Tag: Dependency

Heritage Immigration Study and Government Spending

Conservative and libertarian scholars are clashing over the findings and political implications of the new Heritage Foundation immigration study. The study spans 92 pages and is jam-packed full of statistics and detailed calculations.

I’ll leave the immigration policy to my colleagues who are experts in that area. To me, the study provides a very useful exploration into how massive the American welfare state has become. Here are some highlights:

  • “There are over 80 of these [means-tested] programs which, at a cost of nearly $900 billion per year, provide cash, food, housing, medical, and other services to roughly 100 million low-income Americans.”
  • “The governmental system is highly redistributive … For example, in 2010, in the whole U.S. population, households with college-educated heads, on average, received $24,839 in government benefits while paying $54,089 in taxes … [and] households headed by persons without a high school degree, on average, received $46,582 in government benefits while paying only $11,469 in taxes.”
  • “Few lawmakers really understand the current size of government and the scope of redistribution. The fact that the average household gets $31,600 in government benefits each year is a shock.”

Total federal, state, and local government spending in 2010 was $5.4 trillion, or $44,932 per U.S. household. The figure of $31,600 in “benefits” is total spending less spending on public goods, interest, and government pensions.

A useful feature of the Heritage study is a breakdown of the $5.4 trillion in spending into six categories constructed by the authors. “Direct benefits” includes mainly Social Security and Medicare. “Pure public goods” includes programs such as defense and scientific research. “Population-based services” includes programs aimed at whole communities, such as police and highways. (Some of these also seem to be public goods). “Means-tested benefits” includes programs such as food stamps. Education includes both K-12 and college subsidies. “Interest and pensions” is the current costs of past spending, which includes servicing the debt and paying for government pensions. The chart shows spending in 2010.  

This spending breakdown is useful for thinking about the proper size of government. From a libertarian standpoint, governments ought to be spending only on public goods and population-based services, as a first cut. That would be $1.94 trillion, or just 36 percent of the current total of $5.4 trillion. As a percent of GDP in 2010, that would be spending of 14 percent, rather than current spending of 38 percent.

But some of the population-based services mentioned by the authors could be privatized, and spending on some of the public goods could be cut. So a good libertarian target might be less than 36 percent of current spending, or less than 14 percent of GDP.

The Heritage study is sparking a debate about what type of immigration reform the nation should have. But hopefully, it will also spur more discussion about the massive size of the American welfare state. Immigration is partly, or mainly, such a contentious issue because we have such a huge welfare state.

The study includes projections about how many trillions of dollars of government benefits will flow to immigrants and their children in the decades ahead. But conservatives and libertarians agree that we ought to cut trillions of dollars in benefits to immigrants and nonimmigrants alike.

So is there some common ground here? Can we work toward an immigration reform that cuts government dependency in general and downsizes the welfare state?

A Dan Mitchell Debate Fantasy

In this modern era where we’re all supposed to share our innermost thoughts, I’ve openly discussed my fantasies.

I confessed to the world, for instance, that I have a fantasy that involves about one-half of the adults in America. And I’ve also admitted to a fantasy involving Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Now I’m fantasizing about something new, and it’s all the fault of the Cato Institute. In a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, I have to watch tonight’s presidential debate in order to add my two cents to Cato’s live-blogging of the clash between Obama and Romney.

That got me thinking about some of my least-favorite episodes from past debates, and this moment from 1992 is high on my list (I had to watch that debate because my then-wife worked for the Bush Administration and I had to offer some insincere moral support).

The clip is a bit over three minutes, but it will only take a minute or so to see why this was such an unpleasant segment.

Here’s my latest fantasy. If there’s a similar question tonight, I hope either Romney or Obama gives the following response:

I’m not your daddy and you’re not my child. I’m running to be the President of the United States in order to oversee the legitimate executive branch responsibilities of the federal government. And I hope to reduce the burden of government to give you opportunities, not to take care of your needs. You’re an able-bodied adult. Take responsibility for your own life and provide for your own needs.

But I don’t expect my fantasy to get fulfilled. If a question like this is asked, both Obama and Romney almost surely will express sympathy and support.

The good news is that there have been a few politicians in American’s history who have been willing to say the right thing. Here’s a quote from Barry Goldwater that warms my heart.

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. … I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

The bad news is that he got his you-know-what kicked in the 1964 election.

On the other hand, America did elect a president who said during his inauguration that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

And a 2011 poll showed that Americans—unlike their European counterparts—do not believe it is government’s job to guarantee that “nobody is in need.”

In other words, Julia, the fictional moocher woman created by the Obama campaign, is not representative of America. At least not yet.

