nutty, he comes at them from an informed perspective. He reads both Time and Newsweek regularly, watches CNN, and has been making inroads into the blog forums/online news sources.

He argued that universal healthcare is unsustainable, that France and Germany are seriously reforming theirs (moving over state-funded programs to private programs), and Canada’s is in serious financial trouble.

I got to say, well, “What about Scandinavia?”

Of course, Scandinavia does it by taking 40% of your income. But if you don’t have to pay for all your public services, your streets are clean, there’s only five homeless people in the country, and childcare is subsidized, isn’t it worth it?

I knew less about welfare reform in the US, except that I knew about the welfare-to-work programs and the privitazation of welfare. I wasn’t certain what our current set-up was.

My brother forwarded me some useful links:

Whitehouse Stance, this link provides info about welfare in 1995, before Clinton’s 1996 retooling – but it provides a history of welfare reform)

LibertyNet (overview)

We appear to still be stuck in that tricky welfare-to-work program, which gets people one or two (or three) minimum wage jobs, kicks them off welfare, and keeps them living out of their cars (my brother rightly pointed out that this program was put into place by Clinton). Check out Enrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed for more about what these sorts of programs really do for families.

Another one of our debates was about raising minimum wage to a living wage of, say, $11 an hour. He argued that this would cause inflation. My buddy Jenn (we were just speaking of this) pointed out that most min. wage workers spend most of their money at the sorts of places that hire min. wage workers (Walmart, fast-food, local diners, etc), so, say, that my dad (who has a couple of pizza restaurants) would have to pay his workers more money, so he’d have to raise the price of his pizza, right? But… would people who had more money just buy more pizza? Apparently, economists are just as confused about what really happens as the rest of us. Here are some more factoids about minimum wage (updated July 2004).

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