Monday, August 29, 2011

"The poor" are the human shields behind whom advocates of ever bigger spending for ever bigger government advance toward their goal

While Bill Whittle reports that "Despite what you hear from the media and the Democrat party, the poor are getting richer" and while Star Parker writes that "The Poor Are Not Poor Because the Rich Are Rich" ("The formula for more black wealth: less government, more ownership and initiative"), Thomas Sowell steps up to the plate and lays it out, black on white:
The whole future of the welfare state depends on how poverty is defined. "The poor" are the human shields behind whom advocates of ever bigger spending for ever bigger government advance toward their goal.

If poverty meant what most people think of as poverty — people "ill-clad, ill-housed, and ill-nourished," in Franklin D. Roosevelt's phrase — there would not be nearly enough people in poverty today to justify the vastly expanded powers and runaway spending of the federal government.

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has for years examined what "the poor" of today actually have — and the economic facts completely undermine the political rhetoric.

Official data cited by Rector show that 80 percent of "poor" households have air-conditioning today, which less than half the population of America had in 1970. Nearly three-quarters of households in poverty own a motor vehicle, and nearly one-third own more than one motor vehicle.

Virtually everyone living in "poverty," as defined by the government, has color television, and most have cable TV or satellite TV. More than three-quarters have either a VCR or a DVD player, and nearly nine-tenths have a microwave oven.

As for being "ill-housed," the average poor American has more living space than the general population — not just the poor population — of London, Paris and other cities in Europe.

Various attempts have been made over the years to depict Americans in poverty as "ill-fed" but the "hunger in America" campaigns that have enjoyed such political and media popularity have usually used some pretty creative methods and definitions.

Actual studies of "the poor" have found their intake of the necessary nutrients to be no less than that of others. In fact, obesity is slightly more prevalent among low-income people.

The real triumph of words over reality, however, is in expensive government programs for "the elderly," including Medicare. The image often invoked is the person who is both ill and elderly, and who has to choose between food and medications.

It is great political theater. But, the most fundamental reality is that the average wealth of the elderly is some multiple of the average wealth owned by people in the other age brackets.

Why should the average taxpayer be subsidizing people who have much more wealth than they do?

If we are concerned about those particular elderly people who are in fact poor — as we are about other people who are genuinely poor, whatever their age might be — then we can simply confine our help to those who are poor by some reasonable means test. It would cost a fraction of what it costs to subsidize everybody who reaches a certain age.

But the political left hates means tests. If government programs were confined to people who were genuinely poor in some meaningful sense, that would shrink the welfare state to a fraction of its current size. The left would lose their human shields.

Over at the National Center for Policy Analysis, John Goodman quotes the same Heritage Foundation report, then responds to a liberal criticism of the report.

More than 30 million Americans are living in "poverty," according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s one out of every seven people. But what does it really mean to be "poor" in America? …

To most Americans, the word "poverty" implies significant material deprivation, including inadequate food, clothing and shelter. The actual living conditions of America's poor are very different, however. …

The home of the average poor family was in good repair and not overcrowded. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average (non-poor) European, the Heritage scholars note. The poor family was able to obtain medical care when needed. When asked, most poor families stated they had had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.

Does that mean it’s game, set, match. Case closed? Well not quite. Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias says the Heritage report leaves out three things: housing, education and health care. …

But what do these three sectors have in common that’s missing from the market for television sets and video games? Government.

… Don’t blame it on capitalism.