You’ve Met Julia the Moocher, Now Meet Emily

The Obama campaign’s “Life of Julia” ad is a disturbing sign. It suggests that political strategists, pollsters, and campaign advisers must think that the people living off government are getting to the point where they can out-vote the people paying for government.

If that’s true, America is doomed to become another Greece - which would be an appropriate fate since, for all intents and purposes, Julia is the fictional twin of a real-life Greek woman who thought it was government’s job to give her things.

In general, I think the best response to Julia is mockery, which is why I shared this Iowahawk parody and this Ramirez cartoon.

But we also need a serious discussion of why dependency is a bad thing, which is why I’m glad the Center for Freedom and Prosperity has produced this new “Economics 101” video.

It’s narrated by Emily O’Neill, who contrasts the moocher mentality of Julia with how she wants her life to develop. To give away the message, she wants the kind of fulfillment that only exists when you earn things.

Emily’s view could be considered Randian libertarianism, conventional conservatism, or both. That’s because there’s a common moral belief in both philosophies that government-imposed coercion and redistribution erode the social capital of a people.

This is perhaps the key issue for America’s future, which is why I hope you’ll share this video widely. Otherwise, we my face a future where this Chuck Asay cartoon becomes reality. Speaking of Asay, this cartoon is a pretty good summary of what the Julia ad is really saying.

U.S. Offers to Defend Afghanistan Indefinitely, Afghanistan Accepts

The U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership framework agreed to on Sunday extends America’s presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 in a desperate attempt to stave off disaster. The pact allows policymakers to perpetuate our military involvement despite assurances that we are withdrawing. Social and economic development programs will also continue with limited gains. The United States intends to nation-build on the cheap, ensuring Afghanistan remains reliant on the Untied States for basic funding and security long into the future.

The pact itself—which was not released—appears to eschew the difficult issues surrounding the exact number of U.S. troops, U.S. bases, and U.S. military aid to Afghan security forces. The estimated cost of training between 230,000-350,000 Afghan soldiers and police could be between $4-6 billion a year, not including the cost of keeping upwards of 20,000 U.S. trainers in the field, which could cost upwards of $15-20 billion (approx. $1 million per soldier). The Afghan government only collects about $2 billion a year in revenue. This does not put Afghanistan on a path to sustainable self-sufficiency, but makes it increasingly dependent on foreign patronage, as it has been for much of its turbulent history. Moreover, while Afghan forces are supposed to take over responsibility of the country, in some insular areas they are despised at least as much as the Taliban.

As the coalition draws down, we can expect more attacks on international compounds and overextended coalition supply lines. Militants get a vote. And for the foreseeable future, Afghanistan will remain a geopolitical battleground, with power split between an internationally backed Western regime and a Pakistan- and Gulf-backed hydra-headed insurgency.

Although Lashkar-e-Taiba and other al Qaeda-linked groups operate in the region, when it comes to capturing and killing terrorists—not indigenous militants—targeted counter-terrorism measures are more effective than expansive counterinsurgency campaigns. With this pact, policymakers are pushing for an open-ended nation-building mission by another name.

New Video Shows the War on Poverty Is a Failure

The Center for Freedom and Prosperity has released another “Economics 101” video, and this one has a very powerful message about the federal government’s so-called War on Poverty.

As explained by Hadley Heath of the Independent Women’s Forum, the various income redistribution schemes being imposed by Washington are bad for taxpayers – and bad for poor people.

The video has a plethora of useful information, but the data on the poverty rate is particularly compelling. Prior to the War on Poverty, the United States was getting more prosperous with each passing year and there were dramatic reductions in the level of destitution.

But once the federal government got involved in the mid-1960s, the good news evaporated. Indeed, the poverty rate has basically stagnated for the past 40-plus years, usually hovering around 13 percent depending on economic conditions.

Another remarkable finding in the video is that poor people in America rarely suffer from material deprivation. Indeed, they have wide access to consumer goods that used to be considered luxuries - and they also have more housing space than the average European (and with Europe falling apart, the comparisons presumably will become even more noteworthy).

The most important message of the video, however, is that small government and economic freedom are the best answers for poverty. As Hadley explains, poor people can be liberated to live meaningful, self-reliant lives if we can reduce the heavy burden of the federal government.

Last but not least, the video doesn’t address every issue in great detail, and there are three additional points that should be added to any discussion of poverty.

  1. The biggest beneficiaries of the current system are the army of bureaucrats that receive very comfortable salaries administering various programs.
  2. The Obama Administration is looking to re-define poverty in a way that would expand the welfare state and increase the burden of redistribution programs.
  3. The welfare reform legislation of the 1990s was a small step in the right direction because it eliminated a federal entitlement and shifted responsibility back to the state level. This success story should be replicated for programs such as Medicaid.

