What a Conservative Social Safety Net Would Look Like

This Article is Also About Effective Conservative Messaging . . . So We Don’t Keep Having Repeats of the 2012 Election

When I talk with liberals, most are shocked to learn that I support a social safety net.

They assume that, because I’m a conservative, I must support some kind of Darwinian “survival of the fittest” economic system.

That’s how President Obama usually describes our public policy views — every man for himself.

I explain that I am a conservative, not a libertarian.

Conservatives certainly believe in a social safety net because we believe in a humane civilized society.

But there is a strong perception (perhaps a majority perception) that we are opposed to any kind of social safety net. Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comment played into that perception in a major way.

It’s my view that comment cost him the election. That 47 percent includes those on Social Security, Medicare, veterans, our fighting men and women, policemen, fire fighters, and many who traditionally vote Republican.

So the 47 percent comment was devastating to the Romney campaign. He was writing off 47 percent of the electorate. Or at least, that became the perception.

The issue now is: How do conservatives fix their messaging problem?

My own view is that it’s not just a messaging problem, it’s also a bit of a substance problem.

Conservatives are strong when they are talking about opportunity and the wealth-creating power of free-market capitalism.

But most 70-year-olds, quite frankly, don’t care much about economic opportunity for themselves. They want to know their medical bills will be covered and their Social Security check will continue to arrive so they can pay their rent and continue to eat.

A single mother with three kids is not thinking about the great economic opportunities that might be out there. She’s not wondering: Should I buy a franchise, or start my own business?

She’s wondering how she can continue to hold down three jobs and raise her kids in this economy of part-time jobs.

The truth is, only a small portion of the population is even capable of actually starting a business — perhaps 5 percent of the population, at most.

Most people are not entrepreneurs, don’t have the temperament for it. Most people are not risk takers.

I am an entrepreneur. I happen to have the temperament for it.

I have built three successful businesses. I love getting paid according to what I actually produce. I actually like the risk of potentially not getting paid at all if I make bad bets. This risk, this uncertainty makes life exciting.

But most people are not wired this way. Most people don’t have an entrepreneurial temperament.

Over the years and decades, I have interviewed hundreds of prospective employees.

I have asked many of them this question . . .

Would you rather earn a fixed salary of $40,000 per year?

Or would you prefer to earn a percentage (say 15%) of the money you help bring into the company, with the potential of earning $500,000, $1,000,000, or more per year?

95 percent (or more) will choose the fixed salary of $40,000 per year over the realistic potential of earning $500,000, 1,000,000 or more.

They will choose the $40,000 salary over even an excellent chance to earn many times that amount based on measureable production.

Most people just don’t want their incomes to be directly linked to actual results.

Most people, let’s face it, want to be taken care of, at some level. They at least want to know they won’t end up on the street with their children.

Women, more than men, tend to be safety conscious — which is why there is now at least a 10 point gender gap in elections between how men tend to vote and how women tend to vote. This gender gap is enormous among single women. So, apparently, single women feel more vulnerable than married women, so feel they are in more need of government protection.

Safety is much more important to women than to men, but it’s important to almost everyone.

I don’t for a second think single women were voting on the Sandra Fluke contraception issue.

Women want a safety net. So do most people.

Conservatives make a big rhetorical and strategic blunder when they sound like they oppose a social safety net.

What we oppose is the kind of welfare state we have now that has created a culture of dependency and a permanent underclass.

No one in America should be starving and homeless. No one wants to throw their grandma out into the snow or allow her to die because she can’t afford medical treatment.

We’re certainly a rich enough country to take care of those who are not in a position to take care of themselves.

The question is: What would a conservative social safety net look like?

A social safety net should first and foremost be aimed at protecting those who cannot work.

They are either too young, too old, too sick, or seriously disabled.

Who doesn’t want to protect these people?

This is a big reason for the failure of the Mitt Romney campaign for President.

He kept talking about entrepreneurs and “job creators.”

It’s certainly true that entrepreneurs and business leaders produce all the wealth.

He’s absolutely correct about that.

But with that message, he was talking to about five percent of America, at most.

Most people are not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Most people are not capable of even running a hotdog stand.

What most people want is some sense of security in life. Most people don’t expect to get rich, aren’t even trying to. They are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

They are just happy to know there is a floor — a minimum living standard — through which they can’t fall.

This is why insurance companies are so profitable. Insurance companies are built on the fear people have that bad things happen — because bad things often do happen.

People know that insurance is a bad deal most of the time. They know they are probably paying more than they should for insurance. But they want insurance anyway, to protect themselves from disaster.

