The Spectator | Alex Massie | The Child Benefit Rumpus Cont.I like this idea of asking yourself whether you would have ever actually designed the status quo if you were starting from scratch. Anything that's revealed to be historical kruft ought to be seriously examined for removal.
But as Tyler Cowen says, these are interesting times: the UK is the first Western country in recent memory to attempt a comprehensive overhaul of its welfare state. This means it's going to be a messy, protracted, sometimes piecemeal and sometimes unfair business. Anomalies will abound. (Of course they also abound at present but, by virtue of being customary, established anomalies are much more acceptable than new ones.)
Nevertheless, if you were starting from scratch would you really take the view that what the country needs to do is collect its taxes and then use those taxes to send child-support cheques to every family in the country, regardless of need? Such an approach seems needlessly complicated and, in its way, intrusive (since once the state starts paying its citizens in this fashion it furthers the case for interference in many other aspects of life). [...]
Again, if you were designing a welfare state now would you really think it sensible to be handing out state benefits to people on twice the average national wage? I suspect not.
Krufty policies in the US: the mortgage deduction is the most analagous to the universal child benefit in the UK. The current status of marijuana law enforcement is a less obvious choice.
The rest of Massie's post gets at something I think western democracies need to sort out: is the tax and welfare system a mechanism for making sure society operates smoothly, or is a method for rewarding the sympathetic and punishing the unpopular? It seems to me like it can be one or the other, but when you try to make it a little of both you run into the sorts of problems like what to do with the child benefit and mortgage deductions.