A social program for mobility

A libertarian proposing a social program is a paradox. But that’s what I’m doing. And before I’m done, I’ll explain why libertarians should embrace it.

In debates between liberals and libertarians, things often lead to a libertarian saying something such as:

“If the schools are so bad and the jobs pay so little, these people should move some other place where things are better. This enables competitive market forces that eventually raise the level of quality across the board.”

And this sounds great. But it ignores that fact that many of the people affected by a bad environment don’t have the means to move. ¬†They are literally stuck in a bad situation.

This leaves me wondering if maybe solving that problem isn’t the best solution. What if instead of providing welfare payments and trying to directly identify and fix the bad schools, we give everyone the means to move somewhere where they can improve their situation?

I propose a means-tested moving allowance. Every family that doesn’t have the financial means to move (income & assets below some level) gets a free move. Now families can move out of their dead-end city to a place where they can get a job. Those struggling to get by on a low-end job can move to a place where a better one awaits.

The wonderful side-effect of this is that it also benefits the other side. Now companies struggling to fill vacant positions have a huge pool of potential employees to pull from. Before, it wasn’t cost-effective for them to recruit and relocate those un- and semi-skilled workers, but now they’re free.

Today, even people with means are often reluctant to move because they can’t move their social support structure with them (family, friends, church, etc.). But when everyone around you gets the same allowance, it makes group moves more feasible. The reality, of course, is that then it becomes difficult to find a place where jobs are available for the whole group. So, the program may need to include a service that makes it easy to match up potential movers with locations looking for them. And the market for movers could create some interesting incentives for companies to work together to solve these matching problems (e.g., a manufacturer working with the local Wal-Mart to get a job for the spouse of the worker it wants to hire).

People may make choices they later regret, and besides, things change. So, it needs to be repeatable. People can receive the allowance every two years if they’re still below the financial means cutoff.

So why should libertarians like this idea? Well, it’s a program that actually acts to increase the activity of the market. It would cause companies and localities to compete for these workers/consumers. There would be added incentive for schools to get better, knowing they could easily gain new students or lose them if they move on to greener pastures.

And the hope is that as mobility increases and people improve their situation, the other social programs become less necessary. Eventually, food stamps and welfare may be seen as old relics of a less prosperous time.

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