|...And Economic Justice for All. Welfare Reform for the 21st Century. Michael L. Murray. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997.|
reviewed by Hanno T. Beck
This is a great book. We agree with 90% of the author's points. And, more importantly, he writes with a refreshing honesty that makes the whole book a joyful experience.
Michael Murray is not an economist. He is not a tax attorney. He is not a politician nor a government bureaucrat. So, how dare he write on the subject of federal taxation reform? Here's the answer: He is a human being who sees possibilities for a better society. Murray, who works as a professor of insurance at a college of business administration in Iowa, paid attention to his experiences and observations over many years and they have led him to his conclusions. We are not asked to believe him merely because of his credentials. The result of Murray's sincere investigation is the book ...And Economic Justice for All.
So what's this book about? It is about an improvement to our nation's current way of allocating income.
The author seeks a "guaranteed adequate income" for all persons. He spells out in considerable detail why this would be good, what sorts of results we could expect, and he confronts objections rather than dodging them.
In my judgement, what makes this book a "must" is one of the basic assumptions that the author holds. Arguments in favor of a guaranteed income plan generally are based upon, or justified with, some abstract notion of human rights -- there's an idea that people are owed a guaranteed income. Or, one can justify a guaranteed income on grounds of economic consistency -- for example, I believe that everyone earns, but does not receive, some value simply by being a participant in the economy (you bolster the economy when you buy things, make things, use things). I also believe that there is a large sum of wealth that no human directly produced, and that all humans have an equally good claim on it -- this too justif ies a guaranteed income.
But Murray doesn't go in for these lines of reasoning. He does consider and discuss the question of whether there's a right to an income. (He does not consider whether there may be wealth to which all humans have an equally good claim, however.) Instead, Murray bases his book entirely on practical grounds. If we followed a guaranteed adequate income plan along the lines given, would our society be better off?
The starting point for Murray's inquiry is thus not one of philosophy, but rather one of asking "hey, our nation's system of assistance to the poor works badly. What might be a good replacement for the existing system?" That, to me, is an utterly fresh approach, and the fact that Murray arrives at the same conclusions as those who base their advocacy on philosophy gives yet more weight to the guaranteed income idea.
Murray appears to be unaware of recent work by Europeans who are pushing for a "Basic Income," and the ideas of such thinkers in the USA as Jeffery Smith of the Geonomy Society, Gar Alperovitz of the National Center for Economic Alternatives, Robert Schutz (who wrote The $30,000 Solution), Gary Flo and others.
Does this lack of awareness detract from Murray's book? You have to make up your own mind about that. Personally, I find it pleasing to see someone use his brains and arrive independently at some excellent conclusions. You can do that too!
The book is not so long as to be intimidating, and does not pour statistics down upon the reader's head. You get careful, very clear reasoning instead.
I assume that the author must have an ego. However, you wouldn't know it from reading this book -- we are not told to accept his views uncritically, and there are no attacks against those who disagree. Indeed, the author does not feel threatened by those who have other views, and simply is interested in sharing ideas with those who are willing to listen. No matter who you are, this book treats you with respect.
You can order this book via Dorothy's Economic Justice Bookstore