William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

How Government Beneficence Hurts The Poor

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Editor says: Note the author’s name.

The Poor in America have had less-favored status for a while. Sure, there are food stamps, low-income housing, transfer payments, and some kind of support to obtain healthcare, but the system is rigged such that once you’re in it, it will take an act of God, or tremendous internal resiliency, to overcome one’s station.

Some efforts to “help the poor” marginalize them even further. For instance, there is a push for well-to-do neighborhoods to be more welcoming to having the poor live in their midst. Like many policies, this is well intended, but simply by breathing in the same air and having the same cable TV provider and garbage pick-up doesn’t help the poor out.

What this scheme does is to make brutally clear and distinct the differences between the rich and the poor—and it may even hurt the emotional well being for the less advantaged. For instance, say that your income falls below a certain level, but through an act of government, your neighbors are much, much better off than you are. When you have to walk two miles to a bus stop, and are choking dust kicked up by your neighbor’s BMW, you can hardly count your blessings. Never mind that at the local grocery store, you have to shop at the margins—that is, your food budget will not go as far in hoity-toity land as it does at the Shop-n-Save in a neighborhood that isn’t as “desirable.”

If you are poor, and the public school is not abysmal, your child will be shoulder-to-shoulder with the indigenous populace—in this case, the privileged kids. Facts have to be faced. Rich kids can afford a lot more stuff than poor kids. Their clothes will be better and more plentiful; their after-school activities will be expensive and exotic; their home life will be full of the little luxuries that make life bearable. Poor kids have to live with the strain of not being on the same plane as their richer classmates. While it’s possible to cope, it’s hard, and it’s hard not to feed feelings of jealousy and inferiority.

The government has been working against the Poor for some time. For instance, consider the incandescent light bulb. Plentiful and cheap, which are good qualities if you’re poor. But the government had a better idea: to ban them and replace them with something that is more expensive, but yet may prove to kill us after all.

The thrift store or resale shop is a boon to the poor person. Useful things can be had at below Wal-Mart prices (or rather, this used to be the case; lately some shops are getting ahead of themselves and think they can charge $8 or more for a pair of used dungarees). One government functionary thought to herself that items for children in such shops may contain lead and forthwith, a directive was put in place mandating the testing and certification that such products are lead free. Later, a clarification (rather than a retraction) was put in place that confused the matter further. According to Snopes:

Of course, vendors of second-hand products still face the quandary that even though the CPSC has stated they are exempt from the testing and certification requirements of the CPSIA, they still have to ensure that the items they sell meet the new standards for lead and phthalate content. 

When the government gets overly concerned about regulating what goes on thrift stores—the buyer is already pretty aware of what the situation is—then precious freedom has slipped away.

And the whole idea of “healthcare” insurance is just ridiculous, and true to the cliché, the poor are hardest hit. For a young couple starting out, the bill for insurance can rival the rent. Throw in a couple of college loan payments, a car payment, and they are under water before they get out of the gate. While they may not have started as Poor, that is where they end up. All thanks to our beneficent and benevolent government.

People, regardless of income, should be able to make their own decisions about how to spend their resources, and form their own definitions of what is “desirable.” This isn’t to condemn the Poor to the ash heap, but to grant them their dignity and give them opportunity to find their way. Not everyone wants the same material things or experiences. Everyone doesn’t want to live in the same place or eat the same food or have the same job. We know that we are different from each other, and recognize that everyone has different abilities, needs, and wants.

We also know that finding one’s way—one one’s own terms—is the business of life. Many people who started life in diminished circumstances were able to improve their circumstances by hard work. Proscribed solutions by do-gooders can have unintended consequences, and one consequence may be that fewer of the Poor will be able to scale the ladder of life.

