Alternative approaches to providing food and other necessities could better serve the needy.
proponents have long advocated school choice and privatization as ways to
improve public schools and government services.
But now, perhaps, at a time of high and persistent unemployment, researchers
and elected officials should also focus on applying the principles of choice
and privatization to programs of providing the poor with the basic needs of
food, clothing and shelter.
- Empower recipients
of services as customers who can make choices. These customers then continually
nudge vendors in the direction of improved quality and reduced prices through
their purchasing decisions.
- Allow all qualified vendors to bid for government
- Break down large projects into smaller jobs so that
more vendors and smaller vendors can participate in bidding.
principles are applied, a state monopoly system can be transformed into a
market-based system that is responsive to its customers, where costs are
reduced and where quality improvements can be realized.
This is a strategy to privatize the welfare state by taking away from it both clients and revenues, one individual or one family at a time.
Before any contracts
are bid out, Michigan's welfare process would have to be broken down into
thousands of small jobs. A typical small contract would obligate a contractor
to provide only for the basic needs of one person or one family for a short
period of time, and any household would be eligible to bid for such a contract.
Contractors would not necessarily be required to shelter the needy in their own
homes, but could also house them in vacant houses or apartments.
process would establish an acceptable range of low prices. The person seeking
shelter, now empowered as a customer, could choose a provider from among the
low bids. As the bidding progressed, this person could encourage friends and
relatives to submit bids in the acceptable price range.
bidding taking place, no one can predict for certain how much it would cost to
serve an average needy person through such a program. But some clues are
available. We know, for example, that Michigan's foster care program pays
households about $550 a month to provide food, clothing and shelter to children
ages 13 to 18. In the apartment rental market, at a time when many apartments
in Michigan are now vacant, it is possible to rent half of a small apartment,
sharing it with another person, in many parts of Michigan for about $300 a
month. From such clues as these, it seems likely that an emergency shelter
program could easily provide basic needs for about $500 a month, especially if
program participants would continue to receive food stamps, which could provide
an additional $100 a month to cover food expenses. After actual bidding takes
place, it may be found that the monthly cost is considerably less.
Ideally, such a
program would be financed by tax credits equal to the amount of accepted contract
bids. At $500 a month, approximately 900,000 of Michigan's needy could be
served by such a program before exhausting Michigan's $5.4 billion annual human
All people, in
deciding where to live, must weigh a number of factors. In some cases,
proximity to a job may be the determining factor. In other cases, the amenities
of a building or the desire to live near relatives is viewed as more important.
Weighing and sorting through such issues in an effort to make the best possible
decision is called "the pursuit of happiness." Enabling the needy to choose
from among a number of available shelter locations would also allow them, to
some extent, to exercise that inalienable right.
be familiar with the Cloward-Piven Strategy. This is a leftist strategy
developed in 1960s to overburden welfare systems with new applicants in order
to create a socialist revolution. By enrolling many new welfare recipients,
Cloward and Piven believed they could produce a financial crisis, which in turn
would spark a wider conflict, which could then be resolved by implementing a
new, large-scale federal program of wealth redistribution.
Cloward-Piven can now be opposed what might be called a Williams Strategy.
This is a strategy to privatize the welfare state by taking away from it both
clients and revenues, one individual or one family at a time. This process
would continue until all the needy had found places to live through a new
emergency shelter program, with most of them choosing to live with friends or
relatives. At that point, after having lost all its clients, the welfare system
as we know it, welfare as a state monopoly, will be no more.
a writer who lives in Lakewood, Ohio, is an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in
Midland, Mich. Permission to
reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the
Center are properly cited.