Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Welfare’

Taxpayers don’t like coughing up big amounts of money so other people can choose not to work.

And they really get upset when welfare payments are so generous that newcomers are encouraged to climb in the wagon of government dependency.

This has an effect on the immigration debate in the United States. Most Americans presumably are sympathetic to migrants who will boost per-capita GDP, but there is legitimate concern about those who might become wards of the state.

Welfare migration also has become a big issue in Europe.

Reuters has a report on efforts by the U.K. government to limit and restrict the degree to which migrants from other E.U. nations can take advantage of redistribution programs.

Cameron says he needs a pact to curb benefits for new migrant workers from EU countries… Proposals to allow British authorities to withhold in-work benefits for up to four years from EU citizens moving to work in Britain are under intense scrutiny.

You can understand why Cameron feels pressure to address this issue when you read horror stories about foreigners coming to England and living comfortable lives at taxpayer expense.

This isn’t just a controversy in Britain.

The U.K.-based Guardian has a story on support for such measures in Austria.

The Austrian foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz,…would not only call on the chancellor, Werner Faymann, to vote in favour of Cameron’s “emergency brake” on migrants’ benefits, but also to adopt the measure in Austria as soon as possible. …”Those who don’t pay into the system will get fewer benefits or none at all,” Kurz told the newspaper Kronen Zeitung. “We should embrace that principle if we want to guarantee that our welfare state remains affordable and attractive for top talent.” …he also supported Cameron’s call for the UK to be allowed to stop paying child benefit to EU migrants whose children live abroad.

European politicians are right to be worried. There’s evidence even from Sweden that welfare programs lure migrants into dependency.

And studies of American data show that excessive levels of redistribution can be at least a partial magnet for welfare recipients.

Here are some of the findings from a 2005 scholarly article by Professor Martin Bailey of Georgetown University.

…the results also indicate that welfare benefits exert a nontrivial effect on state residential choice. …the welfare migration hypothesis does not require welfare to exert a dominant effect, only a real effect. And here, the results provide strong, robust indications that the effect is real. …the results imply that migration may discourage states from providing high welfare benefits because such generosity attracts and retains potential welfare recipients.

Professor Bailey then found in a 2007 academic study that states understandably impose some restraints on welfare spending because of concerns that excessive benefits will lure more dependents.

Whether states keep welfare benefits low in order to prevent in-migration of benefit-seeking individuals is one of the great questions in the study of federalism. …This article develops a model which…suggests that competition on redistributive programs does…constrain spending to be less than what the states would spend if migration were not a concern.

This makes sense, and it echoes the findings of a study I wrote about in 2012 by some German economists.

Simply stated, you get better policy when governments compete.

But that doesn’t mean Cameron and other European politicians are doing the right thing. Instead of limiting handouts just for migrants, they should be lowering redistribution payments for everybody, including natives.

After all, European nations (like many American states) have elaborate redistribution systems that often make dependency more attractive than work.

Indeed, the United Kingdom has a more generous package of handouts that almost every other European nation.

The bottom line is that it’s a bit hypocritical (and in some cases perhaps even racist) for Cameron and others to target welfare for migrants without also addressing the negative impact of similar payments for natives.

P.S. To give British politicians credit, there have been some recent positive steps to reduce welfare dependency by cutting back on handouts.

P.P.S. In any event, Americans shouldn’t throw stones because we live in a glass house based on our foolish laws that shower refugees with initiative-sapping handouts.

Read Full Post »

Let’s dig into the issue of whether the United States should become more like France.

In a 2014 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Stanford University’s Robert Hall wrote about America’s sub-par economic performance. His opening line was basically a preemptive refutation of Obama’s claim – made during the State-of-the-Union Address – that the economy is strong.

The years since 2007 have been a macroeconomic disaster for the United States of a magnitude unprecedented since the Great Depression.

I don’t know that I would use “disaster” to describe the economy. That word would be much more appropriate for failed welfare states such as Italy and Greece.

