Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cowen and Ownership Society

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution has his column in the Times today, discussing universal 401K's. (As pushed by Gene Sparling of American Progress.)
The core idea is simple. The federal government creates tax-free retirement accounts for lower-income Americans, supplementing private accounts where they already exist, and matching personal contributions to those accounts. The amount of the match would depend on the income of the family and how much they save.
He seems sympathetic, but points out the likelihood of creating two classes of poor--the one that uses the savings in the 401K wisely, the other that gets sucked into misusing the money. I think that's true. Even for the EITC, which both liberals and conservatives agree is a good measure, there is a problem. Or rather two problems: one of fraud--people claiming the credit who aren't entitled; one of nonuse--people who qualify not applying.

This leads to the age-old question: is a liberal more concerned for equality of opportunity or equality of result. Typical American liberals have mostly said the first; many radicals, either of the Marxian or Christian variety, have said the second.

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