The social safety net is a form of insurance. People want it.

Insurance provides peace of mind.

People lose their jobs, lose their heath, have accidents, and have catastrophic disasters. People want to know that the society will step in to help them, if needed.

It’s worth noting that there’s not much of a gender gap among married women. But Republicans are losing big among single women. And it has nothing to do with contraception or abortion.

Unmarried women feel vulnerable. They don’t have a husband to lean on. Many are single moms with children.

Instead of looking to husbands and their families for support, single women tend to look to government

The Republican emphasis on helping entrepreneurs and “job creators” does not resonate with most single women.

All that changes when women get married — when marriage and family become their safety net.

Republican candidates do fine among married women . . . because married women feel more secure.

But as long as Republicans keep sounding like they are for “survival of the fittest” economic and social policies, they might as well write off single women, minorities, and all portions of the electorate who feel vulnerable.

It’s certainly true that entrepreneurs and business leaders create all the wealth. We want America to be the world’s most business friendly country. We don’t want to chase wealth and business out of the country with excessive taxation and onerous regulation. We want America to be attracting money and business, not repelling money and business. We want America to be a repository for the world’s wealth — a place where investors put their money . . . because that’s how nations become wealthy.

But a message that emphasizes helping five percent of the population — “job creators” — is not a formula for winning elections.

This is why it’s a mistake for conservatives to align themselves too closely with libertarians.

The Ron Paul-Ayn Rand Virtue of Selfishness” approach to public policy is a non-starter with 80 percent of voters.

Ron Paul and Ayn Rand certainly have put forth some great ideas — especially their explanations on why free-market capitalism is the surest path to prosperity .  .  . and why socialism and centralized economic planning by government always fails.

The free market is the engine that produces the most general prosperity.

But the free market also cannot solve all problems.

Obama was not entirely wrong when he said of the businessman: “You didn’t build that, someone else did.”

That was clumsy phraseology.  And I’m certainly no Obama apologist.  I think he’s a socialist, not much of a fan of America, who is moving America very much in the wrong direction.

How can you like something you say you want to “fundamentally transform“? (Which is what Obama promised he would do to America in 2008)

But there is truth in what Obama was saying.

He was making the valid point that successful businesses cannot not be built without roads, without infrastructure, without law and order, without education, without financial markets, without a currency . . . anymore than NFL football games could be played without rules, without stadiums, without referees, without a governing body.

For the Romney campaign and the national GOP to make Obama’s “You didn’t build that”  remark the centerpiece of their their campaign strategy to defeat Obama for reelection in 2012 was pretty dumb.

Obviously a civil society is required for businesses to flourish.  That requires government. Reasonable taxation is the price we pay for civilization.

But liberals also have a big political liability because they very often sound like they oppose capitalism. Most Americans like capitalism. Most Americans oppose socialism. Most Americans understand that capitalism allowed America to quickly become the richest nation in human history.

Most Americans don’t want to mess with the “goose that’s laying all the golden eggs” – free-market capitalism.

Most Americans also believe government has gotten too big, too meddlesome. Every Gallup poll taken over the decades shows that about 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as conservatives; just 20 percent describe themselves as liberal. The rest are somewhere in the middle. So America is a center-right country.

Americans love freedom, love capitalism, love America and all America stands for — the “land of the free.”

America is a place that allows you to be anything you want to be. In America, there is no ceiling on achievement.

But most Americans also want insurance — assurance that, should something really bad happen, there is a floor through which they cannot fall.

But What Should a Conservative Social Safety Net Look Like?

Few would argue against the need to protect those who cannot work. They are either too young, too old, or disabled.

But what about the able-bodied working age who just can’t find a job, or won’t find a job?

A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Labor finds that 34.3 percent of working-age Americans say they don’t want a job.

That of course is up to them. People are free to work, or not work. That’s their choice.

But then these folks should not expect taxpayers to pay their living expenses — at least not without requiring something in return.

The premise behind a conservative safety net is: “We will help the helpless, but not enable the lazy and the clueless.”

The type of social safety net we should have is one that encourages able-bodied Americans to get off it.

Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law that required able-bodied Americans on welfare to work.

Millions of Americans left the welfare roles for jobs as a result.

President Obama canceled that the work requirement for those on welfare. The result: a 50 percent increase in the number of people on Food Stamps, and one third of the country on some form of “means tested” welfare.

The difference between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama is that Bill Clinton saw it as an important public policy goal to wean people off welfare, while Obama’s primary goal has been to put more people on welfare, to addict as many Americans as possible to government assistance.