But Professor Hall was definitely correct that the U.S. economy has been sputtering, as illustrated by comparative business-cycle data from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve.

So what accounts for America’s anemic economy? Hall has about 50 pages of analysis, but since brevity is a virtue, let’s look at some of what he wrote in his final paragraph.

Labor-force participation fell substantially after the crisis, contributing 2.5 percentage points to the shortfall in output. The decline showed no sign of reverting as of 2013. …an important part may be related to the large growth in beneficiaries of disability and food-stamp programs. Bulges in their enrollments appear to be highly persistent. Both programs place high taxes on earnings and so discourage labor-force participation among beneficiaries. The bulge in program dependence…may impede output and employment growth for some years into the future.

In other words, he pointed out that a large number of people have left the labor force, which obviously isn’t good since our economy’s ability to generate output (and boost living standards) is a function of the degree to which labor and capital are being productively utilized.

And his work suggests that redistribution programs are a big reason for this drop in labor-force participation.

Now let’s look at another study from NBER, this one from 2015 that was authored by economists from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Oslo, and Stockholm University.

They examine the specific impact of unemployment insurance.

We measure the effect of unemployment benefit duration on employment. …Federal benefit extensions that ranged from 0 to 47 weeks across U.S. states at the beginning of December 2013 were abruptly cut to zero. …we use the fact that this policy change was exogenous to cross-sectional differences across U.S. states and we exploit a policy discontinuity at state borders. We find that a 1% drop in benefit duration leads to a statistically significant increase of employment by 0.0161 log points. In levels, 1.8 million additional jobs were created in 2014 due to the benefit cut. Almost 1 million of these jobs were filled by workers from out of the labor force who would not have participated in the labor market had benefit extensions been reauthorized.

Wow, that’s a huge impact.

To be sure, I’ll be the first to admit that empirical work is imprecise. Ask five economists for an estimate and you’ll get nine answers, as the old joke goes.

Professor Hall, for instance, found a smaller impact of unemployment insurance on joblessness in his study.

But even if the actual number of people cajoled back into employment is only 500,000 rather than 1 million, that would still be profound.

Though at some point we have to ask whether it really matters whether people are being lured out of the labor force by food stamps, disability payments, unemployment insurance, Obamacare, or any of the many other redistribution programs in Washington.

What does matter is that we have a malignant welfare state that is eroding the social capital of the country. The entire apparatus should be dismantled and turned over to the states.

But not everyone agrees. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the White House is impervious to data and evidence. Indeed, notwithstanding the evidence that the left was wildly wrong about the impact of ending extended unemployment benefits, the White House is proposing to expand the program.

Here’s some of what’s being reported by The Hill.

The president’s three-pronged plan includes wage insurance of up to $10,000 over two years, expanded unemployment insurance coverage… The plan comes on the heels of Obama’s final State of the Union address on Tuesday, in which he committed to fighting for expanded out-of-work benefits during his last year in office. …The plan would also extend benefits to part-time, low-income and intermittent workers who can’t already take advantage of the out-of-work programs. And it would mandate states provide at least 26 weeks of coverage for those looking for work.

The part about mandating that all states provide extended coverage is particularly galling.

It’s almost as if he wants to make sure that no states are allowed to adopt good policy since that would show why the President’s overall approach is wrong.

I joked in 2012 about a potential Obama campaign slogan, and I suggested an official motto for Washington back in 2014.

Perhaps we should augment those examples of satire with a version of the Gospel according to Obama: Always wrong, never in doubt.

Read Full Post »

When I wrote earlier this year about “Europe’s suicidal welfare state,” it wasn’t so that I could make points about excessive spending and demographic decline.

Yes, those are very important issues. But I was focusing instead on the fact that Europe’s welfare states have a masochistic habit of giving handouts to terrorists.

So I wasn’t surprised to learn that some of the dirtbags who launched the recent terror attacks in Paris have been sponging off taxpayers.

Here are some excerpts from a story in the U.K.-based Daily Mail.

