Thursday, February 11, 2016

Relief of Poverty: Four Centuries of Futility

More than 400 years ago, the British adopted the Poor Law system, under which local communities were made responsible for the relief of poverty. For the next four centuries the Poor Laws were amended again and again, as the following argument went to and fro: Was the system providing necessary relief or was it in various ways interfering with the natural workings of the labor market by subsidizing idleness and encouraging indolence.

At one point a royal commission recommended the following two tests:

*    The less eligibility test: a pauper should have to enter a workhouse with conditions worse than that of the poorest free labourer outside of the workhouse.

*    The workhouse test: relief should only be available in a workhouse in which conditions were to be so uninviting that anyone capable of coping outside them would choose not to be in one.

The history of the British Poor Laws makes for interesting reading and even more interesting is their treatment in the novels of Charles Dickens and Frances Trollope and later Jack London.

But before continuing, let’s stop and ask a pertinent question. Do you see anything wrong with this historical approach to welfare?

Think about it. The central government (the British Parliament) was passing laws telling local communities how to deal with people. The standards all have to do with making sure that welfare is no more attractive than work. But this only works if the “paupers” are all the same. The system becomes completely dysfunctional if what one person views as “uninviting” is different than what someone else regards as “uninviting.” Or if conditions that one person views as “worse” or “better” are different from what others view as “worse” or “better.” Treating people at the bottom of the income ladder as if they all viewed the world the same way is not only foolish, it’s the sort of thing no private charity would ever do. (More on that below.)

So, the biggest problem with the Poor Laws is that they tended to treat everyone seeking relief as if they were the same when in fact they were not at all the same. (Just read Charles Dickens!)

Flash forward to the current era and we find that the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and the left-leaning Brookings Institution have come together to find common ground in a new report on how to reform the American approach to welfare.

Among the recommendations: such conservative ideas as attaching a job requirement to the food stamp program and provisions to encourage marriage and birth control; such liberal ideas as a small increase in the minimum wage and more federal investment in early childhood education and community colleges; and what I suppose is a left/right idea: increasing the amount of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Even getting this much agreement was not easy according to a report in The New York Times. Just so l get this exactly right I am going to quote directly from reporter Eduardo Porter’s account:

    The two sides will never entirely agree, of course, partly because they view the causes of poverty from such different angles.

    To the left, deprivation is caused mostly by factors beyond the control of the poor. These include globalization that undercut good jobs previously within the reach of the less educated, an educational system segregated by race and class, lack of parental resources, discrimination, excessive use of prison.

    Experts on the right, by contrast, put a lot of the weight on personal responsibility, often faulting the bad choices of the poor. And government support, by providing the poor with an income with few strings attached, has made their choices worse.

In other words, after four centuries of fruitless debate, not much has really changed. Scholars sitting in a room in Washington, DC are arguing about the motivations and the behavior of millions of people they have never met and never will meet and both sides feel free to generalize about the whole lot of them.

Meanwhile, the system continues in its dysfunction. In the Wall Street Journal, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Tim Scott write:

    The federal government now runs more than 80 different antipoverty programs at a cost of about $750 billion a year. Yet 46 million Americans are poor today, and the poverty rate has barely budged: from 19% in 1965 to 14.8% in 2014. If you were raised poor, you’re as likely to stay poor as you were 50 years ago.

Yet there are programs that work and Ryan visited one in Dallas the other day. They are almost always in the private sector, supported by voluntary contributions from people who would never even think of contributing to the Food Stamp program.

Ordinary people living in the communities with others who need help have far more common sense than scholars or bureaucrats or legislators who are miles away.

That’s why Michael Stroup and I recommended 30 years ago letting taxpayers decide where their welfare tax dollars go, instead of leaving that decision to bureaucrats.



Sloppy Language and Thinking

By Walter E. Williams

George Orwell said, "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." Gore Vidal elaborated on that insight, saying, "As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate." And John Milton predicted, "When language in common use in any country becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin and degradation."

These observations bear heeding about how sloppy language is corrupting our society.

The Atlantic magazine reported that public schools are nearly as segregated in 2012 as they were in the late 1960s. An Education Next series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Coleman Report includes an article by Steven Rivkin, "Desegregation Since the Coleman Report," that holds that American schools are still segregated. In 2001, Harvard University's Civil Rights Project press release stated, "Almost half a century after the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Southern school segregation was unconstitutional and 'inherently unequal' ... racial and ethnic segregation continued to intensify throughout the 1990s."

