RUSH: David Brooks in the New York Times today gives out his annual Sidney Awards, and there’s an interesting little passage. You know, we talk about capitalism, socialism, big government socialism and poverty on this program quite a bit, and it’s always been interesting to me that no matter what we do to resolve poverty, the percentages of people who remain in poverty are consistent. Ever since the “War on Poverty” began, which was 1965, the number of people expressed as a percentage in poverty doesn’t change. However, their lifestyles have, measurably. Listen to the details here. Brooks here quotes Nicholas Eberstadt, who had a piece recently in the policy review magazine called “The Mismeasure of Poverty.”
He goes back and looks at how the poverty rate is calculated, and he finds that it is “based on idiosyncratic assumptions about how the economy and family budgets worked in ’65.” In other words, the way we calculated and defined poverty when we started the war on poverty has not changed in the last 41 years. We still calculate poverty in the same static fashion that we always have. He then observes two realities that are masked by our current statistics. “One is heartening and one is disheartening. The first is that people living under the poverty line are materially much better off than they were three decades ago. The people who live below the poverty line today live in much bigger homes. Three-quarters of the people who live below the poverty line own at least one motor vehicle. They spend roughly twice as much as they report as income, and not because they’re going into debt.
“In general, poor people today,” and this is the money statistic here: “[P]oor people today live at about the same standard of living as middle-class people did in this country in the 1960s.” Now, what’s the negative aspect of this that Mr. Eberstadt found? “They live with great insecurity. In fact, relatively few people live permanently in poverty but nearly a third of the US population dips into poverty from time to time,” and this is true of every income quintile. If you break income down into five levels, five categories called quintiles and put people in them, you’ll find people move in and out of those quintiles over the course of their lives, families and individuals routinely, and yet to many on the left and Democrats, life’s a zero-sum game.
“You’re born to poverty; you’re stuck in poverty,” which is why they for the longest time advocated abortion in the case of poverty. “Why, who would want to bring a child into the world in abject poverty stricken conditions?” which prompted people like me to go out and look at all the great achievers in the world who were born to poverty. Most people are, in fact, in the course of human history, most people have been born into circumstances that you and I clearly would consider to be poverty stricken. That wasn’t a reason, but people are never what — you get a tax cut, that means government gets less revenue. It’s just the exact opposite. They think the pie never gets bigger, and only the rich are getting an increasingly bigger share of the pie.
It’s not true in any fashion. In fact, Alan Reynolds in the Wall Street Journal today has an interesting piece on that as well, which I will get to later on in the program. Milton Friedman had a great quote on poverty. He said, “If you pay people to be poor, you will have a lot of poor people.” This can be born out in actual experience. If you build a homeless shelter or a food kitchen in a neighborhood, ask any beat cop, the place will be overrun inside of a three or four-day period, when there weren’t people there before. You start giving it away, you’ll have a lot of people taking it, and if you start paying people to be poor, you will have a lot of poor people. For some people it’s easier to not have to do much, to accept very little rather than go out and work hard, be industrious to try to prosper. It’s just human nature, and this has always been the argument I have used to establish the fact that conservative is the ultimate ideology of compassion, because it is the one that trusts people, has confidence in people, doesn’t view people with a condescending contempt, and wants the very best for people. We conservatives understand that that’s brought about by people acting in their own self-interests, which is not selfishness.