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Posts Tagged ‘Welfare’

Economists often do a crummy job of teaching people about the impact of fiscal policy on the labor force, largely because we put people to sleep with boring discussions about “labor supply” decisions (my blog post from last year perhaps being an example of this tendency).

From now on, I will try to remember to use this cartoon. It’s a parody of Obama’s policies, but the last slide (or is it a panel?) is a great teaching tool about what happens when politicians turn the safety net into a hammock.

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This story from the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal makes the point, excerpted below, that the welfare state subsidizes dysfunctional behavior. But read the story to understand how big government destroys lives, ruins families, and creates inter-generational poverty. A very powerful, albeit very depressing article. It’s basically the American version of this grim news report from England.

Connecticut is among the most generous of the states to out-of-wedlock mothers. Teenage girls like Nicole qualify for a vast array of welfare benefits from the state and federal governments: medical coverage when they become pregnant (called “Healthy Start”); later, medical insurance for the family (“Husky”); child care (“Care 4 Kids”); Section 8 housing subsidies; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; cash assistance. If you need to get to an appointment, state-sponsored dial-a-ride is available. If that appointment is college-related, no sweat: education grants for single mothers are available, too. Nicole didn’t have to worry about finishing the school year; the state sent a $35-an-hour tutor directly to her home halfway into her final trimester and for six weeks after the baby arrived.

In theory, this provision of services is humane and defensible, an essential safety net for the most vulnerable—children who have children. What it amounts to in practice is a monolithic public endorsement of single motherhood—one that has turned our urban high schools into puppy mills. The safety net has become a hammock.

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Here’s a passage from a speech by a well-known political figure, but it wasn’t Ronald Reagan, Ron Paul, or Milton Friedman.

The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. …The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief.

Interestingly, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his 1935 State of the Union address. FDR recognized that welfare was akin to a drug that sapped people’s independence. (Or he at least was politically astute enough to realize he should pretend to be concerned about the impact of government-induced dependency.)

Here’s a more recent example, which was cited in a National Review Online column by my Cato colleague Mike Tanner. A prominent politician in DC said that welfare leads to “a cycle of generational poverty, government dependency, and economic disparity.”

But the person who said this wasn’t Jim DeMint, Barry Goldwater, or Friedrich Hayek. It was the former Mayor of Washington, DC, Marion Barry.

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At a recent speech in Atlanta, a somewhat famous former elected official made some rather blunt comments about welfare. According to a news report:

In discussing welfare, he said rules instituted by liberals to limit benefits to single mothers discouraged blacks from forming families. “Slavery didn’t break up the black families as much as liberal welfare rules,” he said.

So who was this Neanderthal? Was it Klansman/charlatan David Duke? Was it former Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, who made George Wallace seem cuddly by comparison?

None of the above. It turns out that the article was discussing comments made by Andrew Young, the former Mayor of Atlanta and Ambassador to the United Nations. He was at the Jimmy Carter Center to talk about his new book,  “Walk in My Shoes: Conversations Between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey Ahead.”

Setting aside my sarcasm, kudos to Young for putting concern for families before left-wing political correctness. As indicated by my previous post on welfare destroying the human spirit, luring people into dependency is a tragic example of misguided government policy (a problem that is particularly severe in certain states, particularly the Northeast). And Young is not the only one to note that African-Americans have been the biggest victims.



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This isn’t a video produced by an anti-welfare group. It’s not even from the United States.

Instead, you’re looking at a straight news clip from England that unintentionally offers a very powerful example of how welfare saps initiative, creates dependency, subsidizes irresponsibility, and destroys the human spirit.

