Can The Government Fix Poverty? Part III

From the department of "Can they really be this stupid?" today comes exactly what you have known was coming since the rioting in Baltimore began:  a lead, front page article in the New York Times promoting the next gigantic government spending program that they promise is really, really, really going to fix the poverty this time.  The headline is "Change of Address Offers A Pathway Out of Poverty."  

Needless to say, there is no mention or recognition in this article of the current $1 trillion +/- of annual government anti-poverty spending in this country, all of which has brought us Baltimore, not to mention Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Buffalo, Camden, Newark, Bridgeport, Hartford, Memphis, and fifty or so more of same scattered around the country.  But this time it's going to be different!  Here's the "new" idea: The poverty is caused by people being trapped in bad neighborhoods.  If "we" just give "them" the help they need to move to better neighborhoods, suddenly their lives will shift upwards and all will be well.  How do we know that?  The Times breathlessly reports that "a large new study" is just out from Harvard professors Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren.  Here are the results:

Based on the earnings records of millions of families that moved with children, it finds that poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere.  

Wow!  It's based on "earnings records of millions of families"!  It's done by professors from Harvard!  It shows "sharply better odds" of escaping poverty!  Surely it must be right!

The Times goes out and asks a few questions to Chetty, and he immediately gives away the mindset at work:

“The data shows we can do something about upward mobility,” said Mr. Chetty. . . .  "Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter.”

Who's the "we" there, Raj?  Undoubtedly it's the sinister alliance of government bureaucrats and Harvard professors who got us here in the first place.  It's the official "we" who know so much better than "they" do how to run "their" lives.  But don't worry, Professor Chetty "has presented the findings to members of the Obama administration, as well as to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush, both of whom have signaled that mobility will be central themes of their 2016 presidential campaigns."  Do you think that any one of those three has the critical thinking ability to ask an intelligent question about this?  Don't count on it.  Meanwhile, over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development this must sound like a fabulous new gravy train of additional funding.  Here's the reaction of the current Secretary:

In an interview Friday, Julián Castro, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said he was excited by the new data. Mr. Castro said his department had been planning to reallocate funding, so that some people moving to more expensive neighborhoods would receive larger vouchers. Currently, the value of vouchers tends to be constant across a metropolitan area.

So how could any moral person be against this?  Well, there's this from the opening paragraphs of the article:

In the wake of the Los Angeles riots more than 20 years ago, Congress created an anti-poverty experiment called Moving to Opportunity. It gave vouchers to help poor families move to better neighborhoods and awarded them on a random basis, so researchers could study the effects.  The results were deeply disappointing. Parents who received the vouchers did not seem to earn more in later years than otherwise similar adults, and children did not seem to do better in school. The program’s apparent failure has haunted social scientists and policy makers, making poverty seem all the more intractable.

In other words, the ideas of giving out housing vouchers to be used in "good" neighborhoods, or building "affordable housing" in "good" neighborhoods, are not "new" ideas for curing poverty at all. They are things that have already been tried and demonstrated to be total failures.  But don't the Chetty/Hendren data show that these things are going to work next time?  Absolutely not.  The Chetty/Hendren data are derived from people who moved from one place to another as part of their own striving to better their own lives.   Moving to Opportunity was the opposite -- a handout program.  These things are about as different as night and day.

The Times, Chetty, Hendren, et al., are just incapable of understanding that the results that people are able to achieve through their own efforts and striving cannot be duplicated with government handouts.  Striving gets you upwardly mobile suburbs and gentrifying urban neighborhoods.  Handouts get you Baltimore.  No amount of experience, no number of failed programs, will ever enable them to understand this. 

And really, forget about Move to Opportunity -- can't the Times look under its own nose?  Manhattan is the wealthiest county in the country.  It has a far higher density of high-paying jobs than any place else.  So if you were going to move poor people somewhere to enable them to better their lives, Manhattan would be far and away the best place, right?  Well, we've built over 50,000 units of public housing in Manhattan, housing about 150,000 people -- about 10% of the population of the island.  And the result?  The poverty rate in NYCHA projects is 51.3%, according to data they sent me last week.