The former wife of Paris bomber Ibrahim Abdeslam has broken her silence to say he was a jobless layabout… Speaking from her home in Moleenbeek, Brussels, Niama, 36, said: ‘…He often slept during the day...Despite his diploma as an electrician, he found no job,’… Money was tight for the couple. ‘We lived on unemployment benefit which was only €1,000 a month between us so we worried a lot about money.’

By the way, money wasn’t “tight for the couple.” The handouts they got from the Belgian taxpayers gave them an income higher than the world average. And I’m guessing that the unemployment benefit wasn’t the only bit of mooching they did given the destructive lavishness of European welfare systems.

Ibrahim wasn’t the only terrorist with a snout in the public trough.

Here are some details from a story in the American Spectator.

Before he blew himself up outside a French soccer stadium, Bilal Hadfi lived in state-subsidized housing. …Open wallets as much as open borders doom Europe. Harboring shiftless populations alienated from the surrounding culture by religion asks for trouble. Give them blank checks and watch them fill up the blank spaces of indolence with destruction. …They pay back the dole with gunfire.

These are just two of the terrorists, but I’m guessing we’ll soon learn that others also were mooching off taxpayers.

And I can’t help but wonder whether the self-loathing that presumably occurs among some welfare recipients actually contributes to radicalism.

By the way, the Moocher Hall of Fame has a special section for deadbeats who want to kill taxpayers. Members of this Terror Section of the MHoF include:

* Abdul from Australia is an esteemed member of the Hall of Fame’s terror wing, having received 19 years of welfare while plotting to kill the people who were paying for his life of leisure.

* Keeping with that theme, let’s also recognize Anjem, who got elected to the Hall of Fame for collecting about $40,000-per year in handouts while spewing hate and recruiting other “fanatics to copy him by going on benefits.”

* The Tsarnaev brothers are most infamous for the Boston Marathon bombing, but let’s also revile them for being scroungers who thought it was okay to live off the work of others.

* Jihadi John, the ISIS dirtbag who is infamous for beheading innocent people, grew up with a family that sponged off British taxpayers for two decades.

P.S. In a truly spectacular example of government incompetence, a British jihadist actually was employed in law enforcement, ostensibly to fight against Islamic extremism!

P.P.S. American readers shouldn’t get too smug about the stupidity of our terrorism-subsidizing cousins on the other side of the Atlantic. We also have self-destructive policies that subsidize terrorism.

Read Full Post »

Three years ago, I shared a chart about the fiscal burden of the welfare state, calling it the picture that says a thousand word.

It’s astounding, after all, that taxpayers spend so much money on means-tested programs and get such miserable results.

Indeed, if we took all the money spent on various welfare programs and added it up, it would amount to $60,000 for every poor household.

Yet the handouts for poor people generally (but not always) are way below that level, so where does all the money go?

Well, this eye-popping flowchart (click to enlarge) from the House Ways & Means Committee is one way of answering that question. As you can see, there are dozens of programs spread across several agencies and departments.

In other words, a huge chunk of anti-poverty spending gets absorbed by a bloated, jumbled, and overlapping bureaucracy (and this doesn’t even count the various bureaucracies in each state that also administer all these welfare programs).

This is akin to a spider web of dependency. No wonder people get trapped in poverty.

Fortunately, we have a very simple solution to this mess. Just get the federal government out of the business of redistributing income. We already got very good results by reforming one welfare program in the 1990s. So let’s build on that success.

P.S. Leftists generally will oppose good reforms, both because of their ideological belief in redistribution and also because overpaid bureaucrats (who would have to find honest work if we had real change) are a major part of their coalition. But there are some honest statists who admit the current system hurts poor people.

Read Full Post »

Federal government redistribution programs don’t work.

We’ve ignored the lessons of history about the dangers of government intervention, so is it any mystery that we now have millions of people mired in dependency.

Yet some people in Washington want to double down on failure.

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, joined by Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center, are understandably distressed that so many politicians – on both sides of the aisle – want to expand the amount of money being redistributed by the federal government. In a new Tax and Budget Bulletin, they make a very compelling case that the so-called earned income tax credit should be abolished rather than expanded.

