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Poverty Eliminated — But Not According to the Feds

In the New York Post yesterday, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation published a column that proved important–and maddening.  Rector’s argument consists, essentially, of two points:

1.  The United States of America has accomplished something unknown in all human history: the elimination of poverty. Even below the poverty line, Rector notes,

The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day in the previous year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.

In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV.

In this country, in short, poverty — poverty as understood throughout human history; poverty as material want; poverty as hunger and homelessness — poverty has been, simply, eliminated.

Has the government responded by ending programs that are no longer needed? Of course not.  Which brings us to Rector’s second point.

2.  The federal government has now redefined poverty.  

While the old poverty measure counted absolute purchasing power (how much steak and potatoes you can buy), the new measure counts comparative purchasing power (how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people)….

The goal of fighting poverty…has been covertly shifted to equalizing incomes or “spreading the wealth.”

Divorced from actual living conditions, the new government report on “poverty” is merely…[a] tool for expanding the welfare state.

The virtual elimination of hunger and homelessness — this represents one of the signal achievements of all time. And now it’s being used to distort and undermine the very free markets that made it possible.

Elections matter, darn it, and this is the sort of thing that happens when we lose.

  1. Matthew K. Tabor

    liberal jim, at the least, GWB didn’t take steps to further classify those below the poverty line as victims — such as redefining their income relative to others instead of what that income allowed them to do in their life.

  2. Spin

    Well said Peter, well said.  But as lj has pointed out, it’s Bush’s fault.  

  3. Misthiocracy

    Peter, can you please provide a link to Mr. Rector’s article?

    I know, I know, I could just Google it myself.

    It’s the principle of the thing.

    ;-)

  4. BlueAnt

    By definition, there will always be a lowest 10% of income earners/wealth holders.  Are they trying to ignore basic math, too?

    Or we could accuse them of ignoring a higher power who gently informed us of the same thing…

  5. Matthew K. Tabor

    Misthiocracy and others — this report from Heritage (summer, 2011) has enough grist to burn out your mill.

    Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?
  6. DocJay
    liberal jim: What may I ask did your hero GWB do in eight years to correct the problem?  Yes elections do matter, as long as a Republican or Democrat is elected this nonsense will continue.  To pretend that corrupt government policies are a single party problem is fundamentally dishonest.    · 25 minutes ago

    Yes, the GOP is partly infected with the disease pervasive in the democrats.  It’s all getting worse anyway while the government gains strength.  Nothing short of collapse corrects this although Romney would have given us a couple of decades of prosperity before it fell apart simply by not being the economic illiterate Manchurian  socialist tyrant that Obama is.   GWB was about 50% of the idiot Obama is and his surrounding staff was not filled with commies.   Romney would have been about 25% and had enough business acumen to actually realize there is an issue the printing press cannot solve.

  7. David Williamson

    Poverty has been eliminated by the printing of money – how did that work out for the Wiemar Republic? 

  8. George Savage

    The new scheme replaces an actual definition of poverty with a market segmentation exercise used to define key Obama voters.  The political point is to create a permanent 51% coalition susceptible to the class warfare nostrums deployed so successfully in the recent election. 

    Consider:  were real incomes to double for the poorest Americans but triple for the richest, the official Obamanomics poverty rate would increase.  However, if Great Depression 2 finally arrives, reducing  income for the poorest by one-third but halving the take of the richest:  Congratulations! your president just reduced the poverty rate.

    As Mrs. Thatcher presciently remarked in her farewell speech to the British Parliament in 1990, the president and his supporters would rather the poor were poorer provided the rich were less rich.

  9. The King Prawn

    Government measures itself in the same way as McDonalds…number of burgers served, not in the effect of those burgers.

    mcd.jpg

    Remember, it’s just $1.99…from some rich guy who really deserves to pay for it.

  10. Underground Conservative

    Somebody just argued with me that though poor people have microwaves, those types of items are a requirement for the modern age. You cannot count that as a luxury item, but rather, a basic right. (To be honest, those are my words, but that’s largely what he meant)  So if a person has a microwave, air conditioning, and a high-speed internet connection, then he is still poor because others have more.

    Let’s face it, there’s a bell curve for just about everything in life. That means there will always be a bottom 10% no matter how rich the society gets. But does the 10% need more? When is “good enough” good enough?

  11. Instugator
    Peter Robinson: The virtual elimination of hunger and homelessness — this represents one of the signal achievements of all time. And now it’s being used to distort and undermine the very free markets that made it possible.

    Not necessararily homelessness, although that is dealt with quite well in Clayton Cramer’s book, My Brother Ron.

    However, if homelessness is still a problem, death due to exposure is not (less than 3000 people per year) based on data I researched via the CDC.

