Home > Economics, Science & Technology > Open thread 4 on poverty: Social Programs

Open thread 4 on poverty: Social Programs

July 27, 2006

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

  1. Capitalism vs Socialism

  2. Education
  3. Health care
  4. Social programs
  1. July 27, 2006 at 21:32 | #1

    This is where I say give the poor an education, send them to a junior college or community college to get an associates degree.  Then they can use this for an opportunity to get a job.  This is much better than saying F*** em, isn’t it.  And yes I would be willing to shell out tax dollars toward this.

  2. July 28, 2006 at 20:45 | #2

    The majority of social programs have created a permanent underclass that have come to see the programs as their “rights”. I even saw a few years ago in Tampa a demonstration in front of the local welfare office by “welfare mothers” who said they were on strike over Bill Clinton’s welfare reform program which limited them to five total years out of a lifetime of welfare payments. Of curse they still got the AFDC for the kids…

    I contend that poor people in the USA are poor because of life choices that they have made. I saw my wife ‘burn out’ trying to help these people when she worked as a counselor for many years for the Florida welfare system. The fact is that you cannot help people who refuse to help themselves.

    Equal opportunity is a right guaranteed to us by the 14th amendment to the constitution. But it does not say a thing about a right to equal success. The majority of social programs are designed to try to guarantee that success. What they amout to is legalized extortion from those who have earned the wealth to redistribute it to those who have not. As I have written many times, I have more respect for the armed thief that sticks a gun to my head than I do those who want income redistribution. He and I both know that he is a thief and he doesn’t try to deny it. But the income redistribution thieves deny that they are thieves and say that they are taking my money because they have a right to it.

  3. July 29, 2006 at 12:21 | #3

    I contend that poor people in the USA are poor because of life choices that they have made. I saw my wife ‘burn out’ trying to help these people when she worked as a counselor for many years for the Florida welfare system. The fact is that you cannot help people who refuse to help themselves.

    Be careful here, you are applying something to the whole rather than a small group.  I think you should add in the word some.  Because I know for a fact that not EVERY SINGLE POOR person is poor because of their choices, or because they refuse to help themselves.

    The majority of social programs are designed to try to guarantee that success.

    This has never been my intention of any social program I have talked about.  My social program ideas are designed only for equal opportunity.  That is it.

  4. July 29, 2006 at 14:10 | #4

    Webs, it is plain you grew up in suburbia.  That’s fine, and you are correct that many poor people got that way through no fault of their own.  But you have a pretty rosy view of the poor.  Do some reading on weblogs run by social workers. 

    GUYK, what does a welfare mothers’ strike look like?  Were they refusing to use their food stamps?  I am curious.

    You two are talking past each other.

  5. July 29, 2006 at 15:48 | #5

    I may have a rosy view of the poor, but all I am stating to do is give them a chance, something our country is not doing.  This to me makes no sense.  Anyone studying economics will tell you that a country cannot flourish through disregard of the lower classes.  If poor people do not want to get an education and want to be poor and miserable, than that is fine with me, they obviously have no motivation, and the governments job is not to motivate. 

    Those who do not take the opportunity (in my proposal) to get an education, and I am talking about getting an associates degree not a PHD, will get no other assistance.  That I think is fair, and will leave the government in a position where they won’t have to spend anymore than they should.

  6. July 31, 2006 at 12:28 | #6

    I for once have to agree with DOF. There is a certain percentage of people who are on social programs because of a genuine need or requirement. I believe that actual number is probably about 25 % or less of the people actually enrolled. The rest have come to expect the free handout and they not only expect it they demand it. I can take anyone to any Walmart,or grocery store in the country and watch someone use Welfare stamps or WIC coupons to buy items and then get in a brand new car and drive off within one hour of arriving. Is the problem education?  Not really, becomeing a plumber, electrician, wood worker or auto mechanic doesn’t require a degree. There are plenty of jobs out there for people willing to work, if not why do wew have over 10 million mexicans working in this country? In my view the problem is a matter of pride, or missplaced pride for some, it is sad when you hear people bragging about how they screwed the system and are receiving money they don’t deserve. Being on welfare or taking handouts was unthinkable to my fathers generation they had pride and self reliance. If they did have to go on welfare they fought to get off, to get a job , to get ahead and not be thought of as a social deadbeat. Now days it is almost a badge of pride to be on welfare for a certain portion of our society. The cure is not one that the people of this country would ever accept. Taking children away from parents, forced birth conrol procedures and severe penalties to social program abusers is not looked on with favor. What would happen if the federal government ceased all social programs and the taxes collected for them and left it to the states? Take it a little further and cease all state programs and leave it to the cities. Why should a dairy farmer from Wisconsin support a family in Washington DC?

  7. July 31, 2006 at 12:47 | #7

    My point on education isn’t so we have plumbers with doctoral degrees, it’s so we have an EDUCATED society.  I understand we don’t need to give them an education to get them a job, but if you disagree on the importance of education, then there is something wrong.  It has been said here time and again that an educated society functions better than one that is under-educated. 

    It’s not enough to just give these people a job, they need to learn social skills in the business world, they need to learn interviewing skills, they need to learn resume skills, they need to learn how to balance a checking account, they need to learn how to balance their personal budget, etc…  If do not teach these people these skills, then we are just giving them a fish, rather then teaching them how to fish.

    Now days it is almost a badge of pride to be on welfare for a certain portion of our society.

    This is why I want to educate people and get them off welfare and into the working class.  On this issue, I agree with you, we need to give people an incentive to not be on welfare.

    Take it a little further and cease all state programs and leave it to the cities.

    Where is the money going to come from for these cities to fund social programs?  There are many small cities in Illinois that would be broke in a heartbeat if we did this.  Just to name a few, Watseka, Kankakee, Bradley, Chebanse, Hopkins Park, and there are many others.  The only way these cities could afford this is if they raised taxes, and the people living in these cities would go broke if they had to pay the taxes needed to collect for these programs.

  8. August 3, 2006 at 19:31 | #8

    Conservative Brit magazine The Economist published this week a report From Welfare To Workfare, US welfare reform, 10 years on.  I have posted most of the text of that very timely report behind this link. 

    (Note to The Economist copyright enforcement strike squads – heh – I believe it’s ‘fair use’ and hey, I’m encouraging people to subscribe to your fine magazine!  :)   Heh.  Please don’t kill me.)

  9. Lucas
    August 4, 2006 at 01:45 | #9

    As to the motivation and abilities of the poor, it, of course varies quite a bit.  I know a man with five kids who works about 75 hours / week as a dishwasher, yard worker, construction worker, and janitor.  He’s the only person I know who defines “tax time” as the day after he gets his W-2, due to the earned income tax credit.  I don’t think he could get a job in a highly skilled industry, even with occupational training.  (If I had half his motivation, I would be on my way making six figures in 5 years.)  However, I also know someone with an M.A. who hides assets from the government to get social programs, and occasionally quits his job to so he can max out his government benefits for the year.  Unsurprisingly, he has worked as a social worker for most of his adult life (in about 10 states). He onced called his skills with exploiting government programs “on-the-job training I got as a social worker.”  I don’t know what the precise balance should be between welfare and work, but it’s important to consider the extremes.

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