Archive for September 11th, 2010

I got the last word in this debate. More important, I think I had my leftist buddy on the defensive.

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Walter Williams periodically has explained that the main beneficiaries of the so-called War on Poverty are all the bureaucrats who have very lucrative jobs in all the various redistribution programs, agencies, and departments. He calls these people “poverty pimps” and asks whether they actually have an incentive to solve problems since that would put their jobs at risk. Those are all interesting issues, but this post looks at the number of bureaucrats, by state, working in the “public welfare” industry (the Census Bureau has an interactive program that allows this type of calculation). Comparing that number of bureaucrats to each state’s population allows the creation of a “Poverty Pimp Index” showing the number of bureaucrats (at the state and local level) per 100,000 of population.

Surprisingly, New Hampshire is the worst state, requiring four times as many bureaucrats per capita to administer income-redistribution programs as Hawaii, which is the surprise winner as the most efficient state. I’m sure these numbers represent a gross over-simplification, and they may depend on how states classify employees, so this is nothing but a quick look at some interesting data. If anybody knows of more substantive research on the comparative efficiency of how states administer programs, please send it my way.

The Poverty Pimp Index (“public welfare” bureaucrats per 100,000 residents)

New Hampshire              360
Alaska                             302
New York                       290
Maine                              280
Wisconsin                      277
Pennsylvania                 277
DC                                 277
Minnesota                     266
New Jersey                   255
Ohio                               255

Kansas                             121
Idaho                               120
Georgia                           118
Texas                               113
South Carolina                104
Nevada                             99
Mississippi                         96
Indiana                            95
Florida                             92
Hawaii                              86

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Jonah Goldberg writes in National Review that President Obama is beginning to look like the next Herbert Hoover. This is rather ironic since the left wanted him to become the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt, ushering in a new era of politically-popular statism.
…the Great Depression discredited laissez-faire economics for a generation or more. Hoover, who was hardly the “market fundamentalist” FDR made him out to be, suffered largely from the (bad) luck of the draw, giving Democrats a chance to argue for a new deal of the cards. For reasons fair and unfair, Obama, who inherited a bad recession and made it worse, every day looks more like a modern-day Hoover, whining about his problems, rather than an FDR cheerily getting things done. Inadequate to the task, Obama is discrediting the statism he was elected to restore. 
Jonah makes a compelling case, particularly from a political perspective. But if we look just at economic policy, the Obama-as-FDR analogy is more accurate. Hoover was a big-government interventionist with failed policies. That’s a pretty good description of Bush. FDR got elected in 1932 by promising to fix the mess, which is akin to Obama’s hope and change message in 2008. And, just like FDR, Obama then continued the big-government interventionist policies of his predecessor. The only difference is that Roosevelt somehow was able to remain popular even though his policies kept the nation mired in depression for another decade. Obama, by contrast, is veering dangerously close to becoming another Jimmy Carter. Tom Sowell has some key details about the timing and impact of the Hoover-Roosevelt policies.
The history of the United States is full of evidence on the negative effects of government intervention. For the first 150 years of this country’s existence, the federal government did not think it was its business to intervene when the economy turned down. All of those downturns ended faster than the first downturn where the federal government intervened big time– the Great Depression of the 1930s. …if you look at the facts, they go like this: Unemployment never hit double digits in any of the 12 months following the big stock market crash of 1929 that is often blamed for the massive unemployment of the 1930s. Unemployment peaked at 9 percent, two months after the October 1929 crash, and then began drifting downward. Unemployment was down to 6.3 percent by June 1930, when the first big federal intervention occurred. Within six months, the downward trend in unemployment reversed and hit double digits for the first time in December 1930. What were politicians to do? Say “We messed up”? Or keep trying one huge intervention after another? The record shows what they did: President Hoover’s interventions were followed by President Roosevelt’s bigger interventions– and unemployment remained in double digits in every month for the entire remainder of the decade. There is another set of facts: The record that was set in 1929 for the biggest stock market decline in one day was broken in 1987. But Ronald Reagan did nothing– and the media clobbered him for it. Then the economy rebounded and there were 20 years of sustained economic growth with low inflation and low unemployment. Can you imagine Barack Obama doing another Ronald Reagan?

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