Poverty Sucks. Let’s Get Rid of It.

american_wayElias recently impugned the anti-poverty motives of conservatives, so I’ll take a crack at the left.

Low-income status, to too many politically correct liberals, is a demographic “box to check.” Far from treating poverty as an intolerable condition that demands eradication, they look at “low income” as a diversity-enhancing signifier comparable to being black or transgender. Immiseration and class, thus thrown in with categories in which heterogeneity is hailed, aren’t in line for abolition but for anodyne amalgamation— class mixing, not class elimination. The upshot: the elimination of poverty and the curtailing of material chasms between classes are afterthoughts. But material destitution has no place in a multiracial, pluralistic democracy. It’s a cancer that corrodes the body politic. If a post-racist society—rather than a post-racial society—is desirable, so is a society in which privation and class, and not simply classism, are relics of the past.

For liberals, none of this is accidental. Their subscription to the ideology of upward mobility definitionally demands winners and losers. The lucky few rise from their debased, degraded circumstances; the many languish. The existence of poverty remains static, even as a person here or there frees herself from its firm grip. The cynic might even say that affluent, congenitally guilty liberals benefit from this lasting pool of poor people. What else would so assuage their consciences as funding scholarships for the needy?

If my corner of the left is guilty of anything, it’s a romanticization of poverty. For one, there’s the Emersonian escapism that anticipated the contemporary off the grid “movement.” Crude lifestyle-ism, this isn’t a politics capable of effecting social change, but an ineffective, dispersed retreat that isolates people and personalizes structural problems. Additionally, there’s an urban bohemianism with a long pedigree on the left. Here, ascetic living is valued for its back-to-basics simplicity, artistic, non-conformist spontaneity, and rejection of capitalist consumerism. The urge has much to offer, but it can minimize the horrors of poverty—the insecurity, the diminution of health, the lack of dignity. Thoroughgoing post-materialism is positively grotesque and callous when material deprivation is still the lived reality of many. Those mired in poverty don’t choose privation. They don’t suffer to satisfy some spiritual need. They’re simply stuck.

Poverty is really awful, and it’s really preventable. Matt Bruenig has likened it to toxic lead:

In response to learning that lead was messing up kids brains, we sought to eliminate exposure to it, e.g. by banning leaded gasoline, by banning lead paint, and by undertaking lead remediation projects. But we don’t do that for poverty, not really. Neither party is out there saying we need to eliminate poverty exposure. Instead, we’ve decided to keep in place the economic institutions that cause poverty to exist, and frantically construct policies that mop up part of the disaster that impoverishment then causes. It would be as if, instead of eliminating exposure to lead, we just kept poisoning kids with it, and created a bunch of Lead Charter Schools that were specifically targeted for the needs of lead-poisoned students.

The analogy is apt, and the policy prescription is clear: Get rid of poverty.

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474 thoughts on “Poverty Sucks. Let’s Get Rid of It.

  1. The core problem is that in a capitalist society, money is power, and the poor (by definition) lack money and thus power. The only liberals I’ve ever encountered who romanticized poverty were college academics divorced from any reality that I can fathom, here on the street liberals will cite you dozens of statistics about the dire thing that poverty does to young children.

    Here on the street liberals work for amelioration of the side effects of poverty because of one simple reality that they cannot escape: The majority of Americans are unwilling to vote for the elimination of poverty in America. Why this is true is because of a number of factors, but even during the most liberal time of American politics — the 1960’s of the Civil RIghts Act and War on Poverty — there was no real attempt to change the systemic causes of poverty. It was all about patch jobs to make being poor a bit less dire, in the end.

    So the poor lack power to change the system, and liberals can’t get the majority of Americans to use their power to change the system because, hey, the system works for the majority of Americans, right? (Not as true as it used to be but that is something for another post). So what can liberals do other than what they’re doing — patch jobs to make being poor a bit less dire, at best? That is the issue that liberals face, given that the U.S. is a democracy and thus they cannot eliminate poverty via fiat.

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    • “The majority of Americans are unwilling to vote for the elimination of poverty in America.”

      I don’t know if this is true. It’s certainly not true that people are given the option to vote for anyone who seriously is committed to ending poverty. I can’t recall any polling that has asked this question, although decades of polling show Americans do support more aggressive efforts to address poverty, and that this has had little impact on the political system.

      But more importantly, this isn’t the issue. The funders are pushing for more poverty and more punishment for the poor, and absent popular mobilization, their views carry the day. What majorities will vote for matters considerably less in our system than what the donor class will accept. And that popular mobilization can only happen if 1) some people make the sort of bolder claims made above 2) people see that the status quo is not a product of majority support.

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      • Roger, people like the Koch Brothers are pushing to take food stamps away from the poor, reduce Medicaid benefits for the poor, and so forth. That’s what he meant by “pushing for more punishment for the poor”.

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      • Bad tux, David and MA,

        No longer providing a handout is not punishment. Indeed providing too much in handouts can more accurately be termed punishment. Creating dependency is wrong.

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      • Rigging the game so poor people can’t get ahead (the U.S. has less social mobility than any European country other than Britain), then, since you seem to believe that health care isn’t necessary for the poor (Medicaid cuts nationwide), food isn’t necessary for the poor, etc. Darn poors should just die, already!

        And that, sir, is why I say that the entire right-wing attitude toward the poor is “the floggings shall continue until morale improves.” And if the poor are miserable and stressed out and poorly educated due to crap schools and dying in increasing numbers from disease? Well, I get the impression that right wingers actually get *woodies* over that and want more of it, and your comment doesn’t change that impression. Just sayin’.

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      • Creating dependency is wrong.

        It’s a shame what happens to people who inherit great wealth. Never having to earn anything, they don’t learn normal human values. The result is the Koch brothers, who have never wanted for anything in their lives, telling those who struggle every day that they don’t work hard enough. And you’re absolutely right. If they hadn’t grown up so pampered and isolated from normal human concerns, they might not have become what they are.

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      • It’s a shame what happens to people who inherit great wealth. Never having to earn anything, they don’t learn normal human values.

        Heh. Nice. Man have I seen that scenario played out over and over.

        You’re right about this. The issue about dependency is often framed as providing a disservice to individuals because it stunts their growth and autonomy and sense of individual responsibility and whatnot. But for some reason that argument only seems to apply to the poors. Never the emotionally stunted rich.

        Something else is going on here.

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      • JB, I hear ya on that. And I don’t disagree, but the issue is that the claim that “creating dependency is wrong”. In what way? How? Why? Is only institutional dependency wrong (how?, why?) or is any type of dependency wrong? Aren’t the Koch Bros an example of how dependency on the upper end manifests when coupled with extraordinary power and ambition?

        More to the point, tho, is the idea that dependency is a negative value that ought to be discouraged. If so, to go all Godwinish, why do we allow inheritances for the sons and daughters of the wealthy? Doesn’t that codify disrespect to those individuals?

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      • Creating dependency is indeed bad. Why look at what happens to generations of kids who get into Ivy League schools as legacy admits. Due to that handout they got something unearned and look how poorly they turnout.

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      • Well, the easy answer for me is whether something is “My Beeswax”.

        Papa Koch dying and leaving money to his kids? None of my beeswax. I certainly don’t think it be appropriate that I have a say in how he’s raising them (assuming no evidence of harm, of course).

        There was, sadly, that 2-3 year period where Paris Hilton was (shudder) “hot” and that was bad for everybody but that seems to have worked out of all of our systems (thank goodness).

        I’m not sure that I should have had a say in her lifestyle, though (let alone in the job of how her parents raised her).

        A government system that results in people living on the dole raising children on the dole who grow up to have children also on the dole? This seems to be more akin to something that is my business. It’s being done in my name and in the name of doing good. If actual harm is being done, it’s harm being done in my name and done in the name of doing good. That seems to be my beeswax right there.

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      • Aren’t Ivy League schools private? Are their admissions practices my beeswax?

        Or is this one of those things where they wouldn’t be where they are today without the tax breaks I’ve been giving them so, therefore, I should have a say in the various percentages of what kind of people get admitted?

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      • Barring evidence of harm, I know that remarkably little of what goes on in my house is your beeswax. I need a good argument for why what goes on in your house, barring evidence of harm, is mine.

        Or what goes on in their house (mansion).

        For the life of me, it feels like we’re yelling “BUT THEY’RE VIOLATING MY TABOOS!”

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      • The argument is that giving people stuff they haven’t earned (for some value of “earn”) harms them. We can talk about that without worrying about who paid for the stuff.

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      • I’ve seen parenting that has resulted in the child being able to take care of him or herself and parenting that has resulted in the child being somewhat stunted and never achieving what I’d be inclined to call “full adulthood”… which strikes me as harm.

        I imagine that the argument could be made that the Kochs wouldn’t be able to take care of themselves if they didn’t have all of that money but it seems to me that building policy on counterfactual harm rather than actual harm is pretty likely to result in overreach.

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      • Jaybird, you’re getting real close to the “we – as a society – have a right to tell people what they can buy with their food stamps because they owe us something (they’ve caused us harm, bro!)” argument here. I seem to recall that you recoil from that view.

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      • I’ve seen parenting that has resulted in the child being able to take care of him or herself and parenting that has resulted in the child being somewhat stunted and never achieving what I’d be inclined to call “full adulthood”… which strikes me as harm.

        Assuming you’re still attaching this to a claim that dependency on aid caused the kinds of parenting that you think exists and that you think causes (“results in”: should I infer a causal claim?) these things, the number of causal links that you’re asserting but not defending here becomes pretty problematic.

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      • I would argue that multiple generations of adults living on the dole is, in fact, evidence of harm that is not demonstrated by allowing food stamp recipients to purchase foods off from certain shelves in certain aisles only.

        (But, for the record, I recoil from the attitude that says “I’m paying for you to eat nutritious food, I’m not paying for you to buy cigarettes, Doritos, and Pepsi” because I know where that leads, not because I don’t sympathize.)

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      • Assuming you’re still attaching this to a claim that dependency on aid caused the kinds of parenting that you think exists and that you think causes (“results in”: should I infer a causal claim?) these things, the number of causal links that you’re asserting but not defending here becomes pretty problematic.

        It seems to me that intergenerational welfare dependence is something that exists and, moreover, is something that is evidence of a problem.

        Would you like me to cite a handful of papers? Would that make you feel better? How many would be sufficient for you to cease to be troubled by the number of causal links I mention?

        Because, honestly, I didn’t think that the existence of intergenerational welfare dependence was in question.

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      • Multiple generations on the dole is bad. Was there an argument it wasn’t? No i don’t think so. The questions are who are we talking about, how many people, what subset of people is this? Because most people who get some form of public assistance for poor people don’t stay on for generations or decades or even in many case years. This part of the argument needs data to back it up because while its true some people have been stuck in a dole cycle it is not everybody who received something. So to know about the solutions and the causes we need to know more about the problem.

        From what i’ve read and experience a big part of the problem is going to involve far more than just “welfare” but it will include drug abuse, the WOD, mental illness and the massive restructuring of our economy. Of course mentioning that racism might have something to do with it for some subgroups means the conversation ends so…whatever, it is still part of it. Is the solution being harsher on people on the dole? It is hard to see how that helps if they have a drug problem or are mentally ill, they likely actually need treatment. To really deal with the areas with hard core long term poverty/ long term dole recipients we need a bunch of solutions. What liberals would suggest won’t be happening any time soon.

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      • I would argue that multiple generations of adults living on the dole is, in fact, evidence of harm that is not demonstrated by allowing food stamp recipients to purchase foods off from certain shelves in certain aisles only.

        Not sure if that’s a combined response to me & Still, but for my part I wasn’t partaking of the comparison between limits on food stamps and your view of the harm of cash aid. I was just addressing your claim that I quotes straight-up.

        Whereon, I would simply deny that “multiple generations of adults living on the dole is, in fact, evidence of harm” I.e. the harm being that the dole caused this. No, “Thing X And Thing Y” is not significant evidence that “Thing X Caused Thing Y.” Yes, it’s more evidence of that than “Thing X and Thing Y doesn’t even exist.” But “Thing X And Thing Y” is only enough evidence to posit the most preliminary of hypotheses that thing X caused thing Y. It really isn’t evidence of it to speak of.

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      • Because, honestly, I didn’t think that the existence of intergenerational welfare dependence was in question.

        How about intergenerational inherited wealth dependence? Is that a problem? If it is, what’s the problem? If it isn’t, why is intergenerational welfare dependence uniquely a “dependence” problem?

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      • How about intergenerational inherited wealth dependence? Is that a problem? If it is, what’s the problem?

        I’ve honestly never considered the question. Again, the hypothetical “would Paris Hilton be able to take care of herself if she wasn’t born a millionaire? And isn’t that a problem?” questions don’t lead me to the conclusion “therefore we should get the government involved!”

        Should they?

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      • Multiple generations on the dole is bad. Was there an argument it wasn’t? No i don’t think so.

        Talk to Mike Drew. He apparently thinks that it’s bad to assume that the phenomenon even exists unless I link to some of the papers that Wikipedia links to.

        Because most people who get some form of public assistance for poor people don’t stay on for generations or decades or even in many case years.

        But this is like talking about the problems of alcoholism on society and hearing someone else talk about “but what about all of the people out there who drink a beer on Friday night with no problem?”

        Okay. Fine. I’m not talking about them. Am I allowed to talk about the problems of alcoholism now?

        What liberals would suggest won’t be happening any time soon.

        If it makes you feel better, libertarians are in the same boat.

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      • Whereon, I would simply deny that “multiple generations of adults living on the dole is, in fact, evidence of harm” I.e. the harm being that the dole caused this. No, “Thing X And Thing Y” is not significant evidence that “Thing X Caused Thing Y.” Yes, it’s more evidence of that than “Thing X and Thing Y doesn’t even exist.” But “Thing X And Thing Y” is only enough evidence to posit the most preliminary of hypotheses that thing X caused thing Y. It really isn’t evidence of it to speak of.

        Okay. So you do want some papers. Are links sufficient? Should I assume that you’ll read them if I post them or am I just paying the “DO YOU HAVE A CITATION???” toll?

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      • If we agree that the sort of learned dependency that is caused by social welfare programs like food stamps, welfare, Obamaphones, etc., and which causes a vicious cycle of of social and cultural problems not just among the learned dependents but on up the ladder, what do we do about it? Do we eliminate those programs, or at least scale them back to the point that it will, at least in the short term, leave a substantial number of people in the lurch? And if we decide that eliminating them or scaling them back significantly aren’t viable options, because the damage would be even greater (certainly short term, but perhaps also long term, perhaps indefinitely, because such programs arose out of need, not out of whimsical liberal do-gooders), how might we reform them to make it so that they don’t lead to learned helplessness and the resulting vicious cycle? And if we can’t think of such reforms — and the only proposed changes I ever see involve the elimination or significant scaling back of the programs, not qualitative reform with an eye towards filling the need that resulted in the programs in the first place without causing the vicious cycle, leading me to believe that no one has any good ideas about how to reform them — what does that say about the system that results in the need for such programs?

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      • Should they?

        That isn’t the point tho. I’m not sure I can make the point any clearer than I have, but I’ll try again. If the argument against dependency is moralistic (that it stunts individual growth and doesn’t incentivize autonomy and a frontier spirit) then no, that’s not a reason – or a good reason – to get gummint involved. But if the argument is that governmental policy has encouraged something morally bad to happen (dependency!) and government has a role to play in promoting those moral values, then we’re at a bit of a so-called slippery slope. Is government welfare for the poor morally wrong? If so, why? (Hint: dependency.) If dependency is wrong, then why isn’t inheritance based dependence also rejected? (Hint: rich people aren’t “taking” from others.)

        So the dependency argument, when phrased in moralistic terms, cuts a bunch of different directions indiscriminately. If dependency is phrased in purely economic terms, without moralistic trappings about why kicking people off the dole is actually good for them, then I think the argument has a better chance of a favorable reception.

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      • We apparently don’t have a consensus that learned dependency is harmful in the first place.

        So I suppose we’ve got that going for it.

        Do we eliminate those programs, or at least scale them back to the point that it will, at least in the short term, leave a substantial number of people in the lurch?

        What does leaving people in the lurch mean in practice? If we’re talking about Obamaphones, it seems to me that living with a landline (I assume we’re allowed to continue to assume that telephony is considered a public service and, thus, there is a landline jack in every house/apartment? Right?) is not leaving people in a much different lurch than relieving them of food aid.

        And if we decide that eliminating them or scaling them back significantly aren’t viable options, because the damage would be even greater (certainly short term, but perhaps also long term, perhaps indefinitely, because such programs arose out of need, not out of whimsical liberal do-gooders), how might we reform them to make it so that they don’t lead to learned helplessness and the resulting vicious cycle?

        When it comes to individuals, how do we best make sure that individuals don’t learn helplessness when it comes to taking care of themselves? Is there a general plan that tends to work?

        I mean, I know at least one person who can pay his own rent and buy his own food without needing assistance above and beyond the public education he received, roads, etc. It strikes me that this is something that is worth striving for in most individuals.

        And if we can’t think of such reforms — and the only proposed changes I ever see involve the elimination or significant scaling back of the programs, not qualitative reform with an eye towards filling the need that resulted in the programs in the first place without causing the vicious cycle, leading me to believe that no one has any good ideas about how to reform them — what does that say about the system that results in the need for such programs?

        I would say that the system itself is malicious and needs significant reform… but it’s more likely that it will attempt to double down on paternalism.

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      • Okay. So you do want some papers. Are links sufficient?

        MD was specifically talking about a causal relationship there, not just correlation. And if you have papers establishing a causal account of intergenerational dole-living, I’d like to read them. I mean, the ones that actually demonstrate the causal mechanism and all.

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      • Stillwater, isn’t the argument that we provide a social safety net in the first place a moralistic one?

        I assumed that it was. As such, I thought that the counter argument of “you’re not doing the good you’re claiming to have intended but are instead doing harm” would have a bit of weight.

        If we’re not using moralistic arguments at all (GOOD RIDDANCE!!!!), why do we have social safety nets? To keep people from starting a revolution?

        Are there other, cheaper ways we could prevent a revolution?

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      • I thought that the counter argument of “you’re not doing the good you’re claiming to have intended but are instead doing harm” would have a bit of weight.

        Only at a detached, abstract, intellectual level. Do you really think you can speak for those individuals on the dole and tell them what’s good for them?

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      • Links aren’t the issue; your direct statement of what constitutes evidence is. If you had said, “The evidence that I am aware of shows that multiple generations of adults living on the dole is, in fact, a harm that is caused by the existence of the dole, or some feature thereof as it has existed at times,” I wouldn’t have responded as I did. Don’t care about links. What you said was flat-out that the two phenomena both existing (the dole and multiple generations being on it) was evidence that the one causes the other (i.e. that the later generations wouldn’t have been in a condition that led them to go on the dole had it not been for the dole in the first place). This despite the fact that multiple generations of families have stayed in poverty for aeons in places and times with and without the dole. Their both being the case is not evidence that they cause each other; evidence that they cause each other (maybe in papers) is evidence of that.

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      • MD was specifically talking about a causal relationship there, not just correlation. And if you have papers establishing a causal account of intergenerational dole-living, I’d like to read them. I mean, the ones that actually demonstrate the causal mechanism and all.

        First off, I’d ask if you have a JSTOR account.

        If you do, check this out:
        http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2109491?uid=3739568&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102551088677

        If you don’t, there’s this (watch out, it’s a PDF):
        http://www.chicagofed.org/digital_assets/publications/working_papers/2006/wp2006_13.pdf

        Is pointing out that we’re just discussing pretty high correlations rather than causation a reason for declaring victory at this point? Would you like me to google some more?

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      • Only at a detached, abstract, intellectual level.

        You mean the one that moral discussions happen on?

        Do you really think you can speak for those individuals on the dole and tell them what’s good for them?

        Hardly! I might be able to muse about what’s bad for them, though. Well, the ones who are, like, part of multiple generations of being on the dole, anyway.

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      • I might be able to muse about what’s bad for them, though. Well, the ones who are, like, part of multiple generations of being on the dole, anyway.

        You’re surely able to muse about those topics, but you also apparently think that intergenrational welfare constitutes a moral argument against welfare and the accompanying dependency. So I’ll ask you again: why is that a uniquely bad thing when exemplified by poor people? It seems you’re making a moralistic argument here, so why doesn’t apply with equal force to inheritance of intergenerational wealth?

        It seems to me that the moralistic argument just fails on so many levels, and I find it interesting that you – the guy who once said poverty was a matter of taste rather than morality – are making this argument.

