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News A reply to an argument against government aid to the poor

  1. Aug 1, 2011 #1
    In a recent thread, "Are pell grants 'welfare'?", I agreed that Pell grants are welfare, and stated:
    To which jambaugh replied:
    With which I disagreed, and below I address the rest of his reply.
    I don't understand what you mean by "coerced redistribution of wealth". Who is coercing, who is being coerced, and what's the method of coercion?

    Also, aid to the poor comes from tax revenues ... paid by tens of millions of people. I'm not sure what you're advocating. Single private benefactors for each aid recipient?

    I don't think that being relatively wealthy endows one with any special insights regarding who needs what. So, I don't think that this is an effective argument against disbursing aid to the poor via government programs.

    Yes, objective means (and other) testing is done to determine qualification, and a small percentage of people will find ways to game the system(s). Not a significant problem, especially in light of the fact that the money is going to be spent in, and therefore will benefit, the general economy whether the recipient 'deserved' it or not. Again, not a good argument against the status quo, imo.

    Some will, some won't. How to estimate percentages wrt either? Not a valid argument against the status quo.

    Not sure what your point is here. Is it that the woman is induced to not find alternative ways of earning a living because in her jobless state she qualifies for some meager government handouts? I don't think that's a reasonable/arguable position.

    I don't think that those who pay taxes are less ambitious because they have no say in how their tax money is spent by the governments that tax them. I agree that this might have some effect on their charitable behavior were it not for the ability to deduct charitable donations from their gross incomes.

    The "producers of wealth", as you put it, are the taxpayers. My guess is that if no taxes were levied, then none would be paid. Then we would be dependent on "producers of wealth" to behave in accordance with the common good, and I think that history has taught us, and our common sense knowledge of human nature tells us, that that isn't going to happen. Left to our own devices, without regulation, the relatively wealthy would be in an even more advantageous position to coerce the relatively poor. And we would most assuredly do lots of coercing, as well as manipulation of systems for our benefit but to the detriment of reasonable notions of the common good.

    I find your argument against governmental aid/welfare to the poor to be less than compelling.
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  3. Aug 2, 2011 #2


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    If I do not think WIC recipients are worthy of my tax dollars and decide to deduct a proportionate amount from my owed taxes with a nice letter explaining why and justifying my calculations.... a law enforcement officer with a cuffs and weapon will eventually show up on my door to seize my property or arrest me for tax evasion. Or more likely they will first go directly to my employer and bank who likewise are under threat of the cuffs if they should choose not to cooperate.

    You name me any action of government (and I exclude here so called non-binding resolutions of congress as they are not actions), and I will show you how, one way or another it is coercive at its root. This is not in and of itself bad.

    I should hope a police officer doesn't simply ask the violent criminal to turn himself in but is rather willing and able to use appropriate force to arrest him. I should hope the EPA official doesn't simply ask the small time gold miner to stop dumping mercury into the streams but will call upon the federal marshal to stand by with badge, cuffs, and pistol to keep that miner polite and incentived to play along.

    I am firstly arguing for the extinction of governments roll in charity. Of course just as a drug addict shouldn't stop cold turkey but should be weaned off, so too should the welfare recipients. But just as the withdrawal symptoms are not and argument for the benefits of drug usage, the detriment of withdrawal of social programs is not in and of itself a argument for their perpetual continuation.
    One's relative wealth means nothing. But I am the absolute best expert and only individual qualified to determine who is worthy of the dollars I earned by productive enterprise, be they a few or very many. This is because they are my dollars given to me for my beneficent activity.

    Now please first begin with the premise that I did earn my dollars fair and square and let us address the meaning of unfair means of wealth acquisition in another thread or segment. The arguments for social welfare via tax dollars do not exclude the case of my premise so we should presume it for the sake of argument.

    That percentage grows with each year the program exists until it becomes onerous. As an example, at present the WIC program (which started as welfare for war widows) is gamed to the extent that there is an equilibrium market price on WIC purchased food items.
    The Kenyesian model is flawed on one very important point. Money isn't wealth. Every government dollar spent puts no net wealth back into the economy as it must have in the past or must in the future be taken out, either through taxes or through devaluation of the currency which is a hidden tax on holders of debt and cash.

    Your ignorance nor mine is a counter argument. It is a reasonable inference that some will. I personally have heard female middle school students talk about getting pregnant so they can start getting their checks. I have reliable second hand information that many single mothers intentionally fail to acknowledge the paternity of their children (they are still living with the fathers) so that rather than enforcing child support the social services will qualify the mother for checks. My (now deceased) mother supervise student teaching in the state and had through her teacher contacts many many incidents of mothers encouraging their children to misbehave so they could be diagnosed with "special needs" which status includes a subsidy to the parent for auxiliary care. The more who are seen getting away with it the more their peers will say "why be a sucker!" and they too will begin altering their behavior until it becomes endemic.

