Consider the debate over the minimum wage. The controversy centered on what to do about what Sidney Webb called the “unemployable class.” It was Webb’s belief, shared by many of the progressive economists affiliated with the American Economic Association, that establishing a minimum wage above the value of the unemployables’ worth would lock them out of the market, accelerating their elimination as a class. This is essentially the modern conservative argument against the minimum wage, and even today, when conservatives make it, they are accused of — you guessed it — social Darwinism. But for the progressives at the dawn of the fascist moment, this was an argument for it. “Of all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Webb observed, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them unrestrainedly to compete as wage earners.”
Ross put it succinctly: “The Coolie cannot outdo the American, but he can underlive him.” Since the inferior races were content to live closer to a filthy state of nature than the Nordic man, the savages did not require a civilized wage. Hence if you raised minimum wages to a civilized level, employers wouldn’t hire such miscreants in preference to “fitter” specimens, making them less likely to reproduce and, if necessary, easier targets for forced sterilization. Royal Meeker, a Princeton economist and adviser to Woodrow Wilson, explained: “Better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.” Arguments like these turn modern liberal rationales for welfare state wage supports completely on their head.
Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, 2008.
December 7, 2013
December 5, 2013
Megan McArdle is convinced that despite the appeal, any form of guaranteed income is doomed to fail. She provides four strong reasons for this, but I think the strongest reason is sheer mathematical impossibility:
Not a few libertarians have embraced the idea as an alternative to the welfare state. Get rid of all the unemployment insurance and just cut everyone a check once a month. There’s a lot to like about this: It has minimal overhead, because you don’t need to verify eligibility beyond citizenship, and it may reduce some of the terrible incentives that poor people face under the current system.
There are a couple of problems with this, however. The first is that zeroing out our current income security system wouldn’t provide much of a basic income. Total federal spending on income security (welfare, unemployment, etc.) is under $600 billion a year. There are 235 million adults in the U.S. Millions of those are undocumented immigrants, but that still leaves you with a lot of people. Getting rid of all of our spending on welfare and so forth would be enough to give each of those people less than $3,000 a year. For a lot of poor people, that’s considerably less than what they’re getting from the government right now.
The problem is that if you try to bring it up to something a bit more generous, the cost quickly escalates. Cutting everyone a check for $1,000 a month, which most people in that room would consider too little to live on, would cost almost $3 trillion. But if you means-test it to control the cost, or try to tax most of the benefits back for people who aren’t low-income, you rapidly lose the efficiency gains and start creating some pretty powerful disincentives to work.
$12,000 a year isn’t enough to live on in a major city — which is where a lot of the people you’re hoping to help are living — and providing higher guaranteed income to those living in more expensive areas will create an incentive that will draw more people into the qualifying areas. Excluding immigrants from the benefits will exacerbate the already serious problems some areas have with their illegal immigrants (and create yet another barrier for legal immigrants over and above what is already in their way, as documented here).
Switzerland is reported to be considering a guaranteed income plan. As Megan says, it’ll be an interesting experiment if they do:
In general, I am wary of exciting results from small pilot programs. Most of those programs fail when they’re rolled out statewide, either because the result was spurious or because the exciting work of a small, dedicated group just can’t be replicated in a gargantuan state bureaucracy.
I will be very happy if Switzerland decides to mail a check for a couple of thousand dollars to every citizen every month; it will be fascinating to see what results this has. But I am skeptical that those results will, on net, be good ones.
November 19, 2013
In Maclean’s, a look at the feel-good but economically silly reasons for senior discounts:
The seniors discount has long been justified as a way to recognize the constraints faced by pensioners stuck on fixed incomes, and as a modest token of appreciation for a lifetime spent paying taxes and contributing to society. And for those truly in need, who would quibble? But with half a million Baby Boomers — a group not known for frugality or lack of financial resources — turning 65 every year for the next few decades, the seniors discount is in for much greater scrutiny.
There was a time when the seniors discount made a lot more sense. In the mid-1970s, nearly 30 per cent of all seniors were considered poor, as defined by Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off. But today, this has fallen to a mere 5.2 per cent. The impact of this turnaround is hard to overstate. Seniors once faced the highest rates of poverty in Canada; now they enjoy the lowest level of any age group: The poverty rate among seniors is almost half that of working-age Canadians.