        Something else is in play here.

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      • Is it moral harm to welfare recipients or is it monetary harm to those who fund the dole?

        If I may indulge my inner paternalist:
        Does it harm a child to raise it in such a way that he or she cannot take care of him or herself?

        It seems to me that it is, in fact, harmful to the child.

        If we are dealing with multiple generations of people living on the dole, we are talking about multiple generations of people being raised in such a way that they cannot take care of themselves.

        Now, of course, it’d be easy for me to say “fuck them, what are they to me?” and just pay whatever percentage of taxes I end up paying while making noises about how we need to do *SOOO* much more for those poor, poor people… like let’s make some people who aren’t me pay more in taxes! We’d just nip this in the bud if we’d just give those poor, poor people more money! We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing for generations! I’d have the added benefit of getting the right people to smile and nod and the good standing in the group membership is worth whatever I pay in taxes.

        I’m not coming at it from that angle. Obviously.

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      • I’m not coming at it from that angle. Obviously.

        It would help me out a great deal if you’d say what angle you are coming from. The only one I’m seeing is that welfare causes harm to welfare recipients. I somehow don’t think you’re picking up a quibble and running with it to see where it leads. I think there’s something deeper going on wrt policy and morality and I’m not at all sure what it is.

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      • The only one I’m seeing is that welfare causes harm to welfare recipients

        Well, erm, I’m assuming that we created welfare to address harm done to welfare recipients.

        It’s like the argument for welfare was “We need to prevent harm, perhaps do some good, and do what we can to eliminate poverty!”

        Which is, all things considered, a good group of reasons to set up a welfare program, right?

        Well, if it actively does harm, if it doesn’t do as much good as promised, and everybody is in agreement that poverty is no closer to being eliminated than before we started, then maybe we should look at exactly how much harm is being done and how much good is being done and seeing whether we’re cool with that.

        If we’re cool with the scales, we’re cool with the scales.

        Is the argument that we should be cool with the scales? Or that everything is mostly good, we just need to have more people who aren’t us pay more in taxes?

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      • Well maybe. But in this sentence and everybody is in agreement that poverty is no closer to being eliminated than before we started,

        I think you’re using one of those idiosyncratic definitions of “poverty”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

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      • Oh, pardon me! Is the general attitude that the welfare state has done a great deal to eliminate poverty and has, effectively, brought us to a new, lower, plateau?

        I’m willing to amend my sentence with that, if that’s what the general attitude, in fact, is.

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      • I’ll note that this puts me at odds with the position that holds that, to address poverty, we need to provide such things as laptops and internet access (and, by extension, we have no idea what addressing poverty in the future would look like).

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      • OK. For you, “poverty” means not attaining Maslow’s second level in the hierarchy of needs. So, when you say

        and everybody is in agreement that poverty is no closer to being eliminated than before we started

        you apparently mean that everybody is in agreement that social welfare programs haven’t provided for individuals “safety” needs (even welfare has have provided for the basic physical needs – except sex!) and furthermore that everyone agrees that satisfying those needs is the definition of “poverty”?

        1. Do you think that everyone agrees with this definition?

        2. Do you think that everyone agrees that social welfare hasn’t brought us closer to the goal of meeting both physical and security needs?

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      • It is foolish to think that addressing poverty requires providing things necessary to look for a job, like cell phones and internet access, when John D. Rockefeller built a financial empire without either one.

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      • I’m not sure how Jay is proposing to deal with poverty, but if poverty includes Maslow’s second level (if it includes the 3rd, we’re all more or less poor), then a job, and in fact job security, is one of Maslow’s examples. I don’t know if that means laptops and an internet connections are necessary to deal poverty, but it definitely suggests that access to good jobs is.

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      • I guess I just have to use the right definition of poverty.

        Didn’t James say that oh so long ago? Settling on a useful definition of “poverty” is difficult, for a slew of reasons. I’m perfectly willing to use yours, but I disagree that social welfare programs haven’t reduced it, even on your terms.

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      • But we see above examples of the argument, earnestly given, that addressing poverty means computers and internet access.

        In previous times we’ve argued this, we’ve hammered out that if you need the latest X-7 Implants to engage in telepathy like most middle class folks do, then addressing poverty will mean providing the latest X-7 implants.

        And 200 years from now, it will mean something else entirely again.

        Are you cool with that definition? It’s not the definition that I use when I think about these things in my head when I’m by myself, but I’m more than happy to use this definition at least for the duration of an argument.

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      • Your definition isn’t all that different from one of the two prongs in mine, in that I think the first part of poverty is material insecurity, which would pretty much mean the first two levels of the pyramid. But I don’t think you can talk about poverty, and I definitely don’t think you can deal with poverty, without the second prong, which is a deep, virtually inescapable inequality of opportunity, an inequality that may not be fully encompassed by the first two levels. In fact, I suspect that to some extent it spans all 5.

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      • Jaybird, I’ll concede something to you: I’m inclined to define “poverty” much more narrowly than you do, pretty much in terms of Maslow’s first level. That’s a subjective determination, to be sure, but for me poverty means not enough food to eat; the absence of shelter; insufficient clothing; that sort of thing. Purely physical stuff. Social programs that provide more than those things aren’t justified in terms of “poverty relief”. At least not trivially.

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      • Yes, but I don’t know that we, as a society, have a moral responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to a “good” job. Now, before we go crazy saying that I’m arguing that people deserve to be killed on the job if they’re poor, I’m fine with saying that we should ensure that people don’t have awful, awful, horrible, awful, crappy jobs… but there are many jobs out there that are “meh” because… well, they’re meh jobs.

        It seems to me that these are just as viable an option. Working as assistant shirt folder at the black t-shirt store. Working as ice cream scooper at Baskin Robbins. Working as dishwasher. Working as straightener and floor sweeper. Working as cashier.

        None of these strike me as “good” jobs (the ones that I’ve done were not “good”, anyway… definitely “meh”).

        And some quick googling (irony!) tells me that these jobs still have “show up in person and hand over an application” components and Target even has a kiosk where you sit in it in person and fill out the application there.

        And that strikes me as fitting in with Maslow.

        (I also admit to suspecting that the laptops that I might see as good enough would get a “we should provide better laptops than *THAT*!” response. “What? It’s got Redhat and open office.” “People should be able to practice with windows.” or some such argument confirming my suspicions that the proper answer is always “MORE MORE MORE” and never “let them do it themselves”.)

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      • When I say “good job” from a Maslowian perspective I just mean one with reasonable security, a safe workplace, the absence of employee abuse by management, and similar sorts of things (I’d add a living wage, but I realize that’d be controversial). Precisely the things that would be associated with “safety.”

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      • I’m not even talking about good jobs. I’m talking about part-time jobs with irregular schedules, which you can’t get if they can’t call or e-mail you when they need you.

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      • Does it harm a child to raise it in such a way that he or she cannot take care of him or herself?

        It seems to me that it is, in fact, harmful to the child.

        If we are dealing with multiple generations of people living on the dole, we are talking about multiple generations of people being raised in such a way that they cannot take care of themselves.

        I don’t know that it harms a child to be raised in such a way that it is possible for him or her to grow up and end up earning little enough money to qualify for “the dole.”

        But even if we say it does, again, it doesn’t follow from the fact that in a given family “multiple generations” might receive public assistance, that that public assistance program caused that result where it wouldn’t have occurred before. Having the presumption that it does ignores the baseline reality that, in places and times before or without public assistance programs of the kind, it is an entirely indigenous fact about our society that multiple generations of families often remain in poverty.

        This is not to argue that welfare had no impact on the rate at which that happened in the second half of the 20th Century in America. I suspect the evidence on that is somewhat murky (though perhaps it is clear as day; I’d be more interested in survey-of-the-literature literature to give me a sense of where the assessment of that stands than in individual studies at this point – we presumably have more perspective on the question at this point than what on guy had to say about it in 1992).

        It’s just to say that it’s not as clear as “there have been multiple generations of families on the dole, so the dole has not helped and has instead harmed by causing that.” There may have been a mix of help mitigated by some problems related to dependency, with the net-net difficult to determine.

        Another thing to point out is that the term “the dole” is a purposely generalized one meant to conflate the particular set of policies that were in place in the U.S. from 1965 or so to 1995 (which is where the particular effects being pointed to took place) with the whole concept of public cash aid. This obscures the very plausible possibility that, if these phenomena were significantly caused by “the dole” during this period, this effect was related to aspects of the programs’ design that could be changed, rather than necessarily to the basic practice of distributing cash aid to people.

        (Note to @jaybird: I didn’t see this comment above, so in part this discussion got a little off-track on the issue of evidence, citation, etc. by my responding to a comment that may not have been meant to be a response to me. Sorry about that.)

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    • Badtux,

      How do we go about eliminating poverty by dictat? I am not following your logic.

      Bonus question… If we did eliminate poverty, what would become of the base of the democratic party? What reason would there be to vote for further redistribution once we were all average?

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      • Your elephant undies are showing Roger.
        “Giving them redistribution” would of course not go away since in the scenario you outline some party would have to defend that state of affair (assuming voters found it palatable).

        Contra the GOP’s pabulums, however, the Democratic Party has plenty of other angles it appeals to voters on besides that. Urbanism, environmentalism, secularism, non-discrimination, opposition (compared to the GOP though lamentably not objectively) to foreign war making and adventurism, regulation etc… the list goes on and on.

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      • If we did eliminate poverty, what would become of the base of the democratic party?

        I think you’re conflating “inner-city black welfare recipients” with “poverty” here, Roger. Could be wrong about that, of course. I mean, the poorest states in the US tend to vote GOP and many of those voters are at or below the poverty line. Not to mention that so-called “Red” states tend to receive more redistributed “welfare” than Blue states.

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      • The basis of the modern Democratic Party has always been prosperity for the broad middle class of Americans. That is why FDR created jobs programs rather than simply giving out money, eliminating unemployment for anybody willing to work with the stroke of a pen (yes, he did, yes, those were real jobs paying real wages as far as the people holding them were concerned even if Republicans sneered that they were “make-work” jobs and thus not *really* jobs). Eliminating the poor would not affect the basis of the modern Democratic Party at all.

        But by dictat, you say? Okay. Let’s go back to Eisenhower level of taxation on the wealthy, eliminate all tax breaks for offshoring American jobs and tax all money earned overseas by anybody selling more than a certain amount of goods into America at American tax rates (or the difference between the local tax rate and American tax rates for countries with a tax treaty) and apply this to “foreign” companies (bogus corporate HQ’s in foreign countries that consist of a P.O. box for companies whose executives all live in the United States) or you don’t import anything into America, raise the minimum wage to LBJ 1969 levels and *inflation index* it so it never falls so low again, and use the additional tax money to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to cover 100% of housing costs for anybody in the bottom quintile (housing costs are approximately 70-80% of the cost of living for the poor, it turns out that those crumbling ghetto landlords charge outrageous rent for the privilege of not running credit checks on people who have no credit). Also end the humiliations that attend low end wage slavery today — mandate a minimum of at least two weeks of paid vacation and one week of sick time per year, for example. And provide free health care for all Americans via Medicare For All with no means testing, issue Medicare cards to all holders of Social Security Cards and expand Medicare to cover 100% of healthcare expenses (lack of access to health care due to the “separate but equal” perenially underfunded Medicaid is a huge cause of the detrimental effects of poverty on the poor, especially the working poor who make a few dollars too much to qualify for Medicaid). You would pretty much end “the poors” as such.

        But it won’t happen, because of two reasons — zero sum thinking on the part of the middle class who is convinced that if we don’t have “the poors” it’s because we made the middle class poorer, and because assholes near and wide want someone to be superior to, and if “the poors” actually have a reasonable standard of living where they aren’t facing disaster (as in, eviction, furniture repo’ed, no food for the children, etc.) if they catch the flu and can’t work for a few days, then how can we feel superior to them? Too many Americans want to feel morally superior to other Americans, and want to feel that if they’re not poor, it’s because they’re morally superior — not because they got a superior education or were born to a middle class family. If we eliminated “the poors”, who would they feel morally superior to?

        So it ain’t happening. Can’t happen. Americans won’t vote for it. So liberals do what they can, rather than what they’d do in some ideal world of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees. So it goes.

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      • The bureau’s methodology (along with some spankin’ cool maps) is here (PDF).

        The results were used in a table at Wiki, where the rightmost column is called “Supplemental Poverty Measure (Geographically Adjusted)”, which has a button to sort by that measure. The result is:

        1) 23.1%, Washington DC
        2) 22.4%, California
        3) 21.6%, Arizona
        4) 19.5%, Florida
        5) 18.8%, Georgia
        6) 18.0%, Hawaii
        7) 17.6%, New York
        8) 17.2%, Nevada
        9) 17.0%, Mississippi
        10) 16.5%, Texas

        At the other end were Iowa, Vermont, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Maine, New Hampshire, Montana, Pennsylvania, in order by least poverty.

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      • Those two lists of most poverty and least poverty when throwing in inflation is pretty simple. The list of most poverty (outside of Missisippi) are all states with large urban cores while those with the least poverty (outside of Pennsylvania and maybe Utah) are states without any large urban cores.

        So, all that list proves, other than the fact that Mississippi must be a real hellhole if they can’t escape the bottom 10 in poverty list even with inflation thrown in, is that cities are expensive.

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      • North

        It is possible to criticize the habit of democrats to create a dependent class without being a republican.

        I am well aware that the left does not only solicit the redistribution class. It is certainly the core though.

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      • SW

        No, I mean voters dependent on handouts taken from one person and given to another to benefit politicians offering the goodies. I could elaborate but I bet you get the drift. I find it a problematic situation with huge negative effects.

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      • ND

        Of course it was partisan in terms of being a very snide remark which suggests that the party of the left depends upon actively sustaining redistribution and thus maintaining and expanding the existence of a lower class.

        Feel free to argue against it. Btw arguing the other party does it too isn’t a very good defense.

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      • Hmm, Roger, you appear to believe that the majority of people are deadbeats who will not work unless flogged and who would vote to take money away from others for their own benefit even if they didn’t need that money to meet basic needs of food, shelter, transportation to work, clothing, and health care. Wow, what a bitter, cynical and paranoid person you must be. Do you truly, honestly believe that the majority of people you meet every day want to steal your goodies? For realz? Do you realize just how sad that makes you look to the rest of us?

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      • Tux

        Nice laundry list of bad ideas to take what was created from those that created it and give it to those that didn’t. It would take a series of posts to contradict all the economic myths you wove in to this mess. Maybe tomorrow.

        You aren’t MA in disguise are you?

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      • Rog, that the liberal types believe in some degree of redistribution is true and obvious. Its what we say we believe in although the details of what different people believe varies widely. The stuff about therefore wanting to expand and maintain the lower class is a silly circular argument; libs want to give things to poor people to make them less poor, therefore they want more people to be poor, but giving them stuff makes them less poor, so……underpants gnome time i guess. I know you disagree with liberal thought, which i fine and all. But the point of things like uni HC or affirmative action ( both widely supported by libs) act to help people raise themselves up to be middle class or avoid catastrophic problems that would make them poor. That you disagree with those ideas doesn’t actually mean libs have malign motives The safety net libs want has helped people lift themselves up. Is that safety net designed all that well; no, could it be better; yes.

        Your argument is the equivalent of the criticisms of libertarians that they only want rich people to get richer and don’t give a fig about anyone else. If there is one thing i’ve seen from reading and taking part in these chats is how many people are perceptive only about strawmen aimed at them yet don’t want to take a look at the strawmen they throw at others.

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      • Uhm, wrong, Roger. It was a laundry list of ideas for workers to TAKE BACK the wealth that they created from the wealthy oligarchs who have seized it from them via power and force. Larry Ellison has not coded a single line of the code that has made his company billions of dollars. Why should he be a billionaire and his Indian workers that actually create the code be paid pennies on the dollar, when it is his workers who created the wealth, not Larry Ellison?

        At which point you say, “The market!” which is exactly my point — the market transfers wealth from those without power (Larry’s Indian plantation workers) to those with power (Larry Ellison). What I point out is that sooner or later, in a democracy the workers will vote to take back some of the wealth that they created for the wealthy. Either that, or they will be suppressed at gunpoint and the country become a tyranny.

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      • It is possible to criticize the habit of democrats to create a dependent class without being a republican.

        Sure. I think the criticism could strike at two things, tho. The first is the intention of Democratic politicians and voters to capture a voting block by making them dependent. (That strikes me as an unjustifiably cynical view.) The second is that intentions to help people result in the creation of dependency on governmental resources which happen to be supported by Democrats, even while those benefits aren’t necessarily in the best interests of the individual receiving them. (This strikes me as more charitable even tho it’s dismissive of individual benefit recipients.)

        You’ve indicated an acceptance that the first one is correct.

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      • Badtux, didn’t you just describe what liberals think capitalists sucking at the government trough are like? How is it true for rich people but not for everyone else, especially given that the rich tend to work eighty hours a week or more?

        It was a long-standing assumption that the poor only work because they have to, and that if they were to get wealth they wouldn’t do anything at all. That was probably based on centuries of empirical observation about people, including nobles. De Tocqueville and others observed that in America, this rule no longer seemed to apply, and that the more money the farmers and working classes got, the greater their appetites became. The women all wanted the finest dresses, etc. This was noted as a puzzling cultural and historical anomaly.

        It does not hold true everywhere.

        One of my friends, a factory project manager, was doing an installation in the Caribbean and the customer (a company), having had a very good year, gave all the workers two weeks worth of pay as a Christmas bonus. So nobody showed up for work for two weeks and the company had to find new employees. It’s a cultural thing, and if a culture lauds getting along by doing nothing, that’s what people will do.

        One of the problems with lauding benefits for the poor and portraying them as basic rights is that it destigmatizes continued failure within the community of recipients. That’s a problem both in the inner cities and in places like Appalachia, and it basically throws away the human potential of entire families and demographics for generations.

        Absent a too-comfortable social safety net ensconced in a culture that doesn’t regard outside reliance as a sign of weakness (instead blaming racism, Marxist historical forces, or the evil companies), many people have hit bottom, repeatedly, and went on to achieve astounding heights or achieve a happy, comfortable, independent, and highly rewarding life where their self-esteem is self-earned. In contrast, most Lotto winners go bankrupt in just a few years and lose most of their friends in the process.

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      • and Greg

        It is entirely possible to create a dependent class with zero foresight and malice. That said I am sure politicians and intellectuals are not all naive. I am not suggesting either of you wishes to create a dependent class nor do voters in general.

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      • Roger- Well yeah in general it is possible to create dependency without trying although i’d say its actually a lot harder to have that happen than you do. I’ll really go out on a contrarian limb to say that politicians, who are of course all evil, might occasionally believe in what they do and don’t do every single thing out of pure calculation of gain for themselves.

        If we get down to what can and does create dependency that is a good discussion but doesn’t really happen much at all. Its mostly poo flinging of one variety or another. I’ve thought a lot about dependency in some of the work i’ve done with chronically mentally ill people. We had to think a lot about pushing people to be as independent as possible, thereby minimizing our role but without pushing them to the point they ended up back in a state psych hospital. So this is a conversation i think is healthy and good. But simply stating D’s pols want dependent voters is shrill Fox news bs.

        If we’re going to have this convo then we need to bring some numbers about how many people stay on public benefits, precisely which public benefits we are talking about and exactly how they are structured. The last time i looked most people don’t’ stay on something like TANF for more than a year and the spike in people on in the last few years is solely related to the giant recession we had. That is sort of the point to a social safety net, to be there when the bottom drops out.TANF in general does not hand out huge checks so its hard to see how it keeps people from getting jobs since people on TANF dont’ get much.

        To have this discussion be productive it needs to be much more granular and data based.

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      • Jay- I was referring to Roger’s comment, which many people make, that what politicians do is always solely craven and based on getting themselves elected. I have no trouble believing many politicians do what they do because they believe it is correct and a good idea. That doesn’t mean it is a good idea, but that wasn’t’ what i was referencing. It is easy to assume the absolute worst of anybody who is a politician ( insert some high quality snark from Schilling here) but i think that is often overly cynical, easy and lacking any real explanatory power.

        That people try to do good things that don’t work out is true and banal and not really my point at all. If we ever had some libertarian pols they would do things they think were good that wouldn’t work also.