Here’s the big picture.

…the earned income tax credit (EITC)…is a huge program. In 2015 it will provide an estimated $69 billion in benefits to 28 million recipients. The EITC is the largest federal cash transfer program for low-income households. …While the EITC is administered through the tax code, it is primarily a spending program. The EITC is “refundable,” meaning that individuals who pay no income taxes are nonetheless eligible to receive a payment from the U.S. Treasury. Of the $69 billion in benefits this year, about 88 percent, or $60 billion, is spending.

Now let’s look at some of the details. As is so often the case with government programs, the EITC started small but then quickly expanded.

In the early 1970s, policymakers considered ways to combat the anti-work effects of the growing welfare state. But rather than reining in the welfare state, they decided to expand it in 1975 by enacting the EITC. The credit was aimed at reviving work incentives… Initially, it was a 10- percent wage credit with a maximum value of $400… The EITC is a much larger program today than in 1975. It has credit rates up to 45 percent and a maximum credit of $6,242 in 2015. … expansions in 1986, 1990, 1993, and 2009 greatly increased the costs. …The EITC has increasingly become a spending program over time. The refundable portion of benefits has risen from 70 percent in 1990 to about 88 percent today.

Here’s a chart from their study showing both the growing number of dependents and the growing burden on taxpayers.

I have to imagine that this makes the EITC the fastest-growing redistribution program in Washington.

Chris and Veronique then list some of the reasons why the EITC is a harmful form of income redistribution.

First, it drives down wages, which hurts low-skilled workers who can’t get EITC payments while also providing undeserved subsidies for employers.

One side effect of the EITC is that, to the extent it works by pushing down market wages, it ends up hurting low earners who receive no EITC or a small EITC— mainly childless workers. The labor-supply effect of the EITC also means that the program acts partly as a subsidy to businesses that hire lower-skilled workers because they are able to pay reduced market wages.

Second, while supporters correctly argue that the EITC encourages poor people to enter the labor force (the handouts are tied to earning money), they conveniently overlook the fact that the program penalizes people who want to work more hours and climb the economic ladder.

…people have an incentive to reduce hours worked in both the flat and phase-out ranges of the credit. As it turns out, about three-quarters of people taking the EITC are in those two ranges where the work incentives are negative. …Consider a single parent with two children, as in Figure 2. She would have a disincentive to increase her work effort in the large income range from $13,870 all the way to $44,454.

Here’s a table from the report. The last column shows the “phase-out rate,” which is akin to a marginal tax rate on workers as they seek to earn more income. Keep in mind that these workers, depending on their incomes, will also be paying the payroll tax and the income tax.

So it’s easy to see why poor people face very high marginal tax rates that discourage them from additional productive effort.

Third, the EITC is riddled with fraud.

The EITC error rate has been more than 20 percent since at least the 1980s. The Internal Revenue Service reports that the EITC error and fraud rate in 2014 was 27 percent, which amounted to $18 billion in overpayments.

Though I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. There’s lots of Medicare fraud, Medicaid fraud, Food Stamps fraud,  and disability fraud, so this just seems to be an inevitable additional cost when governments spend money.

Fourth, the EITC is absurdly complex (like other parts of the tax code).

The EITC is a particularly complex credit. Benefits change as income rises, with four phase-in rates and three phase-out rates. It is adjusted by filing status and number of children. The rules regarding child eligibility are complex due to issues such as separation and divorce. There are rules and calculations regarding earned income, investment income, and adjusted gross income. …For individuals, the IRS guidebook for the EITC (Publication 596) is 37 pages long. But the rules are so complicated that more than two-thirds of all tax returns claiming the EITC are done by paid preparers.

Fifth, like all other forms of government spending, it’s important to calculate the economic burden that is imposed when resources are taken from the productive sector of the economy and transferred to government.