    Mind you, I am not quoting statics but giving anecdotal evidence. But I do not doubt we can settle the issue with some existing studies or leave the question to future studies.
    Let's see. I brought this up as an example of a choice of degree (not necessarily financed by a grant) which added no value to the economy and an individual who did not decide to act in a way conducive to disqualify herself for future largess (her complaint was incorporated into a program attempting to argue for government action). It was not in and of itself an argument but an anecdote exemplifying a stage of the prior argument.

    I am. I've dreamed of chucking it all and living off the land. I find the use of my earned dollars to pay able bodied individuals to be non-productive morally repugnant, (nearly as much as your typical pro-lifer finds having their tax dollars spent to finance abortions). If I had sufficient wealth to live comfortably for the rest of my life I'd put it all in tax exempt bonds and teach for a salary just under the taxable level (because I do like to teach). Again an anecdotal statistic of one. But as I learned with cooking, my tastes are generally not far removed from a significant portion of the people around me.
    The deduction is not incentive for the act, you still come out with a net loss. It may, all else being equal, allow for more giving but so too and to the same extent would a straight tax cut.
  4. Aug 2, 2011 #3
    This is nonsense. Government investments can (and often do) increase wealth. Using the same logic, you could say "Every private dollar spent puts no net wealth back into the economy, as it must have in the past or must in the future be a dollar taken from another private entity." Obviously, such a statement is nonsense.

    Wealth isn't zero sum, either in the private or the public sector. The government does occasionally do useful things- and these things do increase wealth.
  5. Aug 2, 2011 #4
    If the Government takes money out of the economy (tax) and redistribute (entitlements) - that is clearly not a creation of wealth. However, if the Government takes money out of the economy (tax) and guarantees a small business loan - that could lead to the creation of wealth for the business owner and provide jobs - which could be considered a creation of wealth for the employees (both results are taxable). Another example might be an investment in a utility project - the wealth created might be a return to shareholders (taxable) of the utility company and (perhaps) lower utility rates for consumers (could preserve wealth).

    Did you have other examples in mind?
  6. Aug 2, 2011 #5


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    Building the interstate highway system.
  7. Aug 2, 2011 #6
    i think this is a fairly useless argument. "wealth" is in the eye of the beholder. take the recent Norway incident and the discussion about their swank prisons. recent events aside, Norway has a relatively peaceful society, and this is a kind of wealth if it's what you value. on the other hand, if you place more value on a justice model that is heavily punitive, then "wealth" lies somewhere else for you.

    i think the better question is whether we are getting the sort of outcomes we expect, and the efficiency of those outcomes. if it measure up, then wealth is increased.
  8. Aug 2, 2011 #7
    I suppose the building of the interstate highway system in the US increased wealth. And that wasn't even the primary reason for doing it. I don't think it could have been done privately either.

    Keynes did not propose that govt spending would increase wealth. He advocated govt fiscal policy be used to mitigate the effects of economic downturns. I suppose a reasonable person would assume that in times of economic prosperity, balance would be restored by the opposite fiscal policy, but that never happened. Now we have an economic downturn and a govt whose policy is constrained by debt accumulated when the economy was doing well. What has that got to do with Keynes?
  9. Aug 2, 2011 #8
    The "building" is mostly complete - the maintenance of the highway system isn't that productive a use of funds - is it - especially when you factor in the interruptions of traffic to do the work.
  10. Aug 2, 2011 #9
    Of course it is productive. If it weren't done, the roads would eventually become unusable.
  11. Aug 2, 2011 #10


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    And if it weren't maintained, how would goods make it to and from the cities?

    It could be argued that our highway systems are so efficient that they encourage inefficient designs of our cities - i.e. suburban sprawl - but I think it's pretty hard to argue that money spent on the highway system has just been wasted.
  12. Aug 2, 2011 #11
    Nobody is making that argument. Maintenance of the existing system does not increase growth and productivity in the manner that creation of the system did - and maintenance activities actually slow the efficient use of the system. Where is the disagreement?
  13. Aug 2, 2011 #12
    If I read you right, there is no disagreement. Building the system added more wealth than maintenance does. However, don't get the idea that maintenance adds no wealth. I expect that a dollar spent fixing a pothole probably saves many times that on automobile maintenance that would otherwise have to be performed. It may cut down on traffic accidents too.
  14. Aug 2, 2011 #13
    @ jambaugh. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I'm going to take it slow, thinking about and replying to points in the order that they appear in your reply.

    I wrote:
    You replied:
    Ok, there is ultimately the threat of diminished freedom, in one form or another (fines, jail time, etc.) if one breaks the law. If one breaks the law, then one has done violence against the system that one has agreed to abide by, and the system responds in kind. I wouldn't call this coercion.

    Why not look at it as an agreement between us and our elected government that we can opt out of via certain means? Are we being forced/coerced to be US citizens, or to live in the US, or any particular city or state within the US?