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      • you must be thinking of someone else, I did not describe capitalists feasting at the government trough in any way. I am more interested in some of the core problems of how we organize societies and what is the way to organize a society that results in the most good for the most people, which, in a democracy, is the goal that an economy is supposed to strive for. My point that we have sufficient wealth in America that no American should have to worry about having sufficient food, clothing, transportation, housing, and health care has nothing to do with capitalists feasting at the government thought.

        I will add one bit of snark though. It is 100% true that assuring that all Americans not need to worry about having sufficient food, clothing, transportation, housing, and health care would result in more of what we paid for. The number of people having sufficient food, clothing, transportation, housing, and health care and thus able to focus on improving themselves and their contribution to the economy would increase significantly.

        With that I am signing out for the evening, I have a club meeting of the Mao Appreciation Study Group to attend. (Just kidding, actually it’s one of those commie Jeep clubs where we go discuss our trip to one of those evil socialist national forests to drive our Jeeps around on those evil socialist forest service designated Jeep trails when not eating mass quantities of red meat and drinking mass quantities of beer… it’s a liberal Californian thing, you wouldn’t understand ;) ).

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      • That is why FDR created jobs programs rather than simply giving out money, eliminating unemployment for anybody willing to work with the stroke of a pen

        This is not even close to true on several different levels.

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      • “Your elephant undies are showing Roger.”

        Didn’t the post say the same thing, though not in political terms? (it’s what I take zic to be criticizing, correctly, below)

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      • You are welcome to criticize the Dems Roger, you don’t brand yourself as a partisan hack by doing so. But when you make bald faced GOP-cray-cray assertions like the ‘base” of the entire Democratic party is redistribution and fostering dependency of all things then you’re shooting yourself and your argument in the foot because the mental doors of just about everyone to the left of you slams shut.

        One major impediment to libertarianism in the US today is that its proponents have been snuggled cheek to jowl with the GOP so long that they struggle to even communicate without aping the habitual shibboleths and slurs that the GOP’s wing nuts use.

        And, as I noted in my criticism, the particular GOP shibboleth you used is not only risible but also blatantly and factually incorrect from every angle. If you’re going to borrow partisan script from right wing statists and theocons then at least swipe some clever ones.

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      • (and Greg)

        I believe redistribution and privilege are major components of the political base of both parties, especially the one on the left. Once the government steps in to support people it begins the process which gravitates toward dependency. A cra-cra democrat by the name of Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about it extensively. I am going to assume you agree here. If not please try to argue without implying I am a closet Fox news junky. It is quite rude.

        Once people get used to aid, any threat to such aid by the party not offering it (even when well intentioned) is viewed as harm by the other party. See David and MA’s comments on “punishment” above. It is thus in the interest of those receiving benefits and those not receiving benefits but empathizing with them (see pathological altruism) to rally to the polls to continue the dysfunctional scheme.

        The absolute core or heart of the left is all about protecting the little guy. The poor person. The minority. The laborer with brotherly solidarity standing against big Koch capital (boo hiss).

        Let me be clear. There is a dysfunctional dynamic within the democratic party. It is inherently dependent upon actively handing out privilege and goodies to the less fortunate. To the extent their actions worked, they risk destroying their own base. Dependency does not need to be intentional to be self perpetuating. This is a bad dynamic, and I suggest you ignore it at the risk of your desired ends.

        If you disagree, tell me where I am wrong, preferably without distorting what I say by adding modifiers to my words like “entire” or “solely craven” (Greg). Most importantly, drop the illogical defense that because those in the GOP give similar arguments, and you are convinced they are brainless dolts, that my argument is wrong.

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      • Now that you’ve retreated back to more generalized brush strokes I have fewer objections though not none. I’m not familiar with what Moynihan wrote so I shan’t speak to it. If you dislike it being implied that you’re a Fox News mouth breather then perhaps you should avoid saying things like the base of the party you oppose is moustache twirling dependency fostering which is not at all synonymous with “helping the little guy”. I’m ignoring your privilege part which is, of course, the base of every political party in the existence of politics and wasn’t part of your original swipe (which to be honest I’d assumed was just gratuitous tongue in cheek really and I’m surprised you defend it so passionately).

        You also have a logical error here. Assuming for a moment that the Democratic Party were based entirely on handing out redistribution/fostering dependency and succeeded in eliminating poverty by doing so this would not eliminate the party’s base; the party would still be needed to defend the status quos it had established.

        That said the Democratic Party is not based fundamentally around redistribution. Hell, the party is older that state based redistribution is, at least in the form it came into being in the early 1900’s. There are entire contingents within the party (the various civil rights movements, environmentalism etc…) that operate entirely independent of questions of redistribution. If anything it strikes me that the Democratic Party has never been as pro-market and right wing as it is right now (at least not for the past hundred years or so). This is much to the displeasure both of the party’s own weakened and unanchored left wing and certainly to the horror of their rivals in the GOP who’ve been forced ever rightward.

        Saying that the Dem’s are based entirely on redistribution and dependency fostering is like saying the GOP is based entirely on war-mongering and theocracy imposition or that libertarians are based entirely on GOP enabling and cat herding: it’s patently false.

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      • Roger,

        You know, if that’s not really MA, you’re going to owe people apologies. And if it is, my understanding is that that person has been banned from participating in these threads. To say it’s MA is to essentially say that our site editors are uninterested or unable in determining that and taking appropriate action. Meaning, you’ll not just owe whoever that is an apology; you’ll owe our editors apologies.

        So how about we lay off the portentous implied accusations in the box, and, if you’re so concerned that the person is MA, shoot an email to an editor expressing said concern? If the situation is as you suspect it to be, presumably our editors will be able to take appropriate action.

        If I am wrong to have asked this of Roger, I’ll happily accept public correction from higher-up site administrators.

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      • To say it’s MA is to essentially say that our site editors are uninterested or unable in determining that and taking appropriate action. Meaning, you’ll not just owe whoever that is an apology; you’ll owe our editors apologies.

        I don’t take it that way at all. We can discuss why offline.

        So how about we lay off the portentous implied accusations in the box, and, if you’re so concerned that the person is MA, shoot an email to an editor expressing said concern? If the situation is as you suspect it to be, presumably our editors will be able to take appropriate action.

        If I am wrong to have asked this of Roger, I’ll happily accept public correction from higher-up site administrators.

        You’re not wrong. I’m not upset with what Roger suggested, but it’s a good idea not to take it any further. Nothing good comes from it.

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      • “It is inherently dependent upon actively handing out privilege and goodies to the less fortunate. To the extent their actions worked, they risk destroying their own base”

        Rog, i’ll respond to this short snip quote from your long response since i think it encapsulates what i see as where the discussion goes awry and where the substantive disagreements are.

        First most gov benefits don’t go the the less fortunate, that is a common misconception. Most go to SS and Medicaid/care which primarily benefits the elderly. The amount of money that goes to benefits for the poor (TANF, etc) is far down the list of expenses of the gov, so the belief that somehow poor people are getting a lot is off base. I think here is where there is a disjunction in the conversation since some people seem to think our social safety net allows people to live rich and easy, where liberal types see the safety net as much closer to minimal, often unduly harsh, punitive and not cushy in any way. I’ve worked with many poor people in my years and none of them were living high off the hog ( or tube steak).

        I don’t doubt you aren’t a Foxy News guy, but your use of some of the same language and allegations doesn’t help your arguments. The use of the term “goodies” has a lot of implications which i think are wrong and also don’t help the conversation. I assume you’ll take it as a given that you and the liberals here have vastly different ideas about many aspects of social policy. I’m assuming also that you can believe that people of good will can have different ideas and beliefs backed up by data. Using the word “goodies” implies that the things liberals or D’s put in place as part of social policy is just giving out presents, anding out lolly pops to con those people into giving up their votes or bribes. It certainly suggests people who vote D don’t actually have ideas and data and theories, however different they may be from yours, that lead to enacting policy. It clearly says D voters are just greedy dopes who are out to get whatever they can (shout to foxy news viewers). You are suggesting that there is no theory or idea behind Liberal ideas that just bribing for votes. Now that view is held by many R’s so i guess that is fair enough. But i does mean you aren’t really addressing any of views you don’t like, just throwing poo. It is essentially the equivalent of the FYIGM smear.

        That you believe giving out “goodies” keeps people dependent also has a bunch of unproven assumptions. Firstly as i noted yesterday if you want to make that assertion you really need to show your work. Most people don’t stay on public benefits for years. Most get off fairly quickly It is the subset that doesn’t get off of them that are being failed, but that is not the majority of people who gets some public benefits. If most people don’t stay on them for long than dependency has not been created so your argument fails. you need to show the group where we can point to dependency then look to see what has caused that. But let me make this clear, your argument about dependency is weak at best since most people who receive some public benefits for the poor don’t stay on for years and years and lead to generational poverty. And again which benefits are we talking about. Does giving out cheap college loans create dependency? Well for poor people going to college is pretty much a rocket sled up and out of poverty so that isn’t creating dependency and is also helping people lift themselves up to the middle class, so that flies in the face of your assertions.

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      • North,

        I agree that once we create dependency on redistribution that people will continue to be beholden to those handing out the goodies or privileges. That has been a major part of my ensuing argument and you correctly pointed out the initial inconsistency of my first comment. Good catch.

        I did ask that you guys stop throwing in gratuitous “entirely”s into my comments. I agree that adding an “entirely” makes many a reasonable comment look absurd.

        That said, I do continue to believe the party of the left has evolved into a party which is foundationaly focused on actively addressing the plight of the disadvantaged. To the extent that non political forces (such as markets or culture) allow the disadvantaged to rise out of disadvantaged status, this core constituency is undermined. As I have stressed a half dozen times in past 24 hours, this does not require malice or design. It just is. Order does not require intentional design, and negative externalities do not require ill will.

        My comments at the bottom of the page lay out how I would seek to eliminate poverty. If I am not mistaken they almost merge with yours on market based guaranteed income.

        http://www.morganwarstler.com/post/44789487956/guaranteed-income-choose-your-boss-the-market-based

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      • Greg,

        When the government takes from Peter and gives to Paul, they create dependency. It is usually wisest to do it in such a way so that the Peters don’t notice (concentrated benefits, hidden costs) or borrow from those that are not born yet. I certainly do not believe the fact that governments also seek to create dependency among home owners, retirees, ethanol growers, bankers and mohair producers undermines my dependency argument. 

        Nor do you need your constituencies to live high on the hog to get their loyalty. You just need to bid higher than the other party. 

        I do think minimum wages, welfare payments and ethanol subsidies and taxi licenses and such are misguided handouts or privileges. They are part bribe. Part bad policy. Part dependency creators. Part good intention, bad result. It is not just a smear. It results in concrete policy recommendations, including those I have provided.

        Your final question asking for proof of longer term dependency is a real good one. So good that I need more time to organize my thoughts. It the type of question that makes coming to this forum so rewarding…

        I will answer it in a few hours down below, starting a new thread…

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    • “The core problem is that in a capitalist society, money is power, and the poor (by definition) lack money and thus power.”

      I kind of understand what you are trying to accomplish with this statement, but it just isn’t true. Money is money and power is power. Certainly one can be used to get the other, but they still remain two separate things. In order for one to become the other, some exchange has to take place. And since the metaphor fails, the attempt to characterize capitalism also fails.

      Do you think that the relationship between money and power was different in Soviet Russia or in Monarchist Saudi Arabia or even in Social Democratic Denmark? In fact, capitalism is really just about the only system where someone with no political power can earn lots of money through exchanges in decentralized markets. Other systems prevent this by maintaining various levels of control over market in order to direct money (and goods and services) towards where the politically powerful want it.

      What you’re really saying is that poverty exists because we allow goods and services to flow where they get the most return as opposed to directing them the way we want them to go. And that’s a fair point, but it’s a point about exercising more power not about less.

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  2. I agree with your sentiment, but I think this is where we have to be careful of terms.

    What is poverty? This is not a trivial question. Generically, poverty is when someone has insufficient resources to sustain an adequate standard of living, but who’s definition of adequate are we using? By the standards of medieval Europe, or even 18th Century Europe we effectively have eliminated poverty. By modern standards we haven’t, but our standards of an adequate standard of living are endogenous to our society’s median standard of living. What that means is that our goalposts shift as we get richer. This makes eliminating poverty pretty much impossible.

    So, we pretty much have a choice between deciding that we’ve already eliminated poverty, or deciding that we can’t eliminate poverty, at which point we need to re-frame our problem, because there’s no point in defining our goal as impossible. Some kind of steady progress for people in the bottom tail of the income distribution perhaps?

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    • I think this is more true for Western countries besides the United States. In other Western countries, the welfare state is still much more vigorous than the American one for better or worse. Issues that exist in the United States like lack of access to housing and healthcare are not prevelant in other Western countries.

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    • I fully agree with James here, but wanted to add that the unstated third possibility – that eliminating poverty is synonymous with creating a truly classless society – has a rather bad track record. It either involves the creation of a political elite of people who are “more equal” than others, thus creating anew the same problem it purports to solve, or it involves far, far worse, as people must be deterred from seeking to achieve individual goals that may result in them being better off than others.

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    • What is poverty? This is not a trivial question. Generically, poverty is when someone has insufficient resources to sustain an adequate standard of living, but who’s definition of adequate are we using? By the standards of medieval Europe, or even 18th Century Europe we effectively have eliminated poverty. By modern standards we haven’t, but our standards of an adequate standard of living are endogenous to our society’s median standard of living. What that means is that our goalposts shift as we get richer. This makes eliminating poverty pretty much impossible.

      Seriously? This old chestnut is still being trotted out?

      By the standards of Rome, Christians are in the cat bird seat, but somehow we never hear about that.
      By the standards of Egypt in the time of the Pharaoh, ditto the Tribes.
      By the standards of Huck Finn, likewise blacks.

      This is not an honest argument in any of its forms.

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      • Amen. The person who claimed that poverty doesn’t exist in America because “the poors” are better off than Africans clearly has never been poor in America. Lack of access to health care thanks to the “separate but equal” Medicaid program (we should abolish it and simply have Medicare For All, so that all Americans have equal access to health care) and lack of access to decent housing (despite spending more than 3/4ths of their income on housing) have dire effects on the health of our poor people. Lack of access to education is also an epidemic in poor neighborhoods, most of the schools in poor neighborhoods suck because compared to surrounding middle class neighborhoods they lack resources and facilities and the teachers are usually either fresh new teachers who don’t know how to teach yet or old warhorses who’ve retired on the job. Lack of access to healthy food is also a significant issue, there are few stores in poor neighborhoods and the foods available there are horrifically unhealthy. And finally there is the humiliations of working a low-paid hourly wage job — no sick time, no vacation time, have to worry about being evicted or having no food in your house if you catch the flu and are unable to work for a few days, what I remember most about being poor was *worrying* all the time. Any little thing — a broken fuel pump in the ten year old car that would keep me from getting to work, breaking the arm of my glasses, a hole in a shirt I needed for work — was a major issue because there was no money to fix it without taking money away from necessities. I was stressed out 100% of the time just surviving, which had some serious consequences for my health.

        What I like most about being relatively affluent today is the lack of *worry*. I don’t have to worry about whether I can afford to get sick — I just call my boss and say “I have the flu, I won’t be in today,” and that’s that. I don’t have to worry about being evicted, or what happens if my car breaks down. I don’t have to worry about whether I can afford the medicines I’ll need if I get sick — I just show up at the HMO pharmacy with my health card and a bit of pocket change and get them. It’s like living on another planet. All due to luck — being in the right place at the right time to jump on a long-term computer industry trend at its beginning. So it goes.

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      • What I like most about being relatively affluent today is the lack of *worry*.

        What percentage of the world lacks worry today compared to 1963? 1913? 1863? 1813?

        We can go back 50 years and re-ask the question over and over and over again and, it certainly seems to me, that we are on (and have been on) an upward vector since the nadir of the Dark Ages.

        If this is, in fact, the case, it seems to me that the focus ought to be on accelerating whatever it is that pushes us up (theory: SCIENCE!) and less on how many people continue to live the way that the vast majority of people have, to all evidence, always lived.

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      • What part is dishonest precisely? My point is that poverty is inevitably defined relative to a society’s affluence. I’m not saying that’s unreasonable, I’m just saying that once you define poverty that way it becomes ineradicable.

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      • For most of human history the most fundamental worry of human beings was having sufficient food to eat for survival. The fact is that this is still a worry for most of today’s working poor, who are spending on average 75% of their income for housing and have little left for other things like, well, food — and don’t qualify for food stamps to supplement that.

        When you take away the stress of worrying about food, shelter, and clothing, it’s amazing how much more productive you can be. America’s economy didn’t really take off until the majority of Americans no longer had to be stressed out about those necessities due to the relative affluence of the post-WW2 era. Unfortunately, the rising tide did not raise all boats…

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      • once you define poverty that way it becomes ineradicable.

        Is that true? I mean, couldn’t you define poverty at some point in time, index it to living standards, and then set a GMI just above that level? There will always be some who don’t get signed up, and it may not be sustainable, but for as long as such a program holds up and is fairly comprehensively administered, wouldn’t we say poverty had been largely eradicated by that definition? It would take another redefinition to say that that indexing is now not accounting for some people who are in fact poor who are not being designated as such by the definition.

        Unless what you’re saying is, there’s always some people who are the worst off (even after public aid), and if you’re going to define some percentage of them (or, just some some percentage of people) as poor in any society, then there will always be poor people. That’s true, but really trivial. It is possible (though hardly uncontentious) to decide to specifically say what’s poor and what isn’t according to this or that sense of the concept in any given societal affluence level, and then work to get everyone above that line. It’s even possible to get just about everybody above that line. And just because in another societal affluence level context the line would be in a different place, it doesn’t follow that in no society could poverty be essentially eliminated using whatever approach to defining it one is there using.

        It only follows if we’re just deciding that we’re always going to say, “some percentage of the worst off we’re always going to define as poor.” But that’s not the same thing as saying that, “At any given societal affluence level, the poverty line will be in a different place.” Those are two independent constraints on the definition of poverty.

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      • I couldn’t possibly agree more! Which is why it seems to me that the focus ought to be on accelerating whatever it is that pushes us up (theory: SCIENCE!) and less on how many people continue to live the way that the vast majority of people have, to all evidence, always lived.

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      • Stunningly, Jaybird, we can increase R&D on scientific spending and on social wefare spending at the same time. In addition, it’s easy to say we should focus on things that will improve your life as a reasonably well-off person in the US (ie. scientific research) vs. further social welfare spending that won’t help you directly, but sure as helped the 8-year-old version of me, who yes, had a better life than I would’ve had in 1922, but that still doesn’t mean those Food Stamps sure as hell helped my life be a little better.

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    • We can have the General Assembly of the United Nations pass a non-binding resolution that states that we have eliminated poverty. If we just want a domestic solution, the GOP controlled House can pass a bill that says that poverty is un-American and therefore nobody in America lives in poverty. The Senate will pass the bill to and Barak would sign it into law as an act of bipartisanship.

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    • The poor are poor because they lack money. I could by dictat say, “all Americans are paid per-capita income as their salary regardless of their job or job situation” and voila, no more poverty. Was this a serious question? (And yes, I know this isn’t a politically realistic way of ending poverty, but it would certainly end poverty!).

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      • Yeah, if poverty is comparative, we’ll always have it. If we bring people up and poverty has a definition that includes more security and amenities, that may be a good thing in its own right, but it won’t end poverty so long as we don’t define it by hard metrics.

        On the other hand, if we define poverty as “Doesn’t have adequate food, a roof over their heads, transportation, and access to basic health care” we’re getting somewhere, though with the caveat of defining “basic” in the last case.

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      • Actually that would make poverty skyrocket. When you subsidize something, you get more of it. Due to the ways we define poverty, welfare and other transfer payments are not counted as income, and the more we spend, the more people join the welfare system (because they’d be better off), and the higher the apparent poverty rate. Under other metrics, poverty is roughly defined as those in the bottom 10% of the income range. Those can’t be eliminated because a range of numbers always has a top and a bottom.

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      • When you subsidize something, you get more of it.

        There is no better explanation of the explosive growth of bad mortgages after CDOs made them profitable.

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      • On the other hand, if we define poverty as “Doesn’t have adequate food, a roof over their heads, transportation, and access to basic health care” we’re getting somewhere, though with the caveat of defining “basic” in the last case.

        Flu shots and yearly checkups are in, nose jobs and quadruple bypasses are out. After that, we’re just haggling.

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      • As Jaybird suggests above, I think you have to include in any equation for determining what is, and what is not, poverty, just about anything that reduces or in many cases eliminates any semblance of equality of opportunity and mobility. That would mean we have to talk about education and health care, even if these things aren’t always as “basic” in a Maslowian sense as, say, food or clothing or a roof over your head.

