All western democracies have government programs in place to protect people against risks, especially the risk of loss of employment, loss of income and loss of good health. These programs are called social insurance and the protection they provide is called a social safety net.
Our social insurance system has always been defective, however. The Covid-19 crisis has made those defects more apparent than ever. In particular, our programs:
· Penalize people who go back to work, even though getting people back to work is our only way out of the current recession;
· Make access to health care, for those who have recently lost their health insurance coverage, contingent on income and assets in unfair and arbitrary ways;
· Impose huge penalties when seniors, whose lives have been disrupted, take a part-time job or draw on their savings in order to make ends meet;
· Encourage the warehousing of seniors in risky environments, when safer, cheaper alternatives are available.
Here is the tragedy. There are social insurance systems in the world today that protect people against these types of risk without imposing draconian penalties and creating perverse incentives. In a book about to be published by the Independent Institute, I describe how these better systems work.
But first, here is a quick overview of where the U.S. safety net goes wrong.