The annual KidsCount survey came out showing the usual dismal place Louisiana has comparatively regarding child quality of life. This, even more unfortunately, brings out the usual responses whose only contribution to the public policy debate about this issue is they argue to repeat the same mistakes that have caused this situation in the first place.
That’s the conclusion one draws when an opinion writer sought out, for a Louisiana angle, words of idiocy on this subject from state Rep. Regina Barrow. The Democrat asserts that “We haven’t addressed poverty in a consistent manner” and then proceeds to offer the solution that is consistent: throw more money at the problem, which in fact has constituted the most consistent approach over the past several decades – and a failed approach at that.
This is because those of Barrow’s ilk have no clue as to what poverty is and from where it comes.
They define “poverty” as a lack of assets in a household at any given time. But, as economist and philosopher Thomas Sowell has pointed out, this inferior asset position rests on a relativistic idea, that not having enough money to have enough things compared to others defines it. In fact, by using objective measurements, little poverty exists in America, as Sowell notes:
Official data … show that 80 percent of “poor” households have air conditioning today, which less than half the population of America had in 1970. Nearly three-quarters of households in poverty own a motor vehicle, and nearly one-third own more than one motor vehicle.
Virtually everyone living in “poverty,” as defined by the government, has color television, and most have cable or satellite TV. More than three-quarters have either a VCR or a DVD player, and nearly nine-tenths have a microwave oven.
As for being “ill-housed,” the average poor American has more living space than the general population — not just the poor population — of London, Paris, and other cities in Europe.
Various attempts have been made over the years to depict Americans in poverty as “ill-fed,” but the “hunger in America” campaigns that have enjoyed such political and media popularity have usually used some pretty creative methods and definitions.
Actual studies of “the poor” have found their intake of the necessary nutrients to be no less than that of others. In fact, obesity is slightly more prevalent among low-income people.
The results have come through massive social spending, the greatest single category of spending by the U.S. (and in Louisiana, where about a third of the budget goes to programs designed to assist lower-income households). Yet Barrow recommends to “solve” child “poverty” such measures to increase the ability of people to enjoy comfortable lives through government handouts, such as increased earned income tax credits that are counterproductive, or that the tax code be tilted even less fairly against the higher-producers; as of the latest statistics available, those filers whose incomes fall somewhat above the official U.S. definition of being impoverished and lower, who comprise almost 43 percent of Louisiana filers, pay 4.4 percent of all state income taxes while those households that make over $100,000 adjusted gross income, which are an eighth of all filers, pay a whopping 57 percent of all state income taxes.
Her suggestions betray ignorance about just what is the definition poverty, a lacking shared by many in elected office. Their simplistic version looks at the symptom: poverty defined as having a lack of monetary resources. More sophisticated analysis reveals the actual disease that causes poverty: a set of attitudes that place immediate consumption ahead of long-term investment in skills and support that promise a greater payoff down the road. More bluntly, using Sowell’s examples, people do not need to buy that nice color TV, have a DVD player, or cable or satellite TV and to eat themselves into obesity if that means distracting them from hard work, or forgoing paying tuition to go to school, or neglecting taking care of themselves and their assets – and on behalf of their families.
The biggest impediment for most of the people classified by government as “poor” is not bad luck or an unfair society, it is their poor choices made either in the past and/or present, actions conditioned by a live-for-today attitude encouraged when government pays them to continue to make such choices without penalty. Regrettably, in its attempt to assist the deserving poor, that minority of those classified in poverty who really have had bad luck or who are mentally or physically incapable of contributing sufficiently to society to earn their keep, government subsidizes the behavior of the remainder as a result considered “poor.”
Increase those transfer payments in their many forms and you get more of that perverse behavior – the inevitable outcome that falling for Barrow’s agenda would produce. Much better would be something along the lines of Charles Murray’s “The Plan,” where all welfare programs would be abolished, where anybody below a certain level of income would receive a cash grant of up to $10,000 graduated by income, provided that they have a bank account for it and must spend a portion on health insurance as a condition of receiving it. This would force much more responsibility onto able-bodied people, and those who frittered it away still could rely on private charity. Over time, it would weed out the dependency and surrender mentality now ingrained as many as four generations duration into some.
Poverty among children and its negative effects will not will reduced in any absolute sense, regardless of Louisiana’s relative ranking, until public policy recognizes it must alter the attitudes, thus behavior, of people to reduce poverty rather than take more from some to give to others to subsidize behavior that will not allow for poverty’s reduction.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 16:15