Opinion: Endless welfare benefits are not the answer to ending income inequality

The American policy debate is undergoing an important change. Some influential Democrats no longer view welfare benefits as “work supports” as they have done for the past generation. Instead, they increasingly see welfare benefits as ends in themselves, regardless of whether recipients work consistently or even work at all to receive them. Meanwhile, the list of benefits that prominent Democrats think that government should provide, from payouts resembling “universal basic income” to “carbon dividends” to free college tuition and free health care, is growing rapidly.

This twin shift reflects a rejection of the longstanding Democratic position on welfare reform and the biggest proposed expansion of the welfare state since at least the Great Society. With the likely 2020 Democratic presidential candidates pushing many of the plans, they will be debated and possibly enacted in the years ahead. The most dramatic departure from work support logic involves universal basic income. A recent study noted a primary feature of universal basic income is that it “provides a sufficiently generous cash benefit to live on without other earnings.”

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