Fair is fair: Kindergarten and the American Dream

Kindergarten showcases many basic principles which most of us learn there or at our parents’ knees:  take turns, share the toys, fair is fair, and so on.  Later on, “fair is fair” gets refined in many ways, one of which is “you get what you earn”.  You reap what you sow.  Hard work earns success.  Rags to Riches.  Horatio Alger.  We cherish this belief so strongly that it has a Title in Capital Letters :

The American Dream.

To an extent, all of this is true.  Work longer hours, or a better job, and holding all else equal, you’ll have more money at the end.

To an extent, it’s not true.  You can be brilliantly successful today and quadriplegic tomorrow, courtesy of a drunk driver or the rot in the basement stairs.

In an open thread awhile back, I pointed this out. (edited slightly for clarity):

Fundamentally, the assumption behind the American rags-to-riches ideal is meritocracy; everyone starts out equal and gets what they earn based on merit.

But that’s a legal fiction. It’s not true. American society is not a meritocracy. In fact, measuring by social mobility, it’s less of a meritocracy than many other Western nations. Americans, and especially “Conservative” Americans, don’t want to pay the price of a real meritocracy.

If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for universal health care for children. What is merit-based about a child receiving healthcare, or not, on the basis of whether her parents have work with benefits or oodles of money?

If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for a very large inheritance tax, even a 100% tax. What’s merit-based about getting money for free from parents whom you could not choose?

If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for health care for people who were injured through no fault of their own, like a passenger in a train which crashes. What’s merit-based about losing your hard-earned life-savings because a conductor was texting while driving?

We could come up with examples all day. Conservative Americans advocate against all of these things (and so do many “Liberal” Americans). They want to call it a meritocracy, and they want everyone to buy into that notion, while at the same time passing along every unfair advantage they can to their children.

I love my children, and I want them to do well, and have access to opportunity. But I want them to have it because everyone has it, not because resources are limited, I happen to have more, and I actively worked toward kneecapping the people who have less.

It’s all well and good to advocate for whatever you want: no inheritance tax, reduced public funding of education, minimal public funding of healthcare, etc ad nauseum. But if you do, you can’t then honestly turn around and say, “Our system is awesome because it’s not a lottery.”

It’s a lottery. Humans can’t control or compensate for everything, so to some extent it will always be a lottery. But there are plenty of ways in which we could make it LESS of a lottery, and we don’t do them, and then we praise ourselves for living in the land of opportunity.

And that’s hypocrisy.

Such was the force of my reasoning that our resident libertarians and/or conservatives were stunned speechless; my comment stands to this day as the pinnacle of that open thread, the very summit of its many achievements, the ne plus ultra of commentary on conservative political thought.

That’s right.  No one dared to reply.

More recently, Susan applied some magnification:

But let’s talk about vulnerable people. For example. Old people (which increasingly means anyone over 40) who need to buy health insurance on their own usually cannot afford it. This means, among many other things, that enterprising 45 year olds who would like to start businesses (remember, small businesses are responsible for the majority of job growth) cannot do that because they cannot afford health insurance on their own string if there is anything at all (including a hangnail) wrong with them or with anyone in their family. (Hint: don’t dispute me on the facts here, I really do know what I am talking about.) This is OK? This is hurting the economy big time, and I can prove it.

Then, the hopelessly disabled. You’d cut them off without public support? Good luck to them? Nice guy. They should have families to take care of them? What if they don’t, they should just die and get out of the way?

The 85 year old woman who took care of her family all her years, her husband is dead, no pension from the bankrupt former employer? Her only son died in a car accident? She’s just out of luck?

joe then pointed out that delving into her point would take the thread off-topic, and she agreed and dropped it.

I would like to explore her point, so I’m creating this thread to do it in.

Would anyone care to answer Susan’s questions?

Would anyone care to argue that the policies which conservatives advocate do, in fact, make the American social system more meritocratic and not less?

