Friday, August 1, 2014

Conservative Conventional Wisdom: The Poors Are Lazy and Immoral, Need Daddy.

Daddy Brooks
Oh boy. It's bad enough religion-driven Ross Douthat trumpets social decay as the cause of God's wrath on the poor, but now colleague David Brooks insists on getting into the game. Not that this is Brooks' first foray into "Father Knows Best," but so close on Paul Ryan and Tyler Cowen's paternalistic pap, Brooks comes off in full me-too-ism mode with his latest excuse for NYTimes-level punditry. I know it's hard out there for a conservative pimp, but please, spare me the moralism. No? Okay I must condemn you, Brooks. Here's the lede for your latest (seriously, he wrote this):
Nearly every parent on earth operates on the assumption that character matters a lot to the life outcomes of their children. Nearly every government antipoverty program operates on the assumption that it doesn’t.
Good grief. Parents good, antipoverty programs bad! Why? Read on:
It’s easy to understand why policy makers would skirt the issue of character. Nobody wants to be seen blaming the victim — spreading the calumny that the poor are that way because they don’t love their children enough, or don’t have good values. Furthermore, most sensible people wonder if government can do anything to alter character anyway.
The problem is that policies that ignore character and behavior have produced disappointing results. Social research over the last decade or so has reinforced the point that would have been self-evident in any other era — that if you can’t help people become more resilient, conscientious or prudent, then all the cash transfers in the world will not produce permanent benefits.
Daddy Ryan
The gist of Brooks' column mirrors Paul Ryan's new bullshit poverty morality play he's trotted out to show he's compassionate. Is not. Am too! Is not. Am too! Read of his plan and weep:
Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released a detailed anti-poverty proposal in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. One of Ryan's top prescriptions seems to have been influenced by his previous career as a personal trainer. He has proposed that recipients of federal benefits get the services of a personal case manager who would help them craft long-term plans, find "opportunities for growth," and nudge them to make better choices that would lift them out of poverty and off the government dole.
I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation about how much this might cost. Just for people on food stamps, the federal government would need about 700,000 social workers, to the tune of around $30 billion. On Wednesday, Ryan appeared at a press briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor and fielded questions about his plan, including several about the potential cost of his caseworker proposal.
Daddy Salam
Of course, Rep. Ryan demurred. Costing things out is hecka hard for this policy wonk. But he loves the paternalism part. Paternalism is easy! In fact, Reihan Salam of Slate thinks it's a feature, not a bug:
The cheapest and easiest thing that governments can do to improve the lot of poor people is to give them more money. Government can get a lot of things wrong, but it’s generally pretty good at mailing people checks or zapping money to their EBT cards. Giving people money really does make them better-off: It’s better to have more money to buy groceries and other basic necessities than less. But getting more money from the government doesn’t really make you less poor.
....The most controversial idea in Ryan’s anti-poverty plan, at least as it stands right now, is that poor families should work with government agencies or approved nonprofit or for-profit service providers to develop a plan for achieving economic independence.
... People with low or no earnings, in contrast, face diverse obstacles. Some need short-term help to, say, fix their car, which will allow them to commute to work, or to make a deposit on a rental apartment. Others don’t have the skills they need to earn enough to support themselves and, for whatever reason, will have a very hard time acquiring them. Sure, you could give both kinds of people food stamps and call it a day. Or you could recognize that one-size-fits-all programs don’t do justice to the ways in which individual circumstances vary.
So there you have it. Conservatives who hate the nanny state now want one if Daddy gets to tell the poor what they've got to do to keep getting help. Please don't ask me how they'll pay for it. Paying for it is not important to them. Why? Because they don't intend to do any of this. It's just campaign bullshit. See, we love the poor, and we're going help them if they stop taking drugs and drinking gallons of soda all day while watching their big-screen TVs while talking to their friends on the cell phones. Losers!

Daddy Cowen
I must again point to conservative libertarian Tyler Cowen of George Mason University. He is thinking right up Brooks', Ryan's, and Salam's alley with his "the poor should just find a hard-ass religion to follow so they won't drink, smoke, or gamble so they live a life worthy of our helping them." What a jerk. Says Cowen:
Note that the observed stagnation in earnings has plagued male earners, not women. Women continue to do better in the work force and also in education, or if they choose not to advance this is often a voluntary decision, linked to childbearing.

Men are perhaps better suited for old-style manufacturing jobs, and women are often better suited for service sector jobs. A lot of men seem to have problems with discipline and conscientiousness.

If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot — how about Mormonism for a start? Just look at the data. Many other religions prohibit or severely limit alcohol, drugs and gambling. That said, this has to happen privately rather than as a matter of state policy.
I guess poppa's got a brand new bag, and that would be getting all in the face of the poor. For their own good, mind you. Conservatives are weird. I was going to say make them stop, but we can't. It's what they do when they're pretending to care about the poor, when what they really want to do is cut taxes and give the money to the rich -- who, of course, is who they think they are or, at any rate, should become. Because it's their destiny!

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