If I were to design America’s social “safety net” policy, it would look like this:

1) Assistance to the Unemployed Able-Bodied Adult

The unemployed would receive a maximum of nine months of unemployment insurance payments.

It’s significant that almost everyone receiving unemployment benefits manages to find work during the last month or so before their benefits run out. So many use their unemployment checks as a way to have an extended paid vacation.

So here’s the solution . . .

If after nine months, the able-bodied continue to need public assistance to survive, they would have to report to a facility that would look like an Army barracks and would be run something like a boot camp.

Residents there would be put to work, just like a “work release” program that prisons use for non-violent offenders. They would be expected to pick up trash along the side of the road, do whatever work is needed around the community, or go out to find work, or get schooling so they can qualify for work.

They would be expected to be back in the barracks after work. This would be a Spartan existence for them. They would have clean facilities and good nutrition, but very little freedom.

Their day would be highly structured, with regular testing for drugs. They would be required to attend evening educational programs focused on developing marketable skills. There would be no TV, no ping pong, no fun and games. Daily exercise would be mandatory and highly structured by a drill sergeant-type.

Some people might choose to live this way for the rest of their lives.  Most able-bodied people will surely want to find a way to get out of the barracks, get their freedom back, and move back into the productive economy — which they are free to do at any time.

But so long as they are on public assistance (living in the barracks), every minute of their time would be scheduled.

By the way, this is how deadbeat dads are treated. If you are a “deadbeat” dad not paying your child support payments, you are jailed. You are then put in a “work release” program where you either find a job and go to work each day, or the jail gives you a job picking up trash on the side of the road, or whatever other job needs doing.

The government then confiscates your paycheck, which is then used to feed your kids.

You then get out of this situation when you persuade a judge that you’re ready to start paying your child support. Most find a way to start paying their child support again.

This barracks-style welfare system, by the way, would just about eliminate the dysfunctional drug and prostitution economy that’s created a permanent underclass in America. People engage in these underground, black-market activities to earn cash that’s not reported to the IRS so they can keep their welfare benefits rolling in.

This “tough love” barracks system of welfare for the able-bodied ends all that nonsense, and would likely put the drug gangs out of business.

If you are an able-bodied adult, public assistance must become a last resort, an emergency situation — not a way of life . . . and certainly should not be used by Democrats as a way to buy votes. If you are long-term unemployed, we’ll find things for you to do. We’ll structure your day for you.

It’s important to emphasize here that this program would be VOLUNTARY. Entering this program would be a condition of the able-bodied, working-age American continuing to receive public assistance after nine months of receiving unemployment compensation.  People would be free to leave the program at anytime.  But their public assistance pay would end also.

So there is nothing incompatible here with liberty.  It’s a program that would be available for those who want to participate in it.  But no more getting paid by taxpayers for sitting on the sofa watching TV if you are a working-age, able bodied American adult.

Surely there are large-scale TVA-style public works projects these people could be working on that would help the country. We used to have a government that was capable of tackling big projects — such as building the Hoover Dam.

Maybe we need a canal built or some levees to prevent another Katrina-type disaster.

By the way, this Barracks-style welfare program that requires work in exchange for public assistance probably won’t be cheaper than the system we have now. But it would be far more effective in lifting people out of permanent poverty.

And welfare should all be handled almost entirely at the state level — with perhaps some block grants from the federal government to assist in areas of the country that have extreme poverty. There should be almost no federal administration of welfare on the principle that government works best when government is close to the people. Most of the governing in America should take place at the state and local level.

2) Crack Down Hard on Disability Fraud

The Barracks-system of welfare described above is for long-term unemployed able-bodied adults who need government assistance to live.

So this “tough love” welfare system would certainly create an incentive for people to fake back injuries and the like so they could go on long-term disability. Clearly, we would have to step up enforcement of laws against disability fraud — increase penalties, and the like.

Again, this becomes easier if we shift responsibility for all welfare and poverty programs back to states and local governments — where local officials are on the scene and are in the best position to police disability fraud.

Social Security

Social Security and Medicare are designed to protect those who are too old to work from falling into poverty. These are not welfare programs because we pay into these systems all our lives and expect these systems to be there when we reach retirement age.

Most Americans see Social Security and Medicare as successes. Most people don’t want to see grandma forced to eat dog food to survive.

Social Security now faces financing problems for two principal reasons:

FIRST, politicians have been using the Social Security Trust Fund for other government expenditures rather than to ensure the long-term health of the system; and

SECOND, people are living much longer today than they were when Social Security was enacted.