Thanks to a solid system of government support programs, the very poorest seniors receive more income in retirement than they did when they were of working age. The near-elimination of seniors’ poverty is widely considered to be Canada’s greatest social policy triumph of the past half-century.
This tremendous improvement in seniors’ financial security has dramatically changed the distribution of income across age categories, as well. In 1976, median income for senior households was 41 per cent of the national average. Today, it’s 67 per cent. Over the same period, median income for families where the oldest member is aged 25-34 has fallen in both absolute and relative terms.
Then there’s the vast wealth generated for the Boomer generation by the housing and stock markets (only some of which was lost during the great recession). The stock of wealth in housing, pensions and financial assets held by the average senior family is nearly double that of working-age households. Accounting for the financial benefits of home ownership and rising house values, Statistics Canada calculates the true net annual income of retired households rises to 87 per cent of a working-age household’s income. In other words, non-working seniors are making almost as much as folks in their prime earning years, but without all the expenses and stressors that go with a job, children at home, or middle age. Not only that, the current crop of seniors enjoys historically high rates of pension coverage. The much-publicized erosion of private-sector pensions will hit younger generations who are currently far from retirement.
November 7, 2013
Wendy McElroy talks about the plight of poor children in the early days of the industrial revolution in Britain:
Parish workhouses existed in Britain long before the Industrial Revolution. In 1601, the Poor Relief Act paved the way for parish officials to collect property taxes to provide for the “deserving poor.” In 1723, the Workhouse Test Act was passed to prevent false claims of poverty. Any able-bodied person who wished to receive poor relief was expected to enter a workhouse; its harsh conditions would presumably act as a deterrent. About the same time as the Industrial Revolution (circa 1760-1840), attitudes toward the poor underwent their own revolution. The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) not only bled Britain of money; they also created a flood of injured and unemployable men who returned from battle. Those men had families who were plunged into poverty. Between 1795 and 1815 the tab for Britain’s poor relief quadrupled. Meanwhile, the cost of mere subsistence soared because of political machinations such as the Corn Laws, a series of trade laws that artificially preserved the high price of grains produced by British agriculture. Many people could not afford a slice of bread.
But sympathy for the poor was in short supply. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb’s definitive book The Idea of Poverty chronicles the shift in attitude toward the poor during that period; it turned from compassion to condemnation. An 1832 government report basically divided the poor into two categories: the lazy who sucked up other people’s money and the industrious working poor who were self-supporting. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 instructed parishes to establish “Poor Law Unions” with each union administering a workhouse that continued to act as a deterrent by ‘virtue’ of its miserable conditions. Correctly or not, statesman Benjamin Disraeli called the act an announcement that “poverty is a crime.”
Pauper children were virtually imprisoned in workhouses. And nearly every parish in Britain had a “stockpile” of abandoned workhouse children who were virtually sold to factories. Unlike parents, bureaucrats did not view poor children as loved or otherwise valuable human beings. They were interchangeable units whose presence was a glut on the market because there would always be another poor child born tomorrow. Private businessmen who shook hands with government did not have clean fingers, either. Factory owners could not force free-labor children to take dangerous, wretched jobs but workhouse children had no choice and so they experienced the deepest horrors of child labor. The horror was not because of the free market or capitalism; those forces, along with the family, were among the protectors of children. Child laborers were victims of government, bureaucracy and businessmen who used the law unscrupulously.
November 3, 2013
Tunku Varadarajan on India’s big statue and what it means:
Narendra Modi is the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, and he believes that his beloved India is a land of political pygmies. India’s current prime minister, whose job Modi covets to distraction, is an effete old technocrat who takes his orders from the bossy Italian widow of a former prime minister (who was himself the son of a prime minister, and the grandson of another). The old technocrat’s days in office are numbered, and his replacement as prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Congress party is Rahul Gandhi, the son of the Italian widow (she who must be obeyed), a clumsy “crown prince” of threadbare intellect who would inspire little confidence as the manager of a New Delhi pasta joint, let alone as prime minister of India.
