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Posts Tagged ‘Income redistribution’

I wrote last year about the way in which welfare programs lead to very high implicit marginal tax rates on low-income people. More specifically, they lose handouts when they earn income. As such, it is not very advantageous for them to climb the economic ladder because hard work is comparatively unrewarding.

Thanks to the American Enterprise Institute, we now have a much more detailed picture showing the impact of redistribution programs on the incentive to earn more money.

It’s not a perfect analogy since people presumably prefer cash to in-kind handouts, but the vertical bars basically represent living standards for any given level of income that is earned (on the horizontal axis).

Needless to say, there’s not much reason to earn more income when living standards don’t improve. May as well stay home and goof off rather than work hard and produce.

This is why income redistribution is so destructive, not just to taxpayers, but also to the people who get trapped into dependency. Which is exactly the point made in this video.

P.S. Most of you know that I’m not a fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development because the Paris-based bureaucracy has such statist impulses. But even the OECD has written about the negative impact of overly generous welfare programs on incentives for productive behavior.

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In their never-ending efforts to buy votes with other people’s money (see the first cartoon in this post), politicians have been expanding the welfare state and creating more dependency.

This is bad for the overall economy because it means a larger burden of government spending and it’s bad for poor people because it undermines their self reliance and self respect.

It also has very worrisome long-run effects on the stability and viability of a culture, as shown by these two cartoons.

A stark example can be seen in the food stamp program, which has morphed from a handout for the genuinely poor to a widespread entitlement for everyone from college students to the Octo-mom, and for products ranging from luxury coffee to lobster.

Here are some of the unpleasant details about the fiscal costs from Veronique de Rugy’s column in the Washington Examiner.

When the food stamp program was first expanded nationally in the 1970s, just 1 in 50 Americans participated. Today, 1 in 7 Americans receive $134 each month… With the bipartisan Farm Bill going through Congress right now, these high levels of dependency may become permanent. Some 70 percent of the nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill recently passed by the Senate will be spent on food stamps — that’s $770 billion over ten years. …An estimated 45 million Americans received food stamps in 2011, at a cost of $78 billion. That’s a twofold increase from just five years ago when 26 million people received benefits at a cost of $33 billion. …food stamp enrollment increased and spending doubled, even as unemployment and the poverty level dropped modestly between 2007 and 2011. The more important part of the story comes from the eligibility changes implemented by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The last sentence is the key. Eligibility has been expanded dramatically. Food stamps are slowly but surely becoming mainstream and that should worry all of us.

But food stamps are just one form of income redistribution. Welfare spending also is a problem.

Here are some excerpts from a New Hampshire story, featuring a store clerk who got fired because she didn’t think welfare cards should be used to buy cigarettes.

Jackie R. Whiton of Antrim had been a six-year employee at the Big Apple convenience store in Peterborough until a single transaction sent her job up in smoke. The store clerk was fired after she refused to take a customer’s Electronic Balance Transfer card to pay for cigarettes. …Whiton said she did not think EBT cards could be used to purchase cigarettes and refused to sell to him. The two “had a little go-around” as the line got longer behind him, said Whiton. “I made the statement, ‘do you think myself, that lady and that gentlemen should pay for your cigarettes?’ and he responded ‘yes,’ ” Whiton said. …Charles E. Wilkins, the general manager of the C.N. Brown Co. that runs the stores, said the EBT cards in the cash phase could be used for any items, including alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Wilkins said the company gave Whiton the option of staying but she said she would not accept the cards anymore. “She didn’t think it was right and just wasn’t going to sell to people in that program anymore,” Wilkins said. Whiton said when she came to work the next day, her manager asked her how much notice she was giving. When she responded “a week,” she was told the home office had just called and fired her.

Ms. Whiton is now one of my personal heroes, joining Mr. Mothershead, another store clerk who had the right reaction when confronted by someone who tried to get something he didn’t earn (albeit using a different tactic).

Last but not least, here’s something that arrived in my inbox yesterday.

A bit harsh, but we have gotten to a strange point where the Obama Administration is bribing states to add more food stamp recipients and even running ads to lure more people into food stamp dependency.

So, yes, Billy Fleming (assuming he’s real) has a right to be upset.

P.S. Here’s some more welfare humor.

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In past posts, I’ve groused about food stamp abuse, including people using them to buy luxury coffee at Starbucks and to purchase steaks and lobster. I’ve complained about college kids scamming the program, the “Octo-Mom” mooching off the program, and the Obama Administration rewarding states that sign up more food stamp recipients.

Well, the Obama White House is doubling down on creating more dependency, spending tax dollars to increase the number of people on food stamps.

