Tag: Poverty

Resolved: It Is Immoral to Pursue Extravagant Wealth


800px-3D_Judges_GavelLeah Libresco is one of the most interesting writers in the blogosphere. After graduating from Yale with a degree in mathematics, she matriculated into the real world. She started a blog on the Patheos atheist channel that shot to the top of the charts. Libresco was quickly hired by the Huffington Post. She rose to prominence because of her unique way of arguing for the atheist position.

After several years of challenging believers with tough questions, Libresco shocked the blogosphere with her conversion to Catholicism. She now runs the blog Unequally Yoked and writes at FiveThirtyEight. She runs the podcast Fights in Good Faith for Real Life Radio.

I came across a review of her new book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer, at the American Conservative, and was captivated by the reviewer’s explanation of her quirky and sometimes flat-out weird theological point of view. My curiosity thus piqued, I visited Libresco’s blog, then made my way over to her podcasts, where I found the May 2 edition: What Duties Come with Wealth. It was great fun!

On Innovation, Redistribution, and the ‘Veil of Ignorance’


IndianSlum_Flickr_8_3_2015-e1438616049740What kind of society would you desire if you had to enter it cold, sight unseen? The classic example: What would have been the opinion of antebellum slaveholders if there were an equal chance they would enter society as a slave owner or a slave? The “veil of ignorance” is a common philosophical thought experiment for helping determine the ethics of social arrangements or of an optimal social contract. More to the point today, what sort of modern welfare state would you want if you had an equal chance of possessing the sort of innate skills likely to gain you a high income in a particular society as of not having those skills? You might, perhaps, want a social contract that includes income transfers from high skill to low skill. A social contract with social insurance. But an interesting new paper out of the Minnesota Fed by V. V. Chari and Christopher Phelan wonders about incentive effects:

For instance, policy mechanisms that transfer income from highly skilled people to those with low innate skills frequently require progressive income taxes. Such policies affect incentives regarding the acquisition of skills through effort and education. If high incomes are highly taxed, high-innate-skills individuals may have less incentive to get, say, a medical degree. Economic arrangements seen as best using the behind-the-veil criterion typically trade off such output losses against the “insurance” or welfare gains associated with transfers. … A rich-country policy to tax high incomes will redistribute income (within that country) from those with high innate abilities (and, by assumption, with the ability to become highly skilled) to those with lower innate abilities. In so doing, that policy will reduce inequality within the rich country, but it will also create disincentives there to becoming highly skilled and thereby reduce the global supply of skilled workers. This reduced supply of skilled workers from the developed country then reduces opportunities for young workers in the poor country to become skilled. … We conclude that using the behind-the-veil-of-ignorance criterion to advocate for redistributive policies within developed countries while ignoring the effect of these policies on people in poor countries violates the criterion itself and is therefore fundamentally misguided.

Take the issue of trade. Many free trade opponents in advanced economies point out the economic impact on low-skill workers from having to compete with counterparts in emerging economies. But maybe this should count, too, as Chari and Phelan explain: “According to a World Bank Study, in the three decades between 1981 and 2010, the rate of extreme poverty in the developing world (subsisting on less than $1.25 per day) has gone down from more than one out of every two citizens to roughly one out of every five, all while the population of the developing world increased by 59 percent. This reduction in extreme poverty represents the single greatest decrease in material human deprivation in history.”

The Problem In The Pronouns


self-absorption-and-bipolar-disorder-300x199As a theologically liberal clergy person, I receive a lot of drivel masked as thoughtful, contemporary writing addressing the most urgent issue of our day: How can we make life better for nice, middle-class white people? These things come with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, and are often written by black people, but they are really about white folk (and people “passing for white,” which I think includes people like Condi and Ben?)

Two big clues to who these missives are for, and what they’re really about: Pronouns. Also: verbs.

As a representative example, I offer the following, penned by Amira Sakallah and presented courtesy of the Theology of Ferguson project. “Ferguson,” you will recall, is the small city in Missouri where an 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a white police officer. This is important, because a) Michael Brown is dead; and b) it sparked huge demonstrations and riots that went on all year, and resulted in massive property damage and further loss of life. So: serious business! Something for the clerical-collar-clad social warrior to really sink her straight, white teeth into! The essay is called Being a Do-Gooder, Becoming a Freedom Fighter: BlackLivesMatter:

Clinton Deploys ‘They Hate You’ Strategy


HCTXHillary Clinton had one of the worst campaign rollouts in living memory. Her low-key (to the point of inaudibility) announcement video came in the midst of a months-long period of deeply damaging stories about her mania for secrecy (the private email server), which she indulged even at the expense of the law and national security, and her cavalier acceptance of favors in the form of donations to the Clinton Foundation.

As these stories mounted, Clinton seemed oddly disengaged. She neither answered questions nor attempted to change the subject. Some Republicans began to get smug. “She’s a terrible candidate,” they said (your humble columnist may even have let these words slip herself). “She doesn’t have the skills of her husband,” they said, even predicting that “This woman will never be president of the United States.”