Both are simple problems to fix.

Politicians must be stopped from using Social Security as a piggy bank to fund the rest of the federal government.

Even Al Gore campaigned in 2000 on the idea of passing a “Social Security Lock-Box Law” that would stop Congress from doing exactly this.

I doubt Gore was serious about his proposal. It was probably a campaign gimmick. But it’s a good idea.

We also need to index the age at when people begin to receive Social Security according to increasing life-expectancy.

When Social Security was first passed in 1935, the life expectancy for the average man was 58, for the average woman 62. Social Security benefits kicked in at age 65 — which, back then, was considered extreme old age. The purpose of Social Security was to assist those in extreme old age who were no long physically able to work.

Only 54 percent of Americans in those days lived long enough to receive any Social Security benefits. And most of them would only receive benefits for a few years.

So financing this system was not a problem.

Today, average life expectancy has reached 78 years of age. The average baby born today will likely live into their 90s.

Obviously, Social Security can’t pay benefits to people for 30 years.

Age 60 is the new 40.

Scientists now believe that with some genetic tweaking, it’s possible in the not-so-distant-future for humans to live for 500 years. They’ve achieved this with genetic tweaks to worms. Now they are trying this with mice.

Clearly, we must continue to raise the retirement age as life expectancy increases.

Right now, retirement age to receive full Social Security benefits is 67. But you can start receiving benefits at age 62 if you want to accept 30 percent less.

The retirement age for Social Security should be raised to age 72 immediately and then indexed to average life expectancy. That would take care of the Social Security financing problem.

Medicare

The best way to protect and preserve Medicare is to repeal ObamaCare.

Like Social Security, Medicare is designed to provide good medical care in our old age — when we most need it. Health insurance for younger Americans can be purchased relatively cheaply.

But ObamaCare steals $716 billion from Medicare over the next ten years in order to pay for ObamaCare.

Because of ObamaCare, doctors and hospitals are now scheduled to be paid just 33 percent for Medicare patients of what private insurers pay for the same treatments — again, because of the need to fund ObamaCare.

As a result, doctors and hospitals are increasingly turning away Medicare patients.

There is nothing about ObamaCare that’s working.

It took a pack of lies to sell ObamaCare – which passed in the Senate by a single vote.

But what’s really dooming ObamaCare is cost — the sticker shock of the monthly premiums people are experiencing right now who have been thrown into the ObamaCare exchanges. According to a 49-state study by the Manhattan Institute, ObamaCare is causing an average increase in premiums for individuals of 41 percent.

How is this happening?

Well, because whenever government takes over an industry (in this case one-sixth of the U.S. economy) costs always go up, while quality and service decline. So now we have the equivalent of the Post Office managing our health care — except worse . . . because it’s the IRS that will be the enforcer of ObamaCare.

But also because ObamaCare requires all of us to have health coverage for items we don’t want.

As a 55-year-old male with kids out of the home, I have no interest in paying for insurance that covers maternity care, pediatric care, birth control pills, contraceptives, abortions, vasectomies, or a sex-change operation. But now, because of ObamaCare, I am required to have health insurance that covers these things.

So ObamaCare is a total catastrophe on every level.

ObamaCare is a disaster because it attempts to micromanage 18 percent of the American economy — a task we learned from the collapse of the Soviet Union that government is incapable of doing.

Social Security and Medicare are different. All these programs require government to do is write checks. Government can do that simple task.

Now that ObamaCare is such a self-evident disaster, liberals are saying what we really need is “Medicare for All” — which is single-payer health care, with the government as the single payer.

No, that’s not what we need.

Government should step in where the free-market isn’t, or can’t.

90 percent of Americans are covered by private health insurance. Why dismantle that?

Medical expenses and health insurance costs are low for young healthy people.

Medical expenses and health insurance on the private market become unaffordable for most when they enter the final years of life. It make sense for government to make provisions for that reality.

Social Security and Medicare have done an effective job at keeping the elderly from falling into poverty.

The big reform I would make to these programs is that our contributions to these programs should go into personalized IRA-style savings and investment accounts — accounts that could not be touched by politicians. This is the Chilean model Herman Cain talked about in the 2012 primary elections.

This is an excellent idea.

We also need to index the age people become eligible for Medicare to account for increased life expectancy.

But the big point is: conservatives must be careful not to sound like they oppose Social Security and Medicare.

These programs are popular with voters. If I were to re-launch these programs — start over — I would make some changes and adjustments to make them work better. But the programs are here. People have paid into these programs all their lives on the expectation that these programs would be there in their old age. People have built their lives around these programs.