India is a land of political midgets, damn it, and Narendra Modi is going to do something about it. To compensate for the meager stature of those with whom he must rub shoulders, he is going to give his country a giant statue — the tallest the world has ever seen. At 597 feet, this “Statue of Unity” will dwarf a 502-feet tall Buddha built in China in 2002, giving India — which suffers from a desperate form of penis-envy of China — something bigger at last than its massive northern neighbor. The statue, to be situated in Gujarat and made of bronze, iron and cement, will cost a scarcely trivial $340 million, much of which will come, in spite of Modi’s free-market protestations, directly from taxpayers who earn no more than $1,400 per annum. Do the moral math. (The official boast is that it will take only 42 months to build, although you’ve got to believe that the Chinese could complete the task in half the time.) When fully erect, it will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty and four times that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio. “The world will be forced to look at India when this statue stands tall,” Modi has said. Indeed: But with what kind of gaze?
October 30, 2013
At Reason, Marian Tupy introduces a new website celebrating Human Progress:
In a world where we are constantly bombarded with bad news, it can sometimes be difficult to think of “progress” and “humanity” in the same sentence. Are there not wars taking place, people going hungry, children at work, women being abused, and mass poverty around the world?
In fact, for most of human history, life was very difficult for most people. People lacked basic medicines and died relatively young. They had no painkillers and people with ailments spent much of their lives in agonizing pain. Entire families lived in bug-infested dwellings that offered neither comfort nor privacy. They worked in the fields from sunrise to sunset, yet hunger and famines were commonplace. Transportation was primitive and most people never traveled beyond their native villages or nearest towns. Ignorance and illiteracy were rife. The “good old days” were, by and large, very bad for the great majority of humankind.
Average global life expectancy at birth hovered around 30 years from the Upper Paleolithic to 1900. Even in the richest countries, like those of Western Europe, life expectancy at the start of the 20th century rarely exceeded 50 years. Incomes were quite stagnant, too. At the beginning of the Christian era, annual incomes per person around the world ranged from $1,073 to $1,431. As late as 1820, average global income was only $1,274 per person. (Angus Maddison, whose income estimates I use here, gives his data in 1990 dollars. I have adjusted Maddison’s figures for inflation.)
Humanity has made enormous progress — especially over the course of the last two centuries. For example, average life expectancy in the world today is 67.9 years. In 2010, global per capita income stood at $13,037 — over 10 times what it was two centuries ago.
The new website is called Human Progress:
It is perhaps best to start by explaining what the Human Progress website is not trying to accomplish. It will not try to convince you that the world is a perfect place. As long as there are people who go hungry or die from preventable diseases, there will always be room for improvement. To that end, we all have a role to play in helping the destitute in our communities and beyond.
Our goal, then, is not to paint a rosy picture of the state of humanity, but a realistic one. A realistic account of the world should focus on long-term trends, comparing living standards between two or more generations. Crucially, it should compare the imperfect present with a much more imperfect past, rather than with an imagined utopia in the future.
As such, this website has two main aims. First is to inform you about the many ways in which the world has become a better place. Second is to allow you to search for reasons that brought that improvement about. While we think that policies and institutions compatible with freedom and openness are important factors in promoting human progress, we let the evidence speak for itself and hope the website stimulates an intelligent debate on the drivers of human progress.
October 29, 2013
Zero Hedge recently went on a tear about “soaring poverty in America”, compiling a list of 29 items which “proved” the case. Tim Worstall indulges in a bit of fisking over the mythical claims:
2. New numbers have just been released, and they show that the number of public school students in this country that are homeless is at an all-time record high. It is hard to believe, but right now 1.2 million students that attend public schools in America are homeless.
No, I’m afraid not. In fact, this isn’t possible in the slightest. The numbers for homelessness are here.
In January 2012, 633,782 people were homeless on a single night in the United States. Most (62 percent) were homeless as individuals and 38 percent were homeless as persons in families.
At any one time we have 630,000 homeless people. We cannot therefore have twice that number of children alone being homeless at any one time. This is not one of the mathematical possibilities that this universe offers us.