Here are some of disturbing details from a CNN report.

More than one in seven Americans are on food stamps, but the federal government wants even more people to sign up for the safety net program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been running radio ads for the past four months encouraging those eligible to enroll. …The department is spending between $2.5 million and $3 million on paid spots, and free public service announcements are also airing. The campaign can be heard in California, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, and the New York metro area. …President Bush launched a recruitment campaign, which pushed average participation up by 63% during his eight years in office. The USDA began airing paid radio spots in 2004. President Obama’s stimulus act made it easier for childless, jobless adults to qualify for the program and increased the monthly benefit by about 15% through 2013.

Last year, I semi-defended Newt Gingrich when he was attacked for calling Obama the “Food Stamp” President. Citing this chart, I wrote that, “It certainly looks like America is becoming a food stamp nation.”

But my bigger point is that welfare is bad for both taxpayers and the people who get trapped into relying on big government.

The ideal approach, as explained in this video, is to get the federal government out of the business of redistributing income. We are far more likely to get better results if we let states experiment with different approaches.

House Republicans, to their credit, already want to do this with Medicaid. So why not block grant all social welfare programs?

The icing on the cake is that no longer would the federal government be running ads to lure people into dependency.

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Maybe I’m just old fashioned, or maybe I’m a bit stiff-necked, but I will never relent in my opposition to tax increases so long as the crowd in Washington is spending money on things that are not appropriate functions of the federal government.

But that’s just one obstacle that has to be overcome. I will also be dogmatic in my fight against higher taxes so long as there is massive waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs.

And sometimes, to really get me upset, we have massive waste, fraud, and abuse for programs that are not legitimate functions of the federal government.

Here’s an excerpt from a story in Time magazine, but don’t read it if you have high blood pressure.

The Social Security Administration made $6.5 billion in overpayments to people not entitled to receive them in 2009, including $4 billion under a supplemental income program for the very poor, a government investigator said Tuesday. In all, about 10 percent of the payments made under the agency’s Supplemental Security Income program were improper, said Patrick P. O’Carroll Jr., the Social Security inspector general. …Throughout the federal government, improper payments totaled $125 billion last year, up from $110 billion in 2009, O’Carroll said. In 2009, only two other agencies — the Departments of Health and Human Services, and Labor — had more improper payments than Social Security, he said.

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Not that we needed any additional evidence that the government wastes money in truly spectacular fashion, but this story from the Detroit Free Press is especially disgusting and outrageous.

A man who won $2 million on a Michigan lottery show has told a TV station that he still uses food stamps. Leroy Fick of Bay County admitted he still swipes the electronic card at stores, nearly a year after winning a jackpot on “Make Me Rich!” He told WNEM-TV in Saginaw that more than half the prize went to taxes. Fick says the Department of Human Services told him he could continue to use the card, which is paid with tax dollars. He told WNEM: “If you’re going to … try to make me feel bad, you aren’t going to do it.” The TV station says people have seen Fick driving a new Audi convertible.

Normally I fell sorry for people who have 50 percent of their money confiscated by the tax authorities, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

The real lesson is that the federal government should get out of the redistribution business. State and local governments are far less likely to be this profligate. And if they do waste money, migration is a feedback mechanism that will penalize them for excessive handouts.

(h/t: Amanda Carpenter)

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Economists often do a crummy job of teaching people about the impact of fiscal policy on the labor force, largely because we put people to sleep with boring discussions about “labor supply” decisions (my blog post from last year perhaps being an example of this tendency).

From now on, I will try to remember to use this cartoon. It’s a parody of Obama’s policies, but the last slide (or is it a panel?) is a great teaching tool about what happens when politicians turn the safety net into a hammock.

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One of the big problems with statists is that they define compassion incorrectly. They think they are being compassionate when they take other people’s money and give it to somebody that they define as being less fortunate. But genuine compassion occurs when you spend your own money. Another problem is that they define compassion by the number of people getting handouts from the government. A truly compassionate person, however, should strive for a society where the less fortunate are able to climb the economic ladder and no longer are dependent on redistribution programs. So it is definitely bad news that a record number of people – one out of six – now are on the dole in some form or fashion. Part of this growth in dependency is due to the economic downturn, but USA Today also notes that politicians have expanded eligibility and lured more people into dependency.
Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand. More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That’s up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007. …More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years. Caseloads have risen as more people become eligible. The economic stimulus law signed by President Obama last year also boosted benefits. …Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007. Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits. …As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. …The steady climb in safety-net program caseloads and costs has come as a result of two factors: The recession has boosted the number who qualify under existing rules. And the White House, Congress and states have expanded eligibility and benefits.

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