When imagining politicians clamoring for income redistribution, one may not think of Republicans. As proponents of small government, GOP members generally believe that the best method for helping the poor in the long-run is a free market economy that creates jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship. Additionally, as Tom Coburn (R-OK) frankly stated in an Op-Ed for "The Wall Street Journal" last week, "Spending other people's money is not compassionate." While these beliefs have considerable merit, they fall flat to many Americans mesmerized by Barack Obama's hopeful, if unattainable, promise to provide every American with health care, housing, and a myriad of other benefits, all while improving our GDP. Furthermore, charts and figures that extol the long-term advantages of fiscal responsibility seem callous to Americans who, according to Pew Research Center polls, increasingly favor a "safety net" for the poorest Americans.
The key to a Republican solution is the fact that American sentiment is not "either-or." Most Americans also favor free-market capitalism, small government, and pro-growth policies. Thus, rather than simply dismissing all types of aid to the poor, Republicans have a unique opportunity to distinguish their version of government assistance from that of the Democrats. In this area, a Republican pro-market solution can come prevail, based on its simplicity and potential popularity: Republicans should legislate for the government give the poor more money.
One area where Republicans can implement this approach is in addressing the health care crisis. Faced 45 million uninsured Americans and stratospheric costs of care, the Democrats' solution is to control, regulate, and even socialize the pharmaceutical, hospital, and insurance industries. Their ideas involve mandating which medical conditions must be covered by insurance companies, controlling how eligibility may be determined, calculating "legitimate" compensation to health care providers, and even creating government-controlled insurance. To many fiscal conservatives, the cost of such bureaucratic meddling , in addition to outrageous legal settlements, are at least as economically burdensome as the actual costs of providing health care.
Republicans should not ignore the problem of the uninsured. But they can favor a policy that maximizes aid for the poor, while keeping an appropriate distance from people's insurance plans and medical records. John McCain's health plan is built on this principle. He believes that by simply deregulating the stifling insurance market, initiating tort reform, and, most of all, providing money for health coverage, many more people could receive the prevention and treatment care they need.
A similar approach can be taken to assist the homeless. Democrats opt for big-government solutions, including rent control, public housing, excessive zoning laws, and all-out bans of untrendy "corporate" stores from certain neighborhoods. These strategies have distorted and raised market rental prices, deterred landlords from improving or building new rental units, and increased neighborhood blight. Public housing is also inequitable, in that it provides low-cost housing to a select few, leaving thousands more to languish on wait lists. The most devastating manifestation of public housing is perhaps its social cost: public housing neighborhoods have contributed to "two Americas," placing low-income families in a de facto racial "ghettos," thus forcing Americans of different social classes to live parallel lives with minimal interaction.
A Republican solution to the housing crisis would be to provide homeless people more money for rent, while interfering minimally with the market. Thus, low income families could be empowered to choose their neighborhoods, after evaluating school districts, access to supermarkets, and relative safety. Additionally, the money would be allocated more fairly, with the amount of aid determined by income, rather than a winning housing lottery ticket.
The "simply give poor people more money" could also be the Republican approach to the education crisis, in that it would empower families, rather than union leaders or unaccountable administrators. Washington D.C. spends $24,000 for every pupil per year, which should be enough to cover enrollment at Horace Mann or Dalton. Instead, an untraceable money chain has resulted in physically dilapidated schools, dissatisfied teachers, and abysmal graduation rates. Distributing money (in the form of vouchers) to individual families would respect needy parents by allowing them to make their own decisions on behalf of their families. And we could be sure that they will use this power of the purse to hold their children's schools accountable.
Reports of Republican party's death have been greatly exaggerated. Yet, the party, faced with a populace demanding for the government to actively solve problems, must update their mantra of fewer taxes and less spending. If Republicans instead focus on moderate taxation, a balanced budget, and smart spending in the form of direct payments to the poor, perhaps they can win popular support, improve the economy, and truly help the poor. The Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services could be dramatically downsized. Meanwhile, the GOP's least favorite government agency, the IRS, would ironically extend its responsibility, through a renewed role of redistributing income. This strategy, similar to Milton Freidman's "negative income tax," or Martin Luther King's "guaranteed minimum income" could be a uniquely Republican way to reduce government bureaucracy, while ensuring a "safety net" for every American. Of course, guidelines for eligibility, such as a demonstrated willingness to work, could be implemented. But through a well developed, small government strategy for social mobility, we may find that today's aid recipients will be on tomorrow's giving end of diminishing welfare rolls.