        It seems to me like the biggest part of eliminating poverty has to involve eliminating inequalities that make it impossible or, at least so difficult that it is practically impossible, to move up the socioeconomic ladder. If I were going to talk about eliminating poverty in our system, here’s what I would be talking about:

        * Eliminating food insecurity.
        * Eliminating homelessness.
        * Universalizing access to health care.
        * Related, but worth mentioning separately, universal access to mental health care and treatment for addiction.
        * Universal access to quality education, and not just primary and secondary, but whatever post-secondary education fits with a person’s goals and abilities.
        * Either zero unemployment or a universal basic income.

        I’d add, though it’s probably not necessary, maximized economic mobility.

        After that we can talk about culture, which I suspect changes pretty quickly when hopelessness and alienation are no longer the defining features of your socioeconomic status.

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      • hopelessness and alienation are no longer the defining features of your socioeconomic status

        I don’t think that this is necessarily the case. People will figure out ways to maximize their Maslowian rewards. People *WILL* meet the needs of their top couple of tiers.

        If we ask “hope for *WHAT*” and “alienated from *WHAT*”, we’ll find some interesting answers. I also suspect that we’ll find some alien hopes/dreams and alien unions. We will have to admit that we want them to hope/dreams for other things and unions with other things.

        And that is something that is really, really unsavory when you say it out loud to someone from another culture.

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      • I don’t doubt that there will always be people who opt for instant gratification, and never really grasp the purpose of society and culture*, but that’s not necessarily a poverty-inducing mindset. You see it at both the top and the bottom, and I’d bet much of it at the bottom is as much a result of being constantly on the edge of disaster, if not firmly within it, often with no control. In fact, if we increase the amount of control people at the lower end have in their outcome, you’d probably see a lot more middle class-type behavior. And in order to increase that control, you have to eliminate the grossest inequalities of opportunity. It’s not simply a matter of MARKETS, no matter how often people say that.

        *We’ve left Maslow here, and gone back to Freud.

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  3. More seriously, I think that any liberal romanticization of poverty comes from contamination from the Far Left than anything else. The early and mid-20th century liberals generally wanted to create a broadly middle-class society. They probably thought that eliminating poverty is an impossibility but their vision basically to make the middle-class lifestyle as broadly enjoyed as possible. I think that this vision can best be summed up in FDR’s Four Freedoms and Second Bill of Rights.

    A lot of people on the Far Left did have some legitimate criticism of this vision, mainly how much it embraces the stereotypical nuclear family at the expense of people that can’t fit within this structure. However, they also had many illegitimate criticism of the vision relating to their hatred of capitalism, consumer society, and popular culture. Poverty was embraced because it was seen as anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeosie. Many liberal unfortunately embraced this rather than keeping to the original goal of making as many people as bourgeosie as possible.

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  4. The photograph provides a pretty good illustration of the goal of the early and mid-20th century liberals. The billboard represents their ideal, a society composed of relatively prosperous families.

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  5. How to do it is a tough question. But this is the first step. Eliminating poverty is what Kathi Weeks calls a ‘utopian demand’ : one that is not limited in scope by what’s considered possible or popular. It’s hard to advocate for system level change without it.

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  6. I agree with James K. above that the goal posts change as society gets richer, and so in that sense, “poverty” will remain with us. I guess here is where I am one of the non-poverty eliminating liberals. I think we should have a floor below which no one is allowed to fall, unless they really, really want to. And I think that floor ought to rise with the increase in wealth.

    I want to avoid the disgusting spectacle Orwell mentioned (in “Road to Wigan Pier”) of politicians debating how few calories someone can possibly live off of, and then providing only that amount for relief.

    In other words, I don’t oppose in principle government-provided cell phones to be a laughable idea. I’m not sure I agree with it as a policy (assuming Obamaphone is a policy and not a conservative myth….I haven’t verified if it’s a thing), but I’m not opposed to it in principle. It’s true we (in the U.S.) are generally richer than our Medieval forebears, or at least most of us are, but I don’t mind our standards rising, and I don’t mind moving the goal posts and pursuing policies that help ensure most people benefit, even if some will benefit more.

    As for the romanticization of poverty, thanks for calling that out. I have been guilty of that in the past, and I’ve known a lot of people who have also done it, many (although not all) of whom were academics like Badtux talks about.

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    • “I want to avoid the disgusting spectacle Orwell mentioned (in “Road to Wigan Pier”) of politicians debating how few calories someone can possibly live off of, and then providing only that amount for relief.”

      Don’t libertarians do a variant of this when they talk about minimum incomes? I see that as a variant of the above.

      Note I’m not saying you do this but it still happens with serious consideration.

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      • I disagree ND; when you talk about guaranteed minimum incomes you’re often standing at a spot where libertarians and further left economic thought intersect in that such disbursements would probably be more efficient AND more respecting of the dignity of the poor.

        Personally I think the traditional welfare system; you’re given this much for housing but in a form (voucher) that’s ONLY good for housing; you’re given this much for food but this system restricts what food you can buy etc… is much closer to the Road to Wigan Pier scenario than a GMI system would be.

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      • ND,

        I think I disagree if only because there is, presumably, going to be some limit to the assistance that can be given to poorer people. So there will always be choices made if one wants to pursue some sort of giveback or transfer payment or minimum income.

        I suppose any one of these relief strategies could go to the extremes Orwell described, where the minimum guaranteed income is indeed the bare minimum for basic survival (or where the amount of food stamps is tied to the bare number of calories officially determined to be necessary for life).

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  7. I’m with James K on this one. It’s not like there’s some poverty dial in DC that we can turn down to zero if we simply vote to do so. What poverty measures are we talking about? What are the actual proposals? Most acutely what is our definition of poverty? Is it starvation? Homelessness? Lack of a cell phone? Lack of internet access? Lack of a car? Lack of free post high school education?

    That said I’m totally on board with scorning romanticizing poverty, poverty sucks. It’s not good for your soul or your community or your connections with your fellow humans.

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  8. A fourth (neo-liberal?) with James.

    It’s not for nothing to work at a rhetorical consensus to eliminate poverty. But its thin on those terms alone. The rub is in the definitions; and true boldness lies in committing to bold means – or at least saying support for what kind of measures would constitute a showing of real commitment to end poverty.

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  9. Why, I wonder, if we “move the goal posts,” do the existing strata move with them? Why are there strata in the first place? What is it about our system that results in strata, and in particular relatively permanent lower strata?

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    • Why do you assume there won’t be a distribution of strata? Why do you assume everyone will achieve similar goals? People differ in goals, values, strengths and weaknesses. People differ in short and long term focus. People with short term bias tend to have kids with short term bias and to invest little in themselves and their kids.

      Inequality of outcome is pretty much guaranteed in relatively free markets.

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      • Personally I find the idea of ‘free markets incoherent and not a good description of anything that exists in the world. That said, this point seems to boil down to ‘if we prioritize things that produce poverty we can’t eliminate poverty’ which is true, but not very helpful.

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      • Where did I assume that? Answering a question with unrelated questions about the questioner is kinda dickish.

        “Inequality of outcome is pretty much guaranteed in relatively free markets” doesn’t answer the question either. Note that the question doesn’t ask why there are strata, but why it is necessary that if we “shift the goalposts,” if we raise the tide, or whatever capitalist cliche you want to use, the existing gaps remain what they are. Put differently, why is it necessarily the case that, upon raising the tide, we can’t merge the lower strata with, say, the middle strata, so that the system doesn’t continue to produce significantly disadvantages for certain people relative to the rest. Large gaps between strata aren’t simply problems of differences in outcomes; they also result in differences in opportunity. So put yet another way, why is it necessarily the case that we can’t get rid of the largest gaps at the same time we raise the entire group? This, I imagine, is what most people mean when they talk about eliminating poverty: not making everyone the same, but making it so that no one is so far down on the ladder that their opportunities are dramatically different from those at the top, or even in the middle of the ladder.

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      • I’m going to concur in part.

        You are right that people have different goals but this goes beyond short-term bias and long-term bias. People simply have different versions of what the good life entails and a different person’s idea of the good life can produce incomprehension and/or rage.

        We can see this in differing values in consumer purchases as status symbols. I am willing to spend money on clothing because I perceive certain brands as being higher quality and more aesthetically pleasing. Some of my friends go along the lines of “Dude, why can’t you be happy with a pair of Chucks” Said friends will spend their money on massive entertainment systems though (as an example), something I have no interest in.

        People are very good at self-justifying why their consumer preferences are better than the consumer preferences of another person.

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      • Put differently, why is it necessarily the case that, upon raising the tide, we can’t merge the lower strata with, say, the middle strata, so that the system doesn’t continue to produce significantly disadvantages for certain people relative to the rest

        For one thing, that would horrify the middle strata (and not because I think you’re suggesting making the middle strata poorer – I know you’re not). In its own way, in the public perception, it would probably be viewed as “the death of the middle class.”

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      • As someone noted the other day in the conversation about private/biz jets vs. first class, the people at the upper end are so far away from the next class, economically and socially, that they don’t have to worry about cultural clashes.

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      • Reading over my previous comment, I didn’t properly differentiate between two separate issues. I’m going to focus on the first, and then another comment on the second.

        The first, which was picked up on, is the degree to which – to me – the most salient class struggles are not between the 1% and those in poverty. It’s between people immediately above and below one another. It’s true throughout, but it’s most salient at the bottom.

        One of the things that relatively poor people do is seek to put distance between themselves and the more-poor. Not just identification separation (“I may not be wealthy like those hoity-toities over there, but by gawd I’m not those people over there!”) but in tangible, material ways as well. To move out of a terrible school district and into a nicer one. To live among with something closer to “middle class values.” To be able to buy a nice stereo system without having to worry about someone breaking into your car and taking it to most likely turn it over to the drug dealer down the street for drugs. (For the record, I didn’t make this example up.)

        That which lifts the lowest income out of their pockets of poverty almost certainly moves them into the neighborhoods of those who specifically sought to get away from them. Those who bought a house in one kind of neighborhood who will be damned if some person whose neighborhood isn’t susceptible to drift means tells them that it’s their social obligation not to mind cars the pitfalls of poverty.

        I haven’t the slightest clue of what to tell them. On the one hand, pockets of poverty are bad and destructive in numerous ways not just for those living within them, but society as a whole. On the other hand, even if I hadn’t married a doctor, I’d know full well that even if I chose to live in a slummy part of town – as we did in Deseret, Estacado, Cascadia, and here – we nonetheless can move out if we are so inclined (which I did in Deseret). Which makes for a different experience, and less-than-fair to compare my situation to theirs.

        Perhaps we can argue that but for the material want, the issues and conflicts would be mitigated into oblivion. That with middle strata income, they’d have middle strata values. I wish I could have more confidence in this model than I do. Which isn’t to say that raising the floor is a bad idea. But that merging strata makes things more uncomfortable for people who aren’t me, just as the status quo makes things very uncomfortable for people who aren’t me.

        While I do not dismiss the pitfalls of income inequality – my post on airlines aside, I have an egalitarian streak, I swear! – these are the things that make me uncomfortable about income inequality per se, and approaching it as an issue. Not that we shouldn’t (I have a post on the matter, if I get time to write it) but that I have a hard time rallying around it as something that the costs of mitigation are going to be borne by someone else. As well as some more general ideological objections, being not-a-liberal and all.

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      • Now, the second thing, the “death of the middle class.” Jaybird touched on it. This is another thing that makes me more conflicted about “income inequality” as such, at least outside the upper echelons of money and power who make our decisions for us (and that’s as much about power as wealth).

        When we look at income curves and comparative wealth, it’s really all relative. No, I don’t buy into the Heritage notion that if you have a working fridge you aren’t poor. Nor, for that matter, do I reflexively object to free cell phones or the subsidy of things that didn’t exist thirty years ago.

        However, lifting people out of poverty – absent other changes – would change the income curve that would make the middle strata look more poor than they are. A much greater mass of people at the newly determined “bottom.” Which isn’t a determinative objection to lifting people out of poverty through wealth transfers. But when you have a metric whereby making people’s lives better makes them look worse, it’s not a very good metric.

        Which is why I am more sympathetic to arguments about what the poor materially lack – even if we’re talking about cell phones and cable TV – than I am about income distribution curves. Which isn’t to say that I am sold on the former – it depends on what we’re talking about, to what cost and to what benefit – but it’s generally easier for me to grok than income curves.

        (Note: Chris isn’t talking about income curves. I am the one who brought that into this conversation. But it got me thinking about the subject more generally, and that’s what came out. It is my hope that I remember this next time we are talking about income curves and the “death of the middle class.”)

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      • There is no such thing as a free market. Possession of items that people require to live is power, and power is coercion. All markets are thus based at their core upon coercion — forcing people to trade things they value in exchange for things they require in order to survive.

        People who talk about some mythical “free market” are thus living in mythical universe of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees, not in *this* universe. That said, markets do exist, and do provide the best way of training economies to produce the goods that people want and need, I am a staunch pro-market capitalist in that regard. But they are not “free” by any definition of the word, they never have been, never will be, and people using the term “free market” are like people using the word “Communist prosperity” — ideologues whose connection to the real world is dubious.

        Inequality of outcome is guaranteed in a capitalist economy because those with power will redistribute income from those with less power. Redistribution of income is a given in a capitalist economy — that’s the whole point of a market, to redistribute income. The problem is the core problem of anarchy theory, the problem that anarchists have never solved — the problem of power. How do you end coercion in a market economy? I submit you can’t. It will naturally transfer income from the less powerful to the more powerful by its very nature. Meaning that preventing the plight of Mexico — a tiny crust of wealthy elite (the richest man in the world is Mexican) combined with the vast majority living under conditions of horrific deprivation — requires transferring income from the powerful to the less powerful to counter the transfer of wealth caused by the nature of markets. Capitalist economies that lack any mechanism for redistributing income from the powerful to less powerful are incompatible with democracy, which is about providing the best standard of living for the most people, and can only be maintained by force. Thus why Mexico is dangerously close to being a failed state.

        In any capitalist democracy, therefore, there will be a transfer of wealth from the powerful to the less powerful to countervail the transfer of wealth from the less powerful to the powerful. If this does not happen, at some point it will cease to be a capitalist democracy, and instead become a capitalist tyranny. Republicans like Richard Nixon knew this. Today’s Republicans… not so much. They appear to prefer to exist in an imaginary made-up world of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees where the term “free market” actually has meaning.

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      • Zazzy and I have taken to calling the denizens of our town “rock eaters”. That makes it easier to walk the same aisles of WalMart with them while still maintaining our air of superiority.

        I shared this story today, but the most blatant case of racism I had to deal with as a teacher was between two families of color, one predominantly black (dad was black and mom was half black, have Native American) and the other fully black. The former family was upper-middle-class to upper-class… well educated, both parents lawyers, lived in the right neighborhood, etc. The other was lower-class… mom worked in health care (as a nurse or something similar) and dad was unemployed and in-and-out of prison, as I understood it. Other differences included appearance (all members of the former family were light skinned and the latter were all dark skinned), dress (preppy vs jeans/t-shirts), and speech (standard American English vs AAVE).

        Timothy, the child of the latter family, had some real behavioral issues. As hard as I worked with that boy, he was such a tangled knot that it was hard to tell what was nature and what was nurture. He struggled to manage his emotions and would lash out. Couple this with the fact that he was bigger and stronger than most kids his age (and the aforementioned aspects of how he presented) and he quickly gained a rep that far outpaced what were indeed severe needs. Joseph, he of the former family, butted heads with Tim, and had his own host of struggles (I speculated that he was on the spectrum but this was never confirmed during my time at the school). The boys were drawn to each other because they had similar interests but it usually devolved into something negative.

        One day, Joseph came in and said he wouldn’t play with “that nigger” anymore. He didn’t seem to have any concept of the word, outside of knowing it was one that his mom used to describe Tim’s family*. I brought the situation to the attention of my division head, herself a black woman, who had a sit down with Joseph’s mom. In a nutshell, Joseph’s mom’s position was this: We’ve worked hard to get ourselves out of the ghetto. We did what we were told to do to provide for ourselves and our kids. We put them in private school. We didn’t do all that so they could go to school with kids like Tim, from family’s like Tim’s.

        I wasn’t privy to all of the behind-the-scenes conversations, as there were some crucial “in house” elements that my boss thought best handled by her (which I agreed with). But there was a very clear and palpable sense of one family attempting to distance themselves from some things and some peoples. And not without an understandable reason.

        Now, this wasn’t the only or necessarily even the worst incidence of racism I had to deal with in my teaching career, but the most blatant. The other forms are usually couched in coded language and the like.

        * It also came out that the mother would use “nigger” against the father at certain times. She herself clearly had some hangups on race, identity, and the like, that went beyond the two boys.

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      • Chris

        Please don’t say I am a dick. You continue to say ruder and ruder things to me.

        I am perhaps an idiot though as I totally fail to get your point on how we can increase prosperity and not widen the distribution. The base is always zero. Some people will always make pretty much nothing. As some make thousands then millions then billions the strata will continue to widen.

        Free markets are not likely to deliver equal outcomes. Nor should they. That is why we have non market safety nets. Of course ours suck and create dependency but that may be a feature not a bug for the political class handing out the aid.

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      • 1) How old were the boys?

        2) Am I correct to assume that Joseph’s family was paying full tuition while Tim’s family was on scholarship?

        3) Did your use of “peoples” mean “groups of people” or was it an attempt at AAVE? (I ask mostly in jest)

        4) As for Joseph and his families use of that word for Tim, it isn’t something that should be said in school, but I completely understand where they are coming from. Joseph’s family is paying good money to get their child out of a bad element and Tim is bringing it back to school.

        Then again, it is Uncle Tom of them to look down on their brother like that instead of giving a helping hand. Plus a lot of people (not me) think that economic diversity in a school is positive.

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      • Great questions.
        1) The boys were 5.

        2) Tuition assistant/financial aid information is confidential and typically not even shared with teachers. So, I can’t say definitively what either family’s situation was in that regard. It is probably more likely than not that Joseph’s family was paying more than Tim, but I’ve been surprised before.

        3) Groups of people.

        4) Perhaps I didn’t make this as clear in my telling of the story, but I did understand and to a degree sympathize with Joseph’s family’s feelings. It was the way in which it was presented that really bothered me. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I understand their predicament. I’ve touched on the difficulties that arise around issues of the intersection of class and race and culture in independent schools, but never fully expounded on them. I’ve worked with many families of color who’ve expressed somewhat of a similar sentiment, at least to the extent that they did “all the right things” and were then presented with some sort of pushback from the school.

        As I said, the issue touched on issues within black communities that really extend my ability to comment on. “Uncle Toms”, being authentically black, the sense of obligation to their “brothers and sisters”… all of that is really, really complicated.

        Another complicating factor was sussing out exactly what Joseph’s family objections were. Were they concerned about Tim’s behavior, much of which had nothing to do with race or class? Were they concerned with how he dressed? How he talked? How his dad presented the few times he showed up at school? Were they just frustrated that their child had a social spat with a classmate and it conjured up other feelings? A very, very tangled situation.

        I shared the story not necessarily to delve into all these situations, but to connect with Will’s point about how people associate. A very facile interpretation of the situation might have assumed that Joseph and Tim’s families would be allies… hey, they’re both black, right? But in fact that was a complicated factor in their situation because Joseph’s family achieved some upward mobility that made them want to greatly distance themselves from the Tims of the world. And despite their efforts, they hadn’t yet done that, and it really irked them.

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    • I’m far from an expert on this subject but aren’t strata pretty much a human condition?

      When you talk about eliminating the lower most strata does that not entail essentially inventing an entirely new social order? Also when we’re talking about the eliminating entirely the entire bottom rung does that not also mean removing from people their autonomy within that rung? Would this not involve forcing mentally ill or drug using people into shelters and institutions against their will? Would this involve forcing poor people to have fewer children? To parent better?

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      • Well, I’m all for an all new social order, but getting rid of the lowest strata does not necessarily equal getting rid of strata altogether. In fact, saying so merely repeats the claim that I was questioning. Why does raising all of the strata necessarily entail keeping the same divisions, the same gaps (both qualitative and quantitative)? Why can’t we raise all the strata and get rid of a few or merge a few?

        I’ll ask it a different way: throughout the history of civilization, societies have been stratified, but the particular strata, how they are divided, and the extent to which they are divided has varied greatly in different cultures at different times. Why, given our culture and our system, are the current divisions necessary? Why does raising everyone necessarily preserve these specific divisions? Would it not be possible to raise everyone and get rid of/merge the lower parts of the structure with middle ones? Or Maybe merge everyone up a few levels so that, while the ordering might be preserved, the ratios are not? James K and those who agree with him are making an empirical claim, and I’m simply asking for an explanation of the causal mechanisms underlying it. I’m not making any assumptions; I’m asking y’all to explain yours.

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      • Chris, It’s not so much an empirical claim as a conceptual claim: i.e. there will always be someone who occupies the bottom n percentiles of income as long as there is a spread of income. Presumably, you refer to reducing the consumption gap between an ostensible middle class or whatever the equivalent strata will turn out to be and the poor. But insofar as poor and middle class are terms that stand in contrast with one another, they do so in virtue of the middle class defining itself in opposition and contradistinction to the poor (and for that matter, the rich)

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      • It seems to me that having more strata would be better than having fewer. Look at historically, there were a lot fewer. You had royalty, you had mercantile classes, and you had the peasantry. Sure, sprinkle some monks and priests and whatnot in there but you had a relative few. If you are inclined to split hairs, we could come up with more, of course, but that will come back to bite us in the butt…

        In the US… golly! How many do we have? The low end is nine (lower/middle/upper lower/middle/upper class) and I’m sure that if we wanted to split hairs to the degree that we were willing to above, we’d be able to come up with *TONS* more.

        It seems that one of the benefits of having more (and thinner) strata, it’s possible to jump between. Eliminating/merging strata might seem nice at first… but at the cost of locking them where they are.

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      • Jay, I’m actually cool with having more strata. What I’m not cool with is the gaps between the strata, particularly those on the lowest rungs and those higher up, because it creates radical differences in opportunity that are self-perpetuating both structurally and, as you note, culturally. James seems to be claiming that these gaps are inherently part of the system, as does Murali.

        Murali, it’s not simply a conceptual claim since it both has a very specific empirical claim (that the gaps remain the same, and merely move together when the playing field is raised). However, if this empirical claim amounts to a logical necessity within the current system, then I consider the current system to be a dramatic failure. That is, if within the current system we can’t reduce systematic inequalities of opportunity by reducing the gap separating even the lower rungs, then the system is unjust and immoral.

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      • I’m asking y’all to explain yours.

        Empirically, people could site that societies with robust divisions in economic class when coupled with certain types of market principles result in higher standards of living than the alternatives. Conceptually, the argument could be that the possibility (necessity?) of monetary gain incentivizes work, productivity, efficiency, innovation, etc (which are good things!), and given the reality of individual’s differing talents, economic stratification is a logical outcome.

        Personally, I accept part of that, but it seems to me that there is a bit of a naturalistic fallacy in play here which difficult to avoid. I’m also a little uncertain that it needs to be avoided.

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      • Just to be clear, the claim James is not making is that socioeconomic stratification will continue to exist, but that the exact same stratification will continue to exist, only with everyone a bit higher on the absolute scale. In other words, he’s saying that if we raise everyone absolutely, people stay the same relative to each other. I’m asking why that has to be the case. Why is it not possible to, for example, raise the whole absolutely, but drop the top a bit (or raise them less than everyone else get raised) and then raise the lower parts correspondingly more, resulting in different strata, or at least different relationships between them? This is only one possible example. There are, in case it’s not clear, a potentially infinite set of logically if not empirically possible scenarios in which stratification is maintained while the whole is raised in absolute terms, but the parts are raised by different amounts relatively. This is in fact what happens all the time in our system as gaps in socioeconomic status between middle and upper classes grow!

        Let me say it again, in case it’s not clear: questioning the necessity of existing strata and the size of the gaps between them, which is what James is saying, IS NOT THE SAME AS QUESTIONING OR CRITICIZING THE EXISTENCE OF STRATA TO BEGIN WITH.

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      • Chris, I certainly didn’t read James comment as implying that culturally determined class divisions are somehow etched in stone. I think what he was getting at, primarily, is that the definition of “poverty” is very fluid and contextually determined and laden with a lot of psychological content that makes a discussion of ways to eradicate it problematic. Until, that is, we all can clearly agree on a meaning.

        So to answer the question more clearly, it seems to me that someone like James or Murali could respond to you’re question by saying that they distinguish between economically (or monetarily) determined strata and the cultural views of those strata. It seems to me you’re making a point about cultural conceptions of economic strata, which those guys have been silent on.

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      • I take this:

        What that means is that our goalposts shift as we get richer. This makes eliminating poverty pretty much impossible.

        To imply such. That is, if poverty is defined as a relationship between strata, and eliminating it is impossible because the goalposts shift rather than changing in distance from each other (which would probably be what most people mean by eliminating poverty, in practical terms), then I’m not sure what else it might mean.

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      • Ahh. OK, I think I see it now. We’re interpreting this sentence

        That is, if poverty is defined as a relationship between strata…

        differently. I’m interpreting James as expressing an actual hypothetical, here, such that if poverty is merely defined in relative terms, then there is no way for it to everbe eradicated. It’s an impossibility. And I understood him to be implying that that type of definition ought to be rejected. But I see your point!

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      • Yeah I think the problem is James and the rest ‘o us neoliberalish to libertarianish people who’re echoing him aren’t asserting what you’re talking about. Certainly I don’t think that the relative difference between the strata is set in stone and I don’t think James does either (though I can see how what he wrote could be construed in that direction).

        His original complaint, and ours, was the mushiness of Ethan’s proposal. What is poverty? Is it an objective measurable thing or is it a statistical phenomenon? If poverty is not having X enough to eat, not having basic warm dry shelter that meats X characteristics , etc… things that are measurable and don’t change much based on what other class strata have then perhaps poverty is addressable but if poverty is defined relative to everyone else, for instance having less than X% of the average income in the country then poverty is unsolvable. It’d be like saying you want 100% of students to be above average; it’s a mathematical and logical impossibility.

        As to classless strata less society, well agreeing that an alternative should exist is the easy part. It’s coming up with the workable alternative that’s the real work; though if you can invent one you’ll be immortalized in history forever so that’s a good incentive. Goodness knows the left could use a new one. A lot of us have collectively been getting awfully pragmatic and cynical on the left ever since our previous left wing anchor imploded in a shower of atrocity, inefficiency and broken lives.

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      • if poverty is defined relative to everyone else, for instance having less than X% of the average income in the country then poverty is unsolvable. It’d be like saying you want 100% of students to be above average; it’s a mathematical and logical impossibility.

        It would be difficult to solve poverty if defined as less-than-X% if X is too large, no doubt. But as I say to James above and directly contra what you say here, it’s not a definitional impossibility like having 100% literally above average (for the class) students. The analogy in poverty definition would be if we said that we will always define some band of percentage at the lowest end of the (before or after aid) income distribution as poor. Then it becomes an impossibility. But it’s entirely possible for a distribution to have zero instances where the value is below X% of the median – I mean, just take the lowest value, do the division problem, and make X the result plus 0.1% or so. Or, to put it differently and use a reductio, if we define poverty as making less than 0.01% of the median income, it becomes pretty easy to see that poverty can be effectively eliminated even if defined as being less than X% of median income.

        So it’s the number you choose and how you choose it. I think this is the right way to define poverty, and even doing so I think it’s it’s totally doable to make major strides at eliminating poverty. At the very least, it a question of concrete developments in the world, not mathematical definitional necessities. It’s a matter of what percentage of what income level in society we think constitutes poverty in a given society. 15% of median in ours, perhaps? Higher? Lower? The percentage itself can (should; does) change with overall societal affluence, with other features of the distribution curve, etc. The bottom line is that “poverty” is an imprecise term, and we can use various tools to help us flesh out our sense of what it means in context. But it’s a fallacy that if you set an X, or a function to set X, as a percentage of median income or some other income statistic that represents poverty, you then statistically eliminate the possibility of eliminating poverty. You could set an X like that where a society could conceivably go from having a fair number of people in poverty as defined that way to having many, many fewer (which I think is what Shawn means by “getting rid” of poverty – there are too many people in modern society to where you can absolutely prophylactically achieve immaculate end states like literally zero persons in poverty).

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      • I think I agree, though what most of us Jame K fanboys were echoing here was annoyance at the extreme vagueness of Shawn G’s initial post. Specificity is important when talking public policy because otherwise some you can find yourself shovelling scarce public resources into an ineffective or, worse, count effective direction. It bears remembering that errors like that were what fostered the resurgence in the right and the discrediting of public assistance for decades.

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      • Yeah, my path has been a little windy in this thread vis-a-vis James, where I did initially agree with his point about definitions being key, but then departed with a particular point about that that he made. But I think our views (yours & mine) roughly track each other’s.

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    • The first, which was picked up on, is the degree to which – to me – the most salient class struggles are not between the 1% and those in poverty. It’s between people immediately above and below one another. It’s true throughout, but it’s most salient at the bottom.

      We might make a Marxist out of you yet.

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    • You have it the wrong way round, the strata moving is what moves the goalposts – as society get’s richer the definition of poverty changes.

      As for why strata exists? The returns to a factor of production (be it a piece of capital, or a person’s labour) will gravitate to the marginal product of that factor. All people are not equally productive, therefore different people get paid different amounts. Countries have tried to break out of this paradigm, but the results range from “economic dysfunction” to “famines kill millions of people”.

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  10. I will once again paraphrase Steinbeck’s famous line that socialism never took hold in America because the poor see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires here.

    More seriously, there do seem to be people who think we can eliminate poverty.

    1. Neo-liberal tech-utopians who watched a bit too much Star Trek. Matt Y gets very close to thinking we will have replicators in the future.

    2. I think Lee and BadTux is right about the Far Left being more romantic about poverty than liberals because of anti-consumerist view points. How would the Far Left react if the poor were asked and they said not being poor was basically being able to shop in high-end places like Barney’s?

    Income inequality is a serious issue but what does getting rid of poverty entail in your view? Does it involve rising people up, bringing people down, both?

    There is no consensus about what is the good life. How do we decide which version of the “good life” is acceptable or not? Is the person who wants to live in rural pastoralism more ethical than the person who wants to live in Mill Valley?

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  11. I feel like you’ve taken liberal impulses and turned them into their most dark and sinister meanings, stripped away anything good or kind. That’s just criticism, it’s not constructive criticism. It’s just tearing down. When marital partners do this to one another, it’s emotionally abusive.

    I don’t really understand this at all:

    For liberals, none of this is accidental. Their subscription to the ideology of upward mobility definitionally demands winners and losers. The lucky few rise from their debased, degraded circumstances; the many languish. The existence of poverty remains static, even as a person here or there frees herself from its firm grip. The cynic might even say that affluent, congenitally guilty liberals benefit from this lasting pool of poor people. What else would so assuage their consciences as funding scholarships for the needy?

    It doesn’t sound liberal at all; it sounds like trickle-down economics. It’s got nothing about improving lives and providing opportunity based on improved environmental conditions (poor people often live in toxic places; I know, I grew up on the shores of one of the most polluted rivers in the country,) making toxic places cleaner benefits the poor a whole lot more then the affluent. I see nothing there about trying to make education attainable. Nothing about helping assure access to health care. Nothing about ascertaining access to to the voting booth. Nothing about avoiding unjust wars. Nothing about treating women as full citizens, including the right to control their reproductive organs. These things are about people, and the color and culture of those people are not what matters, but respecting them as people does matter greatly.

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    • I don’t think Shawn does this very often but I have had a lot of encounters with people who think it is very important to be “Leftier Than Thou”. These are the people who talk about the there being no substantial differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. They also say it would be better for a far-right politician to win and for things to get really bad because that will bring people to the farther left than mere liberalism.

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      • I don’t mind people being frustrated with “leftier than thou” types, but more and more I see “leftier than thou” used to dismiss any criticism of Democrats or liberals/progressives from the left, which I find disturbing.

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      • Fair point. There is plenty to criticize the Democratic Party about. I’m not a Clintonian Centrist but at the same time I recognize certain political realities or just realities of what people want. I’m not of the school of everyone is going to become a vegan, anti-consumerist who lives on communes and likes things with the proper progressive stamps. I do know people who think this is possible with all their hearts. At their kindest, they can be very loving and compassionate. At their worst, they simply don’t understand that people can like different things and get close to the old geek fallacy list.

        One of my friends from undergrad is a writer and is at least facebook friends with a lot bloggers/writers and artists (he got further in his in art career than I did). Over the weekend my friend posted that it Snowden’s statement on Russia being a bastion of human rights was gross.

        I concurred with my friend from undergrad and we both dislike the NSA/PRISM. However, Freddie DeBoer dissented from us and accused me of being delusional if I thought the US was more LGBT friendly than Russia.

        Freddie DeBoer is a good example of what I consider to be a “Leftier Than Thou” persona. Roberto Unger from Harvard is also Leftier than Thou with his video from summer 2012 about why Obama needed to lose his reelection bid. I am with Tod here about ideology and purity being the enemy. Also Gary Willis:

        http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/jun/18/curse-political-purity/

        This is not to say I am always for compromise. There are a lot of issues where compromise is not possible or desirable and neither is caving in but I have never been for “Heightening the Contradictions” or scoring easy anti-American points and automatically assuming America and Americans are in the wrong. Knee-jerk anti-Americanism costs the left a lot of votes in the U.S. in my opinion.

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      • I concurred with my friend from undergrad and we both dislike the NSA/PRISM. However, Freddie DeBoer dissented from us and accused me of being delusional if I thought the US was more LGBT friendly than Russia.

        That’s weird. I mean, if I were a betting man, I’d say that Russia has a pretty wide gap in LGBT friendliness from area to area, much as the U.S. does (I know certain parts of the Slavic world are actually quite LGBT friendly), but that’s without having done any actual research. I suspect Freddie hasn’t done any either. Did he give you some references? I’d have demanded some.

        But this is a good example of what I think most cases of leftier than thouness, at least online, amount to: people who are focused on specific issues (with Freddie, Greenwald, and the like, it’s been the national security state for a while now), so that distinctions on just about every other issue collapse. It’s a weird sort of flattening of the space of ideas in the service of expanding differences in one small area. I was guilty of it to an extent in the early aughts when I was so obsessed with my anti-war positions that I tended not to notice differences in others. I bet there’s a cognitive psychological explanation for it, but I’d have to think about it.

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      • Chris,

        I think you are right on all counts. There are probably of liberal and cosmopolitan Russians who are appalled by the the ruling.

        I conceded to Freddie that the U.S. was all over the map on LGBT-issues because on the one hand you have Governor Brown signing a bill that provides rights to Transgender students and on the other hand, you have places that keep their anti-Sodomy laws on the books as way of showing displeasure for Lawrence v. Texas. You have right-wing cops in Louisana arresting gay men with these laws even though charges cannot be brought against them. But you still have the end of DOMA, Prop 8 supporters being denied standing, Gay Marriage being legal in multiple states, and Jerry Brown signing a transgender rights law. There is no area in the Russian Federation where this is true.

        Good point but the monomania.

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      • I just find it incredibly rich that Putin is using Snowden to score propaganda points and that people who should know better are falling hook, line, and sinker. Its like the intellectuals who appear on RT even though its obviously a propaganda network for the Russian government and used as such.

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  12. The solution is to create enough sports leagues that every poor person in America is a team owner. Then voters will have no problem throwing money at them.

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  13. I like what James K had to say but I also worry about the extent to which poverty carries with it a handful of coping behaviors that perpetuate themselves to some degree… and these coping behaviors, once entrenched, look a hell of a lot like “culture”.

    Ending poverty would require changing culture, to some degree.

    I don’t know how good we are at doing that.

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    • This. A middle-class lifestyle is about more than material possessions and income. It’s also involves embracing a certain mentality and actions. Things like delayed gratification and all that.

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      • True, I have read about how poverty social networks invert that paradigm. In poor groups there’s strong negative incentive to save because your savings will inevitably be tapped by another member of your social group who is in distress (you accede to this because this provides a form of safety net for when/if you are in similar distress).
        That’s just one example that springs to mind.

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      • North, Lee, and Jay:

        Concurred. We see this in manifest itself in many ways.

        1. Kazzy has talked about how middle class and upper-middle class children tend to treat teachers as their equals and peers instead of their superiors.

        2. I’ve read in other places that distrust of banks and banking keeps people in poverty. Now I have a lot of middle-class lefty friends who hate banks and write posts about supporting credit unions but they still understand that you need to keep your money with some kind of financial institution. A lot of poverty reduction can come from getting people to trust credit unions and banks instead of informal financial structures.

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      • To riff off of New Dealer’s points, I think what he is saying, and what Lee says about delayed gratification, signals another attribute of middle-classness or upper classness that is part culture and part something else, namely, access to the connections necessary (or at least very helpful) to getting what one wants. An “middle-class” person (by which I mean something more specific than the catchall the term has become) might not make a lot of money, but he or she knows someone who knows someone who’s hiring, and that someone s/he knows just might put in a good word for him/her, so that the job interview is just a formality.

        I won’t go into a lot detail, but I have occasionally benefited from this type of arrangement, stemming largely from having been a grad student and knowing other grad students in jobs that they recommended me for, and knowing professors who would vouch for me. (Doesn’t always work, but in a certain type of job, it works well.)

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      • Delayed gratification is something that is hard to explain but it was the whole ethos of my upper-middle class upbringing.

        When I was in law school, I would hear someone complain about being school every now and then and there student loans. They would always mention friends who were single and making reasonable money (50,000-80,000 dollars or so) and out having fun while they were stuck in the library late at night or on weekends.

        I always pointed out that there friends might be making good money for 20-somethings but eventually they will probably have a salary cap. Most of these friends were working in jobs like customer service and maybe every now and then some kind of union/manual labor job. Getting an MD, MBA, or JD means entering the workforce later but in theory the chances for a good and uncapped income are higher. Or the cap will be in the six or seven figures and not the five-figure range.

        Your friends might be buying houses and cars now but you will be able to buy a better house in a better town and a better car down the road. In theory at least.

        This was the ethos of my childhood. Work hard now and delay gratification and get better rewards later. And even though my career is developing at a slower than planned level, I’m making some of these better purchases now. Maybe not houses and cars but I’m purchasing at higher consumer level for other stuff.

        But it takes a lot of willpower to resist the “My friends are having fun” now pull. Last week, there was a major music festival in SF and I spent the entire weekend working and working long hours. I worked 11-14 hours every day last week while friends were posting pictures of good times on facebook. It sucked but if it gets me to Mill Valley than that is what I have to do.

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      • North,
        the point that was made is that not saving is quite adaptive in those situations.
        Throwing a big party nourishes your social network.

        “well, you should have saved that”
        “that would have been Selfish!”

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      • A cynic might say the poor know all too well about delayed gratification. But more about the delayed part than the gratification part.

        More seriously, what stalwart liberals Lee and ND are saying meshes perfectly with what libertarian Roger has often said, that poverty is at least in part about the choices people make…a comment that has earned scornful responses from some liberals here.

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      • Mill Valley is a very nice town with very nice houses in Marin County. I just picked as an example. If I move back to the NYC-area, I would pick a town in Westchester. I would love a Brooklyn Brownstone but those seem like too much of a pipe dream plus you have to deal with the rat race of NYC education.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mill_Valley,_California

        Part of my ability to make the delayed gratification decision is that I come from a certain background where it is the taught norm and I know people who done it for successful results.

        If I grew up in different circumstances or new a lot of people who tried to get ahead and got nowhere then I would feel differently about delayed gratification. It also helps that I come from a comfortable background. I never had to do the ramen diet that so many grad students talk about. I wasn’t living in mass luxury but I was living very comfortably compared to most students. My parents wanted to and were able to provide a support structure that would allow me to focus on career building and delayed gratification. Plus they believe in the importance of education. I was expected to get some kind of advanced and/or professional degree. When I tell this to people, they are often shocked and find that kind of expectation as stressful and too high.

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      • Mill Valley is just a really nice upper-middle class SF suburb. It feels more like a town than a suburb because there is a central commercial district filled with nice restaurants and shops over a mall.

        The public schools are good, etc. Plus it is only 20 minutes from SF.

        So if I ever marry and start a family, it is where I would want to raise them. There are other inner-ring suburbs for other cities that are similar.

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      • Michael,

        Mill Valley is a town in Marin County, CA, across the Golden Gate Bridge fom Urinetown, err, San Francisco. It’s very beautiful (and has the advantage that, unlike San Francisco, it doesn’t smell like urine), but rather pricey.

