William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Pajamas Media: President Obama To Make Poverty Permanent

Pajamas Media

Today’s post is at Pajamas Media: President Obama To Make Poverty Permanent.

The Obama administration will create a new definition of poverty, one that changes as a function of how much money everybody has. The more everybody has, the higher the poverty level.

This, of course, guarantees that “poverty” will always be with us.

19 Comments

  1. Actually, if he manages to completely ruin the country and reduce everyone’s wage to zero, then he will have eliminated poverty! Maybe that’s his plan?

  2. The same basic theme has been parodied by Dilbert in the strip between Dilbert & his evil pointy-haired boss, that contains the line:

    “Did you know that twenty percent of all microfleems are subradiante?” (or maybe it was 50 percent)….

    Sometimes the explanation can be made via cartoon images — and that particular toon would be a nice addition to this particular blog item (if you can get it).

    Unfortunately, this particular lack of understanding is all too pervasive & in need of being explained, over & over…. Given that so much of the population seems to lack sensibility (I’ve long ago forgone use of the term “common sense” because all to often the sort of sense that’s “common” isn’t at all “sensible”) perhaps this blog & its readers could instead devote their energies to exploiting their superior understanding of things sensible to gain profit, power, riches, etc. — especially since such pursuits seem to be falling out of vogue these days. Toward that challenging & rewarding, if selfish, end I’ll contribute some sage bits of wisdom & advice to anyone that might, someday, achieve ultimate power…in the meantime I’ll “contribute” at such times I have something to say & the time to say it:

    Peter’s Evil Overlord List: http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html As Peter noted:

    Being an Evil Overlord seems to be a good career choice. It pays well, there are all sorts of perks and you can set your own hours. However every Evil Overlord I’ve read about in books or seen in movies invariably gets overthrown and destroyed in the end. I’ve noticed that no matter whether they are barbarian lords, deranged wizards, mad scientists or alien invaders, they always seem to make the same basic mistakes every single time.

    That last line should give us Audacity for Hope in the event our current bumper crop of politicians actually achieves some of the goals they’ve set & are pursuing. Peter’s list may provide valuable insights into weaknesses that can be exploited before its too late.

  3. Ken, the cartoon in question has to do with the boss stating that 40% of all sick days occur on Mondays and Fridays, and that something must be done about it. I couldn’t find the follow up comic, but here is the preamble:

    http://mathbench.umd.edu/mod106_chisquare/page02.htm

  4. How very backward you are in the US; we’ve had the median-based definition of poverty in Britain for years now. (I think it’s 60% of median, but can’t bear to check. Why encourage such stuff?)

  5. Wade, the Dilbert cartoon I was recalling (some % of microfleems being subradiante) had, I kinda think, a response from Dilbert that started with a private thought along the line (uh oh, the boss has found some obscure technical report & is trying to sound impressive) to which Dilbert asked a nonsense question that prompted a nonsense response (like get the ‘radiante’ microfleems in blue, or something). Seems to me that this Administration, or one or another of its mouthpieces, is bound to say something so utterly incomprehensibly stupid — and perhaps as a result of a nonsensical reply that ferrets out the ingnorance, etc. One can hope….

  6. When cost of goods and services are unilaterally set off the median income, the bottom x% or people under x% of the median will, in fact, be impoverished.

    Being philosophically against such ideas does not make it less true.

  7. Briggs

    12 March 2010 at 11:15 am

    That being the case, john, how would you alleviate poverty?

  8. here’s the gem of the National review article

    “For example, if the real income of every single American were to magically triple over night, the new poverty measure would show there had been no drop in “poverty,” because the poverty income threshold would also triple.”

    In this hypothetical situation, within hours the cost of goods would double. Within weeks they would triple, net change = zero.

  9. You can’t eliminate poverty in a closed system. What you can do, and what the progressive American aims to do, is to provide individuals below a certain threshold with additional opportunity, so if they choose to improve their social status the only thing standing in their way is their own motivation. Once an individual improves his livelihood above the threshold, he returns to an even playing field.

    The goal cannot be to raise the entire lower income people above the median. The goal is to provide individuals a path to the median.

  10. The issue here is that this Administration is defining “poverty” relative to a constantly sliding benchmark (what other people have) rather than some objective criteria (some minimum of things & services).