The process of extracting taxes damages the economy because it causes people to reduce their productive activities, such as working and investing. The harm from the behavioral responses to higher taxes is called “deadweight losses.” For the federal income tax, studies have found, on average, that the deadweight loss of raising taxes by a dollar is roughly 30 to 50 cents. … expanding the EITC—or any other federal spending program—would ultimately mean higher taxes, and thus more tax distortions and higher deadweight losses.

So what’s the bottom line?

Well, since great minds think alike, you won’t be surprised to see that Chris and Veronique also want to get the federal government out of the redistribution racket.

The EITC should not be expanded. Indeed, the best long-term solution would be to end the EITC, while also cutting other welfare programs… The credit creates a modest increase in workforce participation by single mothers, but that benefit is outweighed by the work disincentives during the phase-out range, billions of dollars of errors and fraud, substantial paperwork costs, and the damage caused by the higher taxes needed to fund the program.

Amen.

As I’ve repeatedly explained, redistribution programs are bad news for both poor people and taxpayers.

Yet our statist friends want to make the current system worse, with proposals for a government-guaranteed income. And they’re willing to lie to advance their agenda.

P.S. Click here for a video that explains why free markets are better than redistribution if you really want to help the less fortunate.

Read Full Post »

It’s no exaggeration to say that a nation’s long-run vitality and prosperity are correlated with the spirit of independence and self-reliance among its people.

Simply stated, if too many people thinks it’s okay to ride in the wagon of government dependency, that a troubling sign that social or cultural capital has eroded.

Government policy obviously plays a role, both because politicians create various redistribution programs and also because they can set rules that help determine whether there is any stigma for relying on taxpayers.

Some lawmakers even think recipients should be publicly identified, in part to weed out fraudsters and also to discourage dependency. Here are some passages from a story in the Washington Post.

If you receive government assistance in the state of Maine, Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald thinks the public has a right to know about it. …Macdonald said a bill will be submitted during Maine’s next legislative session “asking that a Web site be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole.” He added: “After all, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent.” …Macdonald told the Portland Press Herald that …“I hope this makes people think twice about applying for welfare.” …Publicly posting personal information, he said, could encourage people to go after those “gaming the system.”

Needless to say, this approach causes great consternation for some folks on the left.

Here’s some of what Dana Milbank wrote in his Washington Post column.

Rick Brattin, a young Republican state representative in Missouri, has…introduced House Bill 813, making it illegal for food-stamp recipients to use their benefits “to purchase cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.” …This is less about public policy than about demeaning public-benefit recipients. The surf-and-turf bill is one of a flurry of new legislative proposals at the state and local level to dehumanize and even criminalize the poor.

I admit it’s paternalistic, but if taxpayers are paying for someone else’s food, then shouldn’t they have the right to insist that recipients don’t buy junk food?

My view, of course, is that the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of redistributing income, but that’s an issue we discussed a few days ago.

Milbank also is upset that some lawmakers don’t want welfare benefits spent on frivolous things.

…the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2258, punishing the poor by limiting their cash withdrawals of welfare benefits to $25 per day and forbidding them to use their benefits “in any retail liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor, spa, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, pari-mutuel facility, or sexually oriented business . . . or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.” …another state that prohibits welfare funds for cruise ships is true-blue Massachusetts.

Again, I have to ask why it’s unreasonable for taxpayers to put limits on how welfare funds are spent?

Setting aside my desire to get Washington out of the business of maintaining a welfare state, shouldn’t the people paying the bills have some right to decide whether they want recipients going to massage parlors and casinos?

Let’s now look at a very real-world example of how our friends on the left are trying to make dependency easier and more respectable.

They now want to make it easier and less discomforting for folks to get food stamps. Here are some excerpts from a story in the Daily Caller.

A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) looked at whether it should get rid of in-person interviews for those who apply to receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is commonly known as food stamps. …the USDA with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) conducted a limited real-world test to see if the in-person interviews are needed.

The report looks at test cases in Utah and Oregon to gauge the impact on “client and worker outcomes,” but obviously didn’t consider the impact on taxpayers.