If there are no replies to this one, I’ll be forced to conclude that Robert, RonF, and others are saying to themselves, “Well, damn.  She’s right.  Can’t argue with that one.  Best pretend we didn’t see it and move on.”

Grace

This entry posted in Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Conservative zaniness, right-wingers, etc., Disabled Rights & Issues, Education, Elections and politics, Social Security, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 

198 Responses to Fair is fair: Kindergarten and the American Dream

  1. 101
    Susan says:

    The first part seems reasonable but is all about the methods. Both liberals and conservatives want fewer starving people….but liberals would say “give them food, money, and education so they won’t starve” while conservatives would say “tell them to have fewer kids, so they can feed more of the ones they have without our help.”

    OK. But I’m perhaps a little confused.

    First, isn’t it the Right who want to restrict access to abortion (and maybe contraception if they think they can get away with it)? How does work with “have fewer kids”?

    Second, I’m unclear on how this addresses the SSI/mental illness problem.

    Now, schizophrenia for example, so far as we can tell, occurs at a relatively fixed percentage in all human populations. (About 2%, I’ve read, but I’m subject to correction on the precise number from those more learned.) So if we have fewer people overall, we’ll have fewer schizophrenics. (Also, fewer geniuses, but oh well.)

    Is it your understanding, G-n-W, that what conservatives really want is fewer people overall? There’s certainly an argument for that position, but I didn’t understand the Right to be making it. I’m willing to learn, however.

    Second, if there are fewer hopeless schizophrenics because there are fewer people total, that doesn’t really address the problem, it seems to me. There are fewer people needing aid, in an absolute sense, but there are fewer people to take care of them too, so it feels to me like we’ve ended up where we started.

    In the meantime there are the now-living schizophrenics who were born before (before what? what would the Right suggest?) whatever, who still need to be taken care of (or we can just let them die in full view?).

    If the conservatives have some formula by which fewer disabled people will be born per 10,000 births (also less intractable cancer, also less Altzheimer’s, also whatever), do tell! do tell!

    Everyone wants that. If the Right has some ideas here (better prenatal nutrition? no, they oppose that…), I think there would be broad support, I think they could win elections!! I might even vote for them, and I’m a die-hard liberal!

    What does not persuade me, however, is an argument to the tune of, well there should be fewer hopelessly disabled people, so we’ll cut off support and then there will be fewer disabled people because they all died, see! how clever!

    If only because I have to live in a city while all this happens right in front of me. Ugh I’m just trying to get to work.

  2. 102
    Elusis says:

    “tell them to have fewer kids, so they can feed more of the ones they have without our help.”

    So what’s supposed to happen to them right now? The people, and their kids, exist already.

  3. 103
    lauren says:

    I know this is not the point of this thread, but please: could we stop with the casual ableism? Not all people with schizophrenia are dependent on aid. Not all people with schizophrenia are unable to work (especially if the have medication-which they then pay for themselves). Stop using schizophrenia as if it were an illness that affected all people the same, and made all of them completely dependent on aid.

    In the same vein, the term “hopelessly disabled” is also really ableist. No disability automatically causes a hopeless situation for the person who has that disability. It is the fact that we have set up our society to treat certain levels of ability as the norm, and to refuse accomodation to those who have a different level, that can make the situation hopeless.

    Which actually brings me back to the topic, somewhat: as far as I can tell, conservatives seem really opposed to the idea of accomodations, especially mandatory ones. They tend to complain about “special rights”. But what accomodations actually are, is an attempt at leveling the playing field, at giving people with disabilities the same access that people without disabilities already have. A person not in a wheelchair has access to the library because society has decided that stairs are generally necessary. Mandatory wheelchair ramps only try to make up for the fact that society is built around assumtions of ability that exclude people- it is a measure of securing equal rights, not special ones.

    How do opponents of accomodation justify the fact that they are fighting against (slightly more) equal access to opportunities when they are always saying they want equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes (paraphrasing an argument I have seen around here several times)

  4. 104
    Susan says:

    lauren, please to join the crowd of people on this thread who are off-topic.

