I don’t know what to think about Paul Krugman. Back in the day, he was one of the few prominent voices who opposed the Iraq War, but since then, it seems Krugman argues left until a good policy stands a chance of passing at which point he lurches rightward. Which brings us to something he wrote about Warren’s child care proposal (and kudos to her for making this an issue):
So what are the objections to this plan?
I’m hearing from a few people on the left who complain that the plan doesn’t go far enough — that it should involve free, direct public provision of child care, not subsidies to private provision. There’s certainly a case for a more expansive policy. There’s also no chance that it will happen anytime soon.
The perfect here is the enemy of the good.
I won’t speak for all of the left, but I think Krugman is overemphasizing ideology and underemphasizing how it would actually work. In other words, it’s the means testing, stupid. I’m not opposed to having ‘skin in the game’, but basing payment on income means you need an apparatus to determine income, adjudicate mistakes (and fraud), and so on. It’s not lethal, but it makes the program harder to administer.
As a thought experiment, imagine if we means tested public schools. It could be done, but does anyone think it would make public schools more popular?
The other issue is that the private sector does not seem able to meet the massive need for care, and it’s unclear if Warren’s plan would do that without more direct intervention. A good plan that only meets half the need doesn’t strike me as pragmatic.
To be certain, Warren’s proposal is better than anything else on offer (and if we were voting today, I would likely vote for her). That said, non-universal programs are harder to use and less politically popular than universal programs. Sometimes larger is more pragmatic, not dogmatic.