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« Idolatry | Main | Pic of the Day »

January 07, 2003

Policy Break--The Basics

Michael--

In the Wall Street Journal of 1/7/03, James Q. Wilson quotes William Galston, a former Clinton Administration official, on what I would call "the basics":

To avoid poverty, do three things: finish high school, marry before having a child, and produce the child after you are 20 years old. Only 8% of people who do all three will be poor; of those who fail to do them, 79% will be poor.

Would it be so hard to incentivize these three behaviors? It seems to me that a sensible welfare state would involve some reciprocity: if a citizen does these three things (and possibly a few more, like showing up for work regularly) then the community will be obligated to provide for him/her. If not...they're on their own. Failing such reciprocity, it would seem that we are merely socializing the consequences of irresponsible decision making.

Not-so-cheerfully,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at January 7, 2003




Comments

Ah, Friedrich, you're so secure in your superiority, aren't you? Because it was so easy for you to follow these guidelines, you reckon that it ought to be easy for anybody else as well. And if it isn't, well, too bad. You, for one, aren't going to feel any kind of societal obligation towards them.

I notice you hedge your bets a little: proposing a radically overhauled welfare system (let's call it blame-tested rather than means-tested: if we can blame you, then you're out) without saying that you would actually support such a system if it existed.

But in any case, your system doesn't make sense: you've confused correlation with causation. You're going to send every woman over the age of 20 who finds herself pregnant straight to Nevada to marry someone, anyone -- if she doesn't, she renounces welfare benefits for life.

And the fact that there's a strong correlation between poor people and high-school dropouts is not surprising, but the idea that you honestly think that dropping out of high school is no more than poor decision-making is. Kids, especially poor kids, often find themselves forced to drop out of high school, maybe to care for their siblings because their parents can't or won't bring them up themselves. For the crime of trying to keep their family together, you would penalise such kids with a permanent denial of all benefits. Lovely.

It seems to me that what you're proposing here is welfare for the middle classes, and some kind of dog-eat-dog Hobbesian nightmare for the poor. You'll look after your own kind, but not those genuinely in need. Shame on you.

Posted by: Felix on January 7, 2003 7:01 PM




Actually, what I find interesting about this particular info is that it's easy to find individuals who, by doing these three things, were the only members of their family to escape poverty.

The problem is, I think, that some people would not be motivated to do these things because they have no sense that anything can happen for them, no matter what.

Posted by: gm on January 7, 2003 11:00 PM



Felix--

This is a very short posting and I didn't think it was a good place to spell out detailed proposals for welfare reform. But since you question my humanity (or something), I'll try to be brief. what I'm driving at is that, absent serious mental or physical incapacity, we institute a social contract-based welfare state. But like any contractual system, there are obligations on both sides of a "contract." Absent any obligations on the part of the receivers of welfare, what is occurring is quite literally the socialization of the costs of bad private decision making. (Which is, I suppose, par for the course, as left-wing thought usually regards the majority of citizens as sub-adults who are not capable of responsiblity for their actions, an oddly condescending attitude I've never understood.) Incidently, not that it matters, but I would prefer a guaranteed job with basic benefits for everyone living up to "my" contract--which I suspect would rather seriously increase the cost of such a system over our current one.

But...hey, maybe I'm completely off base. I would support any anti-poverty system that would actually eradicate poverty. The one we have manifestly has not been a success in integrating "the poor" into productive society, at enormous costs to both society and the poor. The basic problem for that segment of the poor who are capable of productive activity seems to be a failure of their socialization. Treating them as a special class of child-citizens (who have rights but no responsibilities) does NOT address this critical issue, and will continue to marginalize this group from the rest of society (who will, in turn, grumble about paying their bill--i.e., status quo.) So I would suggest that your indignation at me and your apparent support for the status quo is misplaced--because I want to do something about this problem, not merely pay people to go off and live in rotten neighborhoods where I don't have to look at them.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 8, 2003 12:20 AM



Yes, the Wall Street Journal is exactly where I would go to find compassionate discussions and viable solutions to social "ills" like poverty. The working person’s journal, which within its DNA, seems to have a deeply held belief that money is far too valuable to entrust to poor people. I am glad to see, however, that we have shifted from an abject abhorrence of a welfare state, to now postulating the possibility of a responsible one. Yes, if only those poor people would act responsibly and understand that they are responsible for their own impoverishment. And those mentally ill people roaming the streets of our urban areas, if they just took their medicine as responsible citizens, they wouldn’t be pushing people off of train platforms or wreaking other havoc on the responsible citizens who are doing their duty as consuming units. Or all those damned old people with all the drugs they have to take, having to decide between eating or filling their prescriptions. If they had lead healthier lives and listened to the best medical advice they would not have to take all those pills. And what are people of color complaining about? We have one of them as a Supreme Court Justice and even a Secretary of State. Armed Services who live in poverty? Stop having children and buying things. Corporate corruption? Hey, nothing is perfect. We still live in the best country in the world…

Who was it that said, "It is the majesty of Prussian law that both the beggar and the nobleman will suffer penalties for sleeping under the bridge?"