What is actually being said in the original number is that over the course of a a year 1.2 million children will suffer one or more incidents of homelessness. We can still think that this is appalling, that it shouldn’t happen and that we ought to be doing more about it. But it is not true that “right now 1.2 million students that attend public schools are homeless”.
3. When I was growing up, it seemed like almost everyone was from a middle class home. But now that has all changed. One recent study discovered that nearly half of all public students in the United States come from low income homes.
Well, if you grow up in a middle class area then of course those you grow up with are likely to be middle class. But that nearly half of students coming from low income homes is indeed true. But it’s extremely uninteresting that it is. Here’s the definition of low income they are using:
To be crystal clear, the researchers were not analyzing poverty rates per se. Rather, they tracked at the percentage of children in each state who received free or reduced school lunches, which are only available to students whose families earn below 185 percent of the poverty line. For a family of four, that amounted to about $41,000 in 2011.
As it happens, median household income is around two times that federal poverty line. So, 185% of the federal poverty line is going to be pretty close to the median household income. Median household income being the amount that 50% of households get more than and 50% get less than. So, yes, we would pretty much expect that 50% of children are coming from low income families. Because it’s only in Lake Woebegon that all the children are above average. This is a statistical artifact of the measure they are using as low income, nothing else.
And, of course, the traditional mis-measurement of poverty in the US compared to pretty much every other western country:
6. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one out of every six Americans is now living in poverty. The number of Americans living in poverty is now at a level not seen since the 1960s.
No, this is not true, as I’ve pointed out in these pages many a time. Many, many, many, many times in fact.
The 15% in poverty measure is the number of people who would be in poverty if we didn’t help them by giving them money, food, housing and health care. It is not the number living in poverty. It is the number in poverty before we help them out of poverty. And as to the comparison with the 1960s, in the 1960s it really was the number in poverty after we helped, now it’s the number before we help.
As to why this is when we calculate the number below the poverty line we look only at cash incomes. This includes any actual money that people might be given to alleviate their poverty. In 1960s America pretty much the only poverty alleviation that was done was to give money to poor people (“welfare”). Today we give very little money directly. But we spend a vastly greater amount in giving people things. Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers, SNAP (or food stamps). We also give aid to the low paid through the tax system, with the EITC. However, we do not count all of those things, nor the EITC through the tax system, in our calculation of the number below the poverty line. So, since the 1960s the US measure of poverty has changed. From being one of people who are indeed living in poverty after whatever help they get to one of the number of people who would be in poverty before any help that they get.
When we correct for this the US poverty rate is significantly lower now than it was in the 60s. One estimate is that it is about half the 60s number.
October 22, 2013
Back in the bad old days, before Pierre Trudeau saved Canada from the horrors of fiscal solvency and smallish government, school children, mostly girls, were taught something called home economics. The theory, terrible quaint though it sounds, is that since most women would become homemakers they should be prepared for that role. Some, no doubt, came from good homes where dutiful mothers ensured that their daughters knew how to cook, sew and deal with troublesome infants. Some did not come from good homes. Part of the point of public education was to make sure that all girls knew how to cook nutritious food for their families. More broadly it was to ensure that all children acquired life skills along with whatever algebra and Shakespeare they could pick up.
That was one of the goals of public education. Educating a self reliant, sober and decent citizenry. Not rationalizing every vice and undermining the founding tenets of Canadian society. There was plenty of propaganda, but it was mostly propagating positive values. A tad parochial and silly by our standards, but not without its merits. It was not a platform for allowing anti-capitalist and anti-industrial zealots like David Suzuki to pontificate.
If there is a problem with “food insecurity” it’s because many Canadians, especially among the lower classes, lack basic life skills. That, not incidentally, is why most are in the lower class. If the Pakistani cab driver with a scant English vocabulary can feed and cloth his family with some decency, what does that say about the Mackenzies who have been here since Simcoe? Some of the poor are poor because they’re physically or mentally incapable of fending for themselves. In an advanced society they comprises only a small fraction of the working age population. Much of the poor in Canada are poor because they exhibit poor behaviour.
