The New York Times Does Poverty

Just a couple of days ago I pointed out that in New York Times-world "all human problems are subject to being "fixed" by spending more government money."  That post was in the specific context of "fixing" the death spiral of Obamacare.  

The Times's treatment of the problem of poverty is not different.  This week it chooses to give the lead article of its Sunday Review section to one of its regular op-ed writers on the subject, Nicholas Kristof.  The headline is "3 TVs and No Food: Growing Up Poor in America."   

This is the New York Times, and one of its signature op-ed writers.  So therefore, do you expect -- or even hope for -- any meaningful insights?  Don't be ridiculous.  It's completely the usual formula:  first, to rouse your sympathies, a few descriptions of the lives of selected people living in bad circumstances; and second, outraged calls for politicians to fix the problem with the universal cure of more government money and more government programs.

Of course, there's a small difference between Obamacare and poverty.  Obamacare has only been around for a few years, and has only recently begun to collapse.  The War on Poverty has been around for over 50 years, and has been subject to dozens of efforts to expand it and fix it to make it work, usually by throwing more, and yet more, and yet still more money at it.  We're up to a trillion dollars a year in round numbers in so-called "anti-poverty" spending, none of which has ever worked to cure poverty, or even reduce it by a little.  Indeed, in the face of vast spending supposedly designed to reduce poverty, the number of people in measured poverty, per the Census Bureau, has gone up from about 27 million when the War on Poverty began in 1965 to about 47 million today.  This distinction between the issues of Obamacare and poverty makes Kristof's article particularly insulting to the reader.  Does he even know about, or will he acknowledge, the trillion or so dollars of current annual spending on so-called "anti-poverty" programs?  Will he acknowledge, or even mention, the vast increases in recent years of spending on things like food stamps, disability, EITC, and Medicaid?  Actually, from all indications, Kristof is completely unaware of the vast existing government efforts to cure poverty, let alone of the total failure of them all.  Certainly, if he is aware, he does not acknowledge their existence.  It's really appalling.

Kristof has recruited an intern to go off traveling with him around the United States to get some first-hand observation of poverty in America.  The first subject up is a 13-year-old kid named Emanuel Laster in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  Here's the description:

Emanuel has three televisions in his room, two of them gargantuan large-screen models. But there is no food in the house. As for the TVs, at least one doesn’t work, and the electricity was supposed to be cut off for nonpayment on the day I visited his house here in Pine Bluff. . . .  The home, filthy and chaotic with a broken front door, reeks of marijuana. The televisions and Emanuel’s bed add an aspirational middle-class touch, but they were bought on credit and are at risk of being repossessed. The kitchen is stacked with dirty dishes, and not much else.  “I just go hungry,” Emanuel explained.    

Do you read that and immediately wonder if it is really Kristof's intention to suggest that it's the government's responsibility to help a family clean up the filth and put away the dishes?  Or perhaps you are wondering, if American taxpayers spend well over $100 billion per year on food stamps and multiple other nutrition programs for the poor, how is it possible that these people could still have "no food in the house" and a kid who "go[es] hungry"?  Another thought you may be having is, if these people have enough credit to buy three flat-screen TVs and enough cash to buy marijuana to make the place "reek," are they actually "poor" at all within federal definitions?  You will not find out any information in answer to those questions here.  

Rather, we move immediately to the calls for more government spending and programs:

[T]here is . . . an array of policies that [can] make a difference. Early childhood initiatives have a particularly good record, as do efforts to promote work, like the earned-income tax credit. Financial literacy programs help families manage money — and avoid buying large-screen TVs on credit. . . .  In short, what we lack most is not means but political will. The main public response to American poverty has been a great big national shrug — and that is why I wish the candidates were talking more about this, why I wish the public and the media were demanding that politicians address the issue. . . .  Chipping away at these cycles of poverty isn’t easy, and we won’t have perfect success. But we aren’t even trying. We aren’t even paying attention.         

So, a trillion dollars of annual anti-poverty spending on literally hundreds of programs and programs and more programs, and this guy believes that if only we just tried a couple more -- specifically "early childhood initiatives" and "financial literacy programs" -- it would all suddenly start to work?  Aren't Head Start and universal or near-universal pre-K "early childhood initiatives"?  

So which is worse?  Is it the touching naivety -- the idea that, if only these people had been offered a federally-sponsored course in financial management they never would have bought the three flat-screen TVs on credit?  Or, really, is the thing that is worse the total failure to acknowledge the trillion dollars a year that the taxpayers are already spending on so-called "anti-poverty" efforts that never get anyone out of poverty?  I'll go with the latter.  How could this guy have the nerve to suggest that Americans are responding to poverty with a "national shrug," and not "even paying attention," when in fact they commit a fresh trillion dollars every single year to fixing the problem?  A trillion dollars a year -- only to have the bureaucracy make it all disappear, and poverty remain right where it was before we spent a dime, and guys like Kristof accuse you of "not paying attention."

Really, could it get more insulting than that?  Yes!  Kristof finally turns to an effort to guilt and shame the people into yet more spending on yet more programs that can't possibly work.  Try this:

Child poverty is an open sore on the American body politic. It is a moral failing for our nation that one-fifth of our children live in poverty, by one common measure.

Child poverty may be an "open sore" and a "moral failing," but it's sure not on the "American body politic" or on "our nation," which have with spectacular generosity committed vast resources to relieve the suffering and end the problem -- only to be lectured by supercilious fools like Kristof that they are "not paying attention" and have a "moral failing."  The failing is not on the American people, but specifically on the government bureaucracies, who take and spend the annual trillion in a way guaranteed never to end or even reduce poverty, but instead to perpetuate their bureaucracies and to grow their own power.

Here's who has a "moral failing":  Nicholas Kristof, and people like him, who claim to be concerned about people living in poverty, but then advocate for more and more government programs that only foster dependency and the perpetuation of poverty.