The report says that the increase of participants from 17 million in 2000 to nearly 47 million recipients in 2014 is one reason why the application process should be made easier and less costly, but others have argued that more relaxed entry requirements into the program are the very reason it has expanded so much.

The latter group is correct. If people can sign up for freebies over the phone, with very weak verification procedures, then it should go without saying that the burden on taxpayers will grow even faster.

And for purposes of our discussion today, this proposal would make it even easier for people to become dependents. The government already has turned food stamps into a welfare-state version of a debit card, which means that recipients feel less conspicuous about relying on taxpayers. Now they wouldn’t even have to visit a food stamp office when first signing up for the system!

The bottom line is that it will be very healthy for our nation if most people feel reluctant and/or embarrassed to become wards of the state.

Fortunately, there are some folks who already have this self-reliant streak. Here’s a blurb from some analysis by Angela Rachidi for the American Enterprise Institute.

…research shows that a sizeable number of eligible people do not participate in SNAP because they do not want government assistance. According to a 2003 USDA report on the subject, 27% of eligible non-participants indicated that they would not enroll in the program even if they were assured they were eligible. The report cited the desire to feel independent as the primary driver in not wanting benefits.

Thank goodness there are still a non-trivial number of Americans who don’t want to mooch off taxpayers.

By the way, you may be shocked to learn that the people of California are the least likely to sign up for food stamps.

Too bad the folks in Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington don’t have the same spirit of self reliance.

Heck, Vermont’s already famous for having the top spot in the Moocher Index.

P.S. While Dana Milbank apparently thinks there shouldn’t be any restrictions on food stamps, most taxpayers probably won’t be pleased to see these examples of their money being misspent.

Then Mr. Milbank can start investigating other examples of fraud, starting with Medicaid and the disability program.

Read Full Post »

As we get deeper into an election season, many politicians feel compelled to discuss how to deal with poverty.  And some of them may even be serious about trying to improve the system.

This hopefully will lead to big-picture discussions of key issues, such as why the poverty rate stopped falling in the mid-1960s.

If so, it helps to look past the headline numbers and actually understand the scope of the problem.

Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute explains that the official poverty data from the Census Bureau overstates the number of poor people.

…the official poverty rate is a positive embarrassment today. The poverty rate manifestly cannot do the single thing it was intended for: to count the number of people in our country subsisting below a fixed and absolute “poverty line.” Among its many other shortcomings, this index implicitly assumes that a family’s annual reported income is identical to its spending power… But income and spending patterns no longer track for the lowest income strata in modern America. …the bottom quintile of US households spent 130% more than their reported pretax income. The disparity between spending and income levels for poorer Americans has been gradually widening over time.

Though the shortcomings of the Census Bureau sometimes largely don’t matter because advocates of bigger government arbitrarily choose different numbers that further exaggerate the degree of poverty in the United States.

In a column for National Review, the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector exposes the dishonest tactic (promoted by the Obama Administration and used by the OECD) of measuring income differences instead of actual poverty.

The Left often claims that the U.S has a far higher poverty rate than other developed nations have. These claims are based on a “relative poverty” standard, in which being “poor” is defined as having an income below 50 percent of the national median. Since the median income in the United States is substantially higher than the median income in most European countries, these comparisons establish a higher hurdle for escaping from “poverty” in the U.S. than is found elsewhere.

Based on honest apples-to-apples numbers, the United States is just as capable as other developed nations of minimizing material deprivation.

A more meaningful analysis would compare countries against a uniform standard. …Garfinkel and his co-authors do exactly that. They measure the percentage of people in each country who fall below the poverty-income threshold in the U.S. ($24,008 per year for a family of four in 2014). The authors reasonably broaden the measure of income to include “non-cash” benefits such as food stamps, the earned-income tax credit, and equivalent programs in other nations. They also subtract taxes paid by low-income families, which are heavy in Europe. …the differences in poverty according to this uniform standard were very small. For example, the poverty rate in the U.S. was 8.7 percent, while the average among other affluent countries was around 7.6 percent. The rate in Germany was 7.3 percent, and in Sweden, it was 7.5 percent. Using a slightly higher uniform standard set at 125 percent of the U.S. poverty-income thresholds, the authors find that the U.S. actually has a slightly lower poverty rate than other affluent countries.