This week, Mrs. Clinton demonstrated that Republicans should wipe the smiles off their faces. On Saturday, June 13, she’ll deliver a do-over of the announcement speech, and if it’s anything like the talk she delivered at Texas Southern University, it will be fierce and effective.

Third Class Temperament


ObamaLike cult members awaking to find their leader swigging gin and squirreling money into a Swiss bank account, liberals are rubbing their eyes in disbelief at President Obama’s behavior. The figure they worshipped so fervently and for so long is now revealed to be a “sexist” – at least according to National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill.

Her view is seconded by Senator Sherrod Brown (D., OH). They are upset about the president’s derisive treatment of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., MA), who committed a sin the president does not take kindly – she disagreed with him. For differing about the merits of the TPP trade deal, she got what everyone should already recognize as the Obama treatment – her views were caricatured and her motives were questioned. “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else.” Senator Brown thought the president’s use of Warren’s first name betokened sexism.

No, Senator Brown, that’s not sexism, that’s all-purpose disrespect. The president has been displaying the same condescension to world leaders, senate majority leaders, house speakers, and everyone else since first taking office. It was always “John” and “Harry” and “Hillary” – never Speaker Boehner, Leader Reid, or Secretary Clinton. It was “Angela” and “David,” not Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron. Can’t wait to see whether, when the Pope visits in September, the president refers to him as “Jorge.” There was one exception to this rule – Obama was at pains to refer to Iran’s Ali Khameini, who has never been elected to anything, as “Supreme Leader.”

Will Lord Keynes Save Lord Baltimore’s City?


Baltimore RiotsBaltimore was torn to bits last night. But according to the economic philosophy introduced by Lord John Maynard Keynes and espoused by the progressive elite across the world, this is great news for the city! Broken windows, burned cars, shattered lives. It’s as if the people of Baltimore have hit the Keynesian Powerball! The people will be swimming in prosperity any day now.

Nuts, right?

Of course it is. However, it’s exactly what Dr. Paul Krugman or any other Keynesian economists would order for the city. Baltimore, like many of the other cities that have recently suffered mass violence, has a poverty problem masquerading in the media as a race problem. Certainly there are huge issues to work on between the black community and local law enforcement, but the scene of individuals out rioting is an indication of a dearth of economic opportunity.

Here Comes Generation Katniss. What do They Believe?


042715katnissWikipedia tells me that “Generation K” refers to “the collective nickname given to a trio of young starting pitchers in the New York Mets organization in 1995.” Of course, “K” is baseball shorthand for a strikeout. But the next time you hear about “Generation K,” it will almost assuredly be pop-culture shorthand for “Generation Katniss,” the catchy demographic title given to girls ages 13 to 20 —  devised by British economist Noreena Hertz — assumed to be fans of Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen.

And what are political and policy impulses of Generation K? Hertz, who discussed her research at the Women in the World event last week, outlined some her findings in a recent Financial Times note:

They are concerned about existential threats. Sadly, their anxieties stretch way beyond the typical teenage anxieties. Seventy-five per cent of teenage girls I surveyed are worried about terrorism; 66 per cent worry about climate change; 50 per cent worry about Iran. They also worry inordinately about their own futures. Eighty-six per cent are worried about getting a job; 77 per cent about getting into debt. …  Only 4 per cent of Generation K girls trust big corporations to do the right thing (as opposed to 60 per cent of adults). Only one in 10 trusts the government to do the right thing — half the percentage of older millennials. …

Do Enterprise Zones Really Work to Lift Inner Cities?



“Enterprise zones” have an intuitive appeal. Flood a poor area with all sorts of aid to attract business. Create thriving little Hong Kongs in places of despair, particularly urban areas, through the miracle of free enterprise. Some folks, especially on the right, have suggested turning Detroit in a giant, low-tax enterprise zone. And President Obama has proposed his own version, “promise zones.” More from the San Francisco Fed:

Federal Empowerment Zones consist of relatively poor, high-unemployment Census tracts. They offer businesses tax credits of up to $3,000 per worker for hiring zone residents and (in the original zones) block grants of up to $100 million to be used for business assistance, infrastructure investment, and training programs. Benefits vary across state programs, but many also emphasize hiring credits.

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I know this is a bit late, but this is so good that I had to share.  I am sure that some of these same tired arguments will be brought up by lefties all over, the closer we to the election season.   Aside from systematically skewering Picketty, Leon Louw share a brilliant and illuminating […]

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Jason Riley’s Brilliant Take on Daniel Patrick Moynihan


Riley-JasonI’m late in coming to it, but in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month Jason Riley published an enormously powerful article marking the fiftieth anniversary of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report, “The Negro Family.”

“The fundamental problem is that of family structure,” wrote Moynihan, who had a doctorate in sociology. “The evidence—not final but powerfully persuasive—is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling….”

