Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Man in the Street

There's this TV show called Louie, which is an extremely weird but oddly satisfying series. One of the episodes this season, the main character, Louis C.K, goes on a date with a manic pixie dream girl called Liz. After Liz introduces Louis to a new deli shop, they walk out of the store and Louis places a bag of food he bought from the store by a sleeping homeless man.

Liz asks Louis why he did that. And he replied something like, "it's better than throwing it in the trash." Liz then pressures Louis into helping the hobo out. The hobo reveals that he has a psychological problem in which he hallucinates bugs crawling all over his skin, and that the only thing that makes it stop are expensive drugs. After he lost his job and his health insurance, he started living out on the street. Liz and Louis help the guy out by buying him those anti-hallucination drugs and directing him to a homeless shelter.

In most major cities, people tend to ignore homeless people. Since there are so many people around, and because cities tend to have stronger government safety nets, the diffusion of responsibility kicks in and whenever we see a man on the street, sleeping or wallowing in squalor, we just walk right on by, trying not to make eye contact with him.

This has always been a dilemma that sorely tests my political beliefs, that government should stay out of the affairs of people as much as possible. What do we do with the people who genuinely can't take care of themselves? I'm a libertarian. But I'm not the kind of libertarian who answers "YEAH!!!!" when asked whether we should let a person die because they lost their job, got sick, and needs intensive medical care.

The vast majority of people born in the US are born capable of fending for themselves once they reach adulthood. For an unlucky few, they will develop sicknesses, when combined with other unfortunate events, that will render them unable to take care of themselves.

So the question is, what do we do about the man in the street?

I'm starting to think that the best answer involves garnished combined with a generous safety net. For example, if an adult consents to become a ward of the state, they will be afforded a minimal standard of living and treatment for any diseases they might have. In exchange, they sign a contract saying that if they leave their wardship, their wages get garnished, first by a fixed amount (as a penalty for becoming a ward), then by a percentage that depends on how much care they received while becoming a ward.

So under this system, if a young man around the age of 25 works and decides to forgo health insurance and gets very sick, loses his job, and doesn't have a network of family and friends he can rely on for help, he can submit himself as a ward of the state. As an adult ward, he's entitled to 3 meals a day, access to clean water, a sleeping bag in a safe, covered area, medical care, and a per diem allowance that is 25% of the Federal minimum wage at full time hours (currently, this would be about 10 dollars a day).

Under wardship, he receives the necessary medical care to become healthy. He decides to exit wardship. He gets a new job. The government then garnishes a fixed amount of money (let's say...1500 dollars at 15% of his paycheck or 50 dollars per biweekly pay period, whichever is less) to pay for the administrative costs of ward care. Then, he consumes say....10,000 dollars of care under wardship, he has his wages garnished at an additional 15% of his paycheck (or 50 dollars, whichever is less) until that amount gets paid back.

That would provide enough incentive for potentially productive people to not abuse the welfare assistance of the state (unless they want to live at the poverty level forever) and still render assistance to the people who are truly unable to take care of themselves. 

No comments:

Post a Comment