This last point is worth emphasizing because it is also one of the core messages of the video. The federal government has done a terrible job dealing with poverty. The time has come to get Washington out of the racket of income redistribution.

Dramatic Increase in Poverty Rate: One Small Step for Obama, One Giant Step for the So-Called War on Poverty

The Census Bureau has just released the 2010 poverty numbers, and the new data is terrible.

There are now a record number of poor people in America, and the poverty rate has jumped to 15.1 percent.

But I don’t really blame President Obama for these grim numbers. Yes, he’s increased the burden of government, which doubtlessly has hindered the economy’s performance and made things worse, but the White House crowd legitimately can argue that they inherited a crummy situation.

What’s really striking, if we look at the chart, is that the poverty rate in America was steadily declining. But then, once President Lyndon Johnson started a “War on Poverty,” that progress came to a halt.

As I’ve explained before, the so-called War on Poverty has undermined economic progress by trapping people in lives of dependency. And this certainly is consistent with the data in the chart, which show that the poverty rate no longer is falling and instead bumps around between 12 percent and 15 percent.

This is bad news for poor people, of course, but it’s also bad news for taxpayers. The federal government, which shouldn’t have any role in the field of income redistribution, has squandered trillions of dollars on dozens of means-tested programs. And they’ve arguably made matters worse.

By the way, just in case you think I’m being too easy on Obama, read this post about how the Administration is considering a terrible plan to re-define poverty in order to justify ever-larger amounts of redistribution.

I fully agree that the president’s policies definitely have made—and will continue to make—matters worse. But the fundamental problem is 40-plus years of a misguided “War on Poverty” by the federal government.

English Riots, Moral Relativism, Gun Control, and the Welfare State

I wrote earlier this year about the connection between a morally corrupt welfare state and the riots in the United Kingdom.

But what’s happening now is not just some left-wing punks engaging in political street theater. Instead, the UK is dealing with a bigger problem of societal decay caused in part by a government’s failure to fulfill one of its few legitimate functions: protection of property.

To make matters worse, the political class has disarmed law-abiding people, thus exacerbating the risks. These two photos are a pretty good summary of what this means. On the left, we have Korean entrepreneurs using guns to defend themselves from murdering thugs during the 1992 LA riots. On the right, we have Turkish entrepreneurs reduced to using their fists (and some hidden knives, I hope) to protect themselves in London.

Which group do you think has a better chance of surviving when things spiral out of control? When the welfare state collapses, will the Koreans or the Turks be in a better position to protect themselves? And what does it say about the morality of a political class that wants innocent people to be vulnerable when bad government policies lead to chaos?

Speaking of chaos, let’s look at the “root causes” of the riots and looting in the United Kingdom.

Allister Heath is the editor of City A.M. in London, and normally I follow his economic insights, but his analysis of the turmoil is superb as well. Here’s an excerpt. But as Instapundit likes to say, read the whole article.

Debilitating, widespread fear. The country held to ransom by feckless youths. Thousands of shocked Londoners cowering in their homes, with many shops, banks and offices shutting early. …It no longer feels as if we live in a civilised country. The cause of the riots is the looters; opportunistic, greedy, arrogant and amoral young criminals who believe that they have the right to steal, burn and destroy other people’s property. There were no extenuating circumstances, no excuses. …decades of failed social, educational, family and microeconomic policies, which means that a large chunk of the UK has become alienated from mainstream society, culturally impoverished, bereft of role models, permanently workless and trapped and dependent on welfare or the shadow economy. For this the establishment and the dominant politically correct ideology are to blame: they deemed it acceptable to permanently chuck welfare money… Criminals need to fear the possibility and consequence of arrest; if they do not, they suddenly realise that the emperor has no clothes. At some point, something was bound to happen to trigger both these forces and for consumerist thugs to let themselves loose on innocent bystanders. …the argument made by some that the riots were “caused” or “provoked” by cuts, university fees or unemployment is wrong-headed. …the state will spend 50.1 per cent of GDP this year; state spending has still been rising by 2 per cent year on year in cash terms. It has never been as high as it is today – in fact, it is squeezing out private sector growth and hence reducing opportunities and jobs. …This wasn’t a political protest, it was thievery. …We need to see New York style zero tolerance policing, with all offences, however minor, prosecuted. But what matters right now is to regain control, to stamp out the violence and to arrest, prosecute and jail as many thugs as possible. The law-abiding mainstream majority feels that it has been abandoned and betrayed by the establishment and is very, very angry.