Thursday, January 12, 2017

Programs to Help "The Poor"

I really do understand why Atrios (and his commentators) is bagging on the piece linked in his posts (one post here, the other linked in that post, and the piece referenced also linked in both).  I agree, the best aid for poor people is to just give them money.  Attaching strings and playing games about their goals and making them jump through hoops is all counterproductive, and both makes the program more complicated (and expensive, and bureaucratic) while also meaning fewer people get (as much of) the aid they need.

But the catch is that the programs are for "The Poor," and therein lies a problem.  If you have a program that is expressly for poor people the first thing you have to do is verify that they are, in fact, poor, and not just someone with low income that is sitting on piles of [cash, property, gold], and at some point you can't actually figure that out.  If someone scrimps and saves and keeps all their money in cash in garbage bags but never opens a bank account to deposit it and doesn't buy easy to track things like property, they could well have plenty of money and just lie about it and it may be impossible to find out otherwise.  I know that is a rare case, but it is one that no one (neither rich, nor poor) wants to have happen.  Making it more difficult to get access to the benefits is one way to keep people who don't really need the aid from even trying (not a good one and I don't endorse it).

I recognize that that the best real solution to that problem is: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  So a few undeserving people get a bit of extra cash.  It isn't the end of the world, and it's not common enough to be a problem that we should make it insanely difficult for deserving people to get that money.

In the real world, however, people get more pissed off by people getting something they don't deserve than they do about the inverse, and while we can't (mostly because politicians won't) do anything about bankster bonuses and corporate vultures, we can make sure that someone with $10k in savings doesn't get food stamps, or that, if they do, they have to buy beans and rice, because if they were really hungry they wouldn't be wasting their money on shrimp (note: beef is acceptable because cattle ranchers told congress so)!

The solution is actually pretty simple: make the cash giveaway program for everyone (yes, this is secretly a universal basic income post).  If everyone (18 and over who files a tax return) gets $15k/year from the government then you don't have to worry about whether or not anyone deserves it.  Yes, you need to increase taxes to do this (quite a bit, that's a nearly $5T plan).

We're not going to do that, though, so we're stuck with a situation where our poverty amelioration programs are all directed at "The Poor" and that means every one of them is going to have some extra, stupid crap associated with it to make sure that the recipients are "legitimately" poor.

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