These numbers probably disappoint leftists who want to believe that European nations are somehow more generous and more effective in dealing with poverty.

But Robert explains that advocates of smaller government and individual responsibility should not be happy because the federal government’s profligacy isn’t helping poor people become self sufficient.

It is, of course, a good thing that left-wing claims of widespread deprivation in the U.S. are inaccurate. But government welfare policy should be about more than shoveling out a trillion dollars per year in “free” benefits. When President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, he sought to decrease welfare dependence and increase self-sufficiency: the ability of family to support itself above poverty without the need for government handouts. By that score, the War on Poverty has been a $24 trillion flop. While self-sufficiency improved dramatically in the decades before the War on Poverty started, for the last 45 years, it has been at a standstill.

Robert Doar and Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute make a very similar point about the welfare state failing to promote self sufficiency.

Recently released data show that the official poverty rate was 14.8% in 2014, only slightly below the 15% in poverty in 1970. And this is despite large increases in federal spending on anti-poverty programs.  Spending on these programs has increased almost tenfold in constant dollars since the early 1970s and increased from 1.0% of GDP in 1972 to 3.8% in 2012… Where does this leave us? If helping people achieve self-sufficiency and be free of government assistance is the goal, the safety net has largely failed. But if reducing material hardship is the goal, it performs well.

I would make a very important change to the above passage. Doar and Rachidi write that the poverty rate hasn’t declined “despite large increases” in supposed anti-poverty spending. Based on the evidence, it would be more accurate to say that poverty has stayed high “because of large increases.”

Simply stated, when you subsidize something, you get more of it.

Anyhow, all this matters for three reasons.

  • First, dependency is bad news for poor people, particularly when government subsidizes multi-generational poverty and unwed motherhood.
  • Second, the current welfare state is bad news for taxpayers, who are financing a $1 trillion income-redistribution system that fails in its most important task.
  • Third, the current system is bad news for the economy because millions of people are bribed to be out of the labor force, thus lowering potential output.

Let’s summarize what we know. The official poverty rate exaggerates the actual number of poor people by failing to properly measure income, but that may not matter much since proponents of more redistribution prefer to use dishonest numbers that are even more distorted.

And we also know that the welfare state is capable of redistributing lots of money, but also that it does a terrible job of promoting self sufficiency. Indeed, it’s almost certainly the case that massive levels of redistribution have had a negative effect.

So what’s the solution to this mess?

Folks on the left want even more of the same. But why should we expect that to have any positive effect? Indeed, it’s more likely that an expansion of the welfare state will simply lure more people into lives of sloth and dependency.

Some people on the right want to replace the welfare state with a guaranteed or basic income. This has some theoretical appeal, but it is based on the very shaky assumption that politicians could be convinced to completely repeal all existing redistribution programs.

Which is why the most prudent and effective step is to simply get the federal government out of the business of redistributing income and let state and local governments decide how best to deal with the issue.

This federalism-based approach has several advantages.

  1. Since redistributing income is not listed as an enumerated power, ending Washington’s role would be consistent with the Constitution.
  2. This federalism model already has been successfully tested with welfare reform in the 1990s and it also is the core feature of proposals to block grant Medicaid.
  3. A state-based model is far more likely to result in the degree of experimentation, diversity, and innovation needed to discover how best to actually promote self sufficiency.

By the way, this federalist system may begin with block grants from the federal government (i.e., transfers of cash to state and local governments), but the ultimate goal should be to phase out such subsidies so that state and local governments are responsible for choosing how to raise funds and how to allocate them.

And once welfare is truly a responsibility of state and local governments, we have good evidence that this will lead to better policy.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,965 other followers

%d bloggers like this: