Those Poor Bastards…


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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266 Responses

  1. Avatar MFarmer says:

    First of all, you need to produce examples of a significant number of people who propose kicking the the poor to the curb and letting them suffer, then you might have a righteous stance. If, indeed, it only requires pennies from all of us to support assistance efforts to care for the unfortunate, then surely private efforts will be more effective, local and compassionate. I for one, if my taxes were lower, would gladly donate a few thousand dollars to a private organization I’ve vetted and know to be excellent, and this would pay for the pennies some would not give. Overall, if caring for the poor and unfortunate is voluntary, I propose there would be more money going directly to the needy. In the Information Age, we can assess the private organizations and allow the cream to rise to the top, thus assuring that the money we give is used efficiently and effectively.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I am not understanding your logic here. If what you say is true, wouldn’t poverty have been eliminated long before the New Deal? This notion that if we weren’t taxed we would all voluntarily choose to end poverty and suffering to the best of our abilities seems to fly in the face of all human history, everywhere.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Prior to the New Deal, what would ending poverty have entailed?

        Making sure that all of the poor had enough nutrition to not constantly be hungry? To make sure that all of them had… what? 2000 calories a day?

        To make sure that all of the poor had clean water? Clean running water inside of the house? Toilets inside and not having to go outside and use the outhouse?

        Heat that came from something other than a fireplace or wood-burning stove?

        To make sure that all of the poor had an icebox that would allow them to keep food cold for days and keep from spoiling?

        Perhaps even a radio that the family could listen to and enjoy radio programs on an evening together?

        Or would getting rid of poverty before the New Deal mean something else?Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          I’m unsure of your point. Are you saying that by not defining poverty, it does not exist? Or that hunger, medical attention, housing, etc., are semantic issues?

          I know you’re trying to lead me somewhere, but I can’t tell where.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            It seems to me that poverty exists in more than one sense.

            There is a sense that has to deal with nutrition, clean water, shelter, food, and so on.

            There is a second sense of poverty that exists in relation to technology.

            I probably would have hoped to have someone point out how, sure, everybody may have 2000 calories a day, running water and indoor plumbing, heaters, refrigerators, and televisions… but that doesn’t mean that we’ve come even *CLOSE* to eliminating poverty!

            At that point I’d probably ask them for a list similar to the list I provided for what eliminating poverty prior to the new deal would look like and ask what eliminating poverty in 2011 would look like.

            Depending on whether or not they provided one, I suppose I would ask whether we could reasonably say that someone in 2085 who had these things could possibly be considered “in poverty”.

            But that’s under ideal circumstances. I’m pretty sure that the conversation would disintegrate long before that.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              I wouldn’t begin to try to describe what will be a necessity on 2085. Perhaps someone without the standard telepathy implant can’t hope to compete in school. Or perhaps the majority of people live ecstatically with a few millicredits worth of electricity stimulating their pleasure centers. Why would answering an unanswerable question be required to discuss poverty in the real world?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Because if poverty in the real world means something in 1800 and something else, something else entirely, in 2085, it may be worth asking whether elimination of poverty is even possible in theory.

                If it is not possible in theory, I suspect that there is a dynamic at work that is more worth exploring than taking opportunities to reiterate the importance of doing the impossible.Report

              • I don’t see Mr. Kelly as arguing for the “elimination” of poverty. In fact, his andrewlloydweberian spin on the poorwillalwaysbewithye meme suggests poverty is something to address.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Here’s something that bugs me about that.

                Using your definition, the man who invents telepathy implants will be creating poverty.

                The guy who invents direct electrical stimulation of pleasure centers is creating poverty.

                This seems to directly follow from what you’re saying. If I’m wrong, please explain to me how I’m wrong.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Using your definition, the man who invents telepathy implants will be creating poverty.

                Not immediately and not necessarily. If society remakes itself so that the implants are a necessity for school and work, and the implants are more expensive than whatever they replace as communications technology, then, yes, he’s added a new barrier to lifting oneself out of poverty.

                That’s one reason it’s hard to eliminate poverty: the bar keeps being raised. That doesn’t mean we’re spoiling our poor people, or that someone squatting in a condemned building in an unsafe neighborhood with crappy schools and no job prospects gets any value out of the fact that Louis XIV didn’t have an iPod.

                The guy who invents direct electrical stimulation of pleasure centers is creating poverty.

                Give how little electricity that takes, I’d guess alleviating it, at least ignoring secondary effects (like it being more addictive than crack.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                There are benefits that are created along with the costs.

                The internet, for example, as impoverishing of the poor as it is, has probably created more than a hundred times as much wealth as it has created poverty.

                I imagine that if we reach the point where society remakes itself due to telepathy implants, there will be a huge leap as well.

                As for the poor… we can hook them up with rooms of their own, clean water, indoor toilets, refrigerators, televisions, and direct stimulation of their pleasure centers. That problem will then be poised to take care of itself.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The internet, for example, as impoverishing of the poor as it is, has probably created more than a hundred times as much wealth as it has created poverty.

                Agreed. Should we spend a bit of that wealth to help those who were left behind? I think so.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Should we spend a bit of that wealth to help those who were left behind?

                Help them what?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Learn. I see no reasonw hy the us gov’t should be less charitable than Carnegie, who bequeathed us public libraries so that we might learn While He Wasn’t Paying UsReport

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Help them learn?

                We’re doing all of our charity wrong, then.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Help them compete, in the classroom, the job market, and any other places that help them climb out of poverty.Report

              • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

                I’d say more along the lines that economic prosperity creates new opportunities for wealth redistribution to contribute to human happiness. I’m perfectly fine with shifting goal posts of the welfare state, because I do not see the problem so much one of eliminating poverty but as a technocratic question of how we can maximize the benefits of economic prosperity.

                In brief, I subscribe to a diminishing marginal utility of money justification of wealth redistribution. A poor person being able to buy food and health care contributes vastly more to human welfare than my ability to take a vacation to Europe. The question is how much wealth redistribution is efficient before one destroys the incentive of the rich to contribute to the ta coffers and of the poor to join the class that’s paying for wealth redistribution. The answer to this question will depend on ambient economic conditions, and in general, greater economic prosperity will lead to a greater scope for efficient redistribution.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              JB – Does the goal in fact have to be the elimination of poverty? I am pretty sure doing so is not possible except on paper – those communist or libertarian utopias where if we just really really believe and are pure of heart and policy it will all come true.

              Still, it seems that we as a society might have two responsibilities: To do what we can do to end unnecessary suffering – especially providing food, shelter, etc to those with none in times of plenty. And to live up to the ideal of equal opportunity. A poor neighborhood where neither most families nor schools have access to computers might fall into this category. What is the answer in these cases? Providing free computers for anyone that doesn’t have one does not seem an ideal solution; but neither does taking whole sections of society – young children included – and saying “sucks to be you.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If the goal is not the elimination of poverty then we are acknowledging that there will always be poverty.

                Having done that, we’re merely haggling over what would consist of an acceptable level of poverty given the various costs involved.

                (Ain’t nothing wrong with that, of course.)Report

              • I agree there’s nothing wrong with that. But I interpret Mr. Kelly’s post to be a critique centered pretty much on how people tend to approach haggling over what would consist of an acceptable level of poverty given the various costs involved.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Yes, I think this is exactly what I do advocate. Or maybe what I advocate was put best by Will-T below:

                “How do you help those that need it without discouraging people from helping themselves?”

                This seems a question worth asking when making public policy decisions. (As oppressed to the standard “They’re Victims”/”They’re Freeloaders” stuff we get caught up in now)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that once we establish that poverty does not exist as a thing in itself (that is, a certain amount of calories, square feet to call one’s own, clean water, etc) but as a thing that exists in relation to everybody else, I’d go back to my old argument of pushing the engine of technological growth faster.

                Let’s reach the point where we’re discussing whether it’s unfair that the impoverished only have so many entertainment options.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I will drink to that. (Literally… I’m about to go pour. Hey, it’s Sunday night.)Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Jaybird, tip o’ the virtual hat to you for an absolutely brilliant insight into this discussion. “Poverty” as a term is bandied about (especially by a certain political party that wants to gain points by class warfare) when in fact in the truest sense of the term it doesn’t exist in this country (ie, compared to REAL poverty in 3rd world countries). One of my last posts on this site elsewhere concerned exactly this, but you worded it so much better than I did.

                What “poverty” is bent to mean is simply “in relation to” someone wealthier. Therefore as a millionaire, I’m in “poverty” because I don’t have as much as Bill Gates. This is clearly false. This is also clearly at the base of the class warfare argument and several of the comments here, such as “computers for the poor”. Let’s see, 10 yrs After said, “Tax the rich, feed the poor, till there are no rich no more”. That was how many years ago?

                The “poor” will indeed be with us always, especially with the new improved definition of poor, but the poorest person in America is about 10 times wealthier than a “wealthy” person in any primitive tribe on this planet.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Let’s reach the point where we’re discussing whether it’s unfair that the impoverished only have so many entertainment options.

                We could give everyone in America iPods and big-screen TVs for a tiny fraction of the cost of solving the real problems (housing, safety, schools, health care.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Housing, safety, schools, health care.

                How many of those involve changing the culture? I’m counting at least the two in the middle.

                It seems to me that in order to provide those two things, we have to act to a degree that I’m pretty sure you won’t be comfortable with.

                Hell, I’m not comfortable coming up with examples.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                A fair amount of safety would come from ending the War on Drugs. I think we’re both for that. Schools is harder, though lots of voluntary elementary and secondary programs and second chances (really first-rate community colleges) would provide opportunities for people ready to take advantage of them. That costs money, but it’s well spent.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                yeah, I totally dig awesome community colleges. not everyone’s ready to learn at age 14Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m absolutely for that.

                That’s only going to solve some of the safety problem, though. If we’re lucky, it will solve most of it and if we’re *VERY* lucky, it will solve enough of it. Feel lucky?

                One of the things I walked away from our discussions with the various teachers we have here with us (SHOUT OUT TO RUFUS!) is that the problem isn’t necessarily the teachers. Even good teachers can only do so much.

                This problem won’t be improved by better teachers with better facilities.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                the schooling problem will improve and continue to improve. it already has improved dramatically. Adult literacy rates are nearly 100%. They used to be about 75%.

                If we make better ways for kids to learn, the kids will learn more. Personally, I favor video games (of the not “reactiontype”). Kids’ll play them the whole day long, and forget to eat if you let ’em. (maybe it’s just me…?)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I hear a great deal about functional illiteracy and inability to get to certain levels when it comes to test scores.

                I can totally appreciate that one man’s functional illiteracy is another man’s functional literacy and I also know that testing is an absolutely horrible way to measure achievement… but I also know that we’re stuck with the tools we have and I don’t know that things are so much better than, say, the 80s or 90s.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                nonetheless, I believe things are better nowadays — and not through tests scores, but through the internet. as it’s a predominantly textual medium, the urge for children to learn to be literate is higher.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                You can’t make people learn. You can sure as hell be there when they decide that they want to learn. We don’t do enough of that.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Tod, the merest child understands Dickens’ argument against Scrooge. It takes an adolescent mind to embrace Ayn Rand’s argument in his favor, and an adult one to sort out the difference.

                (As oppressed to the standard “They’re Victims”/”They’re Freeloaders” stuff we get caught up in now)

                With all due respect, you’re the one who’s caught up in it; none of your interlocutors here argue the latter, and in the real world few except university sophomores and Ron Paul-ites.

                The discussion as you frame it here simply isn’t taking place, except in bull session abstract and symbolic protest votes [for Paul].

                Well, there are those who are pumping the “They’re all victims” line, come to think of it. Put on your marching shoes.

                [Can you imagine marching 40 hrs a week? That would be a lot like work.]Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Am I imagining it? If so, then – well, good, I suppose. But I’m not sure that I am. Over simplifying, perhaps, but I might suggest the whole “people earning less than the poverty line should plug the deficit hole because they aren’t pulling their weight” thing is kind of like saying “freeloaders”

                This, though:

                “Tod, the merest child understands Dickens’ argument against Scrooge. It takes an adolescent mind to embrace Ayn Rand’s argument in his favor, and an adult one to sort out the difference.”

                That’s TVD at his best.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            I’m unsure of your point. Are you saying that by not defining poverty, it does not exist?

            I think the point is that it’s a moving target. How do you combat and attempt to eradicate something that you cannot define?Report

            • Avatar Herb says:

              Moving targets are defined by comparing them to what they’re moving against.

              Also, I think it should be noted that poverty doesn’t mean you’re hungry. It doesn’t mean you have no clothes or no shelter. It means you have no money.

              So it’s not even a moving target. If you have no money….even if you’re fed, clothed, and sheltered…you’re poor.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                If one gets $40K in social services, he’s still poor, by definition, no?Report

              • Avatar Herb says:

                Yes, because you can provide a poor person with all the things they will buy with money…but if they still have no money, they are still poor.Report

              • Avatar NoPublic says:

                Hence the term “House Poor”Report

              • Avatar Herb says:

                Well I was actually thinking of people living in public housing on food stamps getting clothing vouchers from the Salvation Army. These things do not make a person wealthy, do not improve one’s upward mobility.

                Or life on the rez. Free housing, free education, healthcare, and yet these are the poorest places in the country.

                Give me 40K worth of social services and I’ll be grateful. But I’ll still need 4 bucks to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                depends on whether you see wealth or income as the defining trait of poverty/richnessReport

            • Avatar Will H. says:

              I don’t think that poverty is one single thing.
              Poverty is more of a symptom, like a cough.
              Similarly, there is no one cure for poverty, the same as there is no one cure for all coughing.

              That’s the big fallacy that I see here, is that poverty is taken to be one single thing.
              I submit that it is not.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “Prior to the New Deal, what would ending poverty have entailed?”

          Jaybird, if you aren’t careful you’re going to expose yourself as a Heritage Foundation plant.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          No sadirons, women without scars running up their arms from burns.
          What, nobody else remembers LBJ?Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        Todd, even if were true that before the New Deal efforts weren’t being made to hep the poor, we’re talking now about 2011, and much has changed, especially in our attitudes toward helping others, and our ability to organize and do so. It does no good to go back in time and look at old attitudes, old economies, old political systems, when we’re talking about innovative approached to current problems. If we’re looking at ways in 2011 to make sure racism is eradicated, it does no good to look at 1802 attitudes regarding race relations as anything except a marker showing how much we’ve advanced. Things change, attitudes change, our abilities change, and to be stuck in a statist mindset is anti-progressive.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          So at the end of the day, what is the difference between faith in this model – the one that will will now if we just have faith – and the communist model?Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            The models are different, and one will work, while the other can’t work due to economic realities, and even if it was forced to exist wouldn’t be something we’d want to go through or suffer.

            But, really, is this a serious question? We have plenty of evidence showing that communism is no longer a viable model. I suppose your premise is that both are utopian schemes, but that’s an evasion. Private assistance is a serious proposal that deserves more than the “utopian” dismissal or the cynic’s assurance that people are too self-centered to donate and participate in private efforts to provide for the unfortunate.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              It is a serious question. I get that the models are different; and are intact opposites. But I have a hard time not seeing them as opposite sides of the same coin. Each to me seems to rely on the “of course it hasn’t worked before – those people weren’t pure enough” kind of arguments, which I reflexively tend to mistrust.

              My problem with relying on private assistance is that we used to do that, and it worked for so few people that we developed large government bureaucracies to take care of the problem. I get that we have the internet now and we didn’t before; but I am not convinced that the core issue before was lack of web browsing capabilities. I do agree that today we can use this technology to see which private providers do a better job than others; I lack confidence that this is how we will choose to use our time.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Conversely, I can say that faith in the State to maintain an efficient and effective welfare state is misguided, and we have plenty of proof that with spending and unfunded liabilities, we’re headed for collapse or the type of austerity that always hurts the poor. The stagnant economy will begin declining as we get in a negative loop of transferring more and more wealth from the private sector to feed government spending, causing permanently high umemployment, the need for more government assistance and therefore higher and higher taxes, causing more dependence on government which will cause…. on and on. I believe all paternalistic, bureacratic, statist nations will meet this fate in the longrun, and now going on a century, it’s beginning to show in America, as it’s showing in Greece, Spain, Italy, etc, and will show in Germany and Northern Europe unless serious changes are made. Just because some countries are still maintaining with a welfare state doesn’t answer the systemic realities we’ve seen before in Russia and Britain, South American countries, the Roman empire, etc.

                It makes more sense from a practical standpoint for a free market to create the new wealth required for expansion, opportunity and the ability to help the least fortunate. It has become obvious to me, at least, that statism eventually prevents the necessary economic environment in which new wealth can be created in order to grow and accomplish the social goals we’ve set for ourselves. You minimize how much Americans helped one another before the New Deal, and there’s plenty of evidence now to suggest that the turn of 20th century statist direction caused the length and depth of the Great Depression, thereby creating the serious crisis it then set out to remedy.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                I also think you underestimate the charitable spirit of Americans when challenged. One legitimate role of political leaders is to use their positions to speak to the deeper parts of all of us, and if leaders challenged a still wealthy America to take charge of assistance to the needy, great organizations would arise, and those who’ve benefitted most by being born in a free country would donate generously, and the average person would have no problem donating, especially if the need and effort are marketed and kept at the forefront of people’s minds — donating would become expected, and it wouldn’t hurt anyone to have donations come out of banking accounts automatically each month. Plus entertainers would do charity events, and thousands of innovative fund-raising ideas would develope and become regular events. It would give a charge to Americans’ spirits that is sorely needed at a time when many people feel helpless to act and make a difference. Plus, to support such assistance organizations is also a self-protection action in case I need assistance one day. I have no doubt at all it would work better than the welfare state, but I can’t prove it, so it’s just a difference in how we view things I guess. And, it doesn’t take “pure” people, just regular, flawed people like you and I.Report

              • Avatar Creon Critic says:

                MFarmer, according to this theory, shouldn’t charitable giving have exploded over the course of the past five decades as the top rate of tax fell from 91% to 33%? And also, it appears the relatively less well off are more generous than the wealthy, this for instances from the NYT,

                For decades, surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans….

                “Upper class” people, on the other hand, clung to values that “prioritized their own need.” And, he told me this week, “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.” Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.
                This compassion deficit — the inability to empathetically relate to others’ needs — is perhaps not so surprising in a society that for decades has seen the experiential gap between the well-off and the poor (and even the middle class) significantly widen.…

                The researcher the Times interviews goes on to say the attitude he found is not fixed in stone, but I’d hesitate in cutting the welfare state in the hopes of relying on the generosity of the well off.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                How can I argue with unnnamed surveys? You’ve got me.

                But, really, most people want to believe the State is taking care of the problem, so as long as the welfare state is intact, we won’t know what people will actually do in a private system. You see, I’m suggesting things will be different if people are challenged to handle the problem privately. Surveys show that the welfare state has dampened charity donations.Report

              • Avatar Creon Critic says:

                MFarmer, sourcing, perfectly reasonable request, here’s a chart from a Portfolio piece. their source, the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey. Or a 2007 survey of consumer expenditures by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Sociological Images. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey portal here.

                There is ongoing need for additional charitable giving today, in addition to the efforts of the welfare state. I’m skeptical of the claim that but for the big welfare state (not so big and not so generous compared to the United States’ OECD peers), communities across the US would band together to solve our poverty-based social ills.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                That article is stupid Creon. 40 MILLION people would /each/ have to donate $1000 to equal ONE Bill Gates. The key statement is “might”. Apparently in the class warfare consciousness of the “researcher” the wealthy (ie, not him) /could/ give more, therefore the /should/ give more.

                The robber barons of old made vast sums and donated vast sums to charity. Also the rising tide floats all boats, so the improved market economy raised the standard of living for hundreds of millions. Of course in some minds that will never be enough because it is always them vs us. Damn /them/ anyway, how DARE they be successful?!!?Report

              • Avatar Creon Critic says:

                For all those singing the praises of private charity I recommend Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                wordsmith, I think Creon was using this data to refute Mike’s argument that private parties will go ahead and pick up the tab for social services if they have enough money. I think you can look at this data and conclude that such a scenario is unlikely without jumping to a “how dare they!” sentiment. Does it have to be all or nothing?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                To steal an old phrase, the rich man’s conciseness is sated far before the poor man’s stomach. It’s been true since the beginning of time and will continue to be true until the end of time.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                I don’t mind Gates making more than me. He seems like a nice enough bloke. Then again, Gates and family are pro-higher taxes for the rich.

                Wealth-generating Rich Folk (as opposed to the “landed rich” who inherited their money) never mind a few % worth of more taxes — they know that it’s a piece of cake to liberate such wealth from the middle/lower class.

                It ain’t so easy to liberate the wealth from the landed rich.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                The Left should be careful, because an impression could develope that the Left is more concerned with maintaining a powerful State than finding innovative ways to ensure those in need receive a helping hand — surely this isn’t the case.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                my ideal state includes a robust and healthy private charities system, with a strong public welfare division that doesn’t actually wind up helping many people (just the people that fall through the cracks of the private charities).

                Somehow I think your ideal state ain’t that different. 😉

                In skepticism we trust.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Kimmi, I could buy that.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Fundamentally, the issue is whether money that lands in the cesspool that is gov’t spending and taxation gets “cleaned” when it goes to “charitable” causes. We know darn good and well that microcents on the dollar make it to legitimate social programs to actually help “the poor”. The rest goes to boondoggles and political payola to cronies or the military industrial complex.

                Why /wouldn’t/ a wealthy person want to circumvent that whole process? One wouldn’t even need to be wealthy, the middle class can and does contribute billions per year to charities. Statistics lie because they don’t really count church as charity. The portfolio piece excludes tithing I suspect.

                This quote in the article is telling however, “The working poor—families with the same income level as welfare recipients but who receive all their money from employment—are the big givers”.

                On the one hand we have the poor who work, and give and the welfare recipient (equally poor) who only receives and presumably doesn’t give. I believe that.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                Why do you believe that social interaction is the responsibility only of the gazillionaires?

                What is it that makes you doubt that common people can do great things?Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                Here’s the flaw:
                You’re still on the greater-to-lesser kick.
                These great people should help those lesser people.

                My view is that the greater and lesser are equals, and the unfortunate should be empowered.
                I have good reason for saying such a thing.

                I was homeless on the streets of Los Angeles when I was 18 years old. I lived under an abandoned house.
                Fast forward some 25 years later, and I’m taking home $2000 a week.
                Next month, I go for a certification that will increase my income by 50%.

                So, two possibilities exist:
                Either there’s nothing really so special about me personally, and anyone can do it, or there is something very, very special about me as a person– in which case the rest of Planet Earth had darned well better start acting like it.

                Personally, I believe in the first of those two.
                Though is one happens to believe in the second, then I would certainly encourage it.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > So, two possibilities exist.

                I count at least three.

                One: there’s nothing really so special about you, personally, and anyone can do it.

                Two: there is something very, very special about you as a person.

                Three: you’ve gone from being an outlier on one side to an outlier on another, due to a large collection of factors (some of which were out of your control and some of which were in your control) and the laws of probability distribution.

                I think the third is probably the most likely explanation.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                You intrigue me.
                Please explain.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              gotta reasonable argument that communism is still functional on small scales. Kibbitzim.

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      your money wouldn’t pay for the sociopaths who make most of the money in our system. It’s possible you would be able and willing to contribute your tax burden in charitable donations, but truly, it’s implausible to see the people who currently demand/propagandize for a lower tax burden than actual working people actually giving enough money away to square the circle.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      I agree with this statement very much.
      The weekend before last, I picked up a fellow from the side of the road in Effingham and gave him a ride for 70 miles. I took him to the Chinese buffet so he could get a good meal, bought him a hotel room so he could do his laundry, and gave him $5. Unasked for.
      However, if I gave at the office, then I gave at the office, and no one is going to pry one single dime from my hand.
      I also give to various animal shelters, the Boy Scouts, the Lion’s Club, as well as giving odd jobs to neighbors in need.
      At issue, really, is whether those other social institutions should be strengthened in our society or should they all be replaced with a government program.

      I really don’t see how it could possibly be the legitimate function of government to end poverty.Report

  2. Avatar greginak says:

    I’ve always thought of poverty as an indicator of justness and health of a society. While there will always be people who are slothful and poor( and of course slothful and middle class and slothful and rich) having large numbers of poor people and certain groups caught in generational poverty suggests a society with not eno0ugh ladders up, systematic bias and institutional road blocks. A country with a small group getting richer and richer, a middle class treading water and a the poor slowly growing sounds like a place where the rich have gamed the system for themselves at the expense of everybody else.Report

  3. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Like many “truths” we cling to, this common sentiment is only true in certain situational extremes.

    With all due respect, Mr. Kelly, you skated around the sui generis single mother problem completely here and threw it into the undifferentiated soup. I do not believe this accommodates the “truth” you aim to seek.

    The correlation between poverty and single motherhood is [or should be] as uncontroversial as that with sloth, drug addiction, etc. In all of these case/afflictions/situations, poverty should be no surprise, a “certain situational extreme.”Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Tom, I wasn’t attempting to say why I thought the single mother was poor. I was trying to say that “the reason people are poor is because they don’t work hard” is only true in some more extreme examples.

      I agree that single parenthood and drug addiction are factors in poverty. I’m not sure what I said that led you to believe I would argue otherwise.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        I was trying to say that “the reason people are poor is because they don’t work hard” is only true in some more extreme examples.

        Yes, Mr. Kelly. But you need to prove that rather than assert it. Especially if you’re going to drag me into this, which you already have, as if I’m inaccurate about something.

        I said there’s a correlation between sloth and poverty. Outside wastrels like Kennedys and Hiltons, I submit there are few rich sloths.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          I thought I had made my case for this in the OP. Also, apologies if you feel “dragged into” – as I said, I used your phrase because of your writing style, not because you are this idea’s champion. Perhaps I should have not cited – but fwiw, I had done so out of admiration rather than anything else.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Then you have known few rich people then. I’m not claiming any stats, but i’ve known quite few rich folk who coasted on their daddy’s or grand dad’s money.

          I don’t think anyone would claim there isn’t some correlation between sloth and poverty, but there are other factors that the strict “they are just lazy” bit misses.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Well, now that’s cleared up, Messrs. Kelly & Gregniak. How we treat substance abuse and other irresponsibility is the test of the decency of our society.

            Because aside from stupid abstractions like that debate question about letting the 30-yr-old without insurance die in the street, there’s little controversy except from the [again abstract] Ayn Rand quarter that we as a [post-?]Christian society wish to provide for the unlucky and the victimized.

            Am I right that we can never solve the issue of poverty – and if so, should we just approach it in a constantly morphing palliative manner? Should we just kick them to the curb, wash our hand of them and be done with it? What should we do with those poor bastards?

            The liberal wants to help the poor. The leftist seeks to abolish poverty.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Because aside from stupid abstractions like that debate question about letting the 30-yr-old without insurance die in the street, there’s little controversy except from the [again abstract] Ayn Rand quarter that we as a [post-?]Christian society wish to provide for the unlucky and the victimized.

              I’m not sure I agree entirely with this. Certainly there is an insistence among many that we not use government to assist. And while I think that there are efficiency reasons for such a position, the whole “welfare queens” style of argument has always suggested to me that lots of people have a problem with assistance in general.Report

            • Avatar Jeff says:

              “stupid abstractions like that debate question about letting the 30-yr-old without insurance die in the street”

              How nice that Ron Paul’s former assistant is a “stupid abstraction”! I’m sure his family appreciates it!Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                What’s your problem, man? It was a hypothetical question.

                Wolf Blitzer: You’re a physician, Ron Paul, so you’re a doctor, you know something about this subject. Let me ask you this hypothetical question: A healthy, 30-year old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, “You know what? I’m not going to spend 200 or 300 dollars a month for health insurance, because I’m healthy, I don’t need it.” But something terrible happens. All of a sudden, he needs it. Who’s going to pay for it if he goes into a coma? Who pays for that?

                Ron Paul: In a society that you accept welfare-ism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him…

                WB: What do you want?

                RP: …but what he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would be to have a major medical policy, but not be forced…

                WB: But he doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have it, and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

                RP: That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. [Applause] This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody… [Applause]

                WB: But, Congressman, are you saying the society should just let him die?

                RP: No! [A few audience members shout “Yeah”. Laughter.] I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid in the early 1960s, when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital at San Antonio, and the churches took care of them. We never turned anybody away from the hospitals! And we’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves, assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it. This whole idea—that’s the reason the cost is so high! The cost is so high because we dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy, it becomes special interests, it kowtows to the insurance companies and the drug companies, and then on top of that, you have the inflation. The inflation devalues the dollar. We have lack of competition. There’s no competition in medicine! Everybody’s protected by licensing.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                bullshitty fucking gynecologist. never turned a person away? Also never did an abortion.

                A laughingstock.

                (not about his politics, about never finding a medically necessary abortion)Report

          • Avatar Jon Rowe says:

            It’s a dangerous game to throw $ at young adults thinking they can coast.

            The pattern I notice is a rich parent, very caught up in his or her life, who simultaneously neglects the trust fund baby while throwing $ at them. That’s a recipe for self destructive narcissistic sociopathy that will wind you up in jail.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Hiltons? Paris built a brand name and capitalized on it in a dozen different ways. You may not approve of her, but she’s as much a wastrel as Jeff Bezos.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          “I said there’s a correlation between sloth and poverty. Outside wastrels like Kennedys and Hiltons, I submit there are few rich sloths.”

          I’m not convinced this is so; it seems to me to be selective observation. I think if we see someone that makes $200k and works 60 hours a week, we think “He’s successful because he works hard.” If we see someone work 60 hours a week that needs govt assistance, we selectively don’t attach it to this argument.

          Similarly, I think if we see someone on food stamps that goes home from a min wage job and smokes dope & games, we say he needs govt assistance because he’s lazy. But if we see someone that makes $100k that goes home and does the same thing (and I have known a lot of people like this), we likewise don’t mentally fold it into our observational data.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Tod, the $100K gamer/doper works 40 hrs a week that someone’s willing to pay him for. Blurring the distinction between him and the complete sloth is part of my original objection.

            Neither is the “complete sloth” a fiction or even necessarily a minority. To get some arm’s length, in the UK, they call life on the dole “the game.” Even sloth has its rules.Report

            • I doubt that the sloth is ever “completely a sloth.”Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Hell no, Pierre: playing the public assistance game requires something very nearly resembling “work.” Showing up for appointments now & then, filling out forms!

                And for the sake of illustration on all this, let’s go thought experiment and arm’s length, since race is always in the background if not the foreground for the self-selected Champions of the Poor and in the minds of the true enemy of mankind, the racist non-left. [Non-left is racist by definition.]

                Per Theodore Dalrymple, let’s stipulate we’re talking about whites in the UK, what do you say? The argument is the same.

                Americans may find it surprising that most of the people wallowing in this slough of ignorance, illiteracy, promiscuity, bastardy, intoxication, vice, folly, lawlessness, and hopelessness are white English people. Much of what is described here is the sort of thing Americans instinctively associate with this country’s own black underclass. There is some satisfaction, I suppose, though of a very melancholy kind, to be drawn from the revelation that sufficiently wrong-headed social policies, persisted in with sufficiently dogged refusal to face simple truths, will visit moral catastrophe on people of any race. [Derbyshire]


              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The English are entirely capable of despising white people who come from the wrong region or speak with the wrong accent as anyone else is of despising people with the wrong skin color.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            “If we see someone work 60 hours a week that needs govt assistance, we selectively don’t attach it to this argument. ”

            What’s all this we shit, white man? I certainly don’t look at a person who works a 60-hour week and needs food stamps as a moral failure. I might wonder how that person got into a situation where 60 hours a week at minimum wage doesn’t provide for their basic needs, but my mind doesn’t automatically jump to “has less money = inferior morals”.

            I guess what I’m saying here is “nice strawman”.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              DD, if you don’t look at the nice lady in the grocery store paying with food stamps and make certain knee jerk judgements about her, good for you. But I think you’re kidding yourself about how we think of the poor if you think that’s a straw man.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Depends on if she leaves in a nicer car than me, Tod.

                But ascribing ill thoughts in the checkout line to some theoretical [non-left] person really doesn’t advance the real world discussion, man. We all dig A Christmas Carol, man.

                [Thx for the props on that. Took half a day to compose and sort of worked backwards from it. But seriously, we’re all more like Scrooge’s nephew than Scrooge. Or Ayn Rand.]Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                What if she had the nicer car before she got laid off? Or, what’s an acceptable make and model car for a poor person to have? Is a 2002 model too nice? Or is it 2003?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I look forward to your explanation of why it’s unacceptable for us to look askance at someone loading WIC-purchased food into a late-model luxury SUV with numerous aftermarket custom features–that is their car, not their boyfriend’s (or girlfriend’s, or father’s) car.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Wait, if you can afford a car, and petrol and road tax and insurance etc how is it that you are poor?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                It’s unacceptable for as long as I get a fucking tax writeoff for donating that SUV to charity. You, sir, have no idea if that SUV was even paid for by the person.

                Now, you’ll indeed bear in mind that I fully support a carless society, and I further support a rental-car society (see ZipCar), but until we get to such a point, you’re going to have to deal with cars being a necessary item.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Ah yes, there’s always an explanation. There’s always a reason that the white guy is wrong. I mean, we don’t know anything about anything. Maybe all of those cars were donated. Whatever’s necessary to make the welfare queen argument be wrong.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Cars are not necessary. There is always the public transport system. Cars are essentially luxury goods, especially if you live in the city.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                The degree of truth in this may be pretty directly related to where you live.

                Also, fwiw where I live those that advocate for removing public assistance programs also advocate for getting rid of public transportation.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                welfare queens, if they ever existed, were probably merely making money in the underground economy. That seems a lot more likely than being able to afford shit on welfare, don’t it?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You don’t need a car unless you live in a rural area.

                I know several people who live, carless, in Los Angeles County. A couple of them even work 30+ miles from where they live.

                It is extremely inconvenient, but it does save you a shitpile of money every year.Report

              • Avatar Jon Rowe says:

                I suspect if the welfare queen drives a Cadillac, she finances it with a high interest subprime car loan that she really can’t afford.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Aye, Mr. Duck. Earned Income Credit [EIC], where the working poor get a little “negative” tax bonus from Uncle Sam [i.e., the fellow taxpayer] is popular across the board of ideologies. Work 60 hrs a week [hell, 40, 30, 20], and you’re helping to pull the wagon instead of riding on it.

              Some can’t, but most can, or at least they can try. I dunno about you, but effort is all I’m talking about here. That much a human being has control over, regardless of situation or circumstance.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              good. we glad you not dumb, man.
              But we got plenty of evidence that a lot of people think “poor blacks are lazy.” So it ain’t a strawman, even if it ain’t you either.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            Not quite topical but obliquely relevant to this discussion is <a href=""Joe Legal vs Jose Illegal. Yup racist and all that, but also quite accurate on its substance.Report

          • Avatar Will H. says:

            There are a few things that I’ve noticed that have helped me that seem to have hindered others in a way.
            One is that I was never really attached to one geographical location. I have a place that I will always feel like is “home,” but I understood at an early age that the work wasn’t there. Others seem to have no will to move beyond the very spot where they popped out of the womb. This is what I call the “magnet ass.” They have a magnet in their asses that keep them from going on to better things.
            It’s not “sloth” really; it’s a failure to adapt.
            The other big that that I see is taking opportunities as they come. I was very mercenary in seizing opportunities, because I understood very well that I was expendable to the company. I saw that at an early age. Some others seem to think that they should have one job and one job only for all of their lives.
            Neither one of those deficiencies amounts to “sloth,” though they can certainly be detrimental to achievement.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          *snort* yeah. there are few rich sloths? man, you’re funny today!Report

  4. Avatar Matty says:

    Another way to look at it? How about poverty as a social stability issue?

    When people see that they don’t have what others have and see no way of getting it then they start to feel they are not part of the same society. They may decide there is no point in playing by the rules and turn to crime or they may decide the rules need changing and turn to some kind of radical politics, either way poverty ends up as a threat to the rich and the middle not just the poor.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      This is an excellent point, I think.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        Its also fairly Rawlsian. The question is whether they will do this based on absolute or relative poverty levels and whether they can be discouraged from doing this by certain educational and social engineering measures.Report

        • Avatar Matty says:

          Good questions, and not ones I have answers to. I simply find this a more interesting discussion to have in relation to poverty than asking whose ‘fault’ it is.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            The question of whose fault is also fairly answered. Consider an ideal situation where all the members of society are both rational and reasonable. They accept the principles of justice and are able to make rational life plans based on legitimate expectations about what returns they will get given the existant basic structure. The basic structure mitigates for bad luck, but not necessarily for bad choices. Clearly, given a particular institutional structure and particular knowledge of what talents and opportunities one can have, there is a rational plan of action that would help you pursue your goals and conception of the good.

            However, the basic structure is to treat instances of irrationality, there is a clear way to distinguish between what is owed to accident and what is owed to actions. (leaving aside issues of whether our characters themselves are a product of accident or not). If anything is our fault, our own uncoerced choices are.

            The key thing is whether there are the relevant kinds of incentives to get people to take the kinds of actions which would increase the amount of primary goods they get over a life timeReport

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              > The basic structure mitigates for bad
              > luck, but not necessarily for bad choices.

              Well, now, I can accept a theoretical ideal world where people are both rational and reasonable.

              I can’t accept one where everyone is rational and reasonable and they all agree on what constitutes “bad luck” vs. “bad choices”.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I am less than certain that you divide bad outcomes neatly into “bad choices” vs. “bad luck.” If you were set to retire in 2010 and had most of your 401K disappear, are you a victim of bad luck or bad choices? If you don’t invest anything in the 80s and can’t retire in the 90s, did you make a bad choice, or was it bad luck?

                More to the point of the OP, if you grow up in a household without parents at home, little food, schools not worth attending, and no prospects that you can see of ever becoming middle class, is your joining a gang bad luck, or is it a bad choice?

                I am not so convinced everything is either one or the other.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Well, if you are looking forward to retirement, you made good choices. If you’re not, you had bad luck.

                That guy across the street that you don’t like? If he’s looking forward to retirement, he got lucky. If he’s not, he made bad choices.Report

            • Avatar Matty says:

              Consider an ideal situation where all the members of society are both rational and reasonable.