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      • ND,

        That culture affects our choices does not mean they are not choices. What you wrote is far more closely aligned with What Roger has said than with what those who objected to him have said.

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      • If Madison, Wisconsin didn’t exist, it sounds like Mill Valley, Marin Co., California, USA might be a place I might have to investigate seeking happiness in. But Madison exists, and though it’s getting annoyingly expensive by recent standards, I’m guessing it remains still more affordable than Mill Valley.

        ;-)

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      • Also, out of fairness to my discussion with Jaybird, ND’s point about learning productive habits like delaying gratification through family and culture is very much consistent with Jaybird’s sense that culture and family are central to the transmission of habits that are necessary to, as he puts it “take care of oneself” (defined in part as not qualifying for or in any case accepting public income and other aid).

        Whether it’s the case that aid programs (necessarily, or perhaps only if poorly designed…) significantly and widely interfere with the development of these values in families (as opposed to that being more determined by the opportunities and utilities for self-enhancement that do or don’t surround them), I remain somewhat skeptical though persuadable about. I realize, though, that this conviction informs many people’s bedrock sense of the negative value of public assistance programs, so I don’t expect to persuade those convinced of it’s truth that the idea is anything less than essentially a scientific truth.

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      • James,

        Possibly true but I think it is more about support structure as well. And even if it is cultural and choices, I think there are ways government can help create policies that allow people to make the delayed gratification choices. There are certainly ways school can help.

        A friend of mine from undergrad had a friend who went to Yale on a full-scholarship. It was only the full-scholarship that allowed him to go to Yale before that he was going to have to stop schooling to help with the family business.

        I’m just trying to recognize advantages. I had parents with advanced educations and degrees. They could help me navigate college and resume building and networking. People from less advantageous backgrounds would need to do that alone and that can be overwhelming or hard. We debated this over the summer when Rose wrote a post about an NYTimes article that talked about three women who were the first in their families to go to college and the troubles they found in navigating the system.

        Now there are plenty of support structures in non upper-middle class families but they can potentially lead to dead ends. Instead of connections with law firms or other business people, it could be a connection to a lower-end and less well-paid, and possibly dead-end job.

        There are choices but people learn what choices and options are available from their surroundings and upbringings and I don’t blame people for being born into less fortunate surroundings and can see how people learn that certain options might be off the table for them because they are simply unaware.

        A friend of mine in SF when to a large state university but said if he could do it all over again, he would have picked going to a small-liberal arts college. He simply did not know they existed at the time. He said his guidance counselor told him that he should just go to the state school and major in chemical engineering to get a job. I think his high school had more socio-economic and go to college or not diversity. He also might have been the first person in his family to go to college.

        He eventually switched to a more liberal arts major than engineering but is he at fault for not knowing about Amherst or Swathmore? Should his guidance counselor have been able to tell him more? He made a choice based on the information available and that wasn’t necessarily completely ideal for his wants.

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      • While it is, of course, the case that none of us can take care of ourselves without government assistance (roads, etc), it does seem to be the case that some of us require less assistance (roads, etc) than others (food, roads, etc).

        Now, I don’t have kids but surely there’s more than my being middle class to my suspicion that a good parent ought raise one’s child to be fairly self-sufficient and to do one’s best to be one of the people who contributes to the maintenance of roads, etc and subsidizes the food of others.

        Or am I looking at that like a dumb WASP?

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      • There are people who really do live out their beliefs about living completely away from any gov and solely on their own wits and effort. They tend to live many miles off any roads up here in wilderness Alaska. They haul all their own gear, hunt and fish and poach game. They live like settlers did decades or hundreds of years ago. Well except for the ATV’s and snow machines and using banks and the occasional bush plane trip, etc. Surprisingly few people take advantage of the opportunity to get completely away from gov. It really is surprising.

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      • I will leave that question to James Hanley, who says (elsewhere) that it’s up to everyone individually to decide what is a good life for them (and therefore, presumably, what is good parenting in one’s own family).

        I don’t agree or disagree with either of you; I don’t have strong convictions about it. I’m just noting that does happen to be part of your definition of what taking care of oneself is. I’m certainly not saying that view’s unreasonable, but it just might not in fact be universal.

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    • AND ANOTHER THING!

      To the extent that we all agree that to properly address poverty, we need to ensure that kids get a good education and have health care, there are dozens of ways we’ve tried to address these things and we tend to talk past each other.

      Does ensuring that kids get a good education mean that union reform needs to be on the table? Does it mean that vouchers need to be on the table? Does it mean that we abandon the ideal of ensuring that everyone get a college prep education?

      And don’t get me started on health care.

      And all of these things tie into poverty.

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      • I’d say vouchers should be off the table because a lot of those vouchers are going to spent on some very religious schools. Besides the violation of the First Amendment problem, those schools are not going to provide a quality education.

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      • Eh, I see the use of vouchers by the parents as an issue covered by the “free exercise” clause rather than by the “establishment” one. The parents are making the choice, not the government.

        As for the quality education, I reckon the parents might have a better idea of “which school will provide a better education for my child?” than me, sitting all the way over here. (And that’s without getting into the whole parochial schools ain’t bad issue.)

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      • LeeEsq;

        I share your discomfort with religon-oriented education (epxecially when that education contradicts scientific findings), but lets be honest, there are plenty of public schools in the US that are violating the establishment clause, and who then waste a pile of public money trying to defend the indefensible.

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      • Poverty tends to CAUSE poor educational outcomes.

        A small part of it is poor people are generally served by poor schools, with outdated equipment, poorly paid teachers (even by the standards of the profession), and the like.

        But mostly it’s because being poor sucks SO MUCH that “getting an education” tends to rank really low down the priority list. Parents who don’t have the time or energy to focus on their kid’s educations, kids whose lives are — flatly — too cluttered with things other than school (you know, gangs, violence, drug use, caring for other siblings, having to work,etc)….no methodology, no voucher is gonna fix that.

        Which is pretty much what studies have shown. You know who does well with the voucher programs? Poor kids whose parents are involved enough in their education to give a flip what school they attend. Those kids? They tend to do okay, because their parents FORCE them to value education. Even if they don’t get vouchers.

        Charter schools, by and large, just feel scammish though. “Oh yeah, we’ll run a school if you promise low oversight and lots of money and fix our test scores for us if we HAVE to take some sort of standardized tests”. I mean, I know a few solid ones, but it seems like a coin-flip. Public schools, at least, are accountable to the local school board, the state school board, and state and federal standards.

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      • “But mostly it’s because being poor sucks SO MUCH that “getting an education” tends to rank really low down the priority list. Parents who don’t have the time or energy to focus on their kid’s educations, kids whose lives are — flatly — too cluttered with things other than school (you know, gangs, violence, drug use, caring for other siblings, having to work,etc)….no methodology, no voucher is gonna fix that.”

        Nice narrative. Unfortunately it contradicts the fact that poverty and liesure are overwhelmingly positively correlated. It is the upper middle class, two income, soccer mom family which is most stressed on time, and somehow they seem to carve out time for kids including trips to the library, reading bed time stories, helping with homework, visiting with teachers, volunteering at school functions and such.

        Your basic point that kids will not thrive until parents invest in them is spot on. The rest was just excuses though. Every family has pressures. Every family prioritizes. Those that manage to focus on long term success and investing in their loved ones seem to be able to do consistently better than those that fail.

        As for school choice, international studies prove that market based education outperforms the government run monopolies on every dimension. I can link you to the study again, if desired.

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      • Roger,
        “Nice narrative. Unfortunately it contradicts the fact that poverty and liesure are overwhelmingly positively correlated”

        Yeahhuh. If you count hours spent in a welfare office as leisure. or having to call up five places to figure out who can take your kid so youd on’t get fired.

        You’re ignoring the fact that many lowerclass folks hold multiple jobs (some going to school at the same time)… and taht transportation is not included in “time on the job”

        Also, leisure isn’t leisure when you’re stressed out ;-P

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      • morat20,
        We’ve got an awesome charter school around here. It’s pretty much run by college profs, who wanted a fun place to experiment.

        … some of them really suck, though, and we had one of those that got closed down in disgrace, too.

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      • ,

        being poor sucks SO MUCH that “getting an education” tends to rank really low down the priority list

        Can’t agree, friend. For generations poor immigrants have been coming to the U.S. and insisting their kids get an education so they can be better off. There has to be more explanatory variables than poverty itself. I vote for culture, whether it’s poor black culture that derides academic achievers as “acting white” or poor white culture that derides academic achievers for “thinking you’re better than us.”

        I do agree with you about poor people having bad schools, though.

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      • You might wanna…I dunno, think about that for a second.

        Remember how I used the term ‘cherry picking’ in terms of how private and charter schools SHOULD get great results, but often don’t?

        Now think about immigrants — the sort of thing it takes to get a person to come to America, legally or not. The hurdles they must overcome. Think about all the people who didn’t have the drive to make that jump, who couldn’t make that jump.

        Now go back to the word ‘Cherry picking’ and see how it applies.

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      • Morat,

        Sure, I’ll think about it some more. It sounds to me like you’re saying some poor indivuduals are more motivated than other poor indivuduals. I agree. But it means the critical variable is not poverty, but some other source/cause of motivation (or lack of).

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      • James,
        it’s way worse than that. IQ is correlated with how someone got to this country.

        Also:
        ” For generations poor immigrants have been coming to the U.S. and insisting their kids get an education so they can be better off. There has to be more explanatory variables than poverty itself. I vote for culture, whether it’s poor black culture that derides academic achievers as “acting white” or poor white culture that derides academic achievers for “thinking you’re better than us.””

        You’ve got a bit of survivor bias going on here. The poor people who said “Kids, go learn in the city” … aren’t in the country anymore. So, your culture contracts as the smart people leave.

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      • Roger,

        Unfortunately it contradicts the fact that poverty and liesure are overwhelmingly positively correlated. It is the upper middle class, two income, soccer mom family which is most stressed on time, and somehow they seem to carve out time for kids including trips to the library, reading bed time stories, helping with homework, visiting with teachers, volunteering at school functions and such.

        Here’s the problem I see with that reasoning. I imagine that much of the “leisure” that poorer people have, to the extent that leisure and poverty are indeed positively correlated, is anxiety about not having a job or is the type of activity that perhaps might count as “leisure” but is something else the supposedly more industrious middle classers pay others to do, e.g., doing home repair.

        I also suspect that leisure and poverty might not be as positively correlated as you suggest, although you undoubtedly know the numbers better than I do. I don’t know many poor people, but those I do know work quite a lot and when they’re not they’re looking for work. That’s just anecdotal, sure, but I have a hard time finding other anecdotes. I also suspect that the jobs they work at place more control over what they do and how they do it when they are at work. At corporate VP might really work 12 hours a day, but a couple of those hours might on any given day be a “business lunch,” and some time might involve just chilling and talking to coworkers. Waged workers might also try to steal a few minutes, but generally they might be in a position where they have to wear uniforms and smile all the time, or at least most of the time, and are forbidden to sit down, at least when there’s a customer in the store.

        You’re not entirely wrong. I’d much prefer to have a $30,000 per year job that is 9 to 5, five days a week, to a $60,000 per year job that is 50 to 60 hours per week (assuming constant benefits). And the reason is that I value my leisure.

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  14. Poverty is not synonymous with a lack of money.
    There are as many varieties- and causes- of poverty as there are poor people.
    When we speak of poverty, we often compress a wide variety into a single monolith, and create confusion.
    For instance- poverty is as often a symptom of an underlying problem, as it is a cause. There will always be a segment of society that lacks the ability to function- alcoholics, the mentally ill, the crhonically physically ill, and so on.

    Having said that- Shawn’s point is well taken, that poverty is not simply something less-than-ideal, it is so damaging to the human spirit, and so destructive to the purpose of society, that addressing and reducing it needs to be an imperative. Specifically, it needs to be given equal placement as the claims of property rights and liberty.

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    • Good points. There are also differences in lifestyles.

      I do know people who moved from San Francisco and bought a small farm in upstate New York. They seem to be happy but I would describe there lifestyle as being very hand-in-mouth and almost on a sustenance level in some ways but I have no desire to be farmer and gardening is not even an appealing hobby to me. I’m at home at cities.

      I don’t know how to analyze whether my farmer-friends are poor or not. They certainly live much better than sustenance farmers in the developing world but they are not wealthy by middle-class American standards either probably. They do seem happy with their lives though.

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  15. Roger, James, et al.,

    I can’t decide whether y’all think that the people who suggest that eliminating poverty might be something we’d want to do, or at least attempt to do, are idiots or fools. It may be the former, because you all seem to be under the impression that such people are so stupid that they might believe that eliminating the current bottom rung means there won’t be a bottom rung, which only someone who is incapable of ‘understanding basic language and logic would believe. It may be the latter because at least some of you seem to think that such people believe that they can make things better by collapsing all socioeconomic differences completely.

    If it’s idiots you think we are, then it is only because you are attributing a conception of poverty to us that no one has ever held except, it seems, y’all, namely that the intension of “poverty,” or POVERTY, is “the bottom rung,” with the extension varying only as a result of the overall height of the ladder. If it’s fools, it’s because you’re attributing ideas to us that no one has ever held, ever, even among the most hardened communists, Marxists, socialists, syndicalists, etc., namely that everyone should be exactly the same, and if we do away with socioeconomic strata, stratification won’t spontaneously emerge again in its place.

    Speaking for myself and, I think it’s safe to say, pretty much everyone in the history of the human race over the age of 7 who has suggested that eliminating poverty should be a goal, and may be an achievable one, I do not think any of this. Speaking only for myself, I see poverty as a level of intolerable material insecurity which can, of course, vary according to the overall wealth of a society*, as well as a lack of opportunity, and therefore hope and dignity, to ever raise oneself to a level of material security. It is at least logically, and I think practically, possible to eliminate this without doing away with economic stratification, or even your precious markets. It may require some fairly radical steps that are inconsistent with a maximally free market economy, such as NHS-style universal health care, universal access to education at all levels, ways of dealing with debt so that past mistakes don’t damn one to unending material insecurity, and other methods of maximizing equality of opportunity, things that I’m sure many of you find abhorrent for a variety of theoretical and practical reasons, but we aren’t even having this discussion, or anything resembling it (except, I will note, Jaybird), because y’all think we’re idiots or fools.

    Now, I would be fine if you considered me, and perhaps the other folks here who want to eliminate poverty, to be idealists, because idealism doesn’t not necessarily entail idiocy or foolishness, and while I wouldn’t mind living in a society devoid of idiots and fools, I would hate to live in one with no idealists. Idealists help to create real change, and they do so not by moving “Overton windows” or creating gradual legislative paths to possible distant objectively better future, dependent entirely on future Zeitgeists, but by actually changing what we talk about, and forcing people to see things to which they were previously blind. So I’m fine if, when you stop thinking me an idiot or fool, you see me as an idealist.

    Finally, to Roger specifically, I did not call you a dick, I called what you did dickish, because it was. You took my question, and asked a series of unrelated questions based on where you thought the question my have come from, and asked them in such a way that, well, see my first couple paragraphs in this comment. It was purely dismissive, and wasn’t meant to engage what I said, much less answer my question, in any way.

    I was just saying to someone the other day that I bet you’re a pretty nice guy, and I don’t think for a minute that you’re an idiot or that you think of yourself as even potentially one. I think you have ideas about the left — ideas about what they want, ideas about their relative level of economic sophistication, etc. — that act as attractors such that any question or comment by someone on the left naturally gets pulled towards them, and you respond not according to what the person on the left is saying but what you are thinking they’ve left unsaid. That’s certainly what you did here, and when combined with your penchant for suggesting that people who disagree with you from the left would agree with you if they just knew as much about economics as you, I find it incredibly grating. It does make me less likely to respond to you graciously, but I’m not sure you’ve earned my graciousness, and I tend to think you’ve earned my withholding of it.

    Look, I know I can be condescending, and I can be an ass, sometimes at a level that’s uncalled for, but I have discussions on this blog not because I think I can educate all of y’all deluded libertarians, neoliberals, liberals, and milquetoast progressives who just don’t know as much as I do (nipping this in the bud: I don’t actually think y’all are deluded or milquetoast), but because I understand that people who know more than me, people who know less than me, and people who know as much as me, can have opinions that differ greatly from my own, because factual knowledge isn’t the only determinant of opinions; perspective comes into play, as does experience (what we might once have called wisdom, which doesn’t just vary quantitatively but also qualitatively), values and the weights we give to different values, and so on, and this understanding allows me to believe that I can have interesting, informative, and occasionally even productive conversations with people who disagree with me. Hell, I came to this blog following Jason, whom I’ve read for years despite the fact that except on social issues, we disagree about just about everything. And I didn’t read him then, or read any of y’all now, main pagers or commenters, because I just like being outraged or feeling superior as a result of your ignorance, immorality, and stupidity. If I wanted that, I’d go read hyper-partisan political blogs, Vox Day, or sign up for Alex Jones’ dating site.

    *Though the overall wealth of a society is not an unqualified good for those suffering from material insecurities. A homeless man in Austin, TX may pull in more in a day by panhandling than workers in some developing nations pull in in a month or more working 16 hour days in deplorable conditions, it’s true, but due to differences in prices and access, food, shelter, and other basics can still be very difficult to obtain. I gave a man $2 the other day, and watched him eat a cold can of beans with tortillas in the shade on the side of the store, because that’s what $2 buys that he could prepare (he could have gotten more in ramen, and eaten it dry and uncooked, or hoped that the 7-11 down the street would let him use its microwave, but you see my point). Did I harm him by paying for his beans and tortillas without making him earn them? If so, I plan on harming him again the next time I see him.

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    • Okay, I might expose my lack of economic understanding, but I’m going to quibble with something here. Or, more accurately, raise a question.

      Suppose it was decided tomorrow that everyone would be guaranteed a minimum income. It would be enough to secure the basic standards of living Chris outlined. Wouldn’t this make those things cost more, as the huge influx of cash and the huge increase in the number of customers (i.e., demand) make the supply more valuable and sellers able to charge more? Isn’t that how supply-and-demand works?

      Now, Chris, you mentioned that you’d be okay with certain constraints on a free market. Would such things as price control be one of them? It wouldn’t be unheard of… as I understand it, there are restrictions on the pricing of milk because it is deemed to be a basic necessity… but I think it’d be a hard pill for many people (myself included) to swallow. The alternative would be to directly supply people with the goods and services rather than the funds to acquire them. The ol’ “government cheese” route.

      Okay… now everyone can tell me just how wrong I am.

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      • Kazzy, I’m no economist, of course, but I assume a guaranteed minimum income would raise prices because it would increase demand since more people would have money to spend on stuff. I also assume that if you keep the guaranteed minimum income dynamic, you can deal with (though not eliminate) this problem.

        Also, people who know more about economics than I do are always telling me that this is not a zero sum game…

        And yeah, I’m definitely cool with constraints on the market. In fact, I think this is the primary justification for the existence of the state: to correct for the failures, injustices, infelicities, and inevitable gaps in the market system. This doesn’t mean that I think the state is good or efficient, as it will always be reactive, just that it is necessitated by the market system, and the solution to problems of the state is not to eliminate the state, but to eliminate the system that necessitates it. The state is just one head of a two-headed hydra, and if you cut it off, another one will grow in its place, maybe two, and they may be worse than the one you’ve lopped off. Better to tear it all down.

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      • “Suppose it was decided tomorrow that everyone would be guaranteed a minimum income. It would be enough to secure the basic standards of living Chris outlined. Wouldn’t this make those things cost more,”

        Depends on which things we are talking about, I suppose.

        1. The guaranteed income would give increased purchasing power to the poor, relative to the rich. This means the rich might buy less, as the poor buy more. Or that would be the idea. (What would actually happen is an empirical question that we can’t know a priori.)

        2. Presumably taxes on the wealthy would go up, too, to pay for the minimum income. So that would drop prices by lowering the amount of spending by the wealthy-taxed.

        3. As Delong and others often explain, you need to remember to think about the velocity of money/spending. It is quite plausible that helicopter drops of money on everyone (rich and poor) would increase the velocity of spending, resulting in more goods and services produced and more employment and more use of resources, depending on the state of the economy more generally. (Helicopter drops wouldn’t always work, but in some cases they would.)

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      • I think it’d depend on the level that the guaranteed minimum income was set at. For food, water and durable goods like clothing, shoes and the like I don’t think you’d see much inflation. The current markets have significant capacity to provide this stuff.
        Housing, I suspect, would be more problematic. I would not be surprised if there were some distortions there but if we allowed building and chased away elitist pet projects like the blight of rent control I think the housing market could handle it.