    Not all schizophrenics are unable to support themselves. But many are. Congratulations to those who can support themselves, it’s probably not unalloyed virtue, their disease may be less severe than some others. Or maybe they’re heroes, whatever. Most people aren’t.

    Are you arguing that the schizophrenics who are not able to meet this standard should somehow haul themselves up by their bootstraps anyway and get jobs? The people I am talking about here are so sick that no accommodation would allow them to be gainfully employed. There are such people, you know. It is not “abelist” to acknowledge that.

    There is such a thing as hopeless disability because of mental illness. (Hopeless without divine intervention.) What happens to those so afflicted?

    The lazy slackers, they should be cut off, because some others might be able to make it under some circumstances?

    (Also, as I understand them, perhaps wrongly, the Right is not exactly in favor of accommodations for disability either. Many of them opposed ramps for wheelchairs for cryingoutloud.)

  5. 105
    lauren says:

    Wow, way to not read what I actually wrote. I did not say anywhere that people who are unabe to support themselves should not be supported. I merely said that using one disease- any disease- as the example made over and over and over again for people who can not support themselves, was ableist in not aknowlegeing differences. Nowhere did I say anything about the worth of people who can not support themselves.

    I also didn’t say that there aren’t people who are in hopeless situations because they are disabled- I just said that most of the time, the hopelessness is caused by how society excludes them, not the disability itself. Which is not an arguement against assistance, btw. Society has, in my view, a responsibility for those who suffer because they are excluded out of what society has deemed “the norm”.

    And for the biggest misreading: I said myself that conservatives are often opposed to accomodation, and that I find this not only appalling, I think it is also another example of them saying they value meritocracy but opposing policies that would actually help us get there- that’s why I myself brought up their opposition to accomodations like wheelchair ramps and asked how they explained that.

    You seem to have mistaken me for a conservative who criticises some posters’ choices of examples or words (and my first comment was about the thread in general, not any particular poster) in order to distract from the fact that I can not answer your question. This is not at all true. I find conservative politics appalling from a social justice point of view. I am absolutely opposed to reducing support programs. I am not arguing against you.

    I had enjoyed reading this thread, exept for the repeated use of “schizophrenia” as a handy example for “all those people who will be ruined without aid”. I did not assume any malice on the parts of those who used it as such, but wanted to point out that it made otherwise great arguments hard to read for people who might be triggered by ableism, or who do not like to hear their loved ones talked about in such a manner (“we all agree that it would be good to have less people with schizophrenia” sounds pretty bad when you know how people have tried to make that happen in the past, even if you also know that noone on this thread would support any of those measures”).

    I thought this was a progressive site which was trying to be inclusive. The fact that pointing out a possible problem with a choice of example and with phrasing caused this response, which is apperently based on a refusal to read my actual post, is disheartening. If you had read my post completely, you would have seen that I was making a contributing argument to your side of the discussion.

  6. 106
    Susan says:

    Sorry, lauren, I’m not trying to insult anyone. I have schizophrenics in my own family. If the Right is advocating lining such people up and shooting them, I’d appreciate it if they came right out and said so. So far as I can tell, the policies they are advocating are just short of that.

    I wasn’t trying to make a medical diagnosis. I was talking about people who because of undeserved mental illness are unable to care for themselves, whatever accommodations are or are not available. Some of them are schizophrenics. Some are bi-polar. Some are autistic. Some of them we don’t have a label for. So what?

    You object to my terminology. (I was challenged by the other side to get specific, so when I do, someone else is offended by my specific example.)

    I contend that there actually are such people, whatever you want to call them. Perhaps there might be fewer if the marginal cases got some help, but accommodations can only go so far. My argument was going somewhere else than saying that I’m condemning all “schizophrenics” or something.

    Honestly, it’s very difficult to say anything here that doesn’t offend someone. If I point out that there are hopelessly disabled schizophrenics, you rush in to tell me that some schizophrenics aren’t hopelessly disabled, and say that I’m “ablelist.” (I don’t even honestly know what that means.)