Most of the long-term poor, this excludes those who are simply suffering from temporary misfortune, think in a much different way than those in the middle class. The long-term poor are short-range in their thinking. Their savings rate is close to non-existent. They can’t resist instant gratification, like junk food or gambling. This also extends to their sexual lives. They exhibit a strong tendency toward highly unstable short-term relationships based on fleeting desire. The notion of a long-term, emotionally stable relationship is either alien or absurd.
Richard Anderson, “Thinking of the Children”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2013-10-21
October 9, 2013
It’s always headline-worthy to say that some absurdly high number of Americans are living in poverty — that the richest country in history still has desperately poor people in vast numbers. It’s shocking to see … and it’s mostly bogus:
We get told they do often enough I know, the latest example being this:
About 15% of Americans live in poverty, so why is no one talking about it?
It isn’t true.
In a nation where, according to the US Census Bureau’s poverty statistics released last month, 46.5 million people (roughly 15%) of the nation’s population lives in poverty,
Sorry, but their repeating it does not make it true.
The correct formulation is that 15% of Americans would be living in poverty if it were not for the things that are done to alleviate poverty.
There are two things that make this correction really rather important. The first being that everyone else measures poverty after all the things that are done to alleviate it. Thus any comparison across countries is going to leave the US looking very bad indeed: for others are talking about the residual poverty left after trying to do something about it and the US is talking about the poverty before alleviation. Very different things I hope you’ll agree.
There are reasons why this meme won’t go away (aside from it being a handy eye-catching headline to attract readers for newspapers and websites), including the fact that many civil servants are employed in federal, state, and local organizations to work on programs intended to alleviate poverty. If they are too successful, their caseload goes down and so will their budget and headcount. Any bureaucracy has a prime directive quite separate from their original reason for existing — organizations have primal motivations for surviving and growing. Their incentive is thus merely to ease the problem, not to solve it, or else they’re working to put themselves out of business.
October 4, 2013
Everybody wants everything now. I caution persons slightly younger than me that life was not always as rosy as it has been for the last 20 or 25 years, at least for the most part. There was a time when it was very difficult for a hardworking family to get by, and you jumped on any work situation that promised even a modicum of stability. With both feet. You’d accept work situations that would look like indentured servitude now, more or less. You never ever ever quit your job before you had another one. Never. And it took real nerve to buy a rundown building like this and turn it into something.
My elders warned me about the Depression. It led them to certain habits which seem like madness now — overreaction and paranoia. When you hear about honest people hoarding cash outside of banks, saving newspaper and cardboard and scraps of this and that, never throwing anything away, always afraid that all prosperity is ephemeral — that’s the Depression talking.
Twice in my working life, unemployment in the construction business has exceeded 25% for a substantial stretch. That might be news to you civilians, but the reason you can’t find anyone to do anything for you that involves heavy lifting, hammers, and speaking English, is that everyone but the hardiest souls and people with nothing but a strong back were driven out of the sector for sunnier economic climes. Everybody bailed out if they could manage it.
Sippican Cottage, “I Know That Smell”, Sippican Cottage, 2013-10-03 (originally posted in 2006)
September 21, 2013
Robert Bryce explains why — no matter how much we might want it to be so — alternate forms of energy like wind and solar power cannot cover our demands:
That 32 percent increase in global carbon dioxide emissions reflects the central tension in any discussion about cutting the use of coal, oil and natural gas: Developing countries — in particular, fast-growing economies such as Vietnam, China and India — simply cannot continue to grow if they limit the use of hydrocarbons. Those countries’ refusal to enact carbon taxes or other restrictions illustrates what Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, calls the “iron law of climate policy”: Whenever policies “focused on economic growth confront policies focused on emissions reduction, it is economic growth that will win out every time.”
Over the past 10 years, despite great public concern, carbon dioxide emissions have soared because some 2.6 billion people still live in dire energy poverty. More than 1.3 billion have no access to electricity at all.
Now to the second number: 1. That’s the power density of wind in watts per square meter. Power density is a measure of the energy flow that can be harnessed from a given area, volume or mass. Six different analyses of wind (one of them is my own) have all arrived at that same measurement.
