Speaking of the bottom 50% looking within…

…Walter Williams does just that in his latest column, Dependency, Not Poverty.

A snippet:

No one can blame a person if he starts out in life poor, because how one starts out is not his fault. If he stays poor, he is to blame because it is his fault. Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior.

Since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, the nation has spent about $18 trillion at the federal, state and local levels of government on programs justified by the “need” to deal with some aspect of poverty. In a column of mine in 1995, I pointed out that at that time, the nation had spent $5.4 trillion on the War on Poverty, and with that princely sum, “you could purchase every U.S. factory, all manufacturing equipment, and every office building. With what’s left over, one could buy every airline, trucking company and our commercial maritime fleet. If you’re still in the shopping mood, you could also buy every television, radio and power company, plus every retail and wholesale store in the entire nation” (http://tinyurl.com/kmhy6es). Today’s total of $18 trillion spent on poverty means you could purchase everything produced in our country each year and then some.

There’s very little guts in the political arena to address the basic causes of poverty. To do so risks being labeled as racist, sexist, uncaring and insensitive. That means today’s dependency is likely to become permanent.


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10 thoughts on “Speaking of the bottom 50% looking within…

  1. I wonder what the cost is in terms of goods and services that weren’t produced because of the incentives to not work created by the Democrat’s war on poverty programs.

  2. “There’s very little guts in the political arena”

    I think Walter Williams could have ended this sentence right there. It seems to me that the representative voting system might have, at least initially, been set up to promote courage among our representatives. They could work several years, make gutsy decisions, and stand on principle without having to worry that a fickle voting public will withdraw their mandate. But as this blog has discussed before, outcomes rarely accurately reflect intentions in the political arena.

    • There are arguments for and against term limits. Perhaps the best and most often used argument AGAINST term limits is that it’s in the best interest of the country to have incumbents in Congress who understand the logistics of the system so that the entire Congress doesn’t waste time learning the system all over again every election cycle. I light of the overwhelming arguments FOR term limits, I think this is a self-serving argument.

      Unfortunately, career and long-term politicians have repeatedly demonstrated not just a tendency, but a pattern, of using their office for their own personal gain at the expense of the taxpayers (and I mean the actual taxpayers, not the voters). The problem isn’t simply confined to abuses WHILE they are in office, but extends to their abuse of the system so that they can profit once they are out of office by acting as lobbyists and consultants to sort through the mire they created while they were in office.

      While term limits would solve part of this problem, it would not adequately address the latter abuse – former politicians who benefit financially by hiring themselves out in the private sector to help companies deal with the mess the politicians created while in the government sector.

      I would rather have Congress’ hands tied up figuring out the logistics of how things work – and doing nothing – than interfering with the private sector with their endless cycle of “solving” problems that government created while attempting to “solve” issue that really weren’t problems at all.

      One issue I am still trying to sort through is this dilemma: While term limits would give many politicians the courage to make gutsy decisions, not worrying about the consequences in terms of re-election, this could work both ways. As opposed to term limits, a lifetime term – as in the SCOTUS – also removes this “restraint” of having to worry about re-election enabling and encouraging judges to make what are sometimes “gutsy” decisions. We all know how that worked out with Justice Roberts and Obamacare! Given the judicial activism of liberal judges who ring it their “duty” to make or invent laws rather than to uphold them, perhaps it is time to re-consider lifetime appointments.

      • I think not having incumbents is a feature, not a bug.

        Taleb suggested in “Antifragiliy” that anybody who takes a job with the public sector (I believe elected or not), should never be allowed to make more than what the highest paid job in the public sector pays.

        Steven Landsburg suggested that elected officials should represent people based on the first letter of their last name, instead of geographies that can be gerrymandered. Of course, last names can be changed also. I wonder if that would be gerrynaming.

        Sowell has suggested paying elected officials to attract a better sort. I believe Kling or Boudreaux recently pointed out that if the ratio of represented to elected official has stayed constant from the beginning, we’d have thousands of Congressmen and 250 states.

        As for Roberts, that may have been judicial activism. But, I think in this case he put it back on the people. I think he basically said, if you’re dumb enough to keep voting for these nimrods, you deserve it. If you don’t want Obamacare, vote differently.

        • Hi Seth –

          In your second paragraph, I believe the second “public” should be “private”.

          In reference to Roberts’ deference to the people, you may be correct. However, his job as a judge was to uphold the law, not punt. There are sins of omission and sins of commission. If provisions of Obamacare were unconstitutional, Roberts’ duty was to declare them so. Instead (if your assumption is correct), what he said (in essence) was “it’s unconstitutional, but because a tyrannical majority has decided to inflict it upon a minority, I’ll defer to the tyrannical majority”. Protecting the rights of the individual, e.g. the members of the minority, is an essential – perhaps THE essential – role of the SCOTUS. Roberts failed to rise to the occasion. History will judge him harshly.

          • “Public” is right. So, if you ever take a public job, you essentially give up your right to be paid a lot in the private sector (especially being paid to grease the machinery of government for that private party). Of course, I think this would be tough to enforce. But, I think it’s an interesting thought. Maybe another option would be to have them pay what they earned from the gov’t job back. Or, if any part of their job includes lobbying or contact with politicians for a private concern they be taxed at 100%.

            I agree with your Roberts assessment. It would be nice to live in a world where all Supreme Court Justices did the job as intended. While he was the swing vote, he wasn’t the only one who didn’t do his job.

            But, I understand not wanting to be remembered as the ‘one guy who stood in the way of what the whole country wanted’ and also the intention that sometimes letting the country get what they think they want is the best way to teach them that they are wrong.

          • Sorry, this is out of order.

            Maybe I missed something, but…….taken out of context, it doesn’t make much sense. Unless it is clarified that Taleb means “once they return to the private sector”, one may assume that the job being described is still in the public sector. As such it would be impossible for me to take a job in the public sector making more than the highest paid job in the public sector. By definition, I can never make MORE than what I actually make. Therefore, if I have the highest paid job in the public sector, I can never make MORE than myself.

            One problem with Taleb’s plan is that it ignores the fact that many of these buys retire young on government pensions and get the pension plus the new salary. From a practical standpoint, it would be impossible to prevent former pols/govt employees from working at any job in the private sector.

            I think a big part of the problem is that most of the laws and regulations that lend themselves to this type of behavior are laws and regs that involve the government being involved in areas where (you and I probably feel that) the government has no business being involved.

            If a majority of the country today voted to enslave all blacks or deny blacks the right to vote, would Roberts use the same logic to go along with it? If all US voters except one voted to deny Seth the right to vote, would Roberts be justified in going along with it? The fundamental principles behind our constitution – the Bill of Rights – were essentially INDIVIDUAL rights, those that protected individuals (and by extension minorities) from the tyranny of the majority, i.e. a majority couldn’t deprive an individual of his or her “inalienable” rights. Roberts duty entailed NOT teaching people a lesson, but protecting the rights of individuals in the minority. The reason for a supreme court is not to reinforce the will of the majority, but to ensure that the majority does not violate the constitutional rights of the minority.

  3. Since we’ve sidetracked to the discussion about the political arena, here’s a recent comment from the Obama administration in response to concerns about his political picks for diplomatic posts:

    “I would encourage people to give those who have had tougher hearings a chance to go to their countries and see what their tenure will entail,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday. “And the judgment can’t be made about how effective they’ll be or how appreciated they’ll be by the government until we have that happen.”

    Haven’t we heard this before? Oh, yeah. Here’s the clip:


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