Kathy G. is against it — as are many progressives, it seems. The main reason is that means testing is thought to “make the relevant programs a lot more politically vulnerable.” I used to believe this, but I’m now skeptical.
A paper by Robert Greenstein (in a 1991 Brookings book, The Urban Underclass) initially spurred my rethinking. He noted that some of our most important means-tested benefits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and Medicaid, fared quite well during the Reagan era. Christopher Howard’s recent book The Welfare State Nobody Knows updates Greenstein’s argument and analysis. Peter Whiteford has an informative examination of cross-country patterns, with a focus on Australia’s successful use of targeted benefits. My own preliminary assessment of the evidence is here (pdf).
That doesn’t mean I favor means testing of Social Security benefits. When you have a universal program in place that is contributory, functions well at reasonable cost, and enjoys considerable public support, it makes sense to keep it universal. But for a number of other programs I worry about progressives getting hung up on the alleged superiority of universalism.