    Maybe true (how can I tell?), but not to the point. People who can support themselves are presumably doing so. I was dealing with people who cannot.

    I find conservative politics appalling from a social justice point of view. I am absolutely opposed to reducing support programs. I am not arguing against you.

    So we agree after all, even if you don’t like the way I say it. I’m glad to hear it.

    While you and I are bickering over here, there is a notable silence from the conservative members of this forum about just what they would recommend.

  7. 107
    Mandolin says:

    OK, let’s let that subthread go here. Lauren, if you feel your concerns have not been fully addressed, please go to an open thread.

  8. 108
    Susan says:

    @Elusis 102

    That’s really a huge part of my point. Maybe there “should be” (whatever that means) fewer helpless people. (Nothing would please me more!) Maybe the Right has some ideas about how to bring that about in the future. (Hooray, let’s hear it!! Humanity has been waiting for thousands of years!!)

    Let’s assume, contrary to history and good sense, that the Right has an answer which will totally eliminate the birth of helpless people in the future. (Or, some miraculous cure, who knows??) But that still leaves the question of what to do for the helpless people we have already? (And what about people who were OK at birth and then got hit by a truck?)

    Unless I seriously misunderstand Ms. Bachmann, and I am totally open to (footnoted) correction here, the answer is nothing. They should die, we should die, as they and we certainly will, and get out of the way.

    And for those of us who are “temporarily able-bodied” right now, after the truck runs into us and crushes us and we are out of money? Love to hear the answer!!

    Please please you on the right, contradict me, with specifics and footnotes. That’s you, Robert, that’s you, Ron. Thank you.

  9. 109
    Susan says:

    Libertarianism: the fit survive. The not-fit die and get out of the way.

    It has a certain brutal logic.

  10. 110
    Grace Annam says:

    gin-and-whiskey:

    Can I speak for conservatives here?

    Sure, speak for ’em. It’s not like they’re in danger of speaking up themselves, apparently.

    … conservatives would say “tell them to have fewer kids, so they can feed more of the ones they have without our help.”

    I am reminded of a group of people I view very sympathetically: the spouses of transsexuals. (Bear with me.) When trans people get married, they are sometimes in complete denial, or think they have it under control, or think that marriage to this wonderful person will save them, or simply did not have the vocabulary and framework to understand the whole trans thing. Often, we get married with the best of intentions, just like cis couples. (I’m setting aside the jerks, and they do exist.) Then, when the trans issue rears its head in a way that cannot be denied, the spouse is in a pickle: she (flipped a coin for the gender) is not attracted to women and wants an active sexual life within her marriage. She cannot become a lesbian, any more than any of us can choose our sexual orientation. She has a choice: remain in an asexual marriage for the sake of love (possibly with sex elsewhere if the marriage will work that way) or get divorced from the person she loves. It’s a very rough choice and she’s completely not to blame. One of the most poignant things I’ve ever read are the accounts of spouses who say, quite reasonably, “I just want my husband back.”

    ConservativesUnrealistic conservatives, it seems to me, are in a similar situation: they don’t like any of their options. It’s a good deal less poignant, though, because clearly there’s no love involved. But all they want is to be able to turn the clock back to where they can fix what went wrong, and is that so wrong?

    Many people who aren’t unrealistic-conservatives don’t like their options, either, but many of them are willing to weigh the existing possibilities and pick one, instead of lamenting that the world is not as it should be.

    So, in the real world, where the children are already born, and the people already are dealing with debilitating PTSD, or heroin addiction, or treatable schizophrenia, or any of the many debilitating slings-and-arrows that life can throw at temporarily-abled human beings, I’d be interested to hear conservative solutions which would apply to the situation as it is now, in the near term. I’m not interested in answers which talk about what we shouldn’t do (except as part of the rationale for an answer containing what we should do). I’m interested, for present purposes, in answers which could be implemented in, say, the next year or so, not in answers which require us to re-write society, the Constitution, etc.

    Grace

    [edited because grammar]

  11. 111
    Susan says:

    So, in the real world, where the children are already born, and the people already are dealing with debilitating PTSD, or heroin addiction, or treatable schizophrenia, or any of the many debilitating slings-and-arrows that life can throw at temporarily-abled human beings, I’d be interested to hear conservative solutions which would apply to the situation as it is now, in the near term. I’m not interested in answers which talk about what we shouldn’t do (except as part of the rationale for an answer containing what we should do). I’m interested, for present purposes, in answers which could be implemented in, say, the next year or so, not in answers which require us to re-write society, the Constitution, etc.

    Fabulous post Grace, you said it much better than I could or did.

    Reality is so screwed. You know? We have these super-inconvenient people around who cannot support themselves, and it’s not their fault. I mean, how great if everything were as great as our utopians (right and left) want it to be, but it isn’t, so what now? And any one of us, including conservatives, might be one of their number at any time, you don’t necessarily get advance notice!

    And we can’t wait for the Second Coming (or, the First Coming, as you wish). We have this imperative as a society to try to solve these messy problems in the messy present, instead of waiting for the [Second] [First] [Coming], the [Triumph of Science so We Don’t Have Injuries or Problems] or [The Miraculous Solution of Your Choice].

    (Or but maybe we don’t. Maybe these folks are thinking “it can’t happen to me” and so….the heck with everyone else.” So…too bad for those Other Folks To Whom Bad Things Happen? Are these people really that dumb? It passes belief.)

    So, political persons, what’s the strategy? Do we abandon the helpless? Have you thought this through? (The hopeless schizophrenic dies on your doorstep. You’re in a catastrophic auto crash, no one in your family can take care of you (they were in the car too and they died), and you die on your former doorstep.) This is OK with you? Survival of the fittest or something? Come clean here, we’re all ears!

    Do conservatives have solutions to these unavoidable problems? Please please do tell!!

    To learn. That was the point of my whole original post.

    “Can I speak for conservatives here?

    “Sure, speak for ‘em. It’s not like they’re in danger of speaking up themselves, apparently.”

    Grace, you are the best.

  12. 112
    Elusis says:

    Susan, if you don’t know what ableism is, it would be really helpful if you’d go look it up instead of just throwing up your hands.

    You showed it on the thread where you declared “shrinks” (a term I’m heartily sick of) “crazy” and it’s all over this thread.

  13. 113
    lauren says:

    Thank you, Elusis.

    I could not find the open thread, but mods, please tell me where it is or copy this over there:

    I find it saddening that an attempt to point out language and arguments that are problematic because of ableism is treated as if it were nothing but an attempt to derail a thread. They are not. The ableism (from several commenters, my comment was not directed at any one specific poster) was making it very difficult for me to follow this thread. Not because I was “offended”, but because I find it painfull. Other people, who have been hurt by ableism themselves, many more severly than me, probably feel the same. It is off putting and makes people feel unwelcome- which is not helping when the goal is to create a discussion. Why create an atmosphere that drives away people who could contribute to the conversation- people who are affected by this question directly?

    Trying to make it possible for more people to contribute to a debate, by making the atmosphere less unintentionally hostile to them, is not a derail.

    I don’t think, and didn’t say, that the people who are being ableist are doing so intentionally. Ableism is a very wide spread problem. I struggle with my own. I thought something progressives shared was a desire to do better. So I decided to speak up, and was instantly labled as a conservative, simply because I critizised something that was also (but not only) done by progressives in this thread. This jump from “critizises me-> must be a political opponent” was so big that it completely went against everything I had actually written.

    I also really don’t appreciate being labled as “bickering”. It is belittling of me and my concerns. As is putting ableist in scarequotes, as if it were a term I just made up because I was offended.

    The whole response had a very clear tone of “you are getting offended over nothing when we should be talking about important things”. It is especially sad when reactions like these come from fellow progressives. I agree that this is an important question to ask- that’s why I read the thread. But I think it is a question that can be asked and discussed without all the ableism. And trying to avoid ableism doesn’t make arguments weaker, it makes them better, just like making sure to avoid sexism, racism and homophobia in our arguments makes them better.

