Category: Poverty

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Friday, November 8, 2013

franceSince the French Revolution, Americans have glanced over to our friends across the Atlantic Ocean as a model of what a country should not do. That tradition continues. France’s centralized planning of the economy, health care, education, the family, religion, and so on is not working. The New York Times reports:

The pervasive presence of government in French life, from workplace rules to health and education benefits, is now the subject of a great debate as the nation grapples with whether it can sustain the post-World War II model of social democracy.

Well, those who champion economic, moral, and political liberty predicted this ages ago. As expected, government control of French society has crippled France’s “capability to innovate and compete globally.”

What is more, “investors are shying away from the layers of government regulation and high taxes.” Again, not surprising.

The French government continues to raise taxes and create reasons to redistribute workers’ earnings. According to the article, in France “most child care and higher education are paid for by the government, and are universally available, as is health care.” The cost of health care is “embedded in the taxes imposed on workers and employers; workers make mandatory contributions worth about 10 percent of their paycheck to cover health insurance and a total of about 22 percent to pay for all their benefits.” This is unsustainable.
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Blog author: abradley
posted by on Friday, November 8, 2013

snapMichael Tanner of the Cato Institute released a recent policy analysis that raises important questions about whether or not we should completely re-conceptualize how to provide food for the truly disadvantaged. In “SNAP Failure: The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform” Tanner argues The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is currently crippled by high administrative costs, significant fraud and abuse, and weakening of standards. Tanner notes that SNAP breeds greater dependence on government, and, even worse, seems to have negligible long-term effectiveness in eliminating food deficiencies for the truly disadvantaged.

The statistics are overwhelming. Using primarily government data, Tanner observes that the poverty is politicized in Congress through the framing of food stamps as fulfilling two separate goals—“improved levels of nutrition” and “strengthening the agricultural economy.” This created the “bipartisan” support that has exploded funding and served the interests of both political parties. Everybody wins, except for the poor. According to Tanner, “Since 2000, spending on SNAP increased from just $17 billion per year to more than $78 billion in 2012, a greater than fourfold increase.” The increase in spending cannot even be blamed on the recession. According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, 35 percent of the program’s growth from 2007 to 2011 was not a result of economic factors in the country.

The factors that have created the expansion include:
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sid Meir's CivilizationMy wife despises Sid Meier. She’s never met him, nor would she even recognize his name. But she knows someone is responsible for creating the source of my addiction.

For over twenty years I’ve spent (or wasted, as my wife would say) countless hours playing Civilization, Meier’s award-winning strategy game. Every time I play the game I enter an almost trance-like state of complete immersion. According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, what I’m experiencing in that moment is known as “flow.” Csíkszentmihályi describes the mental state of flow as,

being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow:
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help poor honor godDoes promoting limited government require abandoning a commitment to the poor? Ryan Messmore, whose answer is a firm “no”, argues that non-government institutions can provide personalized assistance to help individuals fix relational problems, overcome poverty and lead healthy lives:

Calls for limited government are often mistakenly equated with a disregard for people in need. This flawed line of reasoning assumes that poverty is primarily a material problem and that government bears the primary responsibility for solving it by increasing welfare and entitlement spending.

Yet at its root, poverty is usually more complex than a simple lack of material resources. In America, poverty is often the result of a relational problem, such as fatherlessness or community breakdown. Such relational breakdowns are addressed most effectively through various civil society institutions.

People have many needs that extend beyond simple material possessions—needs that cannot be met by any single institution. Families, churches, businesses, and other forms of association play crucial roles in sustaining liberty and meeting people’s needs. Public policy in general and welfare policy in particular should respect and protect these institutions of civil society.

Thus, limited government is an important piece of a framework that benefits people in need. When government is limited to the tasks it is best-equipped and authorized to perform, it allows more effective poverty-fighting institutions to thrive. Far from being incompatible with a concern for poverty, an appropriately limited government is crucial to maintaining a social order that enables people to escape poverty.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, October 31, 2013

Have you heard the good news about global poverty? The number of people living in abject poverty — defined as living on less than $1.25 per day — has been halved since 1990. Steve Davies of LearnLiberty explains how that happened and how in the near future we may be able to eradicate extreme poverty.

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, October 28, 2013

Children-in-PovertyDuring the late 1970s and early 1980s I spent two extended periods living below the poverty line. The first experience came as I entered the first grade. My father was a chronically unhappy man who was skillful and ambitious, yet prone to wanderlust. Every few months we would move to a new city so that he could try his hand at a new occupation—a truck driver in Arkansas, a cop in West Texas, a bouncer at a honky-tonk near Louisiana. We were always on the move, always a few weeks away from the next paycheck. At the lowest point we had nothing to eat but a half-loaf of Wonder Bread, a five-gallon bucket of unshelled peanuts, and tap water. That lasted for a two-week period in August that stretched across my seventh birthday.

