Off Topic Messages

Poverty Up???

Wed Sep 21, 2005 5:36 pm

Poverty Up?
by Thomas E. Brewton
19 September 2005

The “poverty rate” and the “income gap” are repeatedly-used weapons in the liberals’ social-justice arsenal.

Socialism is rooted in the belief that only secular and material factors matter. Spiritual religion is brushed aside as a relic of past ignorance. Liberal-socialists instead place their faith in Karl Marx’s dictum that human nature is a Darwinian, evolving thing that responds via natural selection to external conditions. Thus, said Marx, men’s and women’s natures are merely the product of government regulations and the conditions in which they earn their livings.

Parenthetically, with respect to “evolving” human nature, anyone reading the Bible’s Old Testament from ca. 3,500 years ago, as well as all of the archaeological records from Egypt of roughly 5,000 years ago (along with all other records of ancient civilizations) will see that people’s intelligence, attitudes, ambitions, and modes of dealing with each other have changed not one bit.

Ignoring historical fact and relying on Marx and Darwin, liberal-socialist are confident that intellectual planners can create in their minds, then successfully implement via regulatory fiat, a perfect society of social justice, which is defined as one in which income and assets are nearly equally distributed and all of society’s goods and services are available to anyone who needs them, in whatever quantity is desired.

This has repeatedly proved to be a fairy tale, and worse, a prescription for the savage liquidation of tens of millions of dissidents in France, Soviet Russia, and National Socialist Germany, who stood in the way of liberal Progress.

Nonetheless, supremely immune to empirical reality, American liberals continue to push the idea that lawlessness of the sort we witnessed in New Orleans after Katrina would disappear if only the heartless and selfish conservatives would rescind tax cuts and increase welfare benefits. The measure of social justice is income equality, therefore liberal-socialists must continually claim that poverty and the income gap are getting worse,

To “prove” their point, liberal media regularly trot out, at least once a year, statistics that show poverty growing and the income gap between top and bottom widening into a yawning canyon. These “news” stories are simply Big Lies in the great tradition of fellow socialist Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.

With regard to the “poverty rate,” last week's New York Times published an op-ed piece by Nicholas Eberstadt titled "Broken Yardstick." Mr. Eberstadt writes:

The most widely quoted federal statistic on deprivation and need in modern America is the “poverty rate” -- a measure tracking households with annual incomes below a “poverty threshold” established at the beginning of the Johnson administration’s “war on poverty” in the 1960’s and adjusted over time for inflation. According to the latest poverty rate estimates -- released by the Census Bureau on Aug. 30 -- the total percentage of Americans living in poverty was higher in 2004 (12.7 percent) than in 1974 (11.2 percent). According to that same report, poverty rates for American families and children were likewise higher last year than three decades earlier....

The profound flaws in our officially calculated poverty rate are revealed by its very intimation that the poverty situation in America was “better” in 1974 than it is today. Those of us of a certain age remember the year 1974 -- in all its recession-plagued, “stagflation"-burdened glory. But even the most basic facts bearing on poverty alleviation confute the proposition that material circumstances in America are harsher for the vulnerable today than three decades ago. Per capita income adjusted for inflation is over 60 percent higher today than in 1974. The unemployment rate is lower, and the percentage of adults with paying jobs is distinctly higher. Thirty years ago, the proportion of adults without a high school diploma was more than twice as high as today (39 percent versus 16 percent). And antipoverty spending is vastly higher today than in 1974, even after inflation adjustments.

In the face of such evidence, what do you call an indicator that stubbornly insists that the percentage of Americans below a fixed poverty threshold has increased? How about “a broken compass?”

The soundings from the poverty rate are further belied by information on actual living standards for low-income Americans. In 1972-73, for example, just 42 percent of the bottom fifth of American households owned a car; in 2003, almost three-quarters of “poverty households” had one. By 2001, only 6 percent of “poverty households” lived in “crowded” homes (more than one person per room) -- down from 26 percent in 1970. By 2003, the fraction of poverty households with central air-conditioning (45 percent) was much higher than the 1980 level for the non-poor (29 percent).

With regard to the “income gap,” as I wrote in "Marxian Class Warfare: The Income Gap:"

Second, as my friend Ray Justus observes, the income gap has widened since the 1960s because of President Johnson’s liberal-socialist Great Society welfare-entitlements programs. The Great Society produced an explosion of illegitimate births and single-parent families. Incomes in families living on welfare payments will inevitably fall behind income levels of people in families where one or more people work full time. The Great Society also produced an explosion of crime, drug abuse, and the rapid spread of AIDS, all of which result in disproportionate numbers of dysfunctional individuals whose incomes will permanently lag those of working people.

Third, as Alan Reynolds writes in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal editorial page, statistics supporting the socialist income-gap analyses have been used with deceptive selectivity. He writes:

"Major newspapers are in the throes of Mobility Mania: who “makes it” in America, and why; who doesn’t, and why not. This newspaper [the Wall Street Journal] began a series last week titled “Challenges to the American Dream.” The New York Times followed suit with a multiparter on “Class in America,” which aims to disparage the notion that the U.S. is a land of opportunity by claiming that “new research on mobility, the movement of families up and down the economic ladder, shows there is far less of it than economists once thought and less than most people believe.

"Yet the scholarship commonly cited in support of such assertions -- new research by Gary Solon of the University of Michigan, David I. Levine of Berkeley, and Bhashkar Mazumder of the Chicago Fed, among others -- says no such thing.

"....The discovery that something has not changed, or might have moved imperceptibly in either direction, would not normally be considered front-page news. But income distribution is an agenda-driven ideological fixation that frequently impairs journalistic judgment. To fully understand this non-news about unchanged class mobility, it helps to focus on a few reasons why some people earn more than others -- they work harder, and have more experience and/or more schooling."