Category: Poverty

Blog author: johnteevan
posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2014

There are several ways to understand that poverty is expensive.

First poor people pay more for the things they buy or they find that cheap stuff is not good. The poor find it hard to pay for housing which leads to having a harder time saving money even by cooking. The poor have a hard time using a bank or even cashing a check without high fees.

Then there are the lower wage part-time jobs that some bosses make worse by urging people to work a few minutes or more or even over lunch for free.

A second way to look at the expense of poverty was highlighted by the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. The amount spent on poverty reduction, $1t annually, is terrifically expensive. Most of that comes from 80 means-tested federal programs according to Heritage’s Steven Moore.

A trillion dollars is equal to each of 45m people having $22,222. Of course, money is not given to people, there is a vast government and private web of helpers who work hard to improve conditions for those in poverty.  And they are paid well.

The third way, a way I think is better than the first two, is to count the cost of poverty in terms of wasted lives, wasted opportunity, and loss to our society.

If even 15m people went to work and earned $22,222 our GDP would thrive, tax revenues would rise and programs to help the poor would require dramatically less money.

There is dignity to work, satisfaction in working with others to meet a goal, and the pleasure of doing your job well and being paid for it. Millions are missing that opportunity and are living lives that tend toward mere passivity.

The high cost of poverty is essentially a human cost that is not limited to economic deprivation. The upside is that many who have little tend to be more spiritually rich than others though this idea is treated as a phony sop to keep people down.

uncle-samIt’s tax day, and though I’m sure you’ve already begun your revelry, I suggest we all take a moment of silence to close our eyes and relish that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when pressured by the IRS to pay up or head to the Big House.

Indeed, with all of the euphemistic Circle-of-Protection talk bouncing around evangelicalism — reminding us of our “moral obligation” to treat political planners as economic masters and the “least of these” as political pawns — we should be jumping for joy at the opportunity. Nuclear warhead funding aside, progressive Christianity has elevated Caesar’s role to a degree that surely warrants some streamers.

Yet, if you’re anything like me, you did the exact opposite, writing off purchases, deducting charitable giving, and — gasp! — trying to get some of your money back. (more…)

bitcoin-wallBitcoin is dead, long live Bitcoin.

A few weeks ago the IRS killed off any chance that Bitcoin could become a mainstream currency. That’s probably for the best since it clears the way for it to become something much more important: the world’s first completely open financial network.

Timothy B. Lee has a superb article explaining why this could be transformative. Lee highlights one particularly helpful innovation:

One obvious application is international money transfers. Companies like Western Union and Moneygram can charge as much as 8 percent to transfer cash from one country to another, and transfers can take as long as 3 days to complete. In contrast, Bitcoin transactions only take about 30 minutes to clear, and Bitcoin transaction fees could be a lot less than 8 percent.

An “alternative to Western Union” doesn’t sound revolutionary, does it? Now look at this graphic produced by The Daily Mail which shows how much money is being sent by migrants to their families back home.
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Woman-child-cookingA United Nations panel recently released a report on the single most important environmental problem in the world today — and yet you’ve probably read nothing about it in the news.

Instead, you’ve likely heard about another U.N. report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report claims that global warming could have a “widespread impact” by the year 2100. Yet in 2012 millions of people died — one in eight of total global deaths — as a result of environmental problem occurring today: indoor air pollution.

According to the World Health Organization’s latest report air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk, and the main cause is entirely preventable:
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In USA Today comes this story from the Associated Press:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday permanently removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.

Francis had temporarily expelled Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg in October pending a church inquiry.

At the center of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.

But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.

The Vatican said Wednesday that the inquiry into the renovation found that Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry in Limburg and that Francis had accepted his resignation, which was originally offered Oct. 20.

Back in October, I was part of a panel of guests on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the question, “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?” The springboard for the conversation was the scandal surrounding Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.

At the Boston Globe yesterday, John Allen sees this as a potential sign of a social gospel alliance between Pope Francis and President Obama, whose first meeting is today: (more…)

wallet-lockWhen bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he is (mis)quoted as having said, “Because that’s where the money is.” Turns out that is also why there is more street crime in poorer neighborhoods: because that’s where the cash is. Or at least it’s where the case was.

It has been long recognized that cash plays a critical role in fueling street crime due to its liquidity and transactional anonymity. In poor neighborhoods — where street offenses are concentrated — a significant source of circulating cash stemmed from public assistance or welfare payments. But starting in the 1990s that changed, as the Federal government gradually phased out paper welfare checks in favor of electronic debit cards (the Electronic Benefit Transfer [EBT] program).

