Open thread 4 on poverty: Social Programs
First, I agree with the critics of welfare that it is bone-headed to give money to the poor. If they had good money-management skills, they wouldn’t BE poor so that money will basically be wasted. Those programs should end now, in favor of attacking root causes…
It is a Christian tradition to idealize the poor as virtuous. Anyone inclined to do this should read what a police reporter of over a decade’s experience has to say and what a burned-out social worker knows about it. The choices made by our poverty systems will have to be a bit more intelligent.
One little-considered reason for ending cash subsidies to the poor is that every social program has a ceiling that can be quite difficult to penetrate. Suppose you are working and your income is slowly increasing. As you approach the ceiling, your aid is scaled back and you find yourself less well-off. In electronics, this would describe a ‘negative feedback system’ that reaches and holds a stable condition. But when that condition is poverty, we need to change the system; introduce enough “slop” in the feedback range to allow system tipping points into higher states.
Many other social programs contain the seeds of poverty as well. Housing assistance depresses rents and leads to housing shortages, which in turn drives up prices; this is basic economics.
Jobs programs can be very effective by building work history and also by addressing problems right in the poor person’s neighborhood. You work, you get paid; this is a good pattern to learn. The cost is similar to cash assistance programs except stuff gets done and people become accustomed to working.
Food assistance is controversial for two reasons: fraud and luxury. Both can be addressed with restricted-spending debit cards, coupled with strong penalties for illegal possession of an issued card. In general I have no problem with food assistance, especially if luxury items are excluded and nutrition education is given as in the WIC program. No one, and especially no child, should ever have to go hungry in this country.
Family-planning assistance is extremely cost-effective. Politicians need to get over their squeamishness about sex education. Abstinence-based education sounds good but doesn’t work. The countries with the lowest rates of teen pregnancy are the ones with sex education that would scare the pants off a fundamentalist.
There was once an orphanage in our community and the general consensus among alumni seems to be that it was a good thing. Of course, not all orphanages were well-run; some were houses of horrors. I have heard many opinions on the value or iniquities of orphanages, and suspect that with modern oversights it may be possible to raise children in such institutions and have them grow up to be productive citizens.
In a nutshell, I prefer indirect assistance to the poor, along with the opportunity to fail and the resources to continue when failure happens. Direct assistance, when it is offered, should be coupled with some strings such as education, work, or even public service. But almost any model can work if it is well-administered, and hardly any model (including private charity) can guarantee good results if it is run by incompetent or evil men. Probably the only assurance of good administration is transparency, a relatively modern invention that allows citizens to see past the outer institutional walls.
Notes: see also