Friday, December 21, 2012

Living In The Here And Now


You argue elegantly against the perverse incentives that social programs can produce, For some participants, your observation, whether anecdotal or not, is undoubtedly true. I remember an encounter as an emergency room moonlighter at a small hospital in a working class suburb of Boston with a newly pregnant 17 year old. When I asked her how she would support her newborn she blithely replied, "go on welfare." For her, such a choice represented the most rationale one available. Welfare reform, a bipartisan effort accomplished by a Democratic President and Republican Congress, ended such nonsense. (The left, or course hated it.)

But it's just as true that for large numbers of the elderly, disabled, newly laid off, and otherwise unlucky,  programs such as Soical Security, SSI, and unemployment insurance represent a bulwark against a level of misery that you would not condone. It's easy for both of us to wax theoretical about such matters, or to opine about what is good for folks whose lives are really unimaginable to us. Unless you are volunteering in a soup kitchen (and if you are I salute you), these folks are invisible to you and me. Do you really think the answer is to return to some sort of 19th century laissez faire winner-take-all economy and culture?  I wish I had a time machine to take you back there. If you think that pictures of thalidomide babies make you ill, I'd like to see your reaction to a week in a lower East Side tenement, or coal country, or a day working in one of your hero Carnegie's steel mills.

The best antidote to poverty is a robust economy. No argument there. But there isn't any consensus about how to get there, is there?. Just a lot of pathological certainly on both sides. The answer to antipoverty programs that don't work is to fix them or junk them in favor something else. It's to keep innovating. It isn't to do nothing.


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