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The Center for Immigration Studies recently put out a study arguing that immigration has had negative effects on California. One of their measures was a comparison of how many people in the state were receiving some form of welfare compared to other states. I found that data (see Table 3 of the report) very interesting, but not because of the immigration debate (I’ll leave others to debate that topic). Instead, I wanted to get a better understanding of the variations in government dependency. Is there a greater willingness to sign up for income redistribution programs, all other things being equal, from one state to another? The “all other things being equal” caveat is very important, of course, since the comparison produced by CIS may simply be an indirect measure of the factors that determine welfare elibigility. One obvious (albeit crude) way of addressing this problem is to subtract each state’s poverty rate to get a measure of how many non-poor people are signed up for income-redistribution programs. Let’s call this the Moocher Index. 

A few quick observations. Why is Vermont (by far) the state with the largest proportion of non-poor people signed up for welfare programs? I have no idea, but maybe this explains why they elect people like Bernie Sanders. But it’s not just Vermont. Four of the top five states on the Moocher Index are from the Northeast, as are six of the top nine. Mississippi also scores poorly, coming in second, but many other southern states do well. Indeed, if we reversed the ranking and did a Self-Reliance Index, Virginia, Florida, and Georgia would score in the top 10. Nevada, arguably the nation’s most libertarian state, is the state with the lowest number of non-poor people signed up for welfare. 

Let’s now emphasize several caveats. I’m not an expert on the mechanics of social welfare program, but even I know that eligibility is not governed solely by the poverty rate. Indeed, some welfare programs are open to people with much higher levels of income. This means that a more thorough analysis at the very least would have to include some measure of income distribution by state. Moreover, states use different formulas for Medicaid eligibility, so this index ideally also would be adjusted for state-specific policies that make it easier or harder for people to become dependent. There also are some states (and even colleges) that actually try to lure people into signing up for welfare, which also might affect the results. And I’m sure there are many other factors that are important, including perhaps immigration. If anybody knows of most substantive research in this area, please don’t hestitate to share material.

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I’m normally not a big fan of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development since it is an international bureaucracy that persecutes low-tax jurisdictions. But the economists at the OECD sometimes do good work (the same can be said of the IMF and World Bank, not that this justifies taxpayers subsidies for any international bureaucracy). Here’s a good example. While researching tax rates in different nations, I came across this description of how welfare programs and other income-redistribution schemes result in punitively-high implicit tax rates on productive behavior for low-income people. The result, of course, is that many people are discouraged from working and lured into lives of dependency. The article is not recent, so the specific examples may no longer be accurate, but the economic analysis is spot on and still applies. The economic damage described in the article, by the way, is in addition to the harm caused by high explicit tax rates on taxpayers who finance the income redistribution and the harm caused by government spending diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy.

Another rather curious situation which does not show up when studying headline rates is that low earners can find themselves confronted with very high marginal tax rates, in some rare cases exceeding 100%. The reason for this is that lower earners not only pay more tax when their income goes up, but in many cases they lose part of their means-tested tax relief, subsidies and benefits as well. The loss of this income acts as an “implicit” tax at the margin. The rational response of workers who find themselves in this situation is to reduce the number of hours they work. Their gross wage would of course be lower if they did, but in return they would pay less tax and receive more means-tested subsidies and benefits. As a result, their net disposable income would increase despite putting in fewer hours. This type of situation occurs to varying degrees in different OECD countries, depending on the peculiarities of various social protection programmes. Take the example of an unemployed couple with two young children. Suppose that after five years’ unemployment, one of them takes up a lowly paid job. In Finland or Sweden net income in and out of work would be the same in that case, since each unit of income earned is cancelled out by a unit of benefits foregone once employment is taken up. In other words, there is an implicit tax rate of 100%. In the case of Denmark and the Czech Republic, the implicit rate in a similar case would be almost 100%, and in Germany and the United Kingdom it would be around 80%. In France and the United States the implicit rate would be about 50%, since half the increase in earnings is wiped out by a loss of benefits. In Japan, the implicit tax actually exceeds 140%, meaning our one-earner couple would be worse off with the new job than without it. What’s more, they may have to be wary when it comes to staying in the job itself, since small wage increases can expose low-wage earners to high implicit tax rates as their means-tested benefits get cut further.
http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php?aid=35

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