Wind energy’s paltry power density means that enormous tracts of land must be set aside to make it viable. And that has spawned a backlash from rural and suburban landowners who don’t want 500-foot wind turbines near their homes. To cite just one recent example, in late July, some 2,000 protesters marched against the installation of more than 1,000 wind turbines in Ireland’s Midlands Region.
Consider how much land it would take for wind energy to replace the power the U.S. now gets from coal. In 2011, the U.S. had more than 300 billion watts of coal-fired capacity. Replacing that with wind would require placing turbines over about 116,000 square miles, an area about the size of Italy. And because of the noise wind turbines make — a problem that has been experienced from Australia to Ontario — no one could live there.
In 2012, the contribution from all of those sources amounted to about 4.8 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, or roughly one-half of a Saudi Arabia. Put another way, we get about 50 times as much energy from all other sources — coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and hydropower — as we do from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.
August 31, 2013
Most Americans think slavery was abolished in 1865 with the Union victory in the American Civil War, but there may be more slaves in the world today than there were before the war:
Slavery contributes to the churning out of at least 122 different types of goods according to the US Department of Labor in the world. That could range from food such as shrimp in Asia or diamonds from Africa. Slavery has increased to such an extent in our modern times due to population increases. Industrialization and increased economic activity have also resulted in social changes, catapulting people into urban areas, with no social safety net to protect them in countries like China for example. Lastly, we could point the finger at corrupt administrators that allow it to continue complacently.
There are more slaves today working in the world than ever before. More means cheaper. If we were to compare the cost of a slave back in the mid-19th century in the USA, then it would have cost roughly $40,000 to buy a slave in today’s money. Today, however, you need only pay out under a $100 for one. Not bad for a reduction in price.
Bonded labor is commonplace, where the slave has contracted a loan and has to work to pay it back to the lender. Child forced labor affects over 5 million kids in the world today. Forced Labor is recognized by the US Department of State as being: “involuntary servitude, forced labor may result when unscrupulous employers exploit workers made more vulnerable by high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, or even cultural acceptance of the practice.”
August 28, 2013
I wrote about this last spring in regard to Wal-Mart and Costco. Upper-middle-class people who live in urban areas — which is to say, the sort of people who tend to write about the wage differential between the two stores — tend to think of them as close substitutes, because they’re both giant stores where you occasionally go to buy something more cheaply than you can in a neighborhood grocery or hardware store. However, for most of Wal-Mart’s customer base, that’s where the resemblance ends. Costco really is a store where affluent, high-socioeconomic status households occasionally buy huge quantities of goods on the cheap: That’s Costco’s business strategy (which is why its stores are pretty much found in affluent near-in suburbs). Wal-Mart, however, is mostly a store where low-income people do their everyday shopping.
In other words, Trader Joe’s and Costco are the specialty grocer and warehouse club for an affluent, educated college demographic. They woo this crowd with a stripped-down array of high quality stock-keeping units, and high-quality customer service. The high wages produce the high levels of customer service, and the small number of products are what allow them to pay the high wages. Fewer products to handle (and restock) lowers the labor intensity of your operation. In the case of Trader Joe’s, it also dramatically decreases the amount of space you need for your supermarket … which in turn is why their revenue per square foot is so high. (Costco solves this problem by leaving the stuff on pallets, so that you can be your own stockboy).
Both these strategies work in part because very few people expect to do all their shopping at Trader Joe’s, and no one expects to do all their shopping at Costco. They don’t need to be comprehensive. Supermarkets, and Wal-Mart, have to devote a lot of shelf space, and labor, to products that don’t turn over that often.
That’s not the only reason that the Trader Joe’s/Costco model wouldn’t work for Wal-Mart. For one thing, it’s no accident that the high-wage favorites cited by activists tend to serve the affluent; lower income households can’t afford to pay extra for top-notch service. If it really matters to you whether you pay 50 cents a loaf less for generic bread, you’re not going to go to the specialty store where the organic produce is super-cheap and the clerk gave a cookie to your kid. Every time I write about Wal-Mart (or McDonald’s, or [insert store here]), several people will e-mail, or tweet, or come into the comments to say they’d be happy to pay 25 percent more for their Big Mac or their Wal-Mart goods if it means that the workers are well paid. I have taken to asking them how often they go to Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. So far, no one has reported going as often as once a week; the modal answer is a sudden disappearance from the conversation. If I had to guess, I’d estimate that most of the people making such statements go to Wal-Mart or McDonald’s only on road trips.
