We Get the Poor Children We Don’t Pay for

Matt BruenigMatt Bruenig has some simple advice regarding one of our most pressing national issues, Want to Fight Poverty? Expand Welfare. Always Expand Welfare. It is, in part, a response to a common liberal solution to fighting poverty: limiting the poor. The arguments goes something like this, “Give the poor birth control and they will have fewer kids.” In short: enact policy to make contraception affordable, but not to make having children affordable. Sadly, the only reason that liberals can get away with making this argument is because conservatives make the argument that not only should we do nothing to make having children affordable, we should not even make contraception affordable.

But why is it that American liberals so often want to “fight” poverty by spending less on it. It’s not like these people make the argument that if more poor people used birth control there would be more money for those who didn’t. Ultimately, I think it is all about control. Liberals — just like conservatives — want to control the poor. The theory is that the poor can’t manage their own lives, but as I’ve noted here many times, the rich are only successful because they get a great start and then are never allowed to fail.

We have a lot of poor people in the United States. And why that is so is pretty obvious from two graphs that Bruenig presents. They both involve all the advanced economies — and a number of not so advanced economies like Hungary and the Slovak Republic. And it turns out that we have the highest child poverty rates of them all except for Greece (which is only slightly higher, and Turkey. We have twice the rate of child poverty of Germany and the United Kingdom. And a staggering 7 times the rate in Finland. Which reminds me:

But even more amazing is just how little we spend on this kind of welfare. Bruenig’s second graph shows spending on public family benefits as a percentage of GDP. We spend 0.7%. The next lowest spending country is Portugal, which spends almost twice as much: 1.2%. Germany spends 2.2%; Finland, 3.2%; and the UK, 4.0% — almost 6 times as much. The only country that spends less is Turkey, which spends nothing at all — and results in almost a third of its children living in poverty, so I don’t think we need to give that model a lot of thought. Bruenig noted, “How an American liberal looks at this sort of graph and concludes that what we should be targeting is lower welfare outlays is beyond me.”

I think it all comes down to how neoliberalism has infected the Democratic Party. As I point out all the time, it wasn’t a Republican who ended welfare as we know it. The whole basis of it was that the thing that the poor really needed was a good kick in the butt. And there was also this idea that I find so revolting that it’s great for rich women to stay home and raise the kids but poor women need the “dignity” of working outside the home. Fundamentally, the problem is that a large fraction of American liberals have given up on liberalism.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

8 thoughts on “We Get the Poor Children We Don’t Pay for

  1. That may be why there are hints of people pushing for a basic living stipend and/or a beginning sum received at eighteen like I think Tom Paine once mentioned. The thing is that it has to be given to everyone so the vast majority of people will support and fight for it. For those who pay some attention, it is pretty obvious that broad based non-means tested programs do okay politically. Of course not passable in this current political climate but eventually it will be if Clinton or Sanders is smarter than Obama was and puts someone who knows how to actually manage a national state legislature campaign in charge of the DNC.

    • Elizabeth — an odd thing is that a minimum income was actually floated by Nixon. It has massive economic benefits. But it’s politically impossible now.

      Conservatives like to paint Reagan as the master of explaining small-government, free-market principles. He was really the master of selling the notion that every penny spent on the poor is wasted, since it all goes to Black people, who are worthless by default. Even though spending on poor people — even, egads, Black people — has vastly more economic benefit to our society (ignoring the moral benefits, which are incalculably enormous) than diverting tax dollars to companies making unusable giant scary bombs.

      • Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of interest in the GMI among libertarians, apparently because they like being able to get rid of the patchwork of welfare programs. But when it came down to it, most of them would balk.

        I quite agree: welfare is under assault because we are a racist nation. And Reagan was brilliant at exploiting that. So was Nixon, of course.

    • Indeed: Agrarian Justice. Thomas Paine was a radical.

      I don’t think that it is the lack of means testing that has kept Social Security and Medicare safe. I think it is that it is a benefit that is given out to a big voting block. So a GMI would be fine if it were received by a lot of people who consistently vote.

        • In this situation, hopelessness and complicity are kind of the same. I wonder how student loans would work differently if young people voted at high levels?

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