Eventually my father settled down, found steady work, and we inched our way slowly toward the lower rungs of the working class. This period of financial tranquility lasted until I was eleven, when my father walked out on my mother, my younger brother, and me. Brokenhearted and dead broke, we packed the car and moved again, my mother having acquired the nomadic tendency to run away from adversity. (By the time I graduated high school, I had changed schools thirteen times.) Single parenthood tipped the scales and we slipped, once again, beneath the poverty threshold. We survived with the aid of food stamps and government housing until my sophomore year, when my mother remarried and our lives returned to a level of economic normalcy.

I’m always hesitant to share this story because we in America tend to have a knee-jerk sympathy for the “down-and-out.” There are, however, many times, as in my family’s case, when pity is completely unwarranted. A lifetime of foolish decisions by my parents, rather than a dismal economy or lack of opportunity, led to our being poor. We reaped what they had sown.
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1-TrillionIf you are looking for good data to provide a reminder that America has lost the “War On Poverty,” Michael Tanner has compiled helpful information explaining the current state of the union in the study titled, “The American Welfare State: How We Spend Nearly $1 Trillion a Year Fighting Poverty — And Fail.” Tanner begins by noting that we are now at a point where annually,

[T]he federal government will spend more than $668 billion on at least 126 different programs to fight poverty. And that does not even begin to count welfare spending by state and local governments, which adds $284 billion to that figure. In total, the United States spends nearly $1 trillion every year to fight poverty. That amounts to $20,610 for every poor person in America, or $61,830 per poor family of three.

While welfare spending has continued to increase, poverty rates in America have basically remained the same as they were 40 years ago. In fact, though we as a nation have spent nearly $15 trillion in total welfare spending since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, several families in rural and inner-city America continue to be trapped in generational cycles of dependency. Something is not working.
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tomsWhen proposing a solution to an economic problem the first question that should be asked is, “Is the solution likely to fix the problem?”

While that may seem too obvious to mention, it’s surprising how many times that question is not given serious consideration. In the past this has been particularly true of poverty-reduction measures. Too often the solutions were judged mainly on motives and emotions rather than effectiveness. If the solution was proposed in a spirit of goodwill and generosity or if it made both the giver and receiver feel good, then why not try it?

Over the past few years, though, there has a been promising shift within poverty-fighting circles. A prime example is TOMS Shoes rethinking of its ‘buy one, give one’ model of helping the needy. The California-based company’s model of giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for ever pair bought by it’s customers has spawned copy-cats in various industries — from baby goods to solar panels. Yet as PRI notes,
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Tunisia Arab SpringConversations about economic development often gravitate toward such topics as monetary policy, trade regulation, tax structures, infrastructure, etc. These are critical pieces of the puzzle indeed, but there exist even more primary components of prosperity that are often skipped over.

In our interview with Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, he lists a few of the foundational elements of growth:

Rule of law is essential if you want to have a functioning economy. You cannot have a functioning economy without secure property rights. You cannot have a functioning economy unless contracts are enforced. You cannot have a functioning economy if government officials can act in an arbitrary fashion.

The Property Rights Alliance, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, publishes research concerning private property and rule of law. Earlier this month, the organization released its annual 2013 International Property Rights Index (IPRI), which measures the intellectual and physical property rights of 131 nations from around the world, representing 98% of world GDP.

The 2013 IPRI represents the seventh edition of the index and focuses on three core components:

  1. Legal and Political Environment
  2. Physical Property Rights
  3. Intellectual Property Rights

Countries received a score (on a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 is the highest value for a property rights system and 0 is the lowest value) in each of these areas; those scores were then averaged to calculate the “IPRI score.” The countries receiving the top five IPRI scores were Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. The United States claimed the 17th spot.

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Blog author: abradley
posted by on Wednesday, September 25, 2013

poverty_2226036b1Over at the New York Times, economist Jeffrey Sachs opines about the need for greater measures to “end poverty” in countries across the world where people are truly suffering. Using data from the World Bank, Sachs reports that the proportion of households in developing countries below the extreme-poverty line has declined sharply from 52 percent in 1980, to 43 percent in 1990, 34 percent in 1999, and 21 percent in 2010. Sachs then explains what is needed in order for this to continue:

Here are the basics: economic growth, and hence a market economy, is vital. Africa’s poverty is declining in part because its growth rate picked up from 2.3 percent per year during the lackluster years of 1990-2000 to 5.7 percent during 2000-10. Without economic growth, there cannot be sustained gains in income, health and other areas. Continued progress depends on heavy investments in major infrastructure — water, electricity, waste management — and these in turn depend on large-scale private financing, hence a suitable market framework.

So anti-market sentiment is no friend of poverty reduction. But neither is free-market fundamentalism. Economic growth and poverty reduction can’t be achieved by free markets alone. Disease control, public education, the promotion of new science and technology, and protection of the natural environment are public functions that must align with private market forces.

At this point we can begin to see the lack of social imagination in the goal of simply “ending poverty.” The Christian tradition, instead of focusing on only two spheres of society — government and the economy — pushes the conversation forward toward human flourishing and sustainable economies because people are made for more than simply living in a less-bad world. Christian teaching places emphasis on the moral, social, political, and economic contexts that contribute to societies where humans can flourish in morally excellent ways consistent with their creational design. Sachs completely misses, then, the importance of mediating institutions.
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