              Will they also have a pet unicorn each?

              I know that was uncalled for, there is a place for idealised thought experiments. More substantively your question.

              The key thing is whether there are the relevant kinds of incentives to get people to take the kinds of actions which would increase the amount of primary goods they get over a life time

              Does not seem to me to depend on whether it is bad luck or bad character that is currently disincentivising them.

              Give me sufficient incentives to excercise and I will take the opportunity and get fitter, that remains true whether I was previously not excercising out of laziness or because I was dedicating the time to charity work.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Give me sufficient incentives to excercise and I will take the opportunity and get fitter, that remains true whether I was previously not excercising out of laziness or because I was dedicating the time to charity work.

                Of course, if you talk about sufficient incentives then sure. but the criticism is not a robust criticism of character, but a behaviourist one. i.e. people are not behing in the right way… It may be part of the fundamental attribution error to attribute to stable dispositional states what is actually a case of environemntal influence, but at the very least, it is not clear to what extent chronic bad behaviour by particular poor persons is purely incentive related.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                abstinence may be the best answer, but it also makes a society rather time limited.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      Again, this assumes that people are incapable of learning new skills and strategies.
      Working within the system has always proven to be more productive to me.
      It is proper that there should be disincentives for rule-breaking.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    First, I loved the post. Don’t take any of these disagreements or criticisms to suggest otherwise.

    I think “Poverty as a work ethic issue” is rather reductive. While someone may initially frame it in that context, if you push a bit harder you will get to something broader: “Poverty as a state of mind” or less abstractly “Poverty as a series of poor decisions.”

    I think it was someone in the Clinton Administration that pointed out that if you follow some pretty simple steps (like graduate high school, get married before you have children, etc) the likelihood is that you’re going to be just fine. Your drywaller example is a good counter to that, but it’s important to address the larger issue, I think.

    Ultimately, the question of how to deal with the poor comes in multiple parts. How do you help those that need it without discouraging people from helping themselves? This is a genuine issue and the importance of which I actually came across when I lived in a slumhole surrounded by people on government assistance. Some of the folks there really needed any help they could get. With others, the help they were receiving was genuinely stultifying and good neither for the recipients nor society at large.

    The second, though, is a question of how you help those to help themselves and help those in a transitive state of need. It’s easy to talk about how young women should not have children prior to getting married, but it is made more complicated when the women come from communities where we incarcerate the men (for example). And the drywaller? What do we do with the drywaller? One of the patterns I seem to be seeing in the greater social static is that we are increasingly a society that doesn’t have a place for everyone. This has very uncomfortable ramifications for conservatives and liberals both.

    And third, what role do social norms play in all of this and what can we do about these norms? It was a tremendous social achievement when we bundled families together. For women, it meant a provider or co-provider. For sons, it meant fathers. Perhaps more importantly than anything, for fathers and men it meant something to be responsible for. I don’t crave a return to the male-breadwinner nuclear family of the fifties (my own marriage demonstrates this), but something was lost along the way and it’s not rich white Republicans that have been hit the hardest by it.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      How do you help those that need it without discouraging people from helping themselves?

      This seems like an especially wise question to be asking; maybe the wisest. )It’s ability to try to wrestle with both side’s truths appeals to me, natch.)

      And the drywaller? What do we do with the drywaller? One of the patterns I seem to be seeing in the greater social static is that we are increasingly a society that doesn’t have a place for everyone. This has very uncomfortable ramifications for conservatives and liberals both.

      Another good question. And the question in this context seems particularly thorny. Because while I think you are right that we don’t have a place for drywallers, we still have a need for drywall.

      And third, what role do social norms play in all of this and what can we do about these norms? It was a tremendous social achievement when we bundled families together.

      And the third point is good as well. I will add another layer to the changed family dynamic: The effect dual income families have had on single income families. I have suspected for a while that as two-career households have risen, so has the median family income – which in turn raises the prices of housing, clothing, and well… everything. Which is OK if you are a two-income household, but creates a huge issue for the single income families – even those with two parents.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        while I think you are right that we don’t have a place for drywallers, we still have a need for drywall.

        Quite so. But there does not seem to be a shortage of people willing to do it. The fact that we can use’em-and-lose’em strikes me as indicative of a larger thing: The drywaller is part of a class, the unskilled laborer, where we appear not to have a place for everybody.

        If there was a place for the drywaller, we could start making demands. Want a drywaller? You have to pay them enough so that they can retire after 15-20 years. As you point out, drywalls need to be put up and somebody has to do it. But so long there is an excess of unskilled laborers looking for work – more people than places to put them – society at-large is left with the consequences.

        I’m not looking at the place for washed up drywallers. We have no place for them, either. But we never really did have a place for them. They had to sell their bodies short just to slip in there.

        This is my current thinking, anyway. It may be way off-base.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          As someone who has hung sheetrock, it’s not that physically damaging. You place it up, screw it in, tape and mud, then sand. It’s not like building the pyramids.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            “it’s not that physically damaging”

            Then I guess the exorbitant workers comp rates they pay are just ’cause?Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              just ’cause? Fraudulent back injury claims?Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                So you’re arguing, what… that drywallers submit a substantially higher amount of claims than, say, a plumber?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Google it. You’ll see that I’m right, in fact as a risk assessment expert I’m surprised you aren’t already aware of this.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I just tried several works combinations, and am not finding what you want me to find. Help?Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Two things:

                1. What ever you did to make the link animate my screen filling in the google search? That was cool.

                2. I see with this search a lot of data on injuries, but nothing saying that drywalling has a significantly greater risk of fraud than other blue collar jobs.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                1) this link

                2) Safety in numbers. Back injury is hard to prove/disprove and is usually ignored, but certain professions have an inordinate number as following some of the links from the search would have shown you. 8’x12′ drywall sheets are inherently unstable and far from the support center of the back when lifted, therefore cause injuries. Then, as I personally observed with drywallers on my own site shooting the breeze with each other, since they /know/ they can get away with faking an injury claim they are happy to do so. Not everyone is honest, in fact the ratio is 70% dishonest to <30% honest as Pinkerton's multiple studies proved.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            Mike, have you hung gypboard as a member of a drywalling team?

            Because that’s a different animal than hanging up a rooms’ worth of sheetrock in your own house.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer says:

              I’ve done it remodelling homes I bought and then sold. But, I worked in construction when I was in my twenties, doing dry-wall work and other types of construction work that’s all hard work, some jobs worse than hanging sheetrock, but it’s not as bad as some of you describe. But the thing is you woirk hard then advance, that’s the plan. Actually the teams have it better than when I remodel, because I usually do it myself, and they have someone to help get it up and hold it.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                I worked in Leesville Lousiana and did every job that can be done on a construction site, but putting on shingles in Houston in the middle of summer before lifts were used to get shingles on the roof was harder than all of it — I would put a bundle on each shoulder then balance my way up the latter just to show off to new hires. We’d work hard for five hours, then drink for ten.Report

              • Avatar NoPublic says:

                You could afford booze? Must have been pretty well off then. Hope you didn’t have a car loan or a mortgage, ’cause if you fell off the roof and ended up on disability you’d get pilloried for not prioritizing them over your hedonistic lifestyle.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Hey, that’s a good one. ROFLOLFL. That’s some funny shit.Report

          • Avatar Will H. says:

            I’ve done it myself in my early years, and alcohol and drugs took more people out than the work itself.

            But the greater dynamic is:
            If you want to be well-paid, find an occupation that pays well.
            Drywall doesn’t do it.

            I know three people with master’s dregrees.
            One has a master’s in history and English. She teaches. Teaching doesn’t pay so well.
            One has a master’s in political science. He teaches. Teaching doesn’t pay so well.
            One has a master’s in electrical engineering. He works with weapons systems. He’s doing a lot better than the other two.

            But a college degree isn’t the pathway to a higher income.
            An industry with a high rate of pay is the pathway to a higher income.
            And no, it might not be as enjoyable of work.
            These people who study fingerpainting simply because that’s something that they like to do have already received their compensation in the manner of enjoyment from their occupation.
            It’s better to learn to like the work that you do rather than to have to rely on being able to do the work that you like.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The effect dual income families have had on single income families. I have suspected for a while that as two-career households have risen, so has the median family income – which in turn raises the prices of housing, clothing, and well… everything.

        I think it varies from thing to thing, rather than being “everything.” Increasing the market for manufactured goods allows more to be produced and prices to come down, for instance. Status goods, of course, become more expensive. While we may not care about status goods, though, housing is a biggie. When people buy a house, they are buying their way into living around these sorts of people and living not around those sorts of people. That becomes harder for single-income folks in a dual-income environment.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        the problem is the dual-income trap, where people can no longer afford to lose a job, even in a dual-income family. this results in less income security than a single-income family.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      *snort* the romans got along just fine without men-as-fathers. That single-woman-parent propaganda doesn’t carry much water with me.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      The drywaller is a good example of two things.
      Say one drywaller takes this as his career. He cultivates no other skills. In time, his body gives out, and he is reduced to poverty.
      But say another one understands that this is at best temporary. He takes the opportunity to cultivate other skills while maintaining his sustenance through drywall work.
      In the end, you can’t save people from stupid.
      It just doesn’t work.
      And government is perhaps the least of all efficient of operatives in the matter.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Well, let’s say its not stupidity. Let’s say you take a job at a manufacturing plant that uses a certain new kind of spray on paint that no one yet knows is toxic, and by the time you are diagnosed with a career ending condition your employer has long filed for bankruptcy. Does the government owe you anything then?

        Also, what happens if you change the semantics? Can society collectively decide to assist you financially – assuming you both want and need assistance, whether or not you have a “right” to that assistance?Report

        • Avatar Will H. says:

          The answers are yes and yes.
          In the first case, there has to be more than one affected party, and government should go after those responsible for causing wide-spread suffering. Whether causing that suffering is criminal or not is another issue.

          In the second case, it’s about establishing standards. I don’t believe that government is the most effective means of doing that. Churches love providing assistance. The Lion’s Club is there to help people with vision problems. I wish I knew of some other organization that operated similarly with people with hearing problems.
          Society can do that, and they should. If it’s done large-scale or long-term, then it’s proper that it should be monitored.

          Suppose we turn it around from the needy requiring this and that, and say that society has a genuine and legitimate need to be benevolent.
          I would like that.Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    I think we’d need to define poverty first. If poverty is defined as a quantitative list of things and services that, if people have them, they’re no longer considered in poverty then I’d agree poverty could possibly be eliminated.

    But if poverty is the current technical definition which is merely a percentage of the average income than poverty is inherently indestructible. We cannot eliminate the bottom 25% of a statistical sample. It’s as fruitless and contradictory as declaring that all children should score above average on their SAT’s.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      As I was saying above to JB, I think you can shoot for something other then end results. For example, a neighborhood where no one has computers because of the income level doesn’t necessitate society giving everyone a free computer. But if we agree that equal opportunity for success is important to us as a society, is there not some responsibility that in today’s world we find some solution for this issue? Otherwise, won’t the gap between this neighborhood and other middle class neighborhoods just increase – regardless of the work ethic, IQs, and intentions of its inhabitants?Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        What makes you think the problem is political or even financial? All the materialist/empiricist has a hammer, so everything looks like a nail.

        I’m not saying you’re either one, but you’re playing their hand: If the problem is more one of values and character, then minimizing the effect of hard work, one of the few variables the poor person has control over, perpetuates their depowerment.

        Except for voting for the more communitarian of our two political parties, of course.

        Put on your marching shoes!

        He acknowledged blacks have suffered mightily because of the recession, and are frustrated that the downturn is taking so long to reverse. “So many people are still hurting. So many people are barely hanging on,” he said, then added: “And so many people in this city are fighting us every step of the way.”
        But Obama said blacks know all too well from the civil rights struggle that the fight for what is right is never easy.
        “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” he said, his voice rising as applause and cheers mounted. “Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do.”
        Topping the to-do list, he said, is getting Congress to the pass jobs bill he sent to Capitol Hill two weeks ago.

        Lather. Rinse. Repeat.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Not atall, Reba. The suggestion is they’ve come to believe that hard work is in vain, and that the causes of and solutions to their “situations” are political.

          So put on your marching shoes! Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do!Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            … when an increase in income does little to stop the stress and halt “class insecurity”(the ability to fall out of the middle class when you lose a job), why the fuck do you think that telling people to work HARDER is a good idea?

            AFAIK, you’re just saying that if $50K isn’t good enough to get you out of poverty, just make $100K!

            Seems dumb.

            Why not address the persistent breaks that the tax code gives to the middle class, that allow them to accumulate wealth quicker than the lower classes? How about the one about second-house mortgages, for example?Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              But if you advocate that poor people get cheap housing loans, other people tell you that’s wrong because poor people owning houses caused the global financial crisis.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                *snort* ya. cheats and liars caused the global financial crisis. Read some Stiglitz. Also nontransparent markets and people believing in computer models too much.

