29 December 2011

Voting for Social Safety Net of Your Choice

Curiously, a great deal of our political differences can be captured by our aversion to risk. The thought that we should have universal health care is - at least in part - a question of how much risk we're willing to assume. If you get sick when you have no coverage, this could bankrupt you: in such a scenario, a temporary job loss could wipe out your assets.

Part of the question of how big a social safety net we should have is a function of empathy: do you want widows without children or anyone without work to have something other than bridges to sleep under. But part of it, too, is a function of our own optimism or uncertainty about our future: will we need unemployment insurance that lasts longer than 6 months at some point in the future, or food stamps for our kids in the event that our careers get de-railed by some massive restructuring of industries or technology makes a hard-earned skill obsolete. Do you want to live in a world without a safety net or support?

It would be fascinating to try creating a community that gave people the opportunity to choose which level of taxes and support they wanted. And then lock this in. (Say that you can choose temporarily at 18 and then have to choose permanently at 30.)

The community as a whole would pay for things like basic research, FDA, and defense, the benefits of which would not be experienced individually. After that, the options might look like this:
Pay 11% tax and have to pay for roads, education, medical, unemployment, and retirement.
Pay 22% tax and education, roads, and medical is now included.
Pay 33% and add to the above unemployment and retirement.

It would be curious to see polls of people asked what level of taxes and safety net they'd want if they knew they could not reverse it and could - in the extreme - end up homeless should things go poorly. If you knew that you could become "one of those people," would you be more likely to create a safety net for them?

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