  14. 114
    Grace Annam says:

    Mandolin:

    OK, let’s let that subthread go here. Lauren, if you feel your concerns have not been fully addressed, please go to an open thread.

    You outrank me here, and I’ll follow your lead if you feel strongly about this. But actually I’m okay with letting this digression run for at least a few exchanges. The topic at hand has been hashed out, and there has been a pretty clear lack of straightforward response.

    Susan:

    and say that I’m “ablelist.” (I don’t even honestly know what that means.)

    Susan, I put “ableism” into Google, and this was the first hit:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ableism

    Worth a read. As a big fan of diversity for diversity’s sake, I especially like the last sentence in the third paragraph:

    The ableist worldview holds that disability is an error, a mistake, or a failing, rather than a simple consequence of human diversity, akin to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender.

    I know from experience that it’s a barrier to participation for people when other commenters use terms which they experience as caustic, even when it’s a simple error. It’s worse when the person points it out and is rebuffed or ignored. It happened to me on a recent circumcision thread here at Alas. Several commenters changed their language, which I appreciated very much (thanks, Amp, Richard, and others), and one didn’t. It did not prompt me to pay closer attention to that latter one’s points.

    So, when I read lauren made her point, I sat back and did some thinking about whether I had contributed to what she was saying. I went back through my posts to see if there was something I needed to change, going forward. All of this was invisible to lauren, but I hope that it will manifest in my writing and other interactions.

    Also, some of the most usual responses to ableism, as with racism and homophobia, are, “But I have a family member who is ” and “But I have a friend who is “. By itself, that doesn’t prove much, and so it’s probably best avoided, as a response.

    Lauren:

    I went to the top of the page and put [open thread] in the search field. The most recent hit I got was this:

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2011/07/01/open-thread-worlds-best-reaper-edition/

    I think your points would be worth making there, too, for what it’s worth.

    This thread has been occasionally frustrating for Susan and me, because people, and particularly the target audience, keep on insisting on talking about everything except a straightforward answer to Susan’s question. So Susan may have been riding that frustration a bit in her response to your raising a point which struck her as yet another distraction from the topic we’ve been trying to keep at hand.

    I agree with you that some of the terms we have used could have been better chosen. However, I also think it was clear in context that Susan was not talking about all schizophrenic people, and was focusing strictly on those who cannot work and love without help from others (like monitored medication). She focused on that sub-group of schizophrenic people in an effort to highlight a specific example, but she could as easily have chosen quadriplegic people (an example I used) or any number of other groups of people.

    Perhaps what we need here is a locally-defined acronym so that we can use a careful phrase to specify whom we’re talking about. Something like “People Blamelessly Unable To Keep Themselves From Harm Without Aid”: PBUTKTFHWA.

    Or perhaps not. No doubt someone can improve on that.

    Problem is, we basically said that, and some commenters focused immediately on people who could theoretically have acted to avoid their circumstances, so we had to get Very Specific.

    And then they stopped commenting. Which, as we’ve noted, is telling, even though they don’t want it to be.

    Grace

  15. 115
    RonF says:

    And then they stopped commenting. Which, as we’ve noted, is telling, even though they don’t want it to be.

    I have a job. I also have some non-employment related committments (family, Scouting, church) that take up a lot of my time. Sometimes I can blog a lot, sometimes I’m off for days. This, although quite interesting, hit a “off for days” spot.

    Grace, I think that one of the things that qualify a society as “civilized” is that it assist those of it’s members who are unable to fend for themselves. Children, elderly, the disabled, etc. But I don’t think that opposing such is a “conservative” position. My understanding of the conservative position is that:

    a) Federal government action (and the word “Federal” is a necessary qualifier here) is not necessarily the best way to accomplish that.
    b) People who are not doing what they can to contribute to their own support do not deserve support from society.

