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Posts Tagged ‘Income redistribution’

What federal program is most sacrosanct, even though it delivers poor results?

Those are all good answers, and you could also add housing subsidies, the drug war, and lot of other example to the list of programs that enjoy lots of political support even though they produce bad results.

But I’m guessing that the activity that has the greatest level of undeserved support is government intervention for “pre-K” kids, with Head Start being the most prominent example.

I haven’t written about the failure of that particular program since 2013, which is unfortunate because two of the most compelling visuals about Head Start were released in 2014.

First, this AEI research reveals that the supposed academic consensus for the program evaporates under close examination.

Second, this table from an article in National Affairs shows that the program doesn’t produce long-run benefits.

Yet these empirical results don’t seem to influence the debate. Every year, programs such as Head Start get funded because politicians only seem to care about intentions.

And positive headlines for themselves, of course. After all, we’re supposed to believe that they care about kids because they spend other people’s money on programs with nice goals.

With this as background, now let’s zoom in on a specific example of how supposedly good intentions in this field translate into occupational restrictions that have very bad results for the less fortunate people in society.

The Washington Post reports that the city’s local government has decided that additional regulation is needed to boost the quality of programs for pre-K kids.

More than a decade after Washington, D.C., set out to create the most comprehensive public preschool system in the country, the city is directing its attention to overhauling the patchwork of programs that serve infants and toddlers.  The new regulations put the District at the forefront of a national effort to improve the quality of care and education for the youngest learners. City officials want to address an academic achievement gap between children from poor and middle-class families that research shows is already evident by the age of 18 months.

And what exactly did the city government propose to achieve these nice-sounding goals?

They’ve imposed “new licensing regulations…for child-care centers” that will mandate college degrees.

The District set the minimum credential for lead teachers as an associate degree… The deadline to earn the degree is December 2020. New regulations also call for child-care center directors to earn a bachelor’s degree and for home care providers and assistant teachers to earn a CDA.

Gee, this sounds nice. Don’t we all want the best-trained staff so that we can get the best outcomes for kids?

Yes, but let’s consider costs and benefits. Especially, as noted in the article, costs that are imposed on people without a lot of money who are working at childcare centers.

…for many child-care workers, often hired with little more than a high school diploma, returning to school is a difficult, expensive proposition with questionable reward. …prospects are slim that a degree will bring a significantly higher income — a bachelor’s degree in early-childhood education yields the lowest lifetime earnings of any major.

And poor people without a lot of money who are clients of childcare centers.

Many parents in the District are maxed out, paying among the highest annual tuitions nationally, at $1,800 a month.

And taxpayers who pick up part of the cost.

…government subsidies that help fund care…and generous funding for preschool.

In other words, imposing this kind of mandate will be rather expensive, especially for lower-income Washingtonians who either work at these centers of send their children to them.

That’s the cost side of the equation. Now let’s look at the benefits.

Except there’s no real-world evidence included in the article. Instead, all we get it some theorizing.

…a 2015 report by the National Academies that says the child-care workforce has not kept pace with the science of child development and early learning. From the first days of life, learning is complex and cumulative, the report says. Infants are capable of abstract thought, forming theories about what is happening in the physical world and whom to trust. Scientists concluded that teachers need the skills and insight to offer the kinds of learning experiences that challenge them and make them feel safe. They need tools to diagnose and intervene when they see learning or emotional problems. And they need literacy skills to introduce young learners to an expansive vocabulary, exposure many children do not have at home and are not getting in day care.

Scott Shackford of Reason is appropriately skeptical about this regulatory scheme.

Scientists say that higher education for pre-school child-care workers is a good idea. So of course D.C. is going to make it mandatory that child-care workers get associate’s degrees and completely screw over an entire class of lower-skilled workers. …The news story doesn’t engage in the question of why parents can’t decide for themselves how important it is for their child-care workers to have advanced degrees. Perhaps that’s because early education advocates might not like the answers, once the realities of the likely cost increases get factored in. …such a subsidy plan would not do much for lower-income families. And so not only would poorer families be even less able to afford child care, they’re also going to be locked out of jobs within the industry itself.

Though he does identify one group that would benefit.

To be sure, this D.C. law is a jobs program—it’s a jobs program for people who work in the field of post-secondary education itself. Nothing like using a regulatory mandate to create a demand for your educational services that might not exist otherwise. The story makes it abundantly clear that advocates for increased education of child-care workers—who, wouldn’t you know it, work in the field of education—want to spread this program well beyond D.C.’s borders.

And there’s another group of beneficiaries. The new DC regulations will be good news for childcare workers who already have college degrees. That’s because the city government is using a form of licensing to force competing workers out of the market (as Scott pointed out, the new rules “screw over…lower-skilled workers”). And that means that the college-educated workers will have more ability to extract higher salaries.

Just as unions urge higher minimum-wage mandates in order to undermine competition from other workers.

In other words, this is a classic “public choice” case study of a couple of interest groups using government coercion to unfairly line their pockets.

P.S. Speaking of public choice, here’s the real-world explanation of how a bill becomes law (h/t: Imgur).

Very accurate. I especially like the variation of Mitchell’s Law at the end.

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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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