Anyway, I am still trying to make sense of this proclamation, "Failing such reciprocity [ that is, the irresponsible citizen screws up] it would seem that we are merely socializing the consequences of irresponsible decision making." Does ‘socializing’ mean condoning or enabling? Help!

Posted by: robert birnbaum on January 8, 2003 12:29 AM



Hey Bob--

The original quote was from William Galston, a Clinton Administration official. Are you suggesting that appearing in the Wall Street Journal somehow corrupted the substance of Mr. Galston's remark?

Perhaps you should actually go back and read my comment, when you can spare a moment from absolving anyone not in the top 5% of the income distribution from any personal responsibility for their actions. (You know, it's kind of spooky--first I mention in my comment that left wing thinkers treat most Americans as children and then you come along and tell me it's not fair to expect most Americans to be adults! I guess it's just my lucky day as a forecaster, huh?) You would see I pledged my support for any anti-poverty program that actually intends to succeed at integrating the poor into general society--a general society in which most of the adult members get up and go to work every day. And, yes, I believe that taking responsibility for oneself is probably a good strategy just about 100% of the time. If you were counseling a drug addict, Bob, who was living on the street, would you tell him that it's silly to expect anything from an obviously downtrodden individual like him and then hand him your wallet? If not, why do you advocate this approach at the public level? (Somebody else's wallet, maybe?)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 8, 2003 1:07 AM



Bob? Where did ‘Bob’ from?

No one will be well served by my spending time pulling out all the words that have been put into my mouth. One of the more amusing ironies of the ‘80s was the hard work that the Republican Party did (successfully, I might add, which is another instance of marketing trumping reality) in trying to convince Americans that they were the working man’s friend. Then there was trickle down economics. Now there is a tax relief plan being proposed that lifts taxes on stock dividends. The President says, "This means jobs." Too bad for him that Indonesian and Thai slave workers can’t vote for him. Anyway, as the USA’s concentration of wealth has become more and more like the third world nations that we have exported our goods, values and way of life to, I must have missed the WSJ’s reportage on this and other sinister trends. Though the WSJ is fair minded and competent, the Dow Jones owned newspaper is more like a house organ for the values of Big Business than a disinterested champion of economic justice.

All the chest beating aside, I don’t have an answer to the fundamental issue here; personal responsibility. Are tobacco companies responsible (responsible meaning accountable for the consequences as well as causing) for nicotine addiction and subsequent deaths? Is McDonald’s and it’s like responsible for the degradation of the health of millions of Americans? Was WR Grace responsible for the cancer clusters and high incidence of leukemia found in the residents of Woburn MA? And on and on…


I applaud the generosity of spirit evident in this offering: "I pledged my support for any anti-poverty program that actually intends to succeed at integrating the poor into general society--a general society in which most of the adult members get up and go to work every day. And, yes, I believe that taking responsibility for oneself is probably a good strategy just about 100% of the time." That " integrating the poor" phrase is provocative. But by and large I would think that the benevolence exhibited here would be benefited by a dose of reality ( I was tempted to drag my old war horse stories about when I taught in ghetto schools in Chicago but I can not yet talk about that period dispassionately) Relevant here is well known left wing writer ( what makes her a left winger is that she seems to care about this elusive notion of economic justice) Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed, which examines not only the daunting numbers confronting the working poor but the insidious culture of impoverishment and the hostile labor practices of corporations like Wal Mart.


This endless debate about the responsibilities of the disadvantaged (no one will object to my saying poverty is a disadvantage, I hope) continues to be waged by people of good will. The failure to resolve that debate and the ensuing economic stratification, has had tremendous societal costs that I fear and believe will only get higher (having the largest population in the world would be one symptom). Clearly and sadly, I have no solution. But what I can sense is the misguided or inappropriate premise and discourse that suggests it’s all about personal responsibility and all systemic flaws flow from "socializing the consequences of irresponsible decision making." To me, that’s pretty much like blaming the victim...

Posted by: ROBERT Birnbaum on January 8, 2003 8:59 AM



Bob? Where did ‘Bob’ from?

No one will be well served by my spending time pulling out all the words that have been put into my mouth. One of the more amusing ironies of the ‘80s was the hard work that the Republican Party did (successfully, I might add, which is another instance of marketing trumping reality) in trying to convince Americans that they were the working man’s friend. Then there was trickle down economics. Now there is a tax relief plan being proposed that lifts taxes on stock dividends. The President says, "This means jobs." Too bad for him that Indonesian and Thai slave workers can’t vote for him. Anyway, as the USA’s concentration of wealth has become more and more like the third world nations that we have exported our goods, values and way of life to, I must have missed the WSJ’s reportage on this and other sinister trends. Though the WSJ is fair minded and competent, the Dow Jones owned newspaper is more like a house organ for the values of Big Business than a disinterested champion of economic justice.

