My argument in my overly long piece posted over the weekend is similar to the one Konczal is making here in this important, informative essay in The Atlantic. His point is that the development of the welfare state during the Progressive and New Deal eras was organic--that it was not the work of social engineers, but of pragmatists responding to the scale and complexity of life in a rapidly industrializing capitalist society.
If you have conservative friends who insist that progressives are social engineers who are destroying the fabric of traditional communities in a misguided utopian mission to create the good society, have them read this article. The Progressive left in this country did not destroy traditional society; for better and worse, capitalism and the industrial revolution did. Progressives are simply people who have sought practical ways to mitigate the suffering caused by its disruptions.
The Progressive tradition in this country is one that is pragmatic and realistically adapted to the economic and social realities people live. The conservative tradition in this country is populated largely by people living in a nostalgic fantasy about a time that, if it existed at all in America, existed before the Civil War. (Perhaps this mentality persists in the south, the rural midwest, and the mountain west because industrial capitalism was slower to come to those parts of the country. It's more complicated than that, but it's probably a factor.)
Nevertheless, insofar as these arguments are broadly accepted as justification for the dismantlement or privatization of the social safety net programs developed over the last hundred years by Progressives, we are indeed regressing to the situation the Progressives confronted starting around the 1880s. My argument in the Burke v. Paine piece is that Progressives are the more Burkean in their political approach, and that conservatives and Neoliberals are Tory reactionaries insofar as they are seeking to return the country to some impossible status quo ante of their imaginations. In doing so, they are forcing American society into unnecessary suffering that will simply require the development of solutions along the lines that we have already done.
There are basically two arguments offered by Libertarians and Neoliberals that justify the dismantlement of entitlements. The first is the one that Konczal destroys in this article--it's better to let private charities handle it than faceless government bureaucracies. The second is that we can't afford it, and all the freaking out about the national debt, Social Security, and Medicare.
Is there some merit to the freak out? Yes and no.
Yes, because the Bush administration irresponsibly ran the country into the ground by lowering taxes at the same time that he began an enormously expensive and unnecessary war, and introduced Medicare Part D without cost constraints (e.g., allowing importation of prescription drugs from Canada) and raising taxes. That's Republican fiscal conservatism for you.
Yes, because in the recent attempt to reform healthcare in the U.S., an attempt that was absurdly circumscribed by Neoliberal market ideology, we did little to nothing to address absurdly escalating costs in the healthcare system that people like Steven Brill have been exposing for their absurdity.
No, because there's a difference between saying we can't afford it and we don't want to pay for it. The money is there, but it's in the pockets of people who would rather spend it in buying politicians to make sure the poor and middle class get poorer than to support existing programs that mitigate their suffering or provide ways to deliver them from it.
The money is there, it's just a question of who gets to decide where it gets spent. That's a practical problem with a pragmantic solution, and that solution is impeded by, not driven by, ideologies divorced from reality.