                I could defend slum lords, if you want. but I think that’s a bit offtopic. 😉Report

  7. Avatar Charles says:

    “Do bleeding heart do-gooders have a “right” to ask you to own one less used video game in your lifetime so that these societal parasites don’t live the lives their predecessors did? Libertarians are correct, of course, that the answers to these questions is of course “no” – if that’s the question we choose to ask.”

    Actually, this is not what libertarians with regard to this question. And, this was Ron Paul’s point about health insurance at the debate last week. The question of whether it is to right to *appeal* to each of us to *give* to those who are less fortunate (or need help, for whatever reason) is one thing. The question of whether is it right to *tell* each of us that you are going to *take* from us to help these people, and will use force against us or imprison us if we refuse to comply, is something else. They are not the same question, and they are not morally equivalent.

    The Objectivists might say “no” on the first count, but they are *not* libertarians (and the implicity equivalence that many seem to draw between the two, is incredibly frustrating.) Libertarians, on the other hand, need only say no on the second count. Democracy is not a magic elixir that changes the moral status of confiscation. The confiscation that is implicit in public policy sets a higher moral bar for justifying public policy than is present for private action, and that’s more demanding than simply asking, “Is it a good thing?” And, the “public purpose” lends a different dimension to the question than you would get from asking “Do *I* have a moral responsbility to do something?”Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      But doesn’t government do this with everything else? Roads, wars, treaties, etc? Why is it OK for those things, but not safety nets?Report

      • Avatar Charles says:

        The difference is that it’s easier to demonstrate why public goods like roads, defense, etc., benefit the taxpayer. In particular, these things amount to a collective action problem — (almost) all of us need roads in one way or another, and they will be chronically under-provided in a free market. So, the provision of these things doesn’t rely on the notion that “it would be immoral for me to deny my neighbor the convenience of having roads.” Collective action problems, by definition, involve shared resources that I benefit from, but I will not receive unless force is used (even against myself.) that’s different from saying that it’s alright to use force to coerce me into doing something that benefits someone else.

        Actually, I think you can make an argument that a social safety net is a public good. For instance, one might have a spell of bad luck and wind up on the street, etc. Alternatively, I *do* benefit from the fact that hungry, desperate people don’t accost me on my way home. But, again, that’s different from your argument, in that it’s still about what’s in it for me. It still does *not* involve extending my personal moral obligations to be my brother’s keeper, etc., to other individuals who may not share those moral commitments.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic says:

      I don’t really buy the confiscation framework that libertarians offer, but taking that as a given, how do you respond to the argument that society is retrieving money for services rendered? This is probably a mix of the no man is an island argument and an intergenerational equity argument that libertarians have heard before (but I am genuinely interested in the response). So, society can lay some claim to smallpox eradication and polio near eradication, the fact that your mother had a low likelihood of death in pregnancy/childbirth, that you avoided altogether a number of potentially deadly childhood diseases. In fact, society carved out a special space of childhood – no labor – and compulsory education, so society can lay some claim to helping you become literate. And in addition to all those social infrastructure investments society made in you, society provided the physical infrastructure, you are lucky enough to live where the community had invested heavily in the physical infrastructure that transports the people and goods you (likely) rely on for your quality of life.

      Government/society/the community did all that stuff for you, working diligently well before you were born. And now, having attained the age of majority, it is time to help pay for the next generations’ goodies. Things like the Millennium Development Goals for instance. I admit, this could slide into a “Does man exist for the sake of the state?” type argument. “Where is the space for human freedom if we’re all slaves to future generations’ welfare?” and so forth. But I’d hardly describe American levels of taxation as confiscatory, especially given the US used to have a top rate of more than 80%. And the average American household isn’t exactly leading an ascetic life of self-deprivation to further the global development/poverty eradication visions of the left.

      As for the morality dimension, don’t reciprocity and luck egalitarianism resolve those issues? Isn’t it mere luck that you and I weren’t born in far different, less fortunate circumstances? We do not deserve our parentage, our socially constructed privileges (those built on gender, race, etc.), or the abilities we have – yes, there’s work and effort mixed in with abilities, but a great deal of dumb luck as well. Given that we stand as beneficiaries of the labors of others and dumb luck, isn’t society right to command: Pay your share for the welfare of the community, today’s community and that of tomorrow.Report

      • Avatar Charles says:

        Again, infrastructure/education/etc is different because they’re collective action problems. (Nearly) everyone benefits from roads, (nearly) everyone benefits from public education, not everyone benefits from food stamps. Everyone wants these things, and they won’t get them unless they all agree to use force to seal the bargain.

        That’s different from saying that I have a moral responsibility to provide roads for my neighbor to use. Also, it’s different from saying that this moral responsibility translates seemless from an individual to the community, or from the community to the states.

        Personally, I believe that I do have a moral responsibility to future generations of my community. But, it’s *my* responsiblity, to *my* community. The state is not *me*, nor is it identical to *my* community – it’s involvement has to be justified, not assumed.

        The “public goods” argument is good, as far as it goes, because it provides a direct justification for collective action by an organization with a monopoly on organized violence. I can’t see the state as a vessel of my moral obligations, because the state does not reflect my morality in any way, shape of form. My obligations exist, but they are my own, and they are not the ones that the state would place on me. Nor does the state inherit my obligations through any democratic process.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          Everyone does benefit from food stamps. Grocery stores have more customers instead of people stealing shit, your children’s classmates don’t come to school as hungry so they aren’t disruptive in class, and the working poor that get food stamps employers’ don’t have to worry about their employee’s general welfare.

          Now, it’s not as direct as a road or a tank, but the idea there’s no societal benefit from food stamps is silly. You can argue whether it’s worth the cost or whether it’s be better to do x, but the idea it’s just charity is silly.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Mr. Critic, I do not know what “fair” share means except “more than you’re paying now.” I suspect it will always mean that.Report

        • Avatar Creon Critic says:

          You’ll have to forgive me for sliding back and forth between a global development vision and the US poverty reduction vision during the course of this thread, but for one thing the 0.7% gross national income devoted to official development assistance would be a good start. A commitment enunciated in the 1970’s and reaffirmed with the Millennium Development Goals, and still not yet realized. The US is not the worst offender, offhand, I think Italy has performed very poorly recently.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            “but for one thing the 0.7% gross national income devoted to official development assistance would be a good start.”

            So the corrupt kleptocrats of the third world can fly out 100 million dollars a day to banking havens rather than just 10 million?Report

            • Avatar Creon Critic says:

              Kolohe, I’m aware that some ODA is squandered, spent recklessly for any number of reasons. Sometimes the corrupt kleptocrat is in a geo-politically important location or has access to a strategically important resource, sometimes the great powers think they’ll make do with the devil they know rather than risking inviting the unwashed masses to participate in governance. Other times development work has just been engaged in a learning process over time, figuring out what tools deployed where works best, and yes, the money spent at the outset of the project has been used less than optimally.

              All that said, the amount of good that ODA does in the world is difficult to overstate and the fact that the wealthy world’s governments gives so little, having committed to giving more, is an embarrassment (specifically those who aren’t making progress towards the 0.7% target). Because development is such a difficult problem it requires sustained effort, think Marshall Plan for post WWII Europe.

              It is shocking to imagine how much human talent is wasted because of lack of access to the basics that’ve been mentioned in this thread, a nutritious diet, access to healthcare, literacy and education… many, many deserving projects. Projects that are essentially run of the mill tragedy of the commons issues or collective action problems, or projects that don’t necessarily have a high enough return on investment that makes them attractive to the private sector.

              As great as charities and civil society are, they do not have the reservoir of resources (or powers) to do things like compulsory primary education, or blanket vaccination in an effort to eradicate an infectious disease. Only government can accomplish things like that, in part by incentives, but also, yes, fiat.

              Aside from being humane and basic compassion for one’s fellow man, there are also the strategic/security dangers in allowing so much of the world to be so poor when we are so relatively wealthy.

              (Was there a link in your final sentence? If so it did not work for me.)Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        I will respond, Creon,

        Culture is indeed to a great extent the accumulation of the fruits of prior generations. Some societies have squandered their collective solution sets. Some have cut off the creative (dare we say “progressive”) engine. Others — such as ours — have advanced the knowledge, wealth and solution set and passed it on to their descendants.

        I also agree that it is a GREAT thing if we do the same for the next generation.


        By voluntarily solving problems for each other. By producing houses in exchange for wages. By producing cures to diseases and natural theories in exchange for prestige in science. By designing new products and services in exchange for profits. And yes, by charitably volunteering our time, money or services to others in exchange for nothing other than the sense that we did the right thing.

        Where I differ from you is that I see the road to prosperity and enlightenment comes from voluntary, decentralized, constructive win/win interactions and most assuredly NOT from coercive, centralized, top down, master plans. (Apologies if I misrepresent you!)

        Prosperity is a positive sum (read win/win) process. It is does not come about via win/lose exploitation and coercion.

        I do feel gratitude for the cultural heritage that others have created. I do feel an obligation to future generations. That is why I preach for more voluntary, non-coercive problem solving and against most value-destroying forced redistribution.

        Does this make sense?Report

        • Avatar Creon Critic says:

          Roger, yes, what you said makes sense, but within certain constraints that I disagree with vehemently.

          The welfare state successfully advances a broader vision of human rights altogether than the rather narrow conception that has (unfortunately) persisted in the US. The entire welfare state effort stems from an idea of human rights that says that civil and political rights and economic and social rights are interdependent. From FDR’s Four Freedoms to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its progeny, the vision of what humans are entitled to, as of right, is much, much more expansive than that offered by the negative liberty focused libertarian outlook. Frankly, I don’t trust that other entities in society can reliably assure access to the positive liberties outlined in this understanding of human rights.

          Two rejoinders to arguments I’ve seen here. First as to the charitable impulse in society, supposedly sweeping in to take the place of the welfare state. Well, where is it today? (And does it have the resources commensurate with the tasks appointed to the welfare state?) The charitable sector is certainly needed to contribute to combating all sorts of social ills. Where has it been in the past? As generous as the wealthiest in the nation are, at their best, they have only played a catalyzing role in things like the Green Revolution. If everyone was so good-spirited, so voluntarism inclined, there would be no tragedy of the commons, no collective action problems – we probably wouldn’t need any such thing as a state at all. This outlook, Joe Sixpack will step in without government allocating resources and commanding they be directed in certain directions, this outlook seems divorced from historical experience. It’s like reading Oliver Twist and saying, well that ended so very well for Oliver without remarking at all about the broader social structures in which Oliver is enmeshed.

          Second, as to the repeated urging for experimentation. The welfare state, such as it is, in the US today is the consequence of decades of experimentation. What’s more, we have the results of about three dozen natural experiments in OECD countries around the world. They too have been tinkering with how to make this thing work well: How do we balance personal responsibility with ensuring a humane standard of living for the populace? These issues have been explicitly considered at the outset of the welfare state, or at least since the Beveridge Report. These OECD peers have achieved absolutely great things. Compare the child poverty numbers across the OECD. Compare the intergenerational earnings elasticity across OECD nations. You’ll find the US is laggard, not leader. I’d say, we already have the results of this much called for experimentation, and it doesn’t lead in the policy direction libertarians advocate – union busting, minimum wage revoking, welfare state dismantling policies. This report for instance, Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantage: Mobility or Immobility across Generations? A Review of the Evidence for OECD Countries (pdf), not a charter for libertarianism.

          A final thought, obviously I’m speaking in generalities here, I’ve probably offered far fewer caveats than is prudent. And I wouldn’t be reading a blog like this, or CATO-ish stuff, if I didn’t think libertarians didn’t have something important to say. But I’m not buying the libertarian package, as ED Kain observes, roughly, libertarians seem to focus on kicking the crutches away from the vulnerable when there are much more powerful figures in society who need scrutiny.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Thanks Creon for the thoughtful response,

            Your “vision of what humans are entitled to” is an odd concept to me. When we are born we make the best life of it we can. Nature owes us nothing. Are you saying by “entitled” that YOU would rather live without something than let another human live without this entitlement? That you would gladly give up your car and home than let a human go to bed hungry? Or something different?

            Are you also saying that everyone else needs to agree with your definition of entitlement or you can coercively take their house and car too? What if they have tougher standards of entitlement than you? Do they get to take even more than you want to give?

            Who decides? That is the issue I wish to address.

            You then ask…”as to the charitable impulse in society, supposedly sweeping in to take the place of the welfare state. Well, where is it today?”

            LOL! There is of course no such sweeping movement. We need to create it via voluntary contributions that are not crowded out by coercive and inefficient redistribution toward special interest groups in the guise of philanthropy. An insignificant portion of our tax dollars goes to helping the legitimate poor. Medicare and SS are primarily just poorly run social insurance plans. National defense is an excuse to spend trillions on 3rd world adventures.Then we do a trillion or so in corporate and union welfare and cronyism.