22 Comments

  1. Exactly what is Catholic about you?

    JMJ

  2. JMJ, see http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Bulverism

    The government has done such a good job with school lunches that they want to branch out.

    http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.ca/2015/06/out-to-lunch.html

    I bet that they won’t be welcomed in The Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard unless this is what they have in mind.

    https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/05/18/garden-hermit-needed-apply-within/0DKsVYhtCSgVEwHtzF7u3L/story.html

  3. It’s been noted before that programs to help the poor are really traps. Perfect examples of unintended consequences. Minimum wages, for example, attack on two fronts: 1) they are inflationary by increasing costs without a corresponding increase in wealth 2) they reduce jobs by making the price for skilled labor more attractive.

    Welfare does the same thing. It only makes sense when the numbers on welfare are low otherwise every increase in welfare benefits adds to inflation — a never ending spiral,

  4. Scotian,

    The guy who cuts my grass has been attempting to setup a hermitage in the shed behind my garage, At my expense no less. I might be more inclined to let him except that I know for a fact his life style is a choice and not a result of misfortune. Hes the epitome of the bum looking for handouts.

  5. JMJ,

    First, you didn’t see the Editor’s note. Second, see what I mean? The solution to poverty is not axiomatically stronger and larger and more powerful centralized secular government. That “solution” leads to more poverty.

    Or don’t you care about the poor? Are you a hater?

  6. I live outside Reston, VA, a planed community. At first they had low rent (taxpayer subsidized) housing and imported poor people. That didn’t last very long because the poor people weren’t very good neighbors. They turned the low rent housing into slums. If you don’t believe me go into south east DC and drive thru some of the public housing projects.

  7. Milton Hathaway

    June 21, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Bulverism – I love it, explains a lot. And here I was thinking that I was riddled with psychological disorders, neuroses and psychoses (homophobia, denialism, bitterclingerism, supremacism, hispanophobia, islamophobia, xenophobia, haterism, neoconism, homonegativism, misanthropy, genophobia, hylophobia, emphathy deficit disorder, sociopathology, birtherism, Obama obsessive disorder, Palinism, mysogynism, gynophobia, transphobia).

    DAV – the reason you didn’t allow your grass-cutter to live in your shed is the same reason that distant disinterested bureaucracies shouldn’t be making such decisions. Take this article for example:

    http://kuow.org/post/after-10-year-plan-why-does-seattle-have-more-homeless-ever

    The good liberal folk of Seattle read this article and think “There’s hope, people care”. A conservative reads this article and thinks “More of the same? Morons! – why don’t they just copy the approaches they admit have worked elsewhere?”.

    As a conservative, I wonder if liberals even care what works and what doesn’t work (or makes the problems worse). They can’t swallow “the ends justify the means” when the means conflicts with their do-gooder idealism; for them, it’s apparently “damn the results, the means justify the means”.

  8. JMJ is just not very bright.

  9. Milton: All evidence would say no, liberals do not care. They just say they do. Words are reality to them, not the world itself. You can see that in any cities run by liberals. The leaders spend hours talking about how they care while the citizens live in lousy housing, without jobs or hope. Then the liberal says “We need to spend more”. Of course, that’s not because they care, but because they can use the money however they wish and it won’t be on housing and jobs for the residents. When that round of cash fails to create jobs and better housing, liberals say “We need more money”. It’s a never-ending cycle, one that does not involve caring about anyone but themselves.

  10. It would be helpful to distinguish between different types of the poor. Such as those with a medical infirmity (including mental illness) and the very old.

    I assume the concern then is for those motivated to stay poor. I.e., lazy people who sit around all day drinking and playing video games, for example. Everyone is, potentially, a lazy person. It is easy to be lazy. I’m a lazy person too. But I’ve managed to overcome this by placing myself in situations where I am forced to work hard. I don’t like working hard, but it’s not the worst thing in the world, either…

    It seems to me that the solution would be work for the dole. If you receive a modest subsidized income, you would be required to perform a modest amount of work as a form of repayment to society. The aged and the medically infirm being excluded of course. The goal being to attempt to break people out of their rut.

