Each year over 100,000 topic high school students research and debate the annual NFL topic. These students tend to be idea-leaders in their high school and will continue to be in their college and professional careers.
Over many years, working with the Institute for Humane Studies, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Reason Foundation, and other market-oriented groups, I have given talks and held seminars on the economics of each year’s national debate topics. My goal has been to explain basic economic principles and to interest students in the dynamics and consequences of government intervention in society (interventions that are often at the root of current social problems).
My economic and historical discussion of the topic (below) could be relegated to negative argumentation. But debate students split their research time between affirmative and negative arguments, and they tend to identify with their affirmative cases (since they advocate these cases in 1/2 of debate rounds). So in the preliminary notes below, I suggest actions the federal government could take to reduce restrictions on provision of social service for the poor that are currently limited by state regulations.
Could the federal government increase "social services for persons living in poverty" by providing vouchers or credits that allow the poor to choose the social service provider they want (say an NGO instead of a government agency)? The Federal Government sends billions of dollars each year to state government social service agencies, and critics argue that many of these agencies have high overhead and offer poor quality services. If the federal government provided funding for social services directly to people living in poverty, one could argue that would significantly increase effective delivery of these services. Allowing the recipients to choose between state agencies and various NGOs offering similar services would seem to have advantages.
Transportation services are limited by state and local laws that limit taxi, jitney, and bus services to local cartels and city and county government providers. In New York City it now takes $600,000 to purchase a medallion to get city permission to drive a taxi. So NYC taxis rarely go to poor neighborhoods. It is illegal to provide inexpensive taxi or bus service to and from poor neighborhoods. The federal government could increase transportation services to the poor by protecting the rights of the poor to provide these services to each other (or maybe transportation services are not considered social services. Or maybe this is an example of the dreaded "effects topicality.") Here is an article on current jitney services operated illegally in Detroit to serve the poor: "A Tribute to the Jitney" http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/a-tribute-to-the-jitney/ Transportation services are key for the poor, many of whom do not have cars.
Educational services for the poor. Research by James Tooley of the E.G. West Centre (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/egwest/) finds that in poor countries around the world (India, Ghana, China, for example), the poorest families are self-organizing to provide reasonable-quality education for their children, even when government education is free. In one part of Hyderabad, India, for example, Tooley finds some 500 informal private schools. These schools are illegal because, he argues, they cannot afford the required government registration fee (http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/3217591.html). Transferring this research and this thesis to the U.S., the claim would be that state governments make it very difficult for poor families to organize independent education for their children. This not so much an educational voucher or tuition tax credit argument, but a broader claims that a wide range of educational services would be available for the poor in the U.S. if regulations and restrictions on local educational service provision were relaxed. I find in the homeschool movement that most parents are middle-income or low income, and have turned to informal schooling because they can’t afford the local private schools. But in many states it is illegal to teach for pay (without a state license), so homeschooling instead organizes around cooperatives where parents have to teach a class in order for their students to participate. The federal government could increase educational services for the poor by enforcing the right of parents to choose the educational services they prefer, and enforcing the rights (or claimed rights) of local informal schools to pay for teaching services, etc.
Health care services for the poor. Provision of health care services to the poor is severely limited by regulations that make it much more difficult and expensive to become a nurse or doctor. State regulations on nursing require extensive training and testing even from nurses who have trained and practiced in another state (not to mention country). Medical schools are limited so that tens of thousands would would like to become doctors, and who could afford to, cannot get entry into U.S. medical schools. And highly qualified doctors and nurses from other countries (India, Mexico, and the Philippines, for example) are not allowed entry into the U.S. or to practice in the U.S. without further training. All this dramatically reduces health care services to the poor. In many states, nurses are not allowed to practice unless under supervision of a doctor. Dental hygienists are not allowed to practices unless with a dentist. These restriction raise the price of medical and dental services, especially diagnostic services. And these cost barriers especially impact the poor. The federal government could dramatically increase access to health care services to the poor by enforcing the rights (or claimed rights) of health care providers to offer their services to the poor. Brain surgeons will always be paid a lot, but nurses and doctors that provide initial diagnostic services, perhaps with sophisticated online backup, could operate inexpensively out of thousands of Wal-Marts and Walgreens providing $10 or $20 or free health care exams. If such services were not blocked by state regulations on medial training.
Housing services for the poor. Single-Room Occupancy hotels used to offer inexpensive housing to the poor, along with communities that supported the down-and-out and mentally ill. These SRO hotels were nearly all driven out of business by urban reformers working with developers and downtown business owners. ("New Homelessness and Old: Community and the Skid Row Hotel" Charles Hoch & Robert Slayton, 1990). Developers have long had the technical expertise to build inexpensive housing for the poor. But they are generally prevented from doing so by local building regulations and zoning boards. I remember reading of the San Diego experiment that allowed a temporary waivers of these regulations to address the problem of homelessness. Developers were allowed to build an apartment complex with small rooms, no 220-volt wiring (apartments had microwaves), no or limited parking, etc. The effort was a success and was discontinued. A "success" mean lots of poor people near other downtown housing for "respectable people" and businesses. A federal policy to allow the poor access to housing and protect the rights (or claimed rights) of developers and builders to construct housing for the poor, or to adapt current housing to serve the poor (large houses converted to multiple occupancy rooming and boarding houses), would, it seems to me, increase housing services for people living in poverty. (Howard Husock writes on housing for the poor, both in the U.S. and around the world: "Slums of Hope" http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_1_slums.html, "Nobody Does it Better" http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/miarticle.htm?id=3244, "Privatizing the Welfare State*quot; http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/_wsj-welfare_state.htm, "Howard Husock: America's Trillion Dollar Housing Mistake", http://americancity.org/magazine/article/review-howard-husock-gordon/)
• All the above claims for the superiority of non-government social services for the poor are debatable, of course. My goal is to encourage debaters to consider options for expanding access to social services provided by NGOs and private firms as an affirmative case, rather than leaving these opportunities only to negative arguments and evidence.
• Chapters in "The Voluntary City" cover the history of some of the above in great detail (Chapter 8: "This Enormous Army": The Mutual-Aid Tradition of American Fraternal Societies before the Twentieth Century, by David Beito, and 9, Medical Care through Mutual Aid by David Green, and 10, Education in the Voluntary City by James Tooley)