Archive for May 23rd, 2023

There are three troubling things about the politics of poverty.

First, I frequently grouse and complain that some folks on the left don’t actually care about helping poor people. Instead, as explained in my Eighth Theorem of Government, they simply use poor people as props so they can expand the size and scope of the welfare state.

Second, I sometimes speculate that our friends on the left are more motivated by a disdain for the rich than they are by any desire to help the less fortunate (something that Margaret Thatcher observed many decades ago).

Third, some people knowingly (or perhaps in a few cases, unknowingly) lie by asserting that income inequality is the same thing as poverty – even if it means absurd conclusions such as there being more poverty in the United States than in Mexico.

For purposes of today’s column, we’re going to focus on this third group because lying about poverty may soon become official government policy.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, the American Enterprise Institute’s Kevin Corinth warns that the Biden Administration is thinking about turning poverty hucksterism into official government policy.

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences seeks to redefine poverty. …the report’s real purpose could be to expand the welfare state. If the Census Bureau adopts the new poverty definition, millions more Americans could automatically be made eligible for benefits—leading to at least $124 billion in additional government spending over the next decade… It would also break with more than 50 years of precedent by establishing a relative standard. People could become better off and still be classified as “poor”; poverty would decline only if income at the bottom of the distribution increases more quickly than in the middle class. …Redrawing the official poverty line would be a nakedly political move without any scientific basis that could alter the scope of the safety net overnight.

I suspect readers won’t be surprised to learn that the report was put together by a very biased panel.

The 13 authors of the recent NAS paper appear to have been selected along partisan lines: 12 of them have contributed to Democratic causes or worked for Democratic administrations.

And I also suspect that nobody will be surprised to learn that a secondary effect will be to steer more redistribution to left-wing states.

As consequential is the potential reallocation of government assistance across states. The poverty line under the Supplemental Poverty Measure is higher in states like California and New York…and lower in states like West Virginia and Mississippi.

Adding $124 billion of additional cost to the welfare state would be bad news for taxpayers.

But the worst thing about this scheme is that it would enshrine dishonesty into Washington’s welfare state.

As I wrote a few years ago, it would be “insanely dishonest.” That’s because “everyone’s income could double and the supposed rate of poverty would stay the same.” Or that “a country could execute all the rich people and the alleged rate of poverty would decline.”

And now the Biden Administration is thinking about turning this type of dishonesty into official policy (which is hardly a surprise since the Obama Administration thought this awful idea was the right approach).

P.S. For anyone who actually wants to help poor people, we already know what works.

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