Shouldn't We Be Getting Angry About The Poverty Scam?

Close to one trillion dollars of annual "anti-poverty" spending at all levels of government, and yet the so-called poverty rate never goes down, not even by a little.  In the latest reports from the Census Bureau the poverty rate continues to hover right around 15%, pretty much right where it was when the War on Poverty began in 1964, more than $20 trillion of "anti-poverty" spending ago.  But since the population has grown over that 50 year period, the number of people in government-defined "poverty" has actually increased, from under 30 million people to almost 50 million people.

How is it even possible to spend that much money and not alleviate "poverty" even by a little?  And particularly, how is it possible given that "poverty" by the government's definition is entirely an issue of money income, and could, if the government chose, be completely ended in a day simply by passing out enough of the "anti-poverty" spending in cash to cure the problem -- and the amount of cash that it would take is less than a third of the current "anti-poverty" spending?

The answer is, it takes a lot of work to keep up the facade that "poverty" has not gone down despite all the spending.    New and costly "anti-poverty" programs must be carefully designed and implemented to be sure that none of the spending will be counted to reduce measured poverty even by a little.  Clever arguments must be devised to somehow make it seem plausible that even handouts nearly indistinguishable from cash, like food stamps and the EITC, should not be counted in determining poverty status.  Data to be released must be carefully edited and formatted so as to bury and conceal the existence of millions of people deemed in "poverty" by government measures whom no one would consider poor, such as twenty-somethings from affluent families looking for their first job, students, early retirees, and business owners having a losing year. 

What is not possible is to keep up the facade of never-declining poverty and also do it honestly.  If they just went through the motions and let the numbers turn out as they may, there would be no way to keep that trillion of annual spending from making poverty go down, and by a lot.  The so-called "poverty rate" of necessity is a reverse-engineered number: they decide first approximately what "poverty rate" to achieve in order to sell the public on more "anti-poverty" spending, and then they back into the series of decisions about program design and what to count and not count in order to achieve that level.  We have reached the point where the published "poverty rate" has long since ceased to bear any relationship to whatever real poverty -- physical deprivation poverty -- may persist, with no way to tell from the data which part of the poverty is real (physical deprivation) and which part is completely contrived by cynical government functionaries manipulating the definitions, the program design, the decisions on what to count, the survey questions, and the like.

The problem is that the game has gone on so long, and so far, that it is way beyond being hidden any more.  What I can't understand is the level of good will that the people show toward the government operatives who continue to practice deception, or attempted deception, with numbers that obviously on their face cannot possibly be honest.  It's like a Ponzi scheme, a Madoff-type scam, that has long since blown up, and yet everyone keeps pretending that nothing is wrong.    Shouldn't people be angry -- really angry -- that the government takes a trillion dollars of their money every year and yet can't spend any of it in a way that even slightly addresses the problem as defined, won't give any honest information on how the problem as defined is being addressed or fixed, and uses obviously dishonest numbers to advocate for yet more of the same useless waste?  And yet, with the government presenting numbers that are obviously fake on their face, the reaction of almost all of the public seems to be, well, it's the government so it must be right.

If you would like to read a piece of sheer idiocy on this subject, check out "What Makes People Poor?" by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times on September 2.  Edsall has an appalling ignorance of what the term "poverty" means in the government definition, and his article is pervaded by the fallacy that what the government calls "poverty" has some resemblance to the usual understanding of the term, namely physical deprivation.  Edsall bemoans the divide between left and right in their thinking about the causes of poverty, and thinks he has come up with a synthesis that can unite the views of both sides, and thereby come up with "programs" to solve the problems of poverty and inequality:

The emergence of a rough ideological consensus on the causes of poverty and inequality would increase the likelihood of, but by no means guarantee, agreement on such initiatives as raising the minimum wage, increasing and expanding the scope of the earned-income tax credit, programs promoting marriage and paternal involvement, as well as stronger efforts to improve the quality of education, especially in poor neighborhoods.

Is it possible to be this ignorant?  Let's take these one at a time:

  • Raising the minimum wage.  This is almost certain to increase, rather than decrease, measured poverty and inequality.  The reason is that people who actually work full time at the minimum wage for the whole year make enough to exceed the poverty thresholds in nearly all cases, so raising the minimum wage does not remove them from "poverty."  (The poverty population consists almost entirely of people who don't work, or work only a little.)  To the extent that raising the minimum wage increases unemployment, it increases the number of zero earners, and that increases measured poverty and inequality.  You may think that raising the minimum wage has little effect in increasing unemployment, but that only means that raising the minimum wage increases poverty only a little.  There is no scenario in which raising the minimum wage decreases measured poverty.
  • Expanding the EITC.  Could it be possible that Edsall does not know that the EITC does not count in the measure of poverty?  Check out this from left-wing site vox: "Everyone's favorite anti-poverty program doesn't reduce the poverty rate."  The failure to count the EITC in the measure of poverty is one of the most despicable elements of the poverty scam. 
  • Programs promoting marriage and paternal involvement.  "Paternal involvement" has absolutely no impact on measured "poverty."  Suppose the unmarried dad gives the girlfriend and kids $50,000 per year to support them?  It doesn't count!  That's gifts, and not "cash income."  Marriage?  That would count.  Kindly explain to me what exactly these "programs supporting marriage" are supposed to be, in the face of massive handouts of apartments and Medicaid and food stamps and cell phones that are only available if the woman and kids show little or no "cash income," in other words, stay unmarried.  No "program" is going to have the slightest impact in the face of the hundreds of billions of dollars of handouts that are available in return for staying unmarried.
  • Efforts to improve the quality of education.  Tom, "poverty" turns only on "cash income" in the current year.  Better education may have some impact on cash income -- 20 years from now when today's kids are in the labor force. 

No these are the proposals of the left, indeed not all of the left, but the ignorant left.  I don't think the right will be coming together with them on any of this any time soon.