    Today, most people in poverty have better access to necessities of life AND creature comforts than royalty did in the Middle Ages. Clean water [which we take for granted], food [starvation is pretty much unheard of these days], shelter, heat & air conditioning…and…most significantly…spare time to play/recreate to a significant degree, which was unheard of [in human history] until about the early 1900s. Those who have it the worst among us, the “impoverished,” have it much better than almost all humans throughout history, and before. In the US & Europe, the “impoverished” also have a higher quality of life than pretty much the rest of the population of Earth (they’re in something like the top 20 percent of all humanity, or something…I’m not sure of the precise estimate).

    So here’s the problem: This Administration is not, despite its assurances & terminology, trying to address “poverty” (though that is a partial effect). The real intent is to salve the moods & feelings & self-esteem of those at the lower economic strata who feel “inferior” (or whatever) because they don’t have as many, or quite as nice, toys & so on relative to their peers (defined to be everyone else and especially those most economically advantaged).

    What they’ve made very clear, by their first choice of tactics, is to take away “toys” from those that have more to destroy the “unequal distribution of wealth.” The entire tax policy, etc. is one that over the long run, drags people down to a lower, but more consistent level (the so-called “equitable spreading of misery”). It’s not just that some have too little–its also that some have “too much” — a viewpoint that is inescapably clear with this Administration.

    Thus, these policies have the perverse (relative to the stated long-term goal) effect of lowering productivity and the feelings of self-worth & accomplishment of those that produce. Those that recieve gain no comparable psychological benefits, instead their sense of self-worth is reinforced as coming from outside themselves — from things & status symbols provided rather than earned by their own talents & contributions.

    Psychologically then, the stated goal (and it is stated, if subtley) to make the underclass feel better about itself in actuality reinforces the feeling of dependency & inadquecy and contributes to exactly the opposite — in other words, this is state-induced sickness (mental illness if taken to an extreme).

    From an economic standpoint, history has proven, repeatedly, that the policies don’t work long-term (over generations). And as they say, trying to get a different outcome by doing the same thing over & over is the definition of mental illness.

    The fact that the “logic” used is so contradictory, and contradictory on so many interwined levels, escapes those pursing these failed policies only further highlights the perversity involved.

    For those that don’t know this or see this, ignorance is a play. Unfortunately, many in power DO recognize this & are pursuing it anyway for the sake of gaining power — and that is evil.

    Defining a poverty measure in a way that guarantees half the population is in the group of “undesirables” virtually guarantees those in power with a dissatisfied base of support they can “help” by taking on those above them. From a statistical point of view the reference point (a median definition for poverty) is fallacious, but, from a ‘power & control’ perspective it makes perfect sense as it helps create perpetual strife, “class-warfare,” etc. from which the politician(s) can extract voter support & solidify & retain their own position power. The fact that they’re undermining the society they’re asserting they’re trying to help is irrelevant — a pattern that reinforces the sickness/evilness of the tactics used.

    Anyone studying psychopathy / sociopathy (and there’s a few books out there written in layman’s terms) will recognize what’s now happening (or what’s trying to be imposed) in this country as another example of that pathology.

  11. So you’re assuming America’s economy is a closed system then? Hmm, the NAFTA signatories, not to mention China and India, might question that assertion.

    Inflation and wages in all countries do not necessarily rise at the same rate – a tripling in the US economy with no comparable rise in the other economies of the world would result in an outflow of US money across national borders as people bought cheaper products from other countries via the Internet. This would, in turn, lead to the collapse of the American retailer, of course. However, it is not a given (due to the small size of the American market) that this would lead to anywhere near a tripling of prices or wages in the foreign retail markets.

    Note that I am not decrying the value of poverty-assistance programs, simply the idea that there must always be a “poor” as a set percentage of population as is implied by the new government definition.

    It’s also worth noting that the American definition of “poor” (which statistically includes two television sets, cable or satellite TV, and a DVD player or VCR, among other “necessities of life”) varies drastically in strict dollar value and in comfort level from other countries. Why do we not adopt a global measure of poverty? Because then poverty activists in America might have to acknowledge that things aren’t so bad there after all.

  12. This country, the US, has done some pretty astonishing things over the years. In the late ’80s wife and I were launching an engineering computing sales and consultancy. Launching is synonymous with “strong focus” and “low income.” We owned a house outright which was the collateral for the working capital loan, we leased our old cars to the company and this and a few other things were our income.

    A bit after April 15, we received a check from the government for $800. We looked into what surely must have been a mistake and discovered that our earned income under-ran the poverty threshold of the time.

    Wow. We didn’t think this was just as we did have sufficient money lying around and were not impoverished.

    We asked the guy who did our accounting if we could give it back. He advised against it saying that it might cost us more trouble since the government would want to know why.

