I followed a link to a ridiculously self-serving article by a one Karen Kornbluh at the Atlantic the other day. Just reading her bio is enough to be able to determine exactly what her agenda is, and I find that overwhelmingly sad.
The article is called: “Why Are So Many Single-Parent Families in Poverty?” and the tagline reads: “Because public policy hasn’t kept up with the massive changes in American family structure.” Yep, you read that right. It’s not that there’s anything about single-parenthood that might lead to this effect. It’s lack of government intervention.
What made me happy, though, is the fact that my little sister was able to quickly and eloquently point out the most glaring logical fallacy. I’m justifiably proud of her. Here is her quote:
Am I just reading this really uncoordinated article incorrectly, or does she imply that the reason the problem exists in the first place is that the government isn’t solving it correctly?
Here I thought that the existence of a problem had to logically precede its non-resolution.
I thought so too, sis. I thought so too.
Avik Roy, writing at the Atlantic, has an interesting post that directly illustrates the concept of “the solution is the problem.” He dives into the research and comes up with some evidence that expansion of Medicaid actually reduces people’s access to health care.
Chapin White of the Center for Studying Health System Change has published an important new paper in Health Services Research, a journal of health economics, which suggests that a critical part of the Affordable Care Act–its expansion of Medicaid coverage to 16 million more Americans–may actually reduce those individuals’ access to health care.
White’s report comes on the heels of numerous studies that show that patients on Medicaid, our national government-run health-care program for the poor, do far worse on health outcomes than do those on private insurance, and in some cases, worse than those with no insurance at all. (For an extremely deep dive into these studies, see my three–part series on the topic.)
Briefly, the post gives a few reasons that are all supported by the most basic rules of economics. First, Medicaid underpays doctors. This is, of course, by necessity, as Medicaid is devastingly expensive, and governments simply cannot keep up with health care demand. The flipside, though, is that doctors who are underpaid are less likely to offer their services. This is simple supply and demand, and it cannot be repealed.
Furthermore, Medicaid expansion does not lead to more doctor visits. The reasoning here is exactly the same, but with some crowding-out effects added in. As state coverage expands, private insurance gets crowded out, and access diminishes because less private insurance and more government payments means more underpayments to doctors. And more underpayments to doctors leads to less service offered by doctors.
In fact, it’s really quite simple. But many in the political classes refuse to look beyond the first step.
My ongoing skepticism of “public service” is well-known, but J.E. Dyer, a writer on Christian social thought, drives the point home very well in a post on Patheos.
After many years, we have learned what happens when we seek to “redistribute” income or wealth. The goal of “redistribution” becomes more important than actually helping the poor. The abstract idea of removing income or wealth from some and transferring it to others trumps everything else. Seeking to “redistribute” income or wealth is not, in fact, a very good method of helping the poor; it is better characterized as a method of wielding power and seeking to control outcomes.
…”Redistribution” is an abstract goal, focused on numbers rather than people, and based on an invidious and theoretical dissatisfaction with material conditions. “Helping the poor,” by contrast, is focused on the people involved, and is a goal that can only be satisfied through personal attention and observation.
Of course, thinking that we can eradicate poverty totally is dangerous utopianism, but it is dangerous precisely because of the institutional structures that such thinking is wont to produce and not because it is wrong to attempt to make a person’s situation better without payment.
It is no secret that poverty has not been ameliorated by government programs before or since Lyndon Johnson’s cynical “War on Poverty.” It is also no secret that, as people become generally better off thanks to the march of market progress, the political definition of poverty is “defined up.”
And while it is certainly true that there will always be people in dire straits, isn’t it much healthier for us as a society of equals under the law to treat those people as people?
If we want to help those who are in need – and we should – the most efficacious and moral way to do so is through free action, not through government coercion. The latter reduces people to numbers and fosters a cynicism, correct in many instances, that the people being helped are not truly needy.
At worst, a system of government coercion removes all moral reasoning from the basic moral agent, i.e. the individual. Rich or poor, people qua people are what really matter. Such a system of coercion is inimical to a free and prosperous society.
In an article at Reason yesterday, Jacob Sullum explicates further the point that poor women are nothing but a red herring in the birth control mandate debate:
Supporters of Obama’s birth control rule conflate liberty with subsidies, insisting that you are not really free to do something (in this case, use contraceptives) unless it’s free. According to this logic, observant Jews do not have religious freedom unless the government pays for their kosher food, bloggers do not have freedom of speech unless taxpayers buy them computers, and Americans in general do not have a right to keep and bear arms if they have to pay for guns with their own money. By contrast, the religious institutions that object to the contraceptive mandate are not asking for subsidies; they are resisting them. They object to a regulation that forces them to pay for products and services they consider immoral.
Of course, you should read the whole thing. And again, this elaborates on my previous point that this is not limited to a religious issue. Even if you are completely secular, you should be appalled at this mandate, because the injustice applies to you as well.
You may have no moral or emotional problem with paying for other people’s birth control, but consider the implications of the precedent. If birth control must be paid for by others because women are to “be free” to choose to use birth control, then by the same logic, it is absolutely proper that you be forced to pay for a new church building for Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps. Why? He must “be free” to worship as he chooses and he may or may not be able to afford a new church building on his own.
Ultimately, if you have a problem with people’s access to birth control, donate to those organizations that widen said access. You have no claim on the property of other people, and you may not force them to subsidize things they choose not to. This holds regardless of which things are to be subsidized.
David Henderson over at the Library of Economics and Liberty takes on the media canard that about half of us are sinking into poverty (loosely defined).
[The U.S. Census Bureau’s new Supplemental Poverty Measure] changes the way poverty is measured from an absolute measure to a relative measure. Here’s the Census Bureau’s explanation of the “weakness” in the old measure:
The current poverty thresholds do not adjust for rising levels and standards of living that have occurred since 1965. The official thresholds were approximately equal to half of median income in 1963-64. By 1992, one half median income had increased to more than 120 percent of the official threshold. [italics in original]
What’s the Census Bureau’s fix? Make poverty a moving target. If standards of living improve, as most of us optimistic economists expect, then define as poor those people who are below some percentile.
In other words, if we are getting better off, we had better define poverty as better off, too. Otherwise, where will the poor people come from for our exploitative news stories and political campaigns?
Look, some people do face crushing poverty in this country. It is a sad fact, but it is a fact that always has been and always will be, for as long as human nature remains fundamentally the same. But let’s not dumb down the definition. When most of our “poor people” are morbidly obese and watch too much television, it is sort of insulting to much of the rest of the world to call it a crisis.
This is not news from Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. The Associated Press is reporting that, horror of horrors, about half of people are below average! Stop the presses.
I have not been this scandalized since I realized that 40% of all sick days are taken on Monday and Friday.
The New Editor Reports on the scandal in a post called “Statistical Illiteracy, Media Narratives, and the Spread of a Canard”:
Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.
The Census Bureau’s definition of a ‘low-income household’ is less than $45,000, as the AP’s Yen wrote:
Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold — roughly $45,000 for a family of four…
So it seems the crux of the AP article can be accurately shortened to: Half of all households have an income below the median average!
I’m not sure what a “median average” is exactly, but I can tell when statistics are being manipulated to tell a story that does not exist. And since the “poverty line” and “low income threshold” are targets that move up every year, there is quite simply no way to eradicate poverty on paper.
Not to be cynical, but I am pretty sure that the statist bureaucracy likes it that way.