  11. Briggs, the post title (I don’t really care who wrote it) has so many things wrong with it, I just don’t know even know where to begin. You seem to have a thin grasp of how a civilization operates.

    JMJ

  12. Seems to me that the point of a conversation about this subject is not to yell out ‘you’re wrong!’ but to critique the article. Unless you don’t have the intellectual capacity to do so, in which case I suppose the ‘you’re wrong!’ part is what you have to settle for.

  13. Bombshell,

    1) It would be interesting to know in which quintiles your incomes corresponds? Mine is about 20k.

    2) Considering the price of electricity and comparing the price of LED and Compact flash lightbulb and the energy comsumption of the incadescent light bulb. The simple economy of electricity is worth the extra cost of the newest technologie. We spend the evormous amount or about 20$/year on bublbs for our house. barely what causes budget problems for the poor.

    At the average price of 12 cents/kw/h (less than 5 cents/kw/h here in Québec) the US electricity is sold to customer I would say the price of energy is much more a problem for the poor than not having the choice to buy incadescent light bulb.

    3) As the usual, conservatives lack the understanding of what a poor is and who it is.

    a) The vast majority of people that require assistance from the government are requiring it for a very short period of time of less than 10 months.

    b) Those that requires it on the long term are like Will pointed out The handicaped (including mental illness), and the 50-60 + year old who lost their life time employment and who are now unable to find work.

    c) people losing everything because they got the badluck of getting sick.

    d) women who are stuck with kids because the men are largely to coward to care for their kids.

    e) in the USA, the army families. The largest group to recieve food stamps on a regular basis. Actually they have use less food stamps in 2014, but the reason turns out that the familly received less.

    http://www.military.com/daily-news/2014/03/03/troops-have-used-fewer-food-stamps-in-2014.html

  14. 1. No it wouldn’t. Irrelevant mis-direction. Sort of like the magician that says, “Look, over there…”. Totally irrelevant to the truth. But of course, Briggs has pointed this out many times. Even I can understand this.

    3.a. You’ll have to show some evidence of this. I don’t believe that this is true in the US. Are you in Canada? (See, there, I did it too. Yeah me!!). The largest welfare scheme in the US is Social Security and I GUARANTEE you that almost all recipients receive more (way more) than 10 months of benefits. Food stamps? Don’t believe you. Medicare? Don’t believe you. Medicaid? Don’t believe you. Housing assistance? Don’t believe you. I will look for the real answer, but not very hard.

  15. Mike in KC, MO

    June 22, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    I work in C and D class rental real estate. The kind of mess our government has made with respect to the poor really has to be seen first hand to be believed.

    Adding to what has already been described, abuse is RAMPANT. Don’t try to sit there and tell me it’s not, because I see it with my own eyes every single day. What’s worse, it almost seems like the people who abuse it get it easier than those who really need help.

    In one building we have a guy with CP. He works as he can (not too well educated and came from an abusive home, so has some baggage starting out) and he has problems getting benefits as the department and hospital keep screwing up his paperwork. One floor down we have two people living on ‘disability’ dues to major back injuries. Funny, as they aren’t injured in any way and spend their time lifting weights at the community center three blocks over.

    It must be all the rich people’s fault.

  16. Back home, everyone is forced to join the universal health care system, and elementary and middle schools provide free lunches for students. Ah, it’s the fault of the government if there are more poor people now.

  17. Sheri
    JUNE 21, 2015 AT 8:29 PM
    … Words are reality to them, not the world itself. …

    Ah, ma Sheri, would that it were just the liberals who were so infected. Sigh …

  18. Larry Geiger,

    About food stamp fact you can look here:

    http://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/chart-book-snap-helps-struggling-families-put-food-on-the-table

    An increase of the minimum wage would remove almost all working recipient. But of course, people working for low paying jobs are lazy people, smouchers.

    Food stamps have a maximum of three years. Most people will apply has they lose a job and get off as soon as they found another one.