            I would LOVE to NOT fund the military industrial parasites or the government service monopolies. I would LOVE to get Congressional hands out of old age insurance plans. I am not suggesting NO DEFENSE or NO SAFETY NET.

            Let me be clear. I do empathize with human poverty. I do believe we can and should experiment in the direction of voluntary, competing, efficient social institutions to alleviate poverty and to provide safety nets. I do believe that coercive monopolies are the wrong way to address the issue. BUT, I also agree that it will not be easy to get to where I think we should go from where we are. I’d move in that direction and can give policy descriptions if you are interested.

            Your next point: “The welfare state… is the consequence of decades of experimentation. What’s more, we have the results of about three dozen natural experiments in OECD countries around the world. ”

            And we have 50 state laboratories. Smaller scale experimentation is good.

            I suggest moving the experimentation and choice down as low as possible, preferably to the individual. I would love to have more options on SS (pay more or less and collect sooner or later). More options on where my welfare payments go and don’t go and the ability to avoid institutions that are inefficient or that actually enable the disease they pretend to cure. The ability to redirect my tax dollars from corporate welfare to providing vaccinations for kids, and so on….

            Wouldn’t you?

            Couldn’t we explore ways to help the poor MORE effectively than current institutions?

            As to the discussion on intergenerational earnings elasticity, let’s avoid that for now. Let’s just say that I believe minimum wage, closed-shop, unions-run inner city schools, occupational licensing and so forth are more of a problem than a solution. It’s not a useful crutch if it is shoved up our …..Report

            • Avatar Creon Critic says:

              Roger, I’d suggest positive liberty and human rights, broadly construed as I’ve attempted to lay out, aren’t so odd. Nature may owe us nothing, but we owe quite a bit to each other (in this vision). Aren’t all rights a social construct? “When we are born we make the best life of it we can. Nature owes us nothing.” This is an argument that goes quite far indeed. In light of this sentiment why protest if you are born into a despotic monarchy? After all, nature owes you nothing and you’re to make the best life you can.

              Entitled means I can identify the present circumstance, abundance for some and penury for others, as objectionable. It is something we, as a human community, ought to do something about. It would be great if I personally had the resources to redress the massive capability deprivation around the world, unfortunately I don’t, the only entity that can command the resources to undertake projects on the scale we’re discussing are states.

              “Are you also saying that everyone else needs to agree with your definition of entitlement or you can coercively take their house and car too?”

              From a previous comment, you already object to a ready aggregation of responsibilities (individuals to state), so I see you’ll disagree with this. But from a traditional perspective on how representative democracy works and the best we’ve got in constructing an international order (the “who decides?”), we have already agreed to quite a bit of these definitions on entitlements. “We” being many states, given the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the successor treaties and actions by other international bodies (the regional human rights institutions), we’ve already arrived at a consensus (on one level) as to what the entitlements are – or at least that we’re currently falling well short of meeting our responsibilities to several billion fellow human beings. Having written all these lofty words about the rights of every human being, it’s my job to prod the state into meeting its commitments – sort of like the USSR being prodded after the Helsinki Accords.

              As for the state crowding out private philanthropy, what do you point to in order to support these claims? I can point to other OECD nations’ success in using state power to reduce child poverty, the US successfully reduced poverty amongst the elderly with the Great Society. Where is the evidence of private charity’s similar accomplishments? (Also, I think this framing of the state-charity relationship is too adversarial, the state vs. private charity when in reality the state works in concert with private charity on many occasions.)

              I am interested in the how we get to where you’d like from here. MFarmer has earlier suggested the bully pulpit to mobilize charitable giving. I’m curious as to how this decentralized, non-coercive, voluntaristic vision you present comes about. (Though I fear your first step will be getting rid of the minimum wage and weakening American unions even more…)

              Overall, I’m more comfortable with setting out a national strategy, or international strategy, things like the Millennium Development Goals, and making concerted (often top-down) efforts to meet those goals. After all, the US set a goal and then successfully put a man on the moon. We should meet the deprivation we face in the US and around the world with similar alacrity.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Let me start by saying that I enjoy discussing this with you and that you bring brilliance and clarity to the topic.

                Let me summarize my position so far. I commented to Tod that the greatest engine for poverty reduction is economic growth itself. The poor are massively better off today than in prior centuries, and we have more compassion and ability to help them. I added that excessive coercive redistribution can clog up this engine. I recommended concentrating on economic growth, reducing free enterprise entry barriers for the poor, and most importantly:

                Experimentation into institutional solutions that allow people to direct more of their help in ways which meets their values and which goes to those they believe are most in need. Less reliance on centralized and coercive redistribution.

                We then went off on a tangent into charity, which we both agree is inadequate and just one of many potential ways of addressing the issue. I also clarified that most redistribution within the US welfare state doesn’t even go to the poor. It goes to friends of those in high places.

                You then wrote: “Nature may owe us nothing, but we owe quite a bit to each other”

                You owe my brother nothing. He owes you nothing. If you wish to adopt a vision or social construct that says differently, so be it. But would you please quit FORCING everyone else to adopt it?

                If you are suggesting a voluntary social contract that says “Let’s agree to watch out for each other and not to interfere with each other.” Well, now I am listening. But I will not force my brother to join. We need to persuade him to join.

                You wrote: “why protest if you are born into a despotic monarchy?”

                Because I don’t like being a slave. I assume you don’t either, so perhaps we should join forces and demand our freedom? Let’s try to persuade my brother to join as well.

                You: “Having written all these lofty words about the rights of every human being, it’s my job to prod the state into meeting its commitments…”

                May I suggest an alternative way? Let’s explore institutions that allow choice and options from the bottom up. This will allow each of us to meet our conscience. It can be supplemented with social constructs that reward philanthropy with social status and penalize stinginess with low status (shame?).

                To make society more voluntary and to create more options, I recommend outsourcing whatever can be handled well via free enterprise to free enterprise, whatever needs to be handled by the state should be done at the lowest level (local) at which it can be effective, and programs handled by the state should involve options and –where practical– opt outs.

                Just as importantly, there needs to be constructive competition between entities designed to address problems. Where practical, citizens should be allowed to vote or select the entity that their tax dollars funds. For example, if we had three “Aid to unwed mothers” organizations, I would like to have the choice of directing my tax money to the one with minimal overhead and the most success at getting people out of the program. This would create constructive competition and establish a dynamic to resist inefficiency and bloat.

                I could go on for hours, but the point is that by building bottoms up choice, variety and social stigma into the institutions — where practical — we can create a state which is actually effective at growing, not going bankrupt, and helping the poor. It can do so with less and less coercion and it can encompass all our values.

                BTW, I believe an international strategy will backfire, and become a bureaucratic disaster that attracts every special interest group and parasite on the planet.Report

              • Avatar Creon Critic says:


                the greatest engine for poverty reduction is economic growth itself.

                Economic growth can also mean that the gains from improved productivity are captured by the top 1% while the bottom 99% stagnate (or fall behind) as the rich get prodigiously richer, Sociological Images discusses the US,

                average annual income growth for households in the United States and the different experiences of the top 1% and the bottom 99%. From 1976 to 2007, average household income grew at an average annual rate of 1.2%. Over the same period, the top 1% of households experienced an average annual income gain of 4.4% while the bottom 99% of households gained only 0.6% a year…


                Doesn’t “experimentation into institutional solutions…” essentially mean dismantle the welfare state and see what happens? You have suggestions as to what you theorize might happen, but less evidence based on societies you can point to structured in the manner you favor. Where’s the evidence of human communities actually living this way? (The only thing I can think of is perhaps small tribal communities that have different ideas about property rights, but these communities also had low capacity to reap gains from specialization.)

                You owe my brother nothing.

                I think here we’ve arrived at premises that each of us can outline and map out the consequences for our premises, but I think each of takes as axiomatic some core principles. Alternatively put, we conceptualize some basic units that are the building blocks for the rest of our ideas about how the world should work. Individuality and non-coercion are at the core of the value system you’ve outlined. I’ve tended to take a soft communitarian approach that places less emphasis on the individual and their choices absent the broader social circumstances. So we’re going to continue to disagree about what we owe to one another.

                But would you please quit FORCING everyone else to adopt it?

                This part of the discussion is difficult because the fact of the word is communities, communities imposing their will on individual members. You were born into a community that happens to value your individuality highly, but not above all else. You can’t be forced to be a citizen, but statelessness stinks, that is renouncing your citizenship will cause an awful lot of practical problems for you unless you have an alternative citizenship to switch to (wealthy former Americans who take up another citizenship to avoid taxes is the only example I’m aware of this working out without huge hassles). Your liberty as a citizen is contingent on fulfilling certain obligations to the community, pay your taxes, and such.

                But I will not force my brother to join. We need to persuade him to join.

                The issue is you and your brother were born into this community. There was no persuasion involved in becoming a citizen, just the accident of birth. And before you reached the age of making a choice, you’ve already received all sorts of benefits from being a citizen (the social and physical infrastructure I mentioned in the earlier comment).

                Where practical, citizens should be allowed to vote or select the entity that their tax dollars funds.

                Haven’t you described representative democracy? Or, put it this way, is there a country in the world that is doing things the way you’d prefer, localism, opt-outs and such?

                I believe an international strategy will backfire…

                Did the Marshall Plan backfire?

                (I’ve also enjoyed our discussion, I think it has been informative (and polite) which is not a revolution for this site, but not always the way things go on the internet. Also, I live in a blue state and my friends are mostly far to my left, given the anarcho-communists and UK Labourites (coal miners on their living room floor in the 1980’s) I talk politics with I’m well to their right – so it is good to hear another perspectives well argued.)Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                I find the dialogue fascinating. I am truly interested in how you think, and wish to grasp it better. We really do operate under different paradigms.

                For the record, I am not a libertarian, nor am I even aware of personally knowing or meeting a libertarian. (I do have suspicions on one or two acquaintances though). Certainly I have read Mises and Hayek, but I have read a lot more Dawkins, and that doesn’t make me an athiest.

                First, on the link you provided, some cautions:
                1) It is important to adjust the data for size of household which has shrunk dramatically over the period, especially when you exclude the top percentages.
                2) The language is deceptive. The total share of income wasn’t “captured” it was created. It just doesn’t sound as menacing when you say top one percent CREATED more value. Maybe we should give them a medal! (Joke)
                3) People shift in and out of where they fall on the income curve. During the period reviewed here, my household went from bottom 1% to top 1% and now back down to 2nd quintile. It also shifted in size. This was changes in life stage. In addition, new entrants (young and immigrants) enter — usually at the bottom. Indeed, the bottom 1% are statistically going to always be near zero. (Worked one day of the year)

                No, I am NOT suggesting we dismantle the welfare state. I am asking that we explore building more choice and decentralization into the system. These are not all novel and untested cutting edge concepts. There has been massive experimentation in Australia, New Zealand, US and Europe with de-nationalizing industry. SS has choices built in currently on retirement date vs benefits. Medicare has all kinds of options. And the Federalist papers were written 2C ago with extensive discussion on the balance between federal and state decision making. Even the post office allows me choice in the number of letters I send.

                To make up an example, wouldn’t you like to have a choice in which “school lunch assistance” program your money went to? Wouldn’t you love to know that they had to worry about doing a good job (compared to the other choices) with minimal overhead waste just to get your money?

                I think a revolution of current systems is a really, really bad idea. I suggest experimentation and learning from successes and failures. I suggest establishing constructive competition and value choice wherever practical (but not where impractical). You and I have different values. If we have MORE choice, we can choose in the direction of our values. I believe we can build a better welfare “state” though I would call it a better welfare “society”.

                Yes, I agree that statelessness stinks — at least today. I am OK with building more choice and constructive competition into the system and seeing where it goes. I do think it will lead to less state, less intrusive state, better state and also to more liberty and less poverty. If not, I can revise my opinions.

                BTW I agree that membership in the state can imply responsibilities as well as benefits. Like any club. I would like more and more fair choice in which clubs I join. For national defense or court systems, maybe it is impractical or counterproductive to have any choice in the matter? I’m not arguing for unlimited choice, just more, carefully.

                I don’t think of the Marshall Plan as a top down international decree by the United Nations. I think of it as a wise act of voluntary aid to fellow states the US wished to establish long term cooperative relations with. I may be wrong. This is getting us way off topic though.

                In general I believe we have a cognitive bias to look to top-down solutions (which tend to need to be coercive and monopolistically ineffective) where we are often better with voluntary bottoms up problem solving. I also believe the key to social progress lies in improving the institutions and technologies necessary to stimulate productive, positive sum win/win interactions. These are voluntary. My philosophy is a combination of these two perspectives merged together with a healthy dose of practicality.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Creon, Roger and Silver Wolf – I don’t want to derail the ongoing thread you guys are having, but wanted to pop in and just say that they are fascinating to read; they have made the time spent writing the OP very worthwhile.