All the chest beating aside, I don’t have an answer to the fundamental issue here; personal responsibility. Are tobacco companies responsible (responsible meaning accountable for the consequences as well as causing) for nicotine addiction and subsequent deaths? Is McDonald’s and it’s like responsible for the degradation of the health of millions of Americans? Was WR Grace responsible for the cancer clusters and high incidence of leukemia found in the residents of Woburn MA? And on and on…


I applaud the generosity of spirit evident in this offering: "I pledged my support for any anti-poverty program that actually intends to succeed at integrating the poor into general society--a general society in which most of the adult members get up and go to work every day. And, yes, I believe that taking responsibility for oneself is probably a good strategy just about 100% of the time." That " integrating the poor" phrase is provocative. But by and large I would think that the benevolence exhibited here would be benefited by a dose of reality ( I was tempted to drag my old war horse stories about when I taught in ghetto schools in Chicago but I can not yet talk about that period dispassionately) Relevant here is well known left wing writer ( what makes her a left winger is that she seems to care about this elusive notion of economic justice) Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed, which examines not only the daunting numbers confronting the working poor but the insidious culture of impoverishment and the hostile labor practices of corporations like Wal Mart.


This endless debate about the responsibilities of the disadvantaged (no one will object to my saying poverty is a disadvantage, I hope) continues to be waged by people of good will. The failure to resolve that debate and the ensuing economic stratification, has had tremendous societal costs that I fear and believe will only get higher (having the largest population in the world would be one symptom). Clearly and sadly, I have no solution. But what I can sense is the misguided or inappropriate premise and discourse that suggests it’s all about personal responsibility and all systemic flaws flow from "socializing the consequences of irresponsible decision making." To me, that’s pretty much like blaming the victim...

Posted by: ROBERT Birnbaum on January 8, 2003 8:59 AM



"Apparent support for the status quo"? Where did "apparent support for the status quo" come from? Friedrich, I'm a lefty, remember? How could I possibly support the status quo, where the richest country in the world somehow lives happily with a huge underclass? Yes, I would support a poverty-reduction program, but only one which was aimed at reducing poverty.

Your proposal, it is clear, is not a poverty-reduction program so much as it is a middle-class safety net. Anybody who starts out above that net (ie, the middle classes) winds up getting, gratis, a guaranteed job for life. Anybody who starts out below that net (high-school dropouts, teenage mothers -- basically, the poor) gets nothing.

"Ah," you say, "but look at the poor people who manage to drag themselves to above the net -- at the moment, 8% of them still end up poor, and my plan will prevent that".

Great, Robert, but what about the 79% of people who don't manage to drag themselves to above the net, and end up poor? Your poverty-reduction program has nothing for them. One mistake in one's youth -- and all of your criteria are based on decisions made at a very young age -- and nothing matters any more. If I decided not to marry the father of my child, possibly for extremely good reasons, then you will wash your hands of me forever.

Whereas any white suburban kid who bums around art school for a while, drops out, hangs out on the beach for a while longer, and eventually decides that he wants a job - why, there's one waiting for him right there!

To paraphrase the editor of Private Eye, if that's a poverty reduction programme, I'm a banana.

Posted by: Felix on January 8, 2003 12:22 PM



I'm wondering if I am speaking in code.Maybe it was "Bob" that was being referred to. I have not forwarded a poverty reduction program.I wouldn't know a program from a pom pom.I do know three card monte,though. And all those brilliant social scientists, economists and compassionate conservatives who claim to be concerned about poor people and starving and at risk children how come they haven't solved this "problem"?

To again quote my favorite scene from Grapes of Wrath, where the Okie farmer is told he has to get off his land:

" You mean I have to get off of my own land?"

"Aww, don’t go blaming me, it ain’t my fault."

"Who’s fault is it?"

"You know who owns the land. It’s the Shawnee Land and Cattle Company."

"Who’s the Shawnee Land and Cattle Company?"

It ain’t nobody. It’s a company."

"They got a president don’t they? They got somebody who knows what a shotgun is for, ain’t they?"

"Son , it ain’t his fault he’s only doing what the bank tells him to do."

"All right, where’s the bank?"

"Tulsa. What’s the use of picking on the manager. He’s half crazy trying to keep up with orders from the East."

"Then who do we shoot?"

Posted by: ROBERT on January 8, 2003 12:42 PM



Many apologies, Robert. I don't know what came over me: of course I meant "Friedrich" where I wrote "Robert" in that last posting.

Posted by: Felix on January 8, 2003 5:45 PM






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