    We're expected to behave in accordance with the laws of whatever political entity we happen to be in. The agreement is: yes, you can live and work here (wherever), and in exchange you agree to behave lawfully. What is it that's forcing/coercing one to live/work/vacation/etc. in one place or another? Personal circumstance?

    The US government isn't forcing us to live here. Like your parched traveller who agrees to pay exorbitantly, we agree to behave lawfully. We're free to abide by the status quo, change it lawfully, or move on.
  15. Aug 2, 2011 #14
    My first thought on this is that if the government doesn't take an active and leading role in administering aid to the poor, then there isn't going to be much aid to the poor.

    The reason why I think this is important is not that I believe that helping needy people is necessarily intrinsically good, or good in any absolute sense.

    What I don't want to see happen is stuff like shantytowns, people 'living' on city streets, roaming groups of homeless/indigent people bothering people of means, groups of orphaned/displaced children, etc.

    The thought of the possibility of that bothers me a lot more than having some of my tax dollars being used to help someone afford a decent place to live, or food, or schooling, etc.

    There's also, I believe, the fact that this government administered aid directly helps the general economy including people of means. Food aid is a boon for food sellers and their employees. Housing aid is a boon for landlords and their employees. Monetary aid is a boon for all sorts of businesses, big and small.

    These programs also directly benefit the many thousands of people who administer them.

    So, pending further enlightenment, I have to believe that extinction of governments' role in charity is a bad idea.
  16. Aug 2, 2011 #15


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    Not to mention that without maintenance, the roads will fall into disrepair and become unusable, so the money invested in maintenance prevents us from losing their value.
  17. Aug 2, 2011 #16
    Infrastructure is a good use of tax-payer monies.

    Creating a class of poor people that rely on entitlements from tax-payer money is not an infrastructure that we want our government to create and maintain. But that is what we have.
  18. Aug 2, 2011 #17


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    Okay, I refuse to hijack this thread on this off-hand comment. But there's a really great argument in favor of privatizing infrastructure like roads and highways. It hasn't been possible for most of the country's history because of a lack of technology.

    Essentially, road construction technology peaked in the 70's. There are a few new chemical combinations that can be added to asphalt and new machinery is probably more fuel efficient, but in general there's no competition in the road-building market.

    Imagine, if you care, that you live in a world in which every time significant traffic jams develop an entrepreneur seeks to solve it. Perhaps by building a competing bridge over the same waterway, or by charging $0.05 less to drive on a road that receives slightly less maintenance. What if there were very expensive roads that cost twice as much to drive on, but had very limited traffic? What if there were roads with significantly higher (or lower) speed limits?

    Right now there is no market experimentation with speed limits, road widths, road quality or materials, or even routing. It's all stagnant. When a road breaks down, it's replaced by the same thing... maybe with new guardrails.

    We already pay for roads in two ways: direct tolls, and taxes. Imagine that you get to keep all of that tax money in your paycheck and shop for the best route to and from work. Pay for the roads you use when you use them. Buy transponders for RoadCorp's roads and ThruWay International and get discounts on off-peak hours. Pay extra to drive during hours of maximum congestion.

    Traffic enforcement could be left to the company operating the roadway with clear jurisdiction. And if they have an over-bearing policy (i.e. no right-on-red, or speed limit of 20mph everywhere with super-high fines) then just use a competitor's roads.

    How many problems could be solved by allowing a little competition?

    Done! I return the thread to it's owners.
  19. Aug 2, 2011 #18


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    Yes, you are correct. But in so far as one views spending money to stimulate the economy, that is a redistribution of wealth over time, arguably effective for correcting cycles but not a replacement for the private sector productivity. It was in this context that my point is made, stimulus to the economy, in the Kenyesan sense of promoting consumption, is not an argument for social welfare. Productivity must balance consumption or we have the current, very very bad, situation of borrowing money from the Chinese producers to buy their products...and pay the interest on the growing debt.
  20. Aug 2, 2011 #19
    jeeze, this is going to be another libertarianism thread. imo, libertarianism is a religion, not unlike communism. it's primary failure is that it is ideal-based, and the only way either libertarianism or communism will work in reality as well as the ideal is if everyone in the system is a TRUE BELIEVER.
  21. Aug 2, 2011 #20


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    Declaration by fiat. There's no reason to believe that a libertarian society would fail implicitly. No more so than a social democracy or a democratic republic. Communism fails because it defies human nature; libertarianism could succeed for that exact reason.

    To be fair, libertarianism isn't based on an unfounded set of beliefs. It is, however, based on VERY controversial preferences. Most people simply can't stomach the idea of letting someone be homeless or letting someone go hungry. Libertarianism has been tested and it succeeded; the pre-industrial U.S. was a good approximation.

    I'm a libertarian in principle, but I wouldn't favor pure libertarianism in a society for a lot of reasons. However, I take issue with the type hand-wave dismissal you're using.
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