                That’s all. Back to where you were.Report

          • Avatar Jeff says:

            “If everyone was so good-spirited, so voluntarism inclined, there would be no tragedy of the commons, no collective action problems – we probably wouldn’t need any such thing as a state at all. ”

            Doncha know that if we got rid of the Eeeeeeeeeeevil gubmint, voluntarism would soar throught the roof? It’s the State holding us down, dude!Report

        • Avatar Jeff says:

          Where I differ from you is that I see the road to prosperity and enlightenment comes from voluntary, decentralized, constructive win/win interactions and most assuredly NOT from coercive, centralized, top down, master plans.

          I am so glad that the needs and contributions of Beverly Hills and Appalachia are **exactly** the same. No need for any kind of centralization at all.


          • Avatar Roger says:


            Who says everyone’s needs or values are the same? And what makes you so sure the” eeevil gubmint” knows so much better than you or I?Report

  8. Avatar MFarmer says:

    Also as to the idea of working hard equals success, this is a general principle that in no way gaurantees the hard work of a dry-waller will pay better than other types of work, but the discipline of working hard and moving forward will pay off moreso than laziness or waiting for a miraculous break or depending on government assistance. Plus, the hard-working dry-waller can possibly start his own dry-walling business after a few years and find that sub-contracting and management is profitable. We think sometimes in static terms of the “poor” or a “dry-waller” without realizing an individual can move from poverty by becoming a dry-waller, and then move from relatively low pay to higher pay by taking chances and expanding through self-employment, and along the way might buy a few properties, or invest in stocks, and then over a period of time has moved from poverty to wealth accumulation through hard work. It’s this mindset that pays, if you want to advance. There’s nothing wrong with going another route and living at a level of subsistence, but to make that decsison means you live with the decision. Now, when it comes to those who are handicapped and can’t help themselves, the dry-waller who accumulates wealth will surely donate to help the needy, because if he’s like most people, he’ll help out when there’s true need. I think it’s a mistake to dismiss this part of the human make-up, especially in a country like America that was built on people helping people in cooperative efforts to create something special that’s being lost through the welfare state. Just because it wasn’t perfected decades ago doesn’t mean that the accomplishments Jaybird described didn’t boost many people out of real, dire poverty, or that now we’ve reached this level of avancement we can’t return to private assistance and end the unintentional devastation of the welfare state. I believe the welfare state has become counter-productive and innovation is needed if the goal is to help people help themselves and care for those who can’t help themselves. Ending poverty is an idealistic misdirection of efforts — the goal should be voluntary assistance to help people achieve to top of their capabilities, if that’s what the helpee desires..Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “It’s this mindset that pays, if you want to advance.”

      I think there is huge amounts of truth in this sentence.

      That being said, I think I understand your argument of how non-government interference will lead to more prosperity for the poor and disenfranchised – I’m just not sure I agree that this would be the outcome.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        I’m not real sure of any outcomes, but I know we need changes — what we’re doing is not working.Report

        • Avatar Creon Critic says:

          You weren’t specific here, but what came to mind was the Great Society’s decreasing the proportion of the elderly living in poverty and in general raising the quality of life of older Americans. I know the Blair-Brown Labour government made reducing child poverty a goal early on and government made significant inroads, though the Great Recession has set back progress towards the end. If government is not a useful tool in poverty reduction, what entity has the requisite powers and resources to meet these huge social welfare challenges? Burke’s little platoons?Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            BTW, Mr. Critic, the original Great Society program seems to have made a permanent dent in American poverty, about a third, if iirc, and that’s no small potatoes.

            Credit where it’s due, from this side of the aisle.

            However, as with all ideology, good ideas hit the law of diminishing returns. In fact, the door swings both ways: I’d like to see the leftish among us argue against more tax cuts on pragmatic grounds instead of ad hoc moralism.

            For if there’s a moral answer to the right level of taxation, man has yet to discover it.

            Whatever works, somewhere between none and all.Report

            • Avatar Creon Critic says:

              The Moral Maze recently had this issue as a topic of conversation. Their topic: The morality of income tax, is the 50 per cent income tax rate immoral? Available through the BBC. (Oh for a public broadcaster like the BBC in the US…)Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mr. Critic, I think I heard that BBCism. There are no “moral” answers to tax rates, only clever or stupid ones.

                50+% is not unreasonable, esp if we throw in some hookers and blow. Many of my fellow Republicans will go for it, believe me, esp the ones in Congress.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              I want people to argue for a government deficit under purely realpolitik pragmatic grounds. But that’s me.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            If being practical is better to make the point, rather than ideological, with regards to a State so powerful to provide all our needs can also take away all the support, it appears that those truly concerned about the poor should pause at this point in our debt accumulation, the specter of unfunded liabilities, endless wars, and a welfare state becoming less responsive to human needs, then ask if what started in the New Deal then the Great Society can continue, or if innovative changes need to be made as we trudge into the 21st century — what new capabilities do we possess that can ensure economic growth, new wealth, and therefore the ability to help the needy?Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

      > We think sometimes in static terms of the
      > “poor” or a “dry-waller” without realizing
      > an individual can move from poverty by
      > becoming a dry-waller, and then move
      > from relatively low pay to higher pay by
      > taking chances and expanding through
      > self-employment, and along the way
      > might buy a few properties, or invest in
      > stocks, and then over a period of time
      > has moved from poverty to wealth
      > accumulation through hard work. It’s
      > this mindset that pays, if you want to
      > advance.

      I came up with at least 50 ways for this person to get fished during the process you lay out here, and of the 50 the first three dozen I came up with had nothing to do with the decision-making capabilities of the guy or gal in question.

      This is also a recipe for a hard-working, lower class guy to wind up being a hard-working, still lower-class guy with a long string of situational failures in his history. The dot com implosion, the real estate meltdown, the financial crisis… marketwide systemic failures can erase decades of gains in a heartbeat.

      I’m not saying that people shouldn’t do it anyway, mind. I’m just saying that if this is the path to huge success (and I agree, it pretty much is), it’s a path that only a few people will successfully navigate, and that orders of magnitude more people who take this same path will wind up going nowhere, or even backwards.

      The difference between the guy who runs the company and the guy who still works as a drywaller could very well be that when the guy who runs the company got to the “invest in a few stocks” phase, it was 1998… and when the guy who was the drywaller got to the “invest in a few stocks” phase, it was 2001. That, in fact, might be the only difference between the two guys.

      It’s true you make your own luck. But it’s also true that you don’t.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        Of course there are no gaurantees, so that is immaterial. You can’t create gaurantees either. There’s no gaurantee we won’t have nucledar war and all go up in dust — I can think of 500 ways none of us can succeed or even live much longer.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          That wasn’t the point, Mike. If you don’t see why it’s material, look again.

          We’re talking about how people move through the wealth strata in the greater society, right? Tod put forth three common models for looking at the poor:

          * Poverty as a “Work Ethic” Issue
          * Poverty as a Question of Rights
          * Poverty as Ideological Chess Piece

          If you’re talking about “just poverty”, you’re missing 1/2 of the system; you need to look at the middle class and the upper class, too… if you want a good idea of how the overall economy works. Coinkydinkily, if you do… you wind up with the same three common models:

          * Wealth as a “Work Ethic” Issue
          * Wealth as a Question of Rights
          * Wealth as Ideological Chess Piece

          They’re all limited. Actually, I’d go one step further and say that they’re all shitty-ass ways of looking at either wealth or poverty, because neither rights (communal or individual) nor work ethic (or lack thereof) gives a good framework for looking at the economy and the people in it.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            I like this replacing “Poverty” with “Wealth” thing you did here. It would be interesting if we could open a worm hole, go back in time, post about the three limited models of wealth, and see how different the conversation ended up being.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            “If you’re talking about “just poverty”, you’re missing 1/2 of the system; you need to look at the middle class and the upper class, too… if you want a good idea of how the overall economy works.”

            No shit. Thanks for the advice. Jeez. You all end this up — I can’t take it.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        Actually when you invest in stocks, you don’t invest in every stock, so a person investing in the right stock, or another good investment, can do as well in 2011 as in 1998 — so that’s just a diversion.Report

  9. Avatar Sam MacDonald says:

    “If you fervently follow dogma that states we should not look to help those that suffer even when we can easily afford to because the Nation’s Ideological Purity is more important than some kid not starving to death, then we are just going to have to agree to seriously – and I mean seriously – disagree.”

    But what if it has been shown time and again that the ruling class will not, and perhaps cannot, stop at providing the services “we can easily afford”? seems to me that once people are given the power to tax folks to pay for their pet causes, they usually don’t stop with providing vittles for poor folks. And suddenly… Iraq. War on Drugs. $14 trillion. Etc.

    Let’s say a guy has a starving kid. He sees a pie on my window and takes it. OK. I won’t starve. But once you say, “It’s OK for that guy to take stuff out of people’s house, or for people to do it for him… I think we have kind of a problem.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      yeah what kind of commie, liberal BS says that congress has the power to tax. and double yeah to “pet cause” as a dismissive term for justice and beliefs about a good society.Report

      • Avatar Sam M says:

        But that’s the point, greginak. Everyone believes that their cause is to one, true path to “justice and beliefs about a good society.” Even Bill Kristol. So yeah. It’s great when they guy you voted for takes the reigns. Not so much when an idiot does. And no matter how you devise the system, sooner or later an idiot is going to be in charge.

        For instance, I really think that Catholic schools do a lot of good. I send my kids to one! And people like me generally support the idea of massive investments in private vouchers for such schools. I don’t because I think that’s dangerous in a lot of ways. Primarily because one day, someone with a different view about how to spend that money would be in charge. If they have a different view about how to educate kids, that’s one thing. But if they want to use the money for locking up pot smokers or dropping bombsin places I’ve never heard of… that’s less good.

        Note that I am not saying that Catholic schools should not be funded. I am saying that funding them through tax dollars is a dangerous thing to do. And I object to the formulation that this amounts to “we should not look to help those that suffer even when we can easily afford to.”

        The “easily” seems to be doing an awful lot of work here, wouldn’t you say? IN Pennsylvania, they put a tax on liquor in the wake of the Johnstown flood. Because, you know, Pennsylvanian’s could easily afford to help the poor people in Johnstown. And no doubt they could! Only… the flood got cleaned up many, many, many decades ago, but the tax is still there. Being spent on all sorts of stuff. Good stuff? Probably not.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:


      But what if it has been shown time and again that the ruling class will not, and perhaps cannot, stop at providing the services “we can easily afford”? seems to me that once people are given the power to tax folks to pay for their pet causes, they usually don’t stop with providing vittles for poor folks. And suddenly… Iraq. War on Drugs. $14 trillion. Etc.

      Let’s say a guy has a starving kid. He sees a pie on my window and takes it. OK. I won’t starve. But once you say, “It’s OK for that guy to take stuff out of people’s house, or for people to do it for him… I think we have kind of a problem.

      So… what policy do you want?Report

  10. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    If Apple stock splits a few times in the next 30 years, and my ‘grand babies’ play their cards right and bring their Pappa Tod when Grandma’s not looking… they might.Report

  11. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “Many of my firm’s clients are builders, and every builder I know will point to drywallers as the hardest working people in their industry.”

    How many of these drywallers are American citizens–who can complain to the government about exploitative working conditions and salaries, who can form unions to force employers to negotiate these things rather than fire troublesome workers, who can legally benefit from Medicare disability payments? It kinda seems to me that we as a society are already doing things to help these persons. Now, maybe we aren’t doing enough–I’m not saying anything either way about that, because all I know about it is listed right here in this paragraph–but it’s not like the action isn’t there.


    The conservative looks at the ‘Travelers’ on Haight street harassing tourists and blocking the entrance to shops, and says “looks to me like if people worked harder than they wouldn’t be poor!”

    The liberal would rather look at the single mother trying to support four kids, and says “how can you say that hard work is all we need?”

    And they both assume that the other is talking about the same people.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      DD, I was not making a plea for the rights of drywallers. My point, which I mightn’t have made clear, is that hard work does not equal financial success, any more than poverty equals no work ethic.

      That was it.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      My bad above, I responded before I read the whole comment. Sorry.

      This is a really, really good point.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      In that case, I would hope the conservative would learn to read statistics and get back to me.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        *sigh* so your point is that failing to understand the other person doesn’t matter because CONSERVATIVES ARE STILL FUCKING WRONG OKAY? OKAY?Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          … it’s a sport down in the Gulf Coast, getting Joe Taxpayer to pay for your house when it falls to a hurricane/flood/etc. Wish more people’d bitch about fools who can’t afford flood insurance (it isn’t cost effective, you couldn’t afford it either) living in places where it’s just plain dumb.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      me, I don’t care if you bitch about the fools on Haight street. Just so long as you remember that the woman is trying to do her best, and is just barely scraping by.
      I think it’s totally fair to look at ways to differentiate between the two types of people, and to see how we can best put that into a legal framework.
      (think this is a better convo to be having, than one where we say “you’re greedy!” and you respond with “you’re helping the shiftless!”)Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        My point is that both sides tend to pretend that the people the other side is complaining about don’t exist.