For conservatives to sound, sometimes, like they oppose these programs is political suicide. We are conservatives not radicals. We are conservatives, not libertarians. Conservatives certainly have bedrock principles (rooted in America’s Constitution and Declaration of Independence), but we also deal with the world as it actually is. We look at reality. We might prefer that a particular road was not in that location, but it’s there. It makes no sense to move it.

Social Security and Medicare have become American institutions. Most people believe their parents and grandparents should be protected from falling into poverty after they’ve lived beyond working age. On the whole, Social Security and Medicare have achieved what they were supposed to achieve.

It’s worth noting that both Social Security and Medicare were enacted with strong support from both political parties — unlike ObamaCare which could not garner a single Republican vote in either the House or the Senate.

Obama could have crafted health care legislation that would have attracted Republican votes, but he chose not to. He chose to craft legislation that could not even attract the vote of a liberal Republican, not even Olympia Snowe (who loved to vote with Democrats) — because Obama is a radical. Any legislation that any Republican could vote for is not radical enough for Obama.

But the Republican message can’t just be to oppose ObamaCare.

Polls consistently show most Americans oppose the current ObamaCare law.  ObamaCare only has 39-41 percent public support. But polls also show most Americans don’t want the law entirely repealed.

I believe that’s because most Americans believe there were things wrong with the old health care system.  The old health care system needed some fixes.

Conservatives and Republicans need to present an alternative to ObamaCare.

Nine Health Care Reforms That Make Sense

After we repeal ObamaCare, here would be my nine-point plan (tweaks) to fix the old U.S. health care system, which was the best in the world:

1) If really needed, expand Medicaid to address the uncovered poor (easy to expand an existing, well-established program).

2) Make health insurance tax-deductible for individuals (like it is for businesses).

3) Allow insurers to compete across state lines (competition always brings costs down, improves quality and choices)

4) Expand Health Care Savings Accounts (Tax-deferred, like-IRAs)

5) Cap Medical malpractice lawsuit awards (a big upward driver of health care costs)

6) Subsidize those with expensive pre-existing conditions. This could probably be done through Medicaid.

7) Those who show up at an Emergency Room without health insurance would be treated, but then sanctioned criminally. Probably pay a fine or do community service. Multiple offenders risk jail time (like deadbeat dads). That takes care of the Emergency Room problem. It’s a requirement that everyone have some kind of health insurance done the right way.

8) Medical costs and doctor visits should be tax-deductible to encourage illness prevention.

9) Restore the $716 billion that was stolen from Medicare to pay for ObamaCare.

These reforms could fit on a single sheet of paper — in contrast to the 2,700-page ObamaCare law, plus more than 20,000 pages of ObamaCare regulations that have been added to the law so far.

There.

Health care problems fixed.

We bring overall health care costs down by phasing out third-party payment systems as much as possible (including employer-provided insurance) and by making individuals responsible for the lion’s share of their own health care coverage. Then watch health care costs drop.

Flat screen TVs, personal computers, and cell phones used to be prohibitively expensive for most people. Now almost everyone can afford them, even people on welfare. A flat screen TV used to cost $20,000 when they first hit the market. Now they cost $600 — for a good one.

When the market is allowed to operate freely, without a lot of government interference and mandates, costs always come down — often to almost nothing. And we get lots of innovation — new products, new discoveries.

This is how human progress occurs. This is how free-market capitalism helps everyone become better off, including the poor — as even one of my favorite rockers Bono says: “Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.”

We then take care of the elderly with Medicare (when health care really can become prohibitively costly). And we provide for the poor with Medicaid — most of which is administered by the states.

All this was happening under the pre-ObamaCare system.

We had a mostly good health care system. It just needed a few tweaks, some minor adjustments — much like the NFL makes relatively minor tweaks to the rules of pro-football every now and then to make the games better.

There was no need to completely reorganize 18 percent of the U.S. economy with ObamaCare.

The Bottom Line

For conservatives to win national elections consistently, emphasizing the prosperity made possible by free-market capitalism is certainly important, but is not enough.

People want freedom and prosperity. But they also want security.

And most are willing to sacrifice some freedom and prosperity for a bit more security, especially women.

That’s just reality.

Security is actually part of freedom and prosperity.

If people feel more secure, they feel more free, more prosperous, and are usually happier.

Aren’t you happier when you feel more secure?

Until conservatives address the “security” part of what people want more directly, we will continue to have trouble winning national elections.

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