        Your danger would be if you set the GMI too high and people started bidding wars with each other for more scarce things. That’d be the knife edge you’d be walking, of course, set the GMI too high and you’d get inflation and economic slowdowns (from the cost of it); set it too low and you wouldn’t ameliorate poverty adequately.

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      • North,
        we’ve been seeing heavy price spikes on food. I don’t think we’re going to do well with food in the future, judging by our current inability to model climate (which is essential for planning crops and livestock).

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      • What North said.

        A guaranteed minimum income would actually change a lot of things, and I wouldn’t propose that we’d nail it (nor that it wouldn’t exist in a state of tension).

        But in effect we have something close to this for staple goods now, we just perform it at the next layer of abstraction (which is bad): we subsidize the farmer. This lowers the price of wheat, which lowers the price of bread, which means people on a lower income can buy it.

        The trick, of course, would be that if we had a guaranteed minimum income, people would (rightly) want autonomy over how that is spent, and both the left-leaning and right-leaning cadres in American politics would lose their freaking minds over it (not, necessarily, any left- or right-leaning folks here in this community, except Jesse, who has already copped to it… but left- and right-leaning general folks).

        I would much prefer that we give a GMI to the endemic poverty crowd and cut ag subsidies, but this would fly exactly nowhere.

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    • Let me add, as I’ve said elsewhere in this thread, if it is the case that it is in fact impossible to get rid of poverty as I’ve described it because of the nature of the system, then I assert that the system is immoral, in that it continues to produce a materially insecure underclass (one I believe the system in fact requires in order to function), and unjust because it creates deep and almost completely insurmountable inequalities of opportunity. It may be the case that market-based systems like ours can eliminate and are eliminating the worst levels of poverty (though man, it’s sure taking its sweet ass time), but to repeat, if the system cannot by its very nature eliminate material insecurity and almost completely insurmountable inequalities of opportunity, then we have a moral duty to work to produce a better system. Questions of how we do that are not “gotchya” questions that show that any other system is worse than this one, but calls to action, and at times even a suggestion that the limits to our imagination produced by the current system are as damaging as any other of the system’s failures.

      Putting it differently, and ignoring issues of power for a moment (big issues, but contentious in such a way that they would likely derail any discussion), I think that in general human institutions that work will tend to last while those that don’t will ultimately die off, so to the extent that our current system has in the abstract existed for centuries, and continues to evolve, one could argue that it works to a certain degree. However, we’re susceptible to local maxima, and sometimes, particularly when we begin to recognize failures and limitations that are socially and morally problematic, we have to consider the possibility that the peak we’ve found and continue to climb isn’t the highest, but given our vantage point may obscure many higher peaks, and we have to send out explorers to look for higher peaks. What’s more, sometimes when we start to get near the top of a peak, we must realize that our values have been shifted as well as our material well-being, and this may cause us to realize that we need to create our own new peaks, even if such peaks are not attainable within our current system.

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      • Chris,
        I kind of agree. The clarification though is that society in total, meaning all institutions, need to eliminate the problem of poverty. Free markets create and thrive upon unequal outcomes. However they can also fund the safety nets which can eradicate poverty. We need better markets and better safety nets. The frustration in your slow time frame argument is understandable, but compared to what? Markets seem to raise standards of living by about 8X per century. Best I can tell every other system raised it  zero X per millennium.  

        Btw, I like the evolutionary fitness peak analogy. There are better institutions to be found.

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      • Inequality is not in and of itself a problem. Inequality is, in one form or another, inevitable. Inequality co-opted by power, without high levels of economic mobility or equality of opportunity, is a problem, and I don’t think it’s inevitable.

        And we will of never agree about markets, but I consider taking the last two centuries (a pretty small sample for making century-level claims) and attributing the increases in quality of life entirely to markets (though throwing in science elsewhere in the thread gives away a bit of the game) to be the same sort of claim that Dawkins makes in another current thread. It takes a complex set of events, and picks one thing and ignores the rest. That’s not to say that markets aren’t wealth producing and quality of life increasing, but so are a lot of other things that happened in the last 2 centuries as a result of things other than markets. Market economies have benefited from the ratchet effect more than any other system in history, except possibly the Greek and Roman systems.

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      • Roger,
        Remember how Lehman Brothers got their start? An open and fair market system (reasonably), but in a society that actively suppressed science. That society didn’t go very far…

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    • Chris,

      Sounds like a long winded way to say you are doubling down on the dick comment, I mean, the dickish comment.

      Last week you made a point of repeatedly reinforcing that I am cruel or unsympathetic or whatever to the poor.

      I am not sure I am the only one who is being grating. I will however try to be less grating in the future.

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      • I asked a couple of questions, Chris. You responded by calling me a dick. You might as well say I am acting “poo-poo headish.”

        Reread my questions. They were specifically aimed at your question on why there are strata. If I misunderstood you, a friendly correction would have sufficed. Seriously. If you are sincere in having a dialogue, please do so without the obviously desperate defense mechanisms.

        Why did my questions hurt so much? Why does my market based defense of the poor require you to disparage me?

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      • Roger, if you asked me a question about the causal mechanisms of socialism, and I answered your question by asking, “Why do you think free markets are perfect?”, would you think I was acting like a bit of an ass? Probably, right? Because instead of answering your question about my views, I just asked questions about what I assume to be your views despite the fact that your question didn’t express any views in asking your question. Well, that’s what you did. If you don’t see how it was being dickish, then I can’t help you (and again, saying your behavior was dickish is not the same as calling you a dick; if you can’t see the distinction, I feel genuinely bad for you, because you must take every criticism of your ideas and behavior as criticisms of your core self, and that’s a rough way to go through life).

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      • Not really. But like I said, I could have misunderstood you. Apologies.

        Back on topic, I believe poverty and wide strata are inherent as an outcome of markets. Those that produce nothing can pretty much assume they will earn nothing. This is an absolutely essential ingredient in markets.

        I believe good safety nets are essential to counteract this. By good, I mean safety nets which actively work in such a way as to eliminate their future need. My past links to market based guaranteed income was an example of this type of feedback.

        Do you disagree?

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      • Roger,

        Do you think you are, in fact, in touch with the poor? For all I know you do extensive volunteer work in urban schools or rehab centers or job counseling centers, and everything you say in your high-concept way is informed by endless hours of hands-on contact at the locus where policy meets poverty. But maybe that’s not true.

        I myself don’t consider myself particularly in touch with the poor. For my part, I take that as reason to have a high evidentiary bar for accepting counterintuitive ideas that if I were (more institutionally) poor (than I am) I don’t think I’d find particularly helpful – like the notion that getting some cash assistance on a regular basis would actually hurt me not help me. That might be true, but it’s sufficiently counterintuitive that, to me, not being in touch with the poor, it seems right to have a predisposition to thinking that giving money to poor people might be helpful to them (seems reasonable), especially since the idea that it isn’t is pretty convenient for those of us considering whether to give that aid from a narrow monetary self-interest standpoint.

        If I were much more “in touch” with the poor on a first-hand basis, and on the basis of that experience I felt that giving money to poor people hurts them and doesn’t help them, I’d feel much differently about that. but I’m not. So I have pretty high bar for how much high-fallutin’-academic-type evidence I need to see to conclude that I ought to think that giving money to poor people is a more hurtful thing to do to them than not doing that.

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      • I believe wealth strata are an inevitable outcome of markets, yes, but I asked why, because laying out the mechanisms that lead to them can actually tell us a lot about the ways in which markets function, and why the strata end up the way they end up (with, for example, difficult hurdles between strata).

        And I don’t agree with your prescription, no, but I don’t think “more markets” is a very good answer, so that’s not surprising.

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      • Chris,
        I like markets I like ’em a lot.
        I don’t like EA, I don’t like Creative, I don’t like Microsoft.
        Lotta markets are inherently not free, and corporations love, love, love
        to find them (or even create them) and then exploit others.

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      • Michael,

        This conversation dovetails with the post on losing sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to politics and the news. I think perspective is more important than anecdote.

        That said, my wife does extensive volunteer work at underprivileged Hispanic schools (ten hours a week for past three years). A significant number of my friends and family are in what would classify as lowest quintile (my immediate and extended family is a mix mash of Hispanic, Indian, black, white and Jamaican of every class except upper). It includes hard working immigrants, alcoholic professionals, several non working young people living off their middle class parents or government assistance, well off people who are retired and make no money, retired people who are in their mid eighties yet maintain four part time jobs or multiple rentals, able bodied fathers milking the disability system, and a huge number of fellow anti establishment surf bums like myself.

        If I could summarize my anecdotal experience (which I stress is not likely to be representative), it is that the lower class is nothing like the caricature. Heck, I qualify as low income. My independent son does too, and he is living the high life of hiking the Apalachian trail this year with everything he needs strapped to his back.

        That said, I think this “I am more in touch with the poor than you” angle is totally misguided.

        Just to clarify though, I have specifically and vehemently stressed good safety nets. See the bottom comment on this post. I did not say assistance hurts people. It helps them short term, and WHERE DESIGNED POORLY, creates long term dependency and bad habits. This is not the type of concept that should be counterintuitive.

        I have repeatedly provided details on guaranteed universal health care and guaranteed market based living income for all which would not incentivize dependency and free riding. I will even agree they can use their guaranteed income to buy cell phones if they choose. In other words, I am one of the few people on this thread agreeing we can and should stamp out poverty. Others may disagree with my universal health care or universal living income ideas. But saying I am out of touch with the poor is just a diversion from the real topic.

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      • “I believe wealth strata are an inevitable outcome of markets, yes, but I asked why, because laying out the mechanisms that lead to them can actually tell us a lot about the ways in which markets function, and why the strata end up the way they end up (with, for example, difficult hurdles between strata).”

        This is where you lose me. I assume you agree that some people are less productive than others, and that as hard to accept as it is, some are even chronically unproductive for a number of reasons. In a market system, less productive people make less than more productive people, and chronically unproductive people make little or nothing. The market of course by itself penalizes this. Safety nets mitigate this effect, but must be designed in such a way that they do not reverse the incentive structure.

        Markets by themselves would create prosperity, but not prosperity for the chronically unproductive (though again they strongly and cruelly incentivize becoming productive). Well designed safety nets combined with and funded by markets can create prosperity and eradicate poverty. What we have is massively interfered with markets and dysfunctional safety nets which propagate and reinforce class immobility.

        As an example, most self employment today is illegal. I couldn’t go out and offer to taxi people around for hire. I can’t walk out and offer to rent surf boards or give private lessons at the beach. I can’t offer to style your hair or groom your dog or sell lemonade. I can’t accept a job paying less than minimum wage. I could go on for hours. We made free enterprise illegal and then paid people to pretend their back hurts. What would we expect?

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      • If differences in productivity were the only cause of economic inequalities, I’d be OK with that within limits. It ain’t, and there is nothing inherent in a market system to suggest it will ever be. That’s why laying out the mechanisms is important.

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      • I assume this means you have a better alternative with a better track record or at least a robust theoretical foundation?

        And btw, what mechanisms are you especially bothered by?

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      • roger, i think there is a point to be made, which you do, about regulations making it hard for some business. however you, and everybody else who make that point, also chronically over plays it. Am i for licenses for hair dressing, no i can’t see the point. Selling lemonade, well i don’t think the lemonade stands all over town here are getting shut down by the man. But the assertion that if all the things you list were free to happen there would be some outbreak of massive wealth is silly. For one, even if we got rid of licenses for doing hair, which i would be for, does that suddenly create a huge demand for new hair styles or hair do’s. No it doesn’t. What would happen is more competition for the current hair stylists, which is fine as far as it goes, but that hasn’t led to an end to poverty. It would mean some people could make some money by doing hair in their apartment while there would be less business for others. Most of the other examples you list are there same way, they could lead to some people making more money at the expense of others. That is fine, but it won’t lead to some new birth of freedom. That is the part where you oversell your idea.

        The other part where i think this misses is that in many cases if someone doesn’t have the money to get a business license or jump through some of the hoops that regulations have set up, then they don’t have the money to start their business in the first place. That doesn’t mean the regulations are good per se, they may or may not be. But i’ve heard this argument before and it always dies at this spot.

        Also i don’t really think free enterprise is dead, or was that supposed to be comically over the top rhetoric for a joke. But even small business should have to adhere to basic safety and enviro regs, if that is hard on them, then well are you suggesting we ignore externalities just for small businesses?

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      • This reminds me of when someone criticizes a the work of a musician, and a fan of that musician responds, “Oh yeah, well do you have any musical talent?”

        I do have ideas, but I don’t think they’re particularly relevant to whether the market has flaws. And as I’ve said to you and others many times (not just in this thread but in the past), if there are issues of injustice and immorality that are inherent in your system, it’s imperative on you to fix them or find a better one. It looks to me like a robust welfare state is, in any form, a stop gap fix. The system is the problem.

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      • Roger,

        To clarify, I didn’t mean to say you do think that aid always hurts. I find your recent advocacy for a Warstler-style safety net laudable, though I have to say I don’t recall such advocacy (just in search of a good structure) so clearly before that.

        The notion was more directed at the general sense that the idea is definitely “out there” (and “in here”) that aid (“the dole”) more or less as a species really hurts people, not helps them. Maybe that’s an unfair apprehension of what people think. But I do think it’s out there; indeed I think I’ve been importuned to believe it or be implied to be unreasonably outside of what had been presumed to be a consensus of opinion among right-thinking people that it’s true.

        In your particular case, I think your initial approach to these questions can be hard to see past. it can be hard to see past an initial impulse to say that benefits have been too generous; that policymakers are motivated to make programs poorly designed in order to inculcate dependency which will redound to political benefit for them; etc. Your actual advocacy for a straight-up cash welfare system that has features that you believe will manage or eliminate dependency and other incentive problems (in direct opposition to others who it seems would deny such design is possible in cash welfare) kind of gets lost in what you communicate as your primary attitude. OTOH, I think you’re doing a good job redirecting your focus in more recent comments.

        But just to be clear, I was not saying that you were among those saying that aid hurts people (though it’s also not so clear you’re not saying it – it seems to depend). I just think that you sometimes obscure your true position with your initial approach to these questions in these threads (as do I). I also think you underestimate how long it takes to get people to form a different opinion of you than the one they had previously; your support for Morgan’s proposal is still quite new (and it’s certainly a pretty attenuated and technically pie-in-the-sky system for welfare administration still), so you can’t expect people to be absolutely bowled over by your longstanding commitment to a comprehensive welfare system in these pages [EDIT: …though they absolutely should take full account of it when dealing with you – after taking full account of what exactly the proposal consists of, that is!]. Before you started talking about Warstler, I hadn’t really perceived it as a primary priority of yours, and I’ve tried to pay attention to what you seem most interested in saying around here. Maybe I missed something.

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      • Jay, should i take that solely as a ” i only care about what effects me” question? I can’t quite tell. That doesn’t really address much of what i wrote and of course applies to you also. I’ve known more than a few people who said they didn’t give a hoot if water in the west was polluted or forests in the northwest were killed by air pollution. But they lived in NJ so they didn’t care about what happens in the west as long as the companies they held stock in did well and hated nature so screw trees.

        But making every argument personal does do something i guess.

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      • So if we want to go “there”, let’s just hammer out what your argument appears to be: “it doesn’t matter if poor blacks are prevented from starting businesses by regulations that may or may not be good because, let’s face it, if they can’t handle these regulations, they probably won’t be able to handle a business. Besides, if we loosen regulations, white people will pollute more. So it’s not like I’m paying the price for any of this shit. Wait, I’d better instead accuse someone else of not caring as cover.”

        Does that sum it up?

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      • Greg,

        Thanks for the pushback. The licensing issue is one example of many. So is minimum wage, price interference, trade interference, government monopolies doing what could be handled by the private sector, incumbent protection, mandatory benefits, corporate subsidies, blah, blah, blah. Uncountable numbers of misguided regulations, each with negligible but negative results leading to lower growth rates, less economic efficiency and, over the long haul, lower prosperity.

        If misguided regulations lower growth rate by one percent per year, a conservative estimate in my opinion, then over the past (or next) century, the effects are astounding. This would imply that the current economy could be more than twice as prosperous today (or in our grand kids time).

        I am certainly not suggesting that freedom to start small business is an immediate panacea. It is a piece of the problem contributing to class immobility. It eliminates the bottom rung of the ladder of self sufficiency. It discriminates against the less experienced in favor of middle and upper class incumbents. It actively resists creative destruction of constructive competition.

        “Most of the other examples you list are there same way, they could lead to some people making more money at the expense of others. That is fine, but it won’t lead to some new birth of freedom. That is the part where you oversell your idea.”

        I truly believe that markets are complex adaptive problem solving systems which if properly maintained and integrated with other institutions, can lead to cumulatively growing prosperity. Interference, when misguided, lowers the problem solving ability and efficiency and has unimaginably negative long term effects due to the effects of compounding growth.

        I do not agree that it is a good idea to filter self employment opportunities for the lower class or any class based upon ability to jump through hoops with needless regulations and licensing. I really, really think people should be free to groom dogs, rent surfboards, taxi people at the airport, etc all day long.

        I did not mean to imply that free enterprise is dead. Certain acts of free enterprise have been made illegal for the wrong reasons . I think this is a mistake, especially if we care about the poor, who are most hurt by limiting opportunities and higher costs and lower growth rates.

        “But even small business should have to adhere to basic safety and enviro regs, if that is hard on them, then well are you suggesting we ignore externalities just for small businesses.”

        I do not believe we should ignore negative externalities caused by small, independent entrepreneurs. I believe there are alternatives in many cases to licensing which can accomplish the same thing better with less interference.

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      • Jay- no that would be an entirely wrong reading. good job of it though. I clearly said i’m for getting rid of silly regs and license requirements. What i doubt is the assertion that if there wasn’t’ this or that reg that all sorts of business would just be able to open up. That argument sounds to me like ” Well i can’t afford the $200 hundred dollar license so i can’t get the $10-20000 bux to start my business”. Maybe the license is a bad idea, i don’t know it would depend on the actual license or reg. but i think in many cases the license is the smallest expense of all in opening a business. I’m sure you can offer examples of onerous licenses, hell so could i, i’m just speaking from general experience and what i’ve seen. I’m all for small business and if we can make it easier for them to open that is great. I just don’t particulalry think gov is massively standing in the way of a ton of small business. Is gov a PITA at times, yes i’m sure but some of those regs are likely a good idea.

        This does remind me of a person i knew very slightly who complained about gov regs leading her hair styling business to go under. Of course she opened it about an hour north of palinville, ak where carharts are pretty much fancy clothes and within 30 minutes of a handful of other hair places and an hour and half from the big city. but of course it was the gov that led her business to fail, not the fact that opening up a fancy hair styling place in a town with a small population of people who really tend not to care about fancy hair styles and not far away from a whole bunch of other places where they could go was irrelevant.

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      • Michael,

        Fair enough. I started the thread on an iPhone in an airport lobby. That is why I took a pause and wrote the longer piece at the bottom of this page when getting home. My disjointed responses were creating more problems than they solved.

        Reinforcing a few points… 1) Dependency does not require intentional malice. 2) There is a difference between better safety nets and lesser safety nets. 3) economic growth eats other problems for lunch.

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      • Rog –

        I completely understand leading off with an emphasis that doesn’t quite represent or emphasize one’s main beliefs. I do it all the time. I wasn’t at all criticizing on that, just trying to give a sense of the impression given.

        On the dependency/malice question – I don’t think people thought you were saying that dependency on public aid must result only from malice in its design, but that you were saying that in the case of our current (and recent, and even less recent?) set of designers/politicians, in fact it did. Maybe everyone who thought you were saying that misread, though.

        …But the point actually wasn’t whether you said that or the other thing, or what’s right on that score; it was just that if you want the impression you make on people to be that you are a big supporter of, as Will Wilkinson calls it, “wicked-good social insurance” (I think… or maybe he says “safety net,”) then leading with the point about the possibly malicious or else just venal intentions of the designers of our current system (as if public system design isn’t a massively path-dependent process) really muffles that message (not that emphasizing the bad design of the current system is inconsistent with wanting a well-designed one, it isn’t, but in a context there there is very little in the way of political constituency for strong social safety nets, starting negatively tends to erode trust among those who do agree on that, in my experience). But as I say, you’ve definitely turned that around in this thread.

