American social policy, and the debate about poverty and inequality, are constrained by assumptions about politics: That only universal programs will win political acceptance and programs targeted toward the poor will always be poor programs. That the modest American welfare state was built in two great waves, The New Deal and The Great Society, the likes of which we'll never see again. That tax credits and incentives are a subtler and more effective way of delivering benefits than direct government programs. What if these assumptions are wrong? How much more imaginative could we be in rethinking the American social contract if we were not limited by the myths of the welfare state?
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