Let Them Get Roommates
By Bryan Caplan
A fun fact about the U.S. versus Europe is that poorest 25% of Americans have more living space than the average European. But some Americans have been left behind. Our most deprived citizens often sleep three to a room, eat prison-grade food, and share bathroom facilities with dozens of unhygenic strangers. They are known as… college students.
I know. I lived in a triple in the UC Berkeley dorms back in 90-91. I was the last guy to arrive, so naturally I got the top bunk. Not fun.
But who feels sorry for college students in a triple? No one, as best I can tell. They barely even feel sorry for themselves. They’re just supposed to get used to it, to “suck it up,” and they do. As long as they aren’t contributing to society, they ought to concentrate on bettering themselves, not complain about the unfairness of it all.
A friend of mine who is a bishop in the Mormon Church tells me that before anyone can go on the church dole, they get a little advice from a Mormon financial planner. The planner takes a good look at the lifestyle of the needy, and frequently concludes that frugal living, not financial assistance, is the right answer.
As Econlog’s resident Non-Bleeding Heart Libertarian, this sensible Mormon practice suggests a hard-boiled question. Why aren’t (relatively) poor Americans expected to live like college students?
To put it more concretely: Before anyone starts collecting welfare, it is more than fair to ask them – for starters – to try to solve their own problem by taking on some roommates. Is it beneath their dignity to live like college students? I think not.
While I’m stepping on some sensitivities, I may as well point out a nice side benefit. If you choose your roommates wisely, you don’t need the government to subsidize daycare just to get single moms back in the labor force. You’ve got a ready-made baby-sitting coop right in your own home. He probably doesn’t want the credit, but I’d still like to thank Paul Krugman for the inspiration!