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      • ,

        I do have ideas, but I don’t think they’re particularly relevant to whether the market has flaws

        I respectfully disagree. First, nobody here is claiming the market is without flaws. So simply pointing out that it has flaws doesn’t take you very far.

        And as usual, the relevant question is “how do its flaws compare to alternative system X’s flaws?” And if you don’t specify your alternative, then we can’t compare, so we don’t really know how seriously to consider your position.

        At worst–although this is not what you yourself do–it smacks of the nirvana fallacy.

        In general, criticism without proposing an alternative that can be considered and critiqued in turn is a bit of a game.

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      • James, I’m not tempted to spend time discussing my preferred system because there is absolutely no chance of it being adopted in my lifetime, or my son’s lifetime, or his future childrens’ lifetimes, and so on.

        I’m more interested in figuring out where the flaws are and trying to work out better systems from the starting points we have now. I’ve said this to Roger on multiple occasions, so that was the context in which I said my system wasn’t particularly relevant.

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      • Chris,

        Then if you’re not interested in focusing on things that have no chance, I recommend you take seriously Hanley’s New First Rule and my pragmatic critique of how you think we should define poverty.

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      • ,
        James, I’m not tempted to spend time discussing my preferred system because there is absolutely no chance of it being adopted in my lifetime, or my son’s lifetime, or his future childrens’ lifetimes, and so on.

        Is that a subtle hint that I should stop discussing libertarianism? ;)

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    • I wouldn’t call you an idiot or a fool Chris, I think it would be more accurate to say you’re being insufficiently concrete in your thinking.

      Before we can tackle poverty, we have to define it. Every society has it’s own criteria for what counts as poor, and crucially, that definition depends in part on how wealthy that society is.

      My point is this: If you want to define a standard of living and make a goal that everyone should be at that level or above it, by all means do so; but even once you’ve succeeded, there will still be poor people, because then people will think it’s a crime against decency that there are people who can’t afford immortality drugs and are stuck using 3rd generation neural interfaces.

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      • I guess my answer to this would be that “poverty” should be defined operationally in a meta- sort of way, that inevitably makes reference to contemporary norms related to functional aspects of living in the referenced society. Yeah, it’s going to be squishy and folks are going to disagree on details, and yes, it’s going to be a moving target and gosh! isn’t that a good thing? At least as long as the target is moving upward in response to greater societal affluence.

        I’ve lived long enough to see quite a few things that used to be expensive luxuries for the rich become cheap commodity items. Microwave ovens are about $30 at Walmart, window air-conditioners are maybe $50 or so, etc. I used to sell analog cell phones for hundreds of dollars back in my Radio Shack days in the ’90s. Now, a basic “dumb” cell phone with basic service will run you about the same price as a land-line. That’s why all this folderall about “Obamaphones” is so dumb (aside from being factually inaccurate as noted above).

        Of course, there’s always going to be a top 10% and a bottom 10%. And being in the top is always going to be nicer than being in the bottom. The real question is, how much does being the bottom 10% have to suck to satisfy some people? Can being in a state of poverty that nonetheless entails sufficient food, healthcare, shelter, etc. be tolerated as long as the food is bland, boob jobs are disallowed, and the apartment is kind of old and cramped?

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      • These are the right kinds of questions to ask Rod. Now we’re getting beyond very vague goals like “eliminate poverty”, and talking about specific standards of living that should be considered a social minimum. An approach like that will lead to a sufficiently concrete goal to be useful for policy.

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      • Like I said, poverty is materially insecurity and inequality of opportunity. Material insecurity will vary from culture to culture (some people can’t get untainted drinking water, some people can’t get winter coats or fans in the summer, some people can’t get modern health care), so trying to give it a precise definition would, as you note, be pointless, but we’ve had a discussion elsewhere in the thread using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a set of guideposts, so you can give it some precision. Equality of opportunity can be empirically defined as well (with things like measures of economic mobility). I’m not sure, then, how I’m being “insufficiently concrete” when the response has generally been something as abstract as “markets.”

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    • ,
      I see poverty as a level of intolerable material insecurity which can, of course, vary according to the overall wealth of a society

      I get what you’re saying (your example of the homeless guy in Austin vs. the low paid third world worker makes your meaning clear), but I think you don’t see how that variability is at the heart of JamesK’s point.

      Your own choice of words, “intolerable material insecurity,” is, as I expect you’ll readily affirm, subjective. At the individual level, people born to be by-commission salesmen or entrepreneurs are abke to tolerate considerably more material insecurity than those of us birn to love our reliable weekly paycheck. At the social level, rising expectations in an ever-richer society mean that the threshold for what’s “intolerable” gets ever higher.

      As my own clarifying example, I offer the example of rural connectivity. Once upon a time in America the rural poor had no telephones, but then neither did many folks in the cities, so it wasn’t seen as a proble,. Then most people in the cities got connected, and we became distressed at the plight of the disconnected rural folk, so we got them connected. Hooray, previously non-intolerable-situation-recently-redefined-as-intolerable-problem solved!

      Then came the internet, and the rural poor didn’t have it, but then neither did the folks in the cities, so….then city folk had internet access andcrueal folks didn’t…. Hooray…intolerable-problem solved!

      Then came high-speed internet access……

      My point is that because of changing expectations, lack of access to fast-loading videos of cats licking themselves became–in the minds of many serious people (at leasr people who took themselves more seriously than I am taking them here), an intolerable material insecurity.

      I don’t think that’s what you have in mind, but what you have in mind won’t control the social definition. It becomes a Red Queen’s race. And that’s what James K is saying.

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      • That is what I have in mind, at least to an extent, with the maximizing of equality of opportunity.

        Also, I have no problem with a moving definition of poverty, but it moves not simply because the whole moves, but because what is required to be materially secure (those first two levels of the Maslowian hierarchy) moves as well.

        In fact, I’d venture to say that any definition of poverty that isn’t dynamic is an unworkable definition of poverty for any purpose, much less trying to deal with poverty.

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      • The rural connectivity issue seems to me like it didn’t really revolve around changing standards of poverty, but around the issue of cultural equality between places. it was intolerable (to some) that it was expected that the higher costs of it being so much more expensive for people in rural areas to have these utilities be borne by them. So individually, it wasn’t the idea that people in rural areas were experiencing material privation that got the expansions done; it was a sense of unfairness about their being asked to bear the costs of living where they did (I think based in the sense that no one living in a rural place really made the choice to do so, because they are just vestiges of our past as a rural society).

        The movement from this feeling of rural/urban unfairness in bearing of costs being about telephone lines to being about high-speed internet does reflect our material advancement as a country, but it still doesn’t (IMO) reflect a sense that not having these things represents intolerable material privation.

        That said, what does reflect that is the increasing sense exactly that not having these things does reflect intolerable material privation, which i do think is increasing. But I don’t think it’s nearly as clear-cut that that is the current societal semi-consensus as was the feeling that the rural/urban disparity was unfair.

        What I don’t understand is why not embrace this kind of changing standard (even in the sense of what’s “intolerable”?) Some people will always set it too high, but serious people can dial it back (and IMO it makes more sense to stick to a COL-adjusted income cutoff rather than these particular signifiers, since if a person wants to spend all his money on a nice cars and forego internet access at home, that doesn’t make him poor, I hope, under anyone’s definition) and make it possible to have discussions about policy that might significantly move us toward “ending poverty,” even defined in a way that will float with the fortunes of society.

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      • Here’s what I don’t like about that:

        Person A and Person B have the exact same house, fridge, microwave, disposable income, and wardrobe.

        In Country P, Person A is “well off”.
        In Country Q, Person B is “impoverished”.

        That strikes me as a possible conclusion to those premises.

        It also strikes me as an absurd conclusion.

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      • JB,

        Honestly if that’s the level where you have the problem, it seems to me you might as well just let us dirty nationalists have our deluded, insular conversation over here and just let us get down with our bad, provincial selves.

        Because of course you’re right.

        But I’m not sure how that attitude squares with your wanting to give that dude who said, “Have you thought about this immigration thing from the perspective of incumbent U.S. “low-wage” workers?” so much consideration… unless you just don’t care about anyone’s poverty anywhere, I guess. if you don’t think that poverty in the U.S. relative to U.S. standards matters compared to poverty elsewhere, then you can’t really say it’s fair (and you shouldn’t just fail to say it to people who ask you to think from the domestic laborer’s perspective) not to allow much poorer people in other parts of the world to come here and earn what they can, even if it somewhat equalizes their incomes with some of “our” folks’, with movement on both sides.

        These seem like diametrically opposed impulses.

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      • Also, I have no problem with a moving definition of poverty, but it moves not simply because the whole moves, but because what is required to be materially secure (those first two levels of the Maslowian hierarchy) moves as well.

        Hanley’s New First Law of Policymaking: You make policy woth and for the human beings you have, not the human beings you wish you had.*

        I.e, it will move simply because the whole moves, and “what is materially required to be secure,” will always be defined by reference to the who,e’s position, not by any reference to a more objective (which does not imply fixed) consideration of what it takes to be materially secure. That is, humans tend to focus on relative status, rather than absolute status.

        _____________
        *Hanley’s Old First Law of Policymaking was “don’t focus on the outcomes you desire; focus on the incentives you create. But the New First Law is logically prior, so I’m moving the old first law to second.

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      • Michael, I don’t doubt that was part of it, but much of what I heard was “they won’t be able to compete with the connected class!” meaning they were relegated to a poor backwards subculture and no hope of escape, which sounds like povert talk to me. Iirc, we were also reminded to think of the children.

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      • Jaybird, we already have that, though. There are people who are poor in this country who have more than some people in developing nations will ever have. Does this mean they’re not poor? If not, why do international boundaries matter, but not intranational ones?

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      • Michael,

        Maybe Jaybird’s real problem us when person A bas more than person B, but we preferentially give help to A over B.

        Dirty nationalism, indeed. And too often masquerading as holding the high ground of caring for “the poor.”

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      • But James, there isn’t just one definition of poverty that society has (unless you’re literally talking about the federal definition or whatever, and I think we know more or less how that’s defined, and how its changes will be defined, don’t we?). There are and will be variously many conversations about poverty, and definitions therein can serve those conversations. IOW, I think Chris is just trying to speak for himself here, and you’ll always be able to have the conversation about poverty with him on terms the two of you can agree on (or agree to use qua “these are Chris’ terms though maybe not mine, but we’re going to have a conversation using his terms right now.”

        That said, yeah, to the extent that there’s a popular sense of what’s poor that can be distilled from the vast mass of various conversations about that, I agree it’s likely to float with overall prosperity. I’d be a little hesitant to elevate that to the level of Law, though, or see it as consequent of you New First Law: “the humans we have” could depart from the trend they have of doing this without much warning, basically deciding, “Hey, we’re doing pretty well by-and-large; poverty is just going to continue to be not having enough money to have X (that we thought it was in 2050, even though now in 2099 we’re doing a lot better than that.” You never know.

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      • Jay, but it doesn’t move just because the whole moves. It is possible, at least conceptually, for the whole to move without the lowest rung moving (that is, overall you get an increase in wealth, but at the lowest level, things remain the same), for the whole to move and with it eliminate systematic insecurity related to those first two tiers of the pyramid for the lowest levels, and so on. There are all sorts of scenarios in which the whole moves and our conception of poverty doesn’t, because the whole has not moved in such a way that the definition of materially insecurity changes. Material insecurity only shifts when the level required to achieve security changes, which is not implied simply by moving the whole.

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      • James,

        Using the example above, of advancing tech (phones, internet, high speed, etc.), don’t such disparities create real issues, not just perceived injustices?

        I mean, at this point, how many initial job inquiries happen via phone or snail mail? How many brick-and-mortar stores have gone under because of internet sales? How many pay phones exist?

        On that last point, I recently visited a town that had literally no cell phone service. Not weak service or spotty service; no service. Like, the phone actually said, “No Service” up where the service bars would normally be. I didn’t even know that was possible. Anyway, I had to get in touch with my wife and had to ask three different store owners before I’d find someone who’d let me use their landline to make a long distance call.

        Not being able to download cat videos isn’t an injustice. But removing or abandoning the existing infrastructure in favor of something new that not everyone can access is.

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      • Fair enough on the connectivity convo. as I say, in the broader societal conversation, what you describe is starting to take hold anyway (i.e. people certainly say now that people in the urban core w/o HSI are ipso facto poor… though I think that’s far from a general sense yet).

        On Jaybird, yeah, I certainly think that’s his problem. If it is, we might as well just skip all the nuance and just basically make “India” the conversation-ender. Which is fine; I wouldn’t really mind skipping this convo around here so much, tbh.

        I just also think it’s completely disqualifying of any justification for his willingness to speak up (against his professed beliefs) for the interests of domestic workers who are helped by controlling human migration. i don’t really get that.

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      • Michael,

        I’m not sure what your point is, so I’m going to leave this alone lest we spiral into one of those frustrating debates where we talk past each other.

        I will say, though, that the possibility that humans will become less focused onbrelative status is less probable than a herd of unicorns flying out of my ass without puncturing my sphincter. This is especially true given that absolute status retreats in significance as material prosperity improves. Basing public policy on the possibility that humans might change one of their fundamental behaviors strikes me as…incautious.

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      • But I’m not sure how that attitude squares with your wanting to give that dude who said, “Have you thought about this immigration thing from the perspective of incumbent U.S. “low-wage” workers?” so much consideration…

        Well, do you remember why I said I gave that position when you asked me about it during that conversation?

        I can find you a link, if you’d like.

        But what does immigration have to do with this particular debate? We should import more immigrants that we may give them more welfare? We should import more immigrants because they care more about education than our currently impoverished? We should import more immigrants because such would be fair?

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      • I just also think it’s completely disqualifying of any justification for his willingness to speak up (against his professed beliefs) for the interests of domestic workers who are helped by controlling human migration. i don’t really get that.

        I guess I come from a different intellectual tradition.

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      • I didn’t perceive that much in the way of policy hung on this discussion that arose between you & Chris about how/why the public perception of poverty changes over time. It seemed like a fairly academic question once it got to that point.

        Going forward, for policy’s sake, poverty will be judged officially by whatever the processes are at any given time for figuring it. I’m not sure what you’re saying the policy stakes are in guessing what the track of that will be over the course of centuries… or, more to the point, in saying it’s maybe barely possible that that track could look any different from one particular prediction for it (however likely that one is to be right).

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      • It’s perfectly appropriate to do it, Jaybird, but only if you don’t express a completely incompatible sense elsewhere. Otherwise, why doesn’t that tradition dictate that you give the same kind of consideration to different contexts of poverty in this area? That’s just selectivity. That’s not a good tradition.

        The tradition that calls on you to give that guy consideration is a good one; it just also calls for you to give consideration here.

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      • ,

        But removing or abandoning the existing infrastructure in favor of something new that not everyone can access is.

        But the landlines were still there, no?

        As to first-contact for jobs, we’re talking about the poor, correct? What kinds of jovs are they going to have any chance of getting? Mostly not jobs where they want a resume and “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” But at retail stores of various types, including grocery stores and restaurants, I see signs on the door saying “help wanted, apply within.” And Wal Mart (scorn be unto them!) has kiosks inside the store where you can apply.

        Businesses that draw employees from the poorer sectors know their labor market. The idea that good concerned liberals can see the problem but successful firms that draw their labor from the lower classes can’t is a classic liberal conceit. (I’m not accusing you, just whichever liberal can’t restrain him/herself from jumping in and explaining how I don’t understand their true concern, which will akways be one goalpost remove away.)

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      • Aitch,

        Okay, so someone has just a landline, goes into the local store to apply for a job and is told, “We’ll call you this week.” But the applicant can’t sit around and wait for a call all day. He goes out and does odd jobs for neighbors to keep a few bucks in his pocket. Unfortunately, he misses the call and in this day-and-age of cell phones and the expectation of immediate contact, the store just moves down the list and calls the next guy. Tough nuts for our industrious friend.

        Now, I’m not necessarily advocating government solutions to problems such as this. But we can’t pretend that advances/gains by some can’t lead to direct, objective harm of others because of shifting norms and expectations.

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      • The tradition that calls on you to give that guy consideration is a good one; it just also calls for you to give consideration here.

        Is there a shortage of people arguing that position here?

        If you go back and read “Les Miserables” thread, you’ll see that the only person arguing against immigration was Art Deco and he came at it from… well… a position that didn’t strike me as particularly interesting.

        http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2013/07/05/les-miserables

        So now we’re here.

        Which position on welfare and welfare reform do you feel is being underserved? Maybe I can come up with an argument on its behalf.

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      • I didn’t perceive that much in the way of policy hung on this discussion that arose between you & Chris about how/why the public perception of poverty changes over time.

        IMO, vast differences, because (again, IMO), he’s talking about how we should reach the definition of poverty and I’m talking about how we will reach it. Build your models on how you’d like people to think rather than how they do think and your resulting policies will have no end of intriguing failures.

        Understand, I don’t disagree much with Chris on the “how we ought to define it” issue. His approach is pretty satisfactory to me. But the original disputation between him and JamesK was on the impossibility of eradicating “poverty.” Chris says it’s possible, but that assumes we can, as a society, define the concept “poverty,” appropriately–that is, in a way that’s relative to the aggregate’s changing prosperity without simply being a function of that change. But I say it’s impossible, because I assume that if we,as a society, define the concept “poverty” relative to the aggregate’s changing prosperity, it will simply be a function of that change. Or at the very least, there’ll be a cadre of liberals (not all of them, of course, but a far higher proportion of them than of other ideological types) insisting that it be so.

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      • Kazzy,

        I once had a flat tire on the way to an interview. I explained to the interviewer why I was late, but she made no attempt to hide the fact that she didn’t give a shit why I was kate for the interview, just that I was late.

        If our goal is to identify and eradicate every factor that unfairly makes it hard to get a job, at least we’ll have a task to fill all our time until the end of our days.

        And at the risk of being really hard-hearted, if someone is too bothered by the lack of internet and cell service in their BFE town, they need to move their ass to some place with a cell tower, instead of asking other people to subsidize bringing it to them. And I know all about the claim that people can’t affird to move–it’s demonstrably false, as poor people move all the time, both intranationally and internationally.

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      • It’s not a question of the balance of the thread; it’s a question of your inclination to actually give the position real consideration.

        You could balance out the thread by saying, “It’s the the wrong view for these reasons, but here’s the best argument for the other side, because I think it’s underserved in this thread (and I really didn’t think it was, just like I don’t think either side is here).”

        That’s not the part I have a problem with, or that I think you’re inconsistent on. It’s not so much what you said in the thread, as it is the indication I got that you actually have a real sense of sympathy for the view (was it dexter?) expressed to you in that context, even if it doesn’t defeat your principled open-bordersism. If your behavior in that thread really was purely acting as advocatus diaboli, fair enough, I’m happy to withdraw the comparison. But I really wasn’t commenting on your behavior at the site, but rather your actual policy inclinations: you pretty much said flat-out that you give real consideration privately to the concern of dexter. But you really can’t if you have a problem with any view that privileges Americans’ economic well-being (in particular incumbent workers, who actually are mostly better off than people who can’t find work and thus are eligible for aid meant to aid the poor) over that of people in other countries at the exact same or lower level of absolute material well-being.

        That you say it there and not here is fine; I get the difference (as you saw it) between the threads.

        (Though a long as we’re on tha topic it’d be awesome if, if you are going to continue playing this providing-balance-contrary-to-my-beliefs role and we are to believe you really are committed to it as an advocatus diaboli and aren’t just playing favorites as a conservative-sympathizing libertarian, you would find a thread where you think you can say with a straight face that the liberal view is getting under-represented and give, against your belief, the best account thereof (in a not-intentionally-undermining way) that you can.

        For myself, I think we should all just try to be as straight-up as we can about saying what we think, because our true colors come out anyway. There will be unbalanced threads, that’s just inevitable. Sometimes that’ll be unfortunate, but sometimes it’ll be appropriate, as actual opinion on the issue in the world maybe isn’t (nor should be) balanced.

        In any case, I’m sure you’ll continue to do what you think is right.)

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      • James,

        Fair enough. I’m not sure exactly what models you mean, and I’m also not sure exactly what policy hangs on determining whether poverty can be eradicated (in a society). (If anything, it seems like contriving to define it in such a way that it could reasonably be expected to be eradicated would tend to serve the interest of containing efforts to alleviate it over time.) But it’s reasonable enough to think some aspects of policy might hang on the results of that kind of conversation at a time around now. I was just saying that it didn’t seem that in the conversation that you were actually having very much in the way of policy conclusions resulting from the answer to that question were hanging on the question.

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