Amazon book description of In Our Hands:
"America's population is wealthier than any in history. Every year, the American government redistributes more than a trillion dollars of that wealth to provide for retirement, health care, and the alleviation of poverty. We still have millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty. Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectually. The solution is to give the money to the people.
This is the Plan, a radical new approach to social policy that defies any partisan label. Murray suggests eliminating all welfare transfer programs at the federal, state, and local levels and substituting an annual $10,000 cash grant to everyone age twenty-one or older. In Our Hands describes the financial feasibility of the Plan and its effects on retirement, health care, poverty, marriage and family, work, neighborhoods and civil society."
Here is an excerpt from a Gene Expression email Q and A with Murray. The first three questions address the book, and the rest touch on such subjects as Murray's The Bell Curve and "the Larry Summers flap." :
1. Let's talk first about your latest project. You've stated that In Our Hands is an attempt to strike a compromise between your libertarian ideals and the current socio-political reality. The biggest worry about your plan from a libertarian point of view is that in practice it would create a large constituency who would vote to raise the grant on a regular basis, leaving the fiscal situation largely unchanged or possibly even worse. How does your plan deal with these kinds of public choice objections?
Mancur Olson and other public-choice theorists taught us that sugar farmers can get sugar subsidies because they care passionately about getting their benefit while no other constituency cares enough about preventing them from getting it. Under the Plan, the grant will be the only game in town (every other transfer is gone), and will affect every adult in the country. Every time Congress debates a change in the grant, it will be the biggest political news story in the country, and a very large chunk of the population--and people holding a huge majority of the monetary resources for fighting political battles--will lose money if it's raised. Compare the prospects for jacking up the grant with the certain knowledge we have of the trends in spending under the current system. They have sky-rocketed and will sky-rocket, through classic public choice dynamics. The Plan uses the only strategy I can conceive to get out of the public-choice box.
... 3. It's interesting to consider what kind of downstream social effects your plan might have. For example, it's likely to encourage people to take greater risks (such as starting their own business at a younger age) or to pursue alternative "low remuneration" paths -- academic research, writing, charity work, etc. It would likely remove support for harmful labour regulations like the minimum wage, and one can also think of ways in which this might alter the impact of imigration and illegal labor. How much did you think about these kinds of downstream effects when writing In Our Hands, and what do you think the most significant social impact of the plan would be?
I hadn't thought about the way it would work against labor regulation, but you're right. It would. I did discuss other downstream effects--on families, the underclass, and most broadly on what might be called a climate of virtue. As far as I can see, the downstream, unintended effects of the Plan have a strong tendency to be positive, while the unintended effects of conventional social programs are always negative. Why the difference? Because the Plan taps positive human tendencies that are deeply embedded in human nature as it actually exists--self-interest, the innate desire for approbation, the innate tendency to take responsibility to the extent that circumstances require. They set up extremely positive feedback loops. For example, what happens if I squander my monthly deposit? I have to seek help from relatives, friends, or private social service agencies like the Salvation Army. I'm not going to starve--but I'm going to get that help with a whole lot of encouragement--to put it politely--to get my act together. And it won't be a one-time thing, but a continuous process. Conventional social programs are precisely the opposite. They make assumptions about human nature that are blatantly not true (e.g., bureaucracies are not governed by the self-interest of the people who run them) and the unintended consequences are destructive.