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America's Misguided Approach to Social Welfare

How the Country Could Get More for Less


Debates about the proper role and size of government dominated the 2012 U.S. presidential election. President Barack Obama; his Republican rival, Mitt Romney; and their surrogates relentlessly sparred over who should pay what taxes, who should get what benefits, and how Washington should manage major sectors of life, such as health care and education. What neither side made clear was how the United States stacks up against other developed countries. As other countries embraced big government and generous social policies in the middle of the twentieth century, the common wisdom goes, the United States sought a relatively small welfare state. And for partisans on both sides of the aisle, one of the key issues up for grabs on November 6 was whether such American exceptionalism would persist or fade away.

A closer look at U.S. social spending shows that it is indeed distinctive, but not in the ways that many

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