Let's examine the term "racial segregation." Blacks are about 50 percent of the Washington, D.C., population. Reagan National Airport serves the Washington, D.C., area and, like every airport, it has water fountains. At no time is there anything close to blacks being 50 percent of water fountain users. Suppose it turns out that only 15 percent of the water fountain users are black.

Would the scholars, whose studies say that schools are segregated because of racial differences in attendance, condemn Reagan National Airport water fountains as being segregated? Would they propose bussing blacks in from water fountains in southeast D.C. in order to integrate the Reagan National Airport water fountains?

What about ice hockey games? Shall we call them "segregated"? I have never seen a proportional representation of black fans in the audience; in fact, most times I did not see any.

Based upon racial disparities, might we conclude that opera performances, dressage and wine tastings are also segregated? If you want to see more "segregation," visit South Dakota, Iowa, Maine, Montana and Vermont. Not even 1 percent of their populations is black. What might our segregation scholars propose? Would they suggest rounding up blacks in the states where they are over-represented, such as in Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, and bussing them to America's "segregated" states? Might they suggest drafting blacks to attend operas, dressage and wine tastings?

They would not propose such nonsense, because they would recognize in these instances that racial homogeneity does not mean racial segregation. The test they would use is: If a black wants to use a water fountain, attend an opera or live in Montana, can he? That ought to be the same test for schools: If a black lives in a school district, is he free to attend? If the answer is yes then the school is not segregated, even if no blacks attend.

Terms related to segregation are "disparities," "gaps" and "disproportionality," all of which are taken as signs of injustice that must be corrected. The median income of women is less than that of men. Black and Hispanic students are suspended and expelled at higher rates than white students. There are race and sex disparities and gaps all over the place. For example, blacks are 13 percent of the population but 80 percent of professional basketball players and 66 percent of professional football players, and on top of that some of the most highly paid players.

Those numbers do not mean that everything is hunky-dory for blacks. How many times have you seen a black player kick an extra point in professional football? What should be done about all of these glaring disparities? We might also ask what can be done to make basketball, football, dressage and ice hockey look more like America: in a word, using that beloved term, diverse.

Before we invest resources into worrying about such matters, we might focus on language corruption, because it is polluting our thinking, resulting in inept and dangerous social policies.



Obama Ordered Cleansing of DHS Terrorist Connections

By Mark Alexander

In 2009, an Islamist planned to kill 290 civilians on a Christmas Day flight from Europe to Detroit. Fortunately, the bomb material concealed in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s underwear failed to detonate after alert passengers subdued and detained him. At that time, Barack Obama condemned the intelligence community, declaring, “This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.”

But Obama has disabled our national security capabilities in order to avoid the appearance of “profiling Muslims,” which has made “connecting the dots” more difficult. In the latest report from DHS whistleblower Philip Haney, just before the “underwear bomber” incident, he was “ordered by my superiors at the Department of Homeland Security to delete or modify several hundred records of individuals tied to designated Islamist terror groups like Hamas from the important federal database… These types of records are the basis for any ability to ‘connect dots’. … Even worse, going forward, my colleagues and I were prohibited from entering pertinent information into the database. …

[T]he type of information that the Obama administration ordered removed from travel and national security databases was the kind of information that, if properly assessed, could have prevented subsequent domestic Islamist attacks like the ones committed by Faisal Shahzad (May 2010), Detroit ‘honor killing’ perpetrator Rahim A. Alfetlawi (2011); Amine El Khalifi, who plotted to blow up the U.S. Capitol (2012); Dzhokhar or Tamerlan Tsarnaev who conducted the Boston Marathon bombing (2013); Oklahoma beheading suspect Alton Nolen (2014); or the Muhammed Yusuf Abdulazeez attack (2015) killing five military personnel in Chattanooga Tennessee.”

Haney also notes the 2015 San Bernardino attack, killing 14 and severely wounding 22 others, could likely have been thwarted had intelligence not been scrubbed.

This politically correct “cleansing” of references to Islamic terrorist ties from critical national security databases is not only reckless, but is reminiscent of the last Democrat president’s obsession with keeping up PC appearances. In 1998, almost three years prior to the devastating 9/11 attack on our nation, the al-Qa'ida terrorist cell which organized that attack was already on U.S.

Then-Demo chief Bill Clinton, had declined numerous opportunities to capture or kill their leader, Sheik Osama bin Laden, including TWO opportunities when our Spec Ops shooters had him, literally, in their sights. Clinton also refused an FBI field agent’s efforts to open a case file on Arab nationals who were, curiously, training to fly commercial aircraft, but not training for takeoffs or landings. The rationale for the case file denial was to avoid the appearance of any presumption of religious bias against Muslims.



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