The Right Coast

April 07, 2004
The Welfare State and the Poor
By Mike Rappaport

Tyler Cowan and Brad DeLong have reached an agreement. Brad admitted to Tyler that immigration would be a better way to help the poor than a larger welfare state. All Tyler had to do was to give Brad the right to name one presidential candidate for which Tyler could not vote. Aside from the exchange aspects of the deal, I should say that their reaching agreement on this matter of public policy is encouraging. It is also the kind of thing that the internet promotes and would have been extremely unlikely to happen otherwise.

On the merits, DeLong admits:
    Yes, Tyler is right: Increased immigration is superior to strengthening the welfare state. I just don't think it will or can happen, so I will advocate the next best thing. From a cosmopolitan world perspective, almost all of the costs of maldistribution come from income gaps between nations and very little come from within-nation inequality. Development is far more important from a world welfare perspective than social insurance within rich countries. And immigration is a powerful tool for world development.
I have long felt this way. Indeed, it seems to me that once we eliminate the arbitrary and unjustified focus on national distribution in Rawls's theory, the difference principle forbids a large welfare state! The welfare state ends up causing restrictions on immigration and therefore harming the poor from other countries in order to benefit the better-off poor in the US.