    To the first point; private charity and other such efforts have their place and should be encouraged via government policy to provide as much support as possible. Where that fails, direct government intervention should be funded and regulated at as closely local a level as possible so that it is most directly accountable to the people who fund it. An examination of American history shows that even in the Colonial period there was public support of indigents, and that this was viewed as a legitimate function of government. But it was local, usually at the town or county level.

    To the second point: every person has the responsibility towards society to become as self-sufficient as possible. People who cannot help themselves should be strongly supported. People who will not help themselves should be left to their own devices. People who can help themselves but need help to do so should be given assistance not only for subsistence but with education, training, etc. to advance towards the goal of becoming self-sufficient, or as close to being self-sufficient as possible. My opinion is that if someone refuses to accept that goal and refuses to accept the responsibility towards putting forth their best effort to achieve it, they have broken the social compact and do not deserve society’s assistance.

    My local supermarket employs mentally disabled persons to bag your groceries and help you out to your car with it if you need such help. They do a good job. They are productive. They are paid market rate for that. It’s not enough to live on, so they get assistance. But they are doing what they can, and so in my mind have earned not just their paychecks but whatever assistance they need to live a decent life.

  16. 116
    lauren says:

    Heh. I went through six pages of blog history, yet totally failed to even consider that there might be a search function.

    And just to be clear: I am not accusing anyone of having ableist intentions, or looking down on people with schizophrenia. My problem was more with a general tone that made me feel very uncomfortable. For another example “we all think less people who are dependent on aid would be a good thing” is fine if it is talking about poor and/or unemployed people. It is painfull when it also includes people with disabilities that make them dependent on aid- precisely because of the part you qutod- There is nothing wrong with being disabled.

    Which brings me back to my original point, which got somewhat lost: a lot of people are dependent on aid not just through no fault of their own but as a direct results of the way we have chosen to organize our society.

    In the case of people with disabilities, this means that many of the problems – and the need for assistance- are often caused not by the disability, but by the way we (as a society) have chosen to set up some people as the norm and to exclude others.

    We were the ones who decided that we should communicate mostly by talking, so we have a duty to make up for the problems caused by that decision- by, for example, providing interpreters to Deaf/deaf people in court. We have decided that stairs should be the way to enter a building, so we have a duty to provide ramps and elevators to those who do not fit the random norm of “people should be able to climb stairs”. And failing to fullfill this duty can have very severe consequences- like, for example, making people dependant on financial aid. We caused it, we owe it to those people to fix it.

    And this is something that should be taken into consideration for other people who need aid as well. Not only are they often “innocent” of causing their dependency, often society and the way it is structured has caused the need itself. Just look at the way the financial marked breakdown has caused so much unemployment.

    So we need to provide aid- not only because it is the right thing to do and leaving people to suffer without help would be wrong, but because so often we (general we, obviously) were the ones who caused the need in the first place.

  17. 117
    Susan says:

    Excellent post, RonF (post 115), best answer yet, probably the best answer possible!! I can’t find anything here to disagree with!!

    The devil, of course, is in the details, and as I have noted above, no human system is free from fraud and abuse (or ever will be) but localism does have the advantage of allowing close supervision of the distribution of money. (I think there’s a technical term for this….subsidiarity or something?…but I don’t have time to look it up right now. Please forgive. I think everyone knows what I’m talking about. (I too work.))

    I’m hoping that this superb take on the problem is indeed the “conservative” position, and I further hope that it is put into practice as much as possible and as soon as possible.

  18. 118
    Jake Squid says:

    People who cannot help themselves should be strongly supported. People who will not help themselves should be left to their own devices.

    What is the process to distinguish the former from the latter? Should that be a single standard across all localities or should it be left up to each local government to create a standard for their use?

  19. 119
    Susan says:

    What is the process to distinguish [people who cannot help themselves] from [people who can]? Should that be a single standard across all localities or should it be left up to each local government to create a standard for their use?

