The poor

There should not be any in America, and yet there are. It’s almost as if poverty is built into the human condition.

“According to a Cato Institute study published last year, the combined expenditures for federal and state governments directed to means-tested public assistance – ‘welfare’ – is approximately $1 trillion (yes, with a ‘T’) a year.

“There are approximately 48 million people in the U.S. with incomes at the poverty level or below.

“The application of advanced mathematics – long division, and I did it in my head thank you very much – tells us that’s about $21,000 per person per year. Obviously, that’s $84,000 for a family of four.

“That’s got a problem, though. According to the 2013 Federal Poverty Guidelines, the poverty level for a family of four is $23,950. The total of $84,000 is roughly 380 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

“Obviously, there’s no poverty left in America.

“Unless, of course, that money isn’t actually being spent on the poor people at all. I wonder where it goes?” — The End of Poverty in America, by Charlie Martin

The money isn’t be being spent on the poor, but it is being spent to prevent poverty; some people’s poverty, anyway. The bureaucrats who administer the anti-poverty programs are themselves the objects. Their jobs coordinating one of the hundreds of jobs programs is itself a jobs program. That’s not sarcasm or hyperbole. Really, there isn’t any other place for them, and they won’t be allowed to live in the condition they would end up in if not for that government job.

They have no marketable skill, and at 45 they can’t now learn anything that will earn them a middle class living. If that seems unkind or offensive, express it this way: the private economy has no place for them. Firing them en mass won’t unleash a bounty of entrepreneurship, as the former grant administration compliance auditor pushes his own weenie cart, selling dogs to the former diversity coordination outreach specialist who now builds houses. Though maybe tearing down empty houses would be a better business model today.

No responsible member of the establishment can say this. It’s intrinsic to the program that the truth can’t be told about it. It’s not even really a “program” as such, it’s just the way things have (d)evolved over that last fifty years as every politician, well meaning activist, and individual has rationally pursued his self-interest. But people do come to see the result, including those people employed at what is really busy-work.

Transferring yet more money from whatever is left of the private sector to public sector bureaucrats, ostensibly for the poor, won’t help the poor, and will harm everyone. There really is no political solution to this, but if Democrats and Republicans will sit down together with all the stake-holders and craft a plan to address the problems facing us today, I’m sure they’ll make the government a bit bigger.

UPDATE 8 December 2013: The Pergelator has some related thoughts, on Automatic Welfare. As I was writing I thought about how science fiction in the 50s looked at the consequences of productivity and what would happen when a couple of guys and a robotic factory did about everything that really needed to be done. I wonder if wars in the future will be fought not over resources, but consumers.

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