A team of researchers studied the effects of this change in Missouri and found that it was directly responsible for a hefty 10 percent drop in the overall crime rate:
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church busImages of Mississippi needing federal assistance are iconic. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1967 trip to Mississippi’s Delta region produced images of poverty not unlike LBJ’s War on Poverty tour. Jennifer Haberkorn has written a piece at Politico titled, “Obamacare enrollment rides a bus into the Mississippi Delta.” Her snooty lede to the story reads: “In the poorest state in the nation, where supper is fried, bars allow smoking, chronic disease is rampant and doctors are hard to come by, Obamacare rolls into town in a lime green bus.”

It appears the author believes Obamacare could bring the good news of salvation if only Mississippians skeptical of the federal government would let it. Haberkorn writes:

The effort in Mississippi illustrates the obstacles the health law must overcome in many parts of the country, particularly in deeply conservative areas where antipathy toward Washington mixes with challenges of geography, education and general skepticism or ignorance of the Affordable Care Act. High rates of poverty and disease — which mark much of this state — don’t necessarily aid recruitment. Add the strident opposition of GOP leaders and enrollment gets that much tougher.

Haberkorn cherry picks a couple of positive stories where heavily subsidized consumers will save money under the Obamacare program, but totally ignores a major component of all the skepticism with the plan. Obamacare premiums in Mississippi are the third highest in the nation, only surpassed by Alaska and Wyoming. As of September 2013, a mid range plan cost $448 monthly, with costs expected to rise. (more…)

This past Saturday, I attended the Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship (APTE) 2014 summit. APTE is a student group at OSU in Columbus, OH, and they put together a wonderful cast of ten speakers on the subject of the future of social entrepreneurship. With seven pages of notes (front and back), I unfortunately cannot cover every detail of the conference, but instead I will briefly focus on a theme that recurred throughout the afternoon: private, often for-profit, solutions to public service problems facing the poor.

APTE brought together an impressive lineup of speakers for two rounds of individual presenters, followed by a Twitter Q&A, with a panel discussion on the city of Detroit in between the two groups: (more…)

Saul Reproved by Samuel, John Singleton Copley, 1798When decrying instances of do-gooder activism gone wrong, it’s become rather routine for critics to respond by saying, “good intentions aren’t enough” — and to a great extent, rightly so.

Yet, as I’ve argued before, in addition to critiquing the outcomes of our actions, we should also pause and ask whether our “good intentions” are all that good to begin with. If we are responding to some blurry impulse to “do something,” and that certain something ends up harming the very people we’re trying to help, what does that say about the origins of our actions? What does it say about the nature of the voices we’re heeding?

As Christians, we are called to help those in need. But from where does our direction come, and to whom does the glory ultimately go? As Peter Greer and Chris Horst explain, we outght to reach beyond humanitarianism, stretching for a level of whole-life transformation not easily comprehended by our earthbound categories and metrics. Such transformation will surely be “of this world” in many of its methods and effects, but it will necessarily correspond with a supernatural order — one that often runs contrary to our own plans and designs.

Far too often, we embrace God’s message even as we ignore his method. Each requires our close attention, of course, but the latter demands a closer level of prudence, prayer, and discernment than we typically acknowledge. (more…)

Bill GatesIn a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Bill Gates — the richest man in the world — shares his thoughts on poverty and inequality:

Should the state be playing a greater role in helping people at the lowest end of the income scale? Poverty today looks very different than poverty in the past. The real thing you want to look at is consumption and use that as a metric and say, “Have you been worried about having enough to eat? Do you have enough warmth, shelter? Do you think of yourself as having a place to go?” The poor are better off than they were before, even though they’re still in the bottom group in terms of income.

The way we help the poor out today [is also a problem]. You have Section 8 housing, food stamps, fuel programs, very complex medical programs. It’s all high-overhead, capricious, not well-designed. Its ability to distinguish between somebody who has family that could take care of them versus someone who’s really out on their own is not very good, either. It’s a totally gameable system – not everybody games it, but lots of people do. Why aren’t the technocrats taking the poverty programs, looking at them as a whole, and then redesigning them? Well, they are afraid that if they do, their funding is going to be cut back, so they defend the thing that is absolutely horrific. Just look at low-cost housing and the various forms, the wait lists, things like that.

Read more . . .