    Social security is a pension plan for lower inome (lower meaning less than 200k a year). It is not a usual welfare propgram since anyone who is not wealthy will receive it at some point in their life.

    Medicare-medicaid help reduce the cost of helth care. The first one is for retired people, and the second one is mainly for people unable to work.

    Try to answer this question?

    In Québec everyone has health care, some receives housing help, mainly single mother and unable to work people. Medication, eyes glasses and dentist are also covered.

    Even if all these things are covered the number of people receiving social benefit (by that I mean last income resource) is maintained at around 350k people a year.

    The question is:

    If condition are so good for these people why do all the able body find jobs within 10 months of getting on the program?

    According to conservatives, everyone who receives free money should get addicted to it and live the good life.

  19. The government is partly responsible for the poor remaining in a bad condition. For example, single women and poor families who cannot afford to feed, clothe, house, provide healthcare and transportation are subsidized for having children. There are examples of multiple generations of families struggling like this.

    The solution is to stop this practice. The way to implement this is to announce to families and single women that the government will not grant any funds for a child (or children) that are born when they can not be properly cared for by the women or families.

    If a child is born after the new rules, the child would have to be put up for adoption, or otherwise cared for by the state. Of course, we would continue supporting people already on the plan before a the start date for the new practice.

  20. “The solution is to stop this practice.”

    Except stopping the practice would result in serious hardship; starvation and crime, most likely. Which is not a good social outcome either. Any policy that is not considered moral by the public would never be implemented in practice. The correct approach is to discourage and to provide alternative motivators. Unfortunately we live in an age where the post modern progressive movement is focused on playing a “I’m morally superior to you” game. Winning the game itself is more important than good social policy.

  21. Sylvain

    You certain are drinking the cool aid

    First you use a government web sit on food stamps for your argument, why not just go to the ministry of propaganda.

    Raising minimum wage will only for more people out of a job, most of them young people and will do noting to raise any one financial status, it will only trigger a round of inflation which will deflate the value of our money leaving the minimum wage earner right back were he was before the raise, basic economics dictate that you cannot increase pay with out increasing output, anything else is inflationary, the stroke of a pen does not increase the real value of one’s labor.

    Medicare-Medicaid help reduce the cost of health care. Wrong it increased the cost of health care since government does not pay the real cost in their Medicaid and Medicare plans, not only that both ran rural hospitals out of business since they for a very long time reimbursed them at a lower rate as opposite Metro hospitals.

    Lastly don’t point to Canada health as a shining example of heath care, having come from a North Dakota, I watch a constant stream of Canadian coming down to access US health care since they wanted to survive their illness, and don’t bother to quote statics on how Canada health care is better because mot of those studies put a higher weight on access as oppose to outcome. Personal I like the fact that my wife and I were able to walk into the Mayo Clinic when she had a miss diagnosed lung tumor, If it had been in Canada the first diagnose would have been accepted and her stage one lung cancer would have been to stage four before the Canada health care system figure out it did something wrong, there is a reason Canada had sever SARS victims, Having a SARS patient waiting in an emergency room for eight hours is extremely stupid, last Saskatchewan requires you to book a delivery room ten months out, that works out well doesn’t it.

    I know I just wasted my time replying to you after all you are probably a good liberal and won’t let facts or simple economics get in the way of your political views.

  22. JMJ I assume Briggs is a catholic that believes in the ten commandments, two of which the have huge problems with are “You shall not steal,” for you information spreading the wealth around is stealing, taking one good or wages from one man and giving it to another with the force of a gun is stealing even though when Government does it is windowed dressed as tax policy and then there is “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods”. It seem those to the lefties have big problems with those two. Yet the biggest one the left has it this one. I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. You notice there is no exception for worshiping Government, the left is always putting Government before God. The worst part of being Catholic today it look like the pope is also join the left, he and should do so at the risk of your immortal soul, they are the ten commandments not the ten suggestions.

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