        I’d actually be okay with some apparently-undeserving people getting welfare money, so long as the pro-welfare side admits that there are such people. I don’t think that we need to be completely bureaucratic about this, but I also don’t think that it’s a good idea to be all “we don’t know anything about anyone and we can’t judge, therefore anyone who asks can have as much money as they want”.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          I’m all for public shaming of people buying filet mignon on welfare. It’s irresponsible, and not good for other people who may need the money more than they do (props to the people who can save enough that $80 a month is enough to feed ’em. not everyone’s got the time to clip coupons).Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          > My point is that both sides tend to pretend
          > that the people the other side is complain-
          > ing about don’t exist.

          What’s sadly hilarious is that in both cases, neither of these types of people are the dominant statistical makeup of their target.

          Everybody is bitching about the other guys’ *outliers*.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            Saying “there’ll always be outliers” is one thing. Saying “there’ll always be outliers and so we shouldn’t do anything about them” is another. And saying “your outliers are outliers, but mine are actually the middle of the bell curve” is yet a third.Report

    • Avatar Jeff says:

      “who can form unions to force employers to negotiate these things rather than fire troublesome workers”

      So you oppose “right to work” states?Report

  12. Avatar Roger says:

    Enjoying the discussion, especially the JB thread.

    Some observations:
    1) From a historical perspective we basically have eradicated poverty. The poor of 18th C would consider modern US poverty as the lap of luxury. But our standards and expectations continue to rise and will continue in the future. This isn’t to dismiss poverty though.
    2) In a free enterprise society, most people achieve wealth by creating value for others. Some, due to a combination of circumstances/luck and ability/effort, are less able to add value than others.
    3) Our compassion for fellow human beings causes many of us to want to help them. We want to help them personally AND help their ability to produce value for others.
    4) Of course many of us don’t want to help them so much that they become dependent or parasitic. And we certainly don’t want to fund some inefficient bureaucracy that lives off our help.
    5) Some want to use force and coercion to compel “others” to help. These “others” may not be willing or able to help, or may just have different values of who should be helped or how they should be helped.
    6) If we do too much forced help, we can create disincentives for the productive to be productive. We can damage the system that raises our standards toward poverty.

    I believe the best paths forward involve a combination of the following:
    1) Faster wealth creation or general prosperity. This raises our standards and our ability to help and it creates opportunities for the poor. (Someone better notify the environmentalists)
    2) Experimentation into institutional solutions that allow people to direct more of their help in ways which meets their values and which goes to those they believe are most in need. Less reliance on centralized and coercive redistribution.
    3) Reduce barriers that are placed in the way of the poor to get a quality education (union run monopoly schools) and entry level jobs (minimum wage, closed shop unions, occupational licensing, mandatory benefits, etc). Our sheet rock dude should be free to drive a taxi, wait a table, teach a second grader, cut hair or frisk people at airports. Shouldn’t he?

    What am I missing?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      First of all, great comment. A lot of stuff here, so I’ll just ask some a couple of follow ups; I may ask more in a bit.

      “Our sheet rock dude should be free to drive a taxi, wait a table, teach a second grader, cut hair or frisk people at airports. Shouldn’t he?”

      Of course he should; but we also need drywallers. So without using the state to coerce either levels of pay that would make a 20 year career set you up for life or purchases of comparatively expensive mechanization, what do you do? Hope that enough people will voluntarily decide to take care of these people in their 50s, 60s and beyond? If he had been a soldier and had been wounded to the point that his future employment options were very limited, we would coerce citizens to pony up for his education, or work study program, or something – right? Other than the emotional tug we get with a boy in uniform vs a guy in overalls, aren’t we asking both to do something damaging to themselves so that we can have a better and cheaper lifestyle? Do we not therefore collectively owe either of them anything other than a “sucks to be you?”

      Regarding minimum wage jobs – without getting into the thorny issue of “should we have it or shouldn’t we,” it seems that minimum wage is barely a livable level of income. How does making sure that someone can get a full time job for, say, have that amount help them from a poverty standpoint?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        I would recommend that people use common sense to avoid dangerous, damaging jobs, especially as they get older. Why would I destroy my back for low pay if I can teach surfing lessons, or drive a limo or whatever better/safer job is available?

        The point I am making is that we are building barriers to entry level jobs and then wondering why the unskilled are accepting jobs that kill them for pay little. We reduce the supply of jobs and wonder why the demand to accept the dregs is so high.

        If fewer people were fighting for these bad jobs, the response would likely be higher pay, better workers comp options, safer work conditions or replacement of sheet rock with less costly building methods.

        I could give a longer answer, but the point is not some magic pill. A lot of our problems are indirect or unseen effects of our misguided attempts to help. This isn’t a plea not to help. Let’s help wisely and experimentally in ways that we can actually evaluate whether they work.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Minimum wage and mandatory benefits rules are awkward ways to try to coerce employers and consumers to subsidize the less skilled. Again, I am not suggesting we don’t help the unskilled. But let’s explore voluntary methods that don’t distort the jobs market (and which then indirectly contributes to your sheet rocker problem).

        Explore. Slowly. Carefully. Voluntarily. Learn from what works and doesn’t. Repeat.Report

        • Avatar Will H. says:

          I would just like to note that these are not mutually exclusive.
          On my current project, all employees are OSHA-10 certified.
          I had to get certified within 30 days of employment, because I didn’t have it.
          This saves the employer on their insurance while educating the employee to work in a safer manner.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      #6 is the thing I worry the most about, myself.

      But I would.Report

  13. Avatar Silver Wolf says:

    You missed the one that I believe in.

    Poverty as national interest.

    Poverty is an expense. A drag on one’s economy and society. It is in everyone’s best interest to reduce poverty and the many problems that come along with it. Increased crime, domestic violence, substance abuse, health costs, and lack of productivity are just a few of the things that weigh down on the rest of our community. Dealing with poverty improves our own situation by reducing the enormous hidden costs associated.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “Poverty is an expense.”

      Excellent. I’m not sure I have ever heard it phrased like this, but this sounds like a conversation we absolutely should be having.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        This is a more nuanced observation than, “Food stamps help prevent food riots”, but it’s coming from the same place, really.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      Exactly, and this is another good reason why people will voluntarily donate to private assistance.Report

      • Avatar Silver Wolf says:


        The amount people donate is not enough to cover all of the needs of the poor. Even with the modest amounts the government gives to poor Americans it doesn’t get it done.


        A nationally developed and run program able to purchase and distribute in volume is much more efficient. A government run program is more accountable and transparent.


        People give to whom they want to. Government (should) give to who needs it the most regardless.


        If you are in need of assistance, it is much more comforting to know ahead of time that there is a government program set up to catch you when you, through no fault of your own, stumble. If people feel they have a right to a government program they will use it rather than go begging for assistance, hat in hand, to some charity.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Silver Wolf,

          Insufficient — Modern states are redirecting 30- 40% or more of productivity to special interests of dubious need (see TARP, Ethanol, Afghanistan war, middle class transfer payments, etc) There is a lot of money that could go to needy rather than to the connected parasites. Way more than enough. Just help to give me the ability to redirect it. Okay? Seriously.

          Inefficient — You really believe government run monopolies are accountable and transparent. Seriously? They are the poster child of inefficiency, bureaucracy, problem amplification and rent seeking.

          Unequal — You think we give 30-40% or more of GDP to those that deserve it? Which arms builder deserves it? Which corporate financial fuck up deserves it? Which bridge to nowhere? A monkey throwing darts would do a better job of getting money to those deserving it. Seriously.

          Unreliable — You think governmental Ponzi schemes are going to be reliable? Seriously?

          Me thinks you are blinded by the top down fallacy of problem solving.Report

          • Avatar Silver Wolf says:

            Perhaps you should look outside your own nation for good examples of social development. I’m a Canadian so I have seen the good work that a government can achieve when you don’t elect a gibbering horde of people who say that the job they are running for is inherently counterproductive and corrupt.

            Government isn’t perfect at it for sure but I would rather have a program that is preset to help me than random acts of selective charity.

            he US has the “weakest” social welfare of all the wealthy democracies so it’s not surprising that its best social programs are being overshadowed by everything else it does.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “People give to whom they want to. Government (should) give to who needs it the most regardless.”

          Ah-heh. Because “government” is a completely objective entity which invariably makes the right decision and is totally unaffected by special interests or lobbying.Report

  14. Avatar mclaren says:

    “The correlation between work and wealth and sloth and poverty should not be controversial.”

    It certainly isn’t. There is no correlation.

    Naturally, the available scientific literature provides overwhelming evidence that economic motivations are among the worst for producing performance. Let’s let Bruno S. Frey, Professor of Economics at the University of Zurich and Margit Osterloh, Professor (em.) for Business Administration and Management of Technology and Innovation, University of Zürich; and Professor, Warwick Business School, summarize the published scientific literature:

    Scientific literature has extensively dealt with variable pay-for-performance. Despite the fact that serious problems linked to this approach have thus become obvious, many authors continue to support compensation according to predetermined performance criteria because they are committed to the traditional concept of the ’homo oeconomicus’.

    Overall, there has been a marked change of opinion in academia (see for instance Bryson and Freeman 2008 on this site). The idea that people are solely self-interested and materially orientated has been thrown overboard by leading scholars. Empirical research, in particular experimental research, has shown that under suitable conditions human beings care for the wellbeing of other persons. Above all, they are not solely interested in material gains (see eg Frey and Osterloh 2002).

    Source: “Variable pay for performance is folly,” Prof. Bruno S. Frey and Margit Osterloh, 2007.

    Journal articles cited:

    Bryson, Alex and Richard B Freeman (2008), “Does shared capitalism work in the United Kingdom”,, 3 September.

    Frey, Bruno S and Margit Osterloh (2002), Successful Management by Motivation. Balancing Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Heidelberg: Springer.

    Susanne Neckermann, Reto Cueni and Bruno S. Frey, “Making Them Rich or Proud? Managements’ Perspective on Employee Awards.” Institute for Economic Research, University of Zurich, 2008.

    Margit Osterloh and Katja Rost, Introduction to the Special Issue “Der Anstieg der Management-Vergütung: Markt oder Macht?” Sonderband Die Unternehmung, Baden-Baden:Nomos-Verlag,2011: 1-18. A version in German is forthcoming in Oekonomenstimme, 2011.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      mclaren, you should post comments more often. I find your stuff uncommonly informative.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      heh. The conclusion I drew from that study was that people were lazier than they were greedy.

      Or, less cynically, people will only work as hard as they need to. If a person is content with their current situation then it doesn’t matter how many “incentives” you offer. Which, y’know, makes sense; why should I work ten hours of overtime, even at double pay, if that’s ten fewer hours to spend with my wife, or reading books, or playing Doom on my computer?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Consider these two points:

        It would be naïve to assume that the persons subjected to variable pay-for-performance would accept the respective criteria in a passive way and fulfil their work accordingly. Rather, they spend much energy and time trying to manipulate these criteria in their favour.

        Variable pay-for-performance results in employees restricting their work to those areas covered by the performance criteria.

        The conclusion I draw from these is that incentives work, but not necessarily as intended. Or, to put it another way, people aren’t stupid. case in point: Say you get rewarded for each mortgage you sell, but there aren’t enough qualified borrowers. Can you find a solution?Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        Wow, you still have Doom on your computer?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        DD, have you read Daniel Pink’s Drive? I think there is growing data that suggests that those that excel in the drive department are not driven by financial incentives. In fact, the data suggests that control is a far greater motivator for the successful than $s.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Indeed; “if they’re content with their current situation”, I said. If the only way to be content is to continually get more then they’ll never be content.Report

  15. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    Isn’t Poverty a feature not a bug?

    Modern capitalism and free markets, as it is currently practiced by The Weans (a really great book, if you don’t know it), follows the first principle of evolution: survival of the fittest – evolve or die.

    As such, some will not be fit to survive in the modern human world we have created.

    I would argue that this would happen, no matter what the economic model that is followed, though some economic frameworks would create a less egalitarian and equal society than others. This is by design.

    It all depends on what we want to reward. Arbitrage and selling bits of paper seem to be high on the list of survivability skills in our current world. You want to get ahead? Then, don’t care too much about fishing other people.Report

  16. Avatar Roger says:

    Thanks for the reply Silver Wolf,

    These threads are getting WAY too long, but if you were to read through all of mine you would see that I am not suggesting random acts of selective charity. Indeed, that seems to be the common assumption of the “progressive’s” views toward decentralized institutions. Bottoms up, non-coercive is not synonymous with “charity.”

    I suspect that the welfare state is set to implode based upon the weight of its own inefficiency. I don’t even think the US will be the first to go or the farthest to fall. I do have a much better hopes for Canada.

    If the dominoes do start to fall, I have some suggestions on how to do it better next time. My guess is we will learn one way or another.Report