    So here we all are with our parents getting new hips and knees at the common expense, despite their capacity to pay for them out of their own resources.

    I’m dumbfounded that Medicare doesn’t check to see if you have the wherewithal to pay for a lot of these things yourself, but it doesn’t.

    We have plenty to worry about in addition to poverty meaning a BMW every 5 years instead of every 3.

  13. Briggs

    12 March 2010 at 1:24 pm

    All,

    A commenter over at Pajamas named Radical Madcow links back to this site, which has an enjoyable quiz I think readers would like.

  14. I reject the relevance of a global poverty level to US policy. A large part of what makes living in the USA great is the increased standard of living. I further find fault in the general ‘conservative’ notion that because the standard of living in the US in 2010 is higher than in 1910 that everyone should consider themselves well-to-do. Complacency with the status quo and “things are better than they use to be” leads to stagnation, limits productivity and innovation. If the US people in 1910 were content with the current standard of living, we’d still be living that standard. Progress as a nation relies on qualifying what we have and finding ways to improve.

  15. Matt asked, “That being the case, john, how would you alleviate poverty?”

    Wouldn’t the first thing be to define it? Because what I see being called “poverty” now-a-days is sure not the poverty of my youth. Further on that point I think today “poverty” is merely another hijacked word. There are lots of “needy” people in this country, on that point I’ll agree. But the nature and resolution of those needs, just as with other statistical analyses, seems complicated, obscure and diverse – and patently beyond the ken of Dear Leader and his gang of do-gooders.

    The better question, imo, is whether or not the elimination – or mitigation – of poverty is an appropriate federal goal? From my reading of our constitution I have my doubts. Unlike dearime’s delightful countryperson’s, who in the last fifty years have seldom discovered a social program or client base [upon which that might lavish their affections and fortunes] they didn’t like, we backward Yank’s were at one time constructed more along the lines of self-reliance and personal responsibility.

    Imo our best step now is to go back to the drawing board and build in sundown dates for the myriad of programs we currently have that enable, rather than eliminate, poverty. And then start over a bit wiser for the experience. At little less heart on sleeve, maybe, but more to the point. But that just might be me.

  16. Current definition of poverty in the US as determined by purchasing power of need based goods, for a single adult is around $11,000 per year. Different numbers for married, children etc, but all in all it covers around 13% of US citizens. With our current method, if everyone suddenly made more than this, there would be no defined poverty population and everyone is happy, or not. With a fixed percentage method you accept that there is always room for improvement.

    The goal is not to eradicate poverty. The goal is to provide individuals below a determined threshold with a clear path.

    Self reliance and personal responsibility. Not always the case, but frequently phrases of choice from people who never experienced the hardships of the people they are belittling. I would be an angry person if I truly believed most impoverished people were there by choice or lack of effort. But I’m neither that cynical or arrogant. There are masses of people on the upper rungs that put forth no effort, and masses of people on the bottom who put forth more effort that anyone posting on this blog. The difference in the 2 groups is opportunity and the evil liberal feels those on the bottom rung should be provided a little extra opportunity.

  17. “……….phrases of choice from people who never experienced the hardships of the people they are belittling.” Presumptive and smug, john. You generally do better than that.

    Inadvertently or by design too many – nay, most – “social” programs today penalize folk in the lowest echelons during their transitional phases as they attempt to exercise opportunities to “move on up”. Ergo discouragement, failure and falling back to remain at the status quo. Thus no “belittling”; just constructive advocacy intended to right a wrong. Because that chipmunk in the round cage was once me.

  18. Runciman popularized, if not coined, the term “relative deprivation” to account for the sense of relative poverty as opposed to absolute poverty. Public policies that may have started trying to eliminate absolute poverty, is now focused largely on the issue of relative poverty – which means that by definition it can only be eliminated when everyone is equally poor or equally rich.

    A sense of relative deprivation can be a great motivator for individuals – but if it becomes a sense of entitlement that politicians feel obliged to respond to, then there is further damage to the economy’s ability to grow.

  19. Christ said, “The poor you will have always with you”. Barack Obama as the Son of Man for the postmodernist age is quite properly deconstructing this text in terms of institutional hegemonic strategies.

    Meanwhile back in the real world, as his policies continue to impoverish the nation, this particular statistical ploy will serve to exclude many of the new poor from being counted as impoverished since, if, say, 20% below the average income are deemed always poor, the 80% above this “tattered plimsoll” line will always be counted as sufficiently well off, irrespective of how much their wealth has actually shrunk.

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