Views about social welfare policy are shaped by assumptions about what works, what we as a nation can afford, and how the economy responds to policy. Given rapid changes in the U.S. economy and the growing national debt, how should we think about raising and spending taxpayers' dollars for the social safety net? What does history tell us about tradeoffs between universal and targeted, or mean-tested, benefit programs for families? And equally important, what are the implications for economic growth of different choices about the shape and size of the tax system that supports the safety net? Is there a common base of facts upon which our nation's leaders can develop an enduring vision to guide social welfare policy?
The seminar featured new research by Peter H. Lindert, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of California (Davis), who will draw on his recent two-volume work, Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2004). Lindert argues that, contrary to the intuition of many economists and the ideology of many politicians, social spending can contribute to, rather than inhibit, economic growth.
Discussants explored the policy issues raised by Lindert's findings, such as:
Implications of universal versus targeted programs to improve the well-being of low- and moderate-income families,
Pros and cons of alternative ways to raise the funds to support the safety net for low- and moderate-income families, and
Designing tax and benefit systems that strengthen families.
– AGENDA –
Moderator: William E. Spriggs, Chair, Department of Economics, Howard University