He goes on:

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How many of the world’s poorer nations benefit from the spending of affluent foreign tourists? How many economic opportunities surround each major attraction, from food and lodging to mementos and guided tours?  Perhaps this can be a form of charity with potential to “teach a man to fish” for widespread long-term benefits. How might Western powers […]

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The Looming Tower


4160892647_eb9b1e5052_zAbout ten years ago, I was moving from Los Angeles to Lexington, Kentucky. As one of my final stops before leaving, I visited two friends of mine at their apartment that Saturday night. Their place was in an enormous, sprawling complex with at least a hundred units and — as I recall — about three or four designated parking spots for guests. With those spots taken and no street parking available, I parked my car in the business lot across the street (which was, as I recall, a bank).

The three of us stayed up far too late and I’d had a few drinks. Given the hour, my slight inebriation, and the fact that their couch was at least as comfortable as the air mattress I’d been using since selling my bed, I asked if I could crash with them and was heartily told I should. The next morning, I woke at something resembling a reasonable hour — before 9AM, I believe — and went to collect my Jeep. As should surprise no one reading this, it’d been towed during the wee hours.

Getting it back proved an ordeal. If I remember correctly, I called the tow number posted in the lot and was told that I would not be able to pick up my Jeep, as the lot was closed to customers on Sunday (smart aleck comments regarding the lot apparently being open to towers did not aid my cause), and I was told that I could collect my Jeep on Monday after being charged a holder’s fee for its Sunday confinement. My subsequent effort to pay the tow lot employee in cash in exchange for my vehicle’s release was similarly fruitless. In all, it took $250 cash and multiple free — and much-appreciated — rides from my friends and roommate to ransom and restore my beloved Cherokee.

Fishtown on the Rio Grande


I leave at sunrise every morning for a 30-mile drive north from Santa Fe into a rural district of New Mexico tucked into the upper Rio Grande valley. I try to time my departure to coincide with a specific moment when the horizontal rays of sunrise strike a natural cliff formation known as Las Barrancas. There, for one brief minute, the cliff face is revealed in all its contours like a mighty fortress brooding over the valley. The sudden contrast of light and shadow manifest in brief majesty before an angry sun turns the landscape into uniform baked adobe. 

I have a great deal of sympathy for the first governors of the province, who continually referred to the region in letters to the viceroy as “This Miserable Kingdom.” Spanish colonists fought material poverty on a daily basis as they clawed out an existence that was never better than mere subsistence.

A Response to Charles Murray —Majestyk


I want to start this post out by trying to establish my bona fides regarding the subject that I am about to talk about. I have seen a reasonably broad swath of socioeconomic status in my life. My parents started out as fairly typical, middle-class people. My mother’s family (from rural Green Bay, Wisconsin) were almost uniformly blue-collar (my grandfather failed to finish high school) while my father’s family (mostly college-educated) were landowners and timber barons in Idaho … but they ultimately lost it all.

Thus I certainly didn’t come from money, despite the fact that improvements in my father’s employment allowed him to purchase many nicer things for my younger sister than I had when I was her age. This is the nature of things.  There was a little bit of Fishtown and a little bit of Belmont in my upbringing. But there was never a hint of the negative stereotypes of Fishtown.

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In his 1758 work, “The Way to Wealth,” Benjamin Franklin wrote: “In short, the way to wealth, if you desire it is as plain as the way to market.  It depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality.”  In other words, if a person does not produce or does not save, he is likely to be poor.  Pointing this […]

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Poverty Is an Attitude


It’s been a difficult year for me in the classroom. I teach middle school in a rural district best known for having the highest rate of death by heroin overdose in the nation. I know that sounds grim, but the statistics are more suggestive than they are definitive. Drug addiction is a symptom rather than a cause of the community’s many problems. I’ve been forced to conclude by experience that poverty is an attitude.

Parental attitudes are unintentionally revealed by their progeny. Children have a distinct tendency to blurt out the truth because they lack an adult sense of discretion. When I hear one of my students say “I don’t care” when faced with disciplinary proceedings, I know the attitude comes from home. Such a statement is one part bravado and another part fatalism. I find it baffling, but some people simply cannot connect actions with consequences. When confronted after the fact, the usual explanation is “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” I can distill the condition down to one word:  impulsiveness. Such people lack a mechanism for self-regulation.

A Conservative Approach to Poverty


The issue of poverty is one that we conservatives don’t spend much time addressing. For many of us, our religious faith convicts us to volunteer our time, skills, and financial resources toward alleviating poverty in our neighborhoods. As the pastor of my church in San Francisco often says, “We as a church are to make such a difference in this city, that if they kicked us out, they’d have to raise taxes.” It’s a beautiful mission statement, and one I am pleased to support, but when you look at how widespread poverty is– in 2009, over 43 million Americans lived on the equivalent of $5,500 a year–you realize that the magnitude of the problem is far beyond anything we’re equipped to address. We can never do enough to help them.

The traditional liberal solution to poverty is redistribution. If we only take more from the greedy rich, and give it to the poor, the thinking goes, we can eradicate poverty. But almost 50 years since LBJ first declared war on poverty, in many respects we’re worse off than when we started. As a conservative, I am very cynical and skeptical about government social services because a) they are inefficient and fraught with waste and abuse; b) they are often ineffective, and beyond ineffective, they can be detrimental to the people they allege to help; and c) it’s hard not to see these programs as a political scheme intended to ensnare a permanent class of Democratic voters.