Disagreement About Values Creates Confusion in Four Areas of Public Policy

Exploration of societal responsibility in four areas of public policy

Victor Fuchs, PhD, at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Washington, organized a conference to explore the public policy impact of individual and social responsibility in child care, education, medical care, and long-term care, and produced two books.

He first edited a book of the conference proceedings Individual and Social Responsibility (University of Chicago Press, 1996).

Fuchs also wrote a second book, Individual and Social Responsibility: Child Care, Education, Medical Care, and Long-Term Care in America.

Key Findings

  • The confused policies that plague human services, and the unproductive debates over these policies, have a systemic, generic explanation: our unwillingness and inability to discuss and resolve value issues that form the foundation of any society.
  • If economists want to be more relevant to the broader social debate, they will have to leaven their professional concern about efficiency with judgments about the justice of entitlements, the fairness of who uses how much and who should pay, and insights about long-term political dynamics.
  • The quality of child care is an important determinant of children's later success in life. Government should have a role in improving the quality of the care children receive and in encouraging quality preschool experiences for disadvantaged children.
  • A useful discussion of education reform might focus on what actual changes should take place, with or without additional funding, and should recognize that how children perform in school depends heavily on factors outside the control of the school.
  • The key factors in the intractability of issues in medical care are central to the nature of the health care industry and the inherited patterns of how the United States provides health care.
  • Any serious effort to deal with the coming need for long-term care must look at both benefit levels and financing. The only conceivable route will be a model blending government support, insurance, and private provisions.