    If you would like to pat yourself on the back however, you can proudly point to Ricochet as having identified and discussed these very topics nearly a year ago, here and here.

  12. Matthew K. Tabor

    Instugator — I’m glad you pointed out the old hatness. Had to be said.

    We’re all in near-agreement about what this is and what it means. The important thing is “Now what?”

  13. Instugator
    Matthew K. Tabor:Instugator — I’m glad you pointed out the old hatness. Had to be said.

    We’re all in near-agreement about what this is and what it means. The important thing is “Now what?” · 1 minute ago

    Thanks Matthew.

    I was going to sit down one day with the Census data and try to see that while the traditional measures of poverty are backward looking (they are based on what things cost in previous years) they do not vary (in a statistical sense) from the income level of the lowest sextile (16.6%) of the population. I have never gotten around to it, however.

  14. Schrodinger

    Microwave ovens, TV and other “basic rights” will be worth little when electricity is not available except for a few hour a day. That  is the future under the new regime in DC.

    Poverty by any standard is coming in the future.

  15. Valiuth

    Here is the problem. People do not measure their status based on what some one in the past has. They determine it by comparing themselves to others. We always feel better when we know someone is worse of than us and feel bad when we see some one is better off. The grass is always greener somewhere and we are at least doing better than the neighbors. 

    Dave: “When is good enough, good enough?” I might ask you when have you made enough money? Cuts both ways. There is never a limit to human desire. As the Buddha teaches us though the source of suffering is Desire. I think he nailed that one on the head. This is why the very wise have always tried to teach people to wrestle with desire and to avoid it as much as possible. Contentment never really comes from the things we have, and being Content is what people need. 

    Of course while we may realize this is true, Contentment can also come to us when we have more things too. 

    “If money is a disease, may God strike me down with it that I never recover.”

  16. Misthiocracy
    Valiuth: Here is the problem. People do not measure their status based on what some one in the past has. They determine it by comparing themselves to others. We always feel better when we know someone is worse of than us and feel bad when we see some one is better off. The grass is always greener somewhere and we are at least doing better than the neighbors. 

    Dave: “When is good enough, good enough?” I might ask you when have you made enough money? Cuts both ways. There is never a limit to human desire. As the Buddha teaches us though the source of suffering is Desire. I think he nailed that one on the head. This is why the very wise have always tried to teach people to wrestle with desire and to avoid it as much as possible. 

    And that’s the problem with socialist “anti-poverty” thinking.  It encourages people to increase their desire, regardless of their actual economic position, rather than to be content.

    It teaches that envy, gluttony, and covetousness are all virtues.  

    It actually encourages people to keep up with the joneses, and to make sure that nobody ever has greener grass.

  17. Patrickb63

    Relax folks.  We’re only 3 or 4 years away from the kind of grinding poverty that was seen in the 30′s.  Then all of the poor today will know that in 2012 they were rich.  The American electorate has spoken.  They want free everything, and won’t be happy until the rich have been forced to turn over their property to pay for the freebies being handed out.  When the wealth is all distributed evenly, and no one is working because you can’t get ahead that way, then we will all lose the wealth we had previously gained, and hard times will come knocking at the door again.  

  18. Misthiocracy
    Patrickb63: Relax folks.  We’re only 3 or 4 years away from the kind of grinding poverty that was seen in the 30′s.  Then all of the poor today will know that in 2012 they were rich. 

    Did the poor in 1936 know that they were rich in 1928?

    If they didn’t vote for a return to pre-New Deal policies in 1936, why would they vote for a return to pre-Obama policies in 2016?

  19. John Walker

    If you define poverty as, say, the bottom quintile, you will always have poverty no matter how high the mean or median standard of living rises.  When those in the bottom quintile routinely spend their vacations on the moons of Neptune, fans of redistribution will decry quadrillionaires and quintillionaires taking their atomic space yachts off to α Centauri.

    The most delightful thing about a relative measure of poverty to those who turn envy into electoral success is that no matter how prosperous the society becomes, it is never enough.

  20. flownover

    I was impressed when I saw that article in the NYPost as well, it sets things out in the new relativism. You know, the age of “60 is the new 40″ and “Black is the new navy blue ” kind of snap silliness that belies boomer insecurities. 

    Moving the goalposts makes some statisticians feel better, but it’s all about the benjamins in vote town. I think Liberal Jim was off on his critique of Bush, he neglected the racist aspects of your arguments totally. After all, ” racism is the old Bushism” and ” hate is the new blase disinterest “.

    Shame on you Peter , don’t leave out the warp , it’s not all weft weft weft (Marsha Marsha Marsha ) all the time at Ricochet ! 

    And Liberal Jim, cast your stones at the NY Times before tossing around in the lounge here.

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