August 10, 2013
Sometimes the very tools employed to solve problems can make the problem worse:
Progressives routinely deplore the “affordable housing crisis” in American cities. In cities such as New York and Los Angeles, about 20 to 25 percent of low-income renters are spending more than half their incomes just on housing. But it is the very laws that Progressives favor — land-use policies, zoning codes, and building codes — that ratchet up housing costs, stand in the way of alternative housing options, and confine poor people to ghetto neighborhoods. Historically, when they have been free to do so, poor people have happily disregarded the ideals of political humanitarians and found their own ways to cut housing costs, even in bustling cities with tight housing markets.
One way was to get other families, or friends, or strangers, to move in and split the rent. Depending on the number of people sharing a home, this might mean a less-comfortable living situation; it might even mean one that is unhealthy. But decisions about health and comfort are best made by the individual people who bear the costs and reap the benefits. Unfortunately today the decisions are made ahead of time by city governments through zoning laws that prohibit or restrict sharing a home among people not related by blood or marriage, and building codes that limit the number of residents in a building.
Those who cannot make enough money to cover the rent on their own, and cannot split the rent enough due to zoning and building codes, are priced out of the housing market entirely. Once homeless, they are left exposed not only to the elements, but also to harassment or arrest by the police for “loitering” or “vagrancy,” even on public property, in efforts to force them into overcrowded and dangerous institutional shelters. But while government laws make living on the streets even harder than it already is, government intervention also blocks homeless people’s efforts to find themselves shelter outside the conventional housing market. One of the oldest and commonest survival strategies practiced by the urban poor is to find wild or abandoned land and build shanties on it out of salvageable scrap materials. Scrap materials are plentiful, and large portions of land in ghetto neighborhoods are typically left unused as condemned buildings or vacant lots. Formal title is very often seized by the city government or by quasi-governmental “development” corporations through the use of eminent domain. Lots are held out of use, often for years at a time, while they await government public-works projects or developers willing to buy up the land for large-scale building.
August 4, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson on the forgotten people in the middle:
There are more than 48 million Americans on food stamps, an increase of about 12 million since the beginning of the Obama presidency.
At a time of record-high crop prices, the U.S. government still helps well-off farmers with some $20 billion in annual crop payouts and indirect subsidies.
The Left mythicizes food-stamp recipients almost as if they all must be the Cratchits of Dickensian England.
The Right romanticizes corporate agriculture as if the growers all were hardscrabble family farmers in need of a little boost to get through another tough harvest.
Those in between, who pay federal income taxes and are not on food stamps, lack the empathy of the poor and the clout of the rich. Can’t a politician say that?
Illegal immigration is likewise not a Left vs. Right or Republican vs. Democrat issue, but instead mostly one of class.
The influx of millions of illegal immigrants has ensured corporate America access to cheap labor while offering a growing constituency for political and academic elites.
Yet the earning power of poorer American workers — especially African Americans and Hispanic Americans — has stagnated.
The common bond between the agendas of La Raza activists and the corporate world is apparently a relative lack of concern for the welfare of entry-level laborers, many of them in American inner cities, who are competing against millions of illegal workers.
Given the slow-growth, high-unemployment economy, and the policies of the Federal Reserve, interest on simple passbook accounts has all but vanished.
The poor are not so affected. They are more often borrowers than lenders, and they are sometime beneficiaries of federally subsidized debt relief.
The rich have the capital and connections to find more profitable investments in real estate or the stock market that make them immune from pedestrian, underperforming savings accounts.
In other words, this administration’s loose money policy has been good for the indebted and even better for the stock-invested rich. But it is absolutely lousy for the middle class and for strapped retirees with a few dollars in conservative passbook accounts.