    Well, Jake, we’re already applying this standard, and as it is stated (and I don’t frankly see how we can do any better) it’s so vague that not only is it applied differently in different localities, almost every worker at Social Security applies it differently. The devil here is indeed in the details, and no hard-edged “scientific” standard will cover the case: it boils down to a judgment call. Perhaps this is unavoidable.

    Currently, to qualify for SSDI (Disability Insurance) you have to show that you are “substantially disabled” to the point that you cannot make more than a certain percentage of your pre-disability income. (There are various absolute ceilings as well.) But how can we tell, really, what you can and cannot do? SSI, aid to the totally disabled, the same: you have to show that you cannot support yourself (and also in this case that you don’t have any assets beyond a certain minimum).

    In my area at least these standards are usually applied quite strictly (though of course with great individual varieties, it seems), so that many people who really are very seriously disabled fail to qualify without going through numerous appeals. This may be a local situation, however, I really don’t know, and I don’t see how anyone can.

    I can actually see some justifications for local variations. I’m just spinning ideas here, bear with me. I hadn’t really thought about it until you raised it. Perhaps in some places there is simple work, perhaps farm work, which might be available to mentally disabled people, for example, whereas perhaps in another location unless you have a college degree you’re pretty much out of luck. So saying that you “can’t support yourself” might mean, you “can’t support yourself here under our local situation.”

    It is this kind of fine-tuning that local control allows for.

  20. 120
    Grace Annam says:

    RonF:

    I have a job. I also have some non-employment related committments (family, Scouting, church) that take up a lot of my time. Sometimes I can blog a lot, sometimes I’m off for days. This, although quite interesting, hit a “off for days” spot.

    Yes, I have the same problem sometimes. In fact, it’s fair to say that all of my participation on Alas, and even my reading of it, is time stolen from things I arguably should be doing. However, the fact that I am a better person by far for reading this site and sites like it make that distinction not so clear. I’m glad to see you back to this discussion.

    My understanding of the conservative position is that:

    a) Federal government action (and the word “Federal” is a necessary qualifier here) is not necessarily the best way to accomplish that.
    b) People who are not doing what they can to contribute to their own support do not deserve support from society.

    I agree with point b, and I think pretty much everyone would. I have a bit of hang-up on point a. The problem with it is that our population is extremely mobile. If you don’t like the situation in Nevada, you can move to California. In principle, this is a good thing. But practically speaking, it creates the same race for the bottom which we see in health insurance, where providers can win in the market by being most tricky in excluding people they thought were covered, or in auto manufacturing, where the cheapest cars are the most dangerous cars, or in international trade, where a country with much inferior worker protections or environmental protections can outcompete countries with better such protections. What we should have learned from situations like that is that for many such things, there should be some common baseline. (Or, in the case of different nation states, limited mobility between them.)

    Individual states can’t provide a baseline, not effectively.

    Do you agree that some sort of baseline, or balancing, or limitation on mobility, is necessary? If not, then why not? If so, then what should be the baseline mechanism?

    Grace

  21. 121
    JutGory says:

    Grace Annam @114:

    And then they stopped commenting. Which, as we’ve noted, is telling, even though they don’t want it to be.

    I stopped commenting because I had pretty much said what I thought needed to be said.

    Susan @117:

    Excellent post, RonF (post 115), best answer yet, probably the best answer possible!!

    JutGory @48:

    The principle of self-reliance.

    Okay, RonF was just a little more wordy than I was.

    Susan @117:

    The devil, of course, is in the details, and as I have noted above, no human system is free from fraud and abuse (or ever will be) but localism does have the advantage of allowing close supervision of the distribution of money.

    That sounds familiar.

    JutGory @73:

    Frankly, I do not think either of us can put out principled arguments at that point, because it is matter of making a judgment about specific cases.

    I am glad you finally got my point. Thanks for your help RonF.

    -Jut

  22. 122
    Kai Jones says:

    I am not a conservative, but this is what I have concluded from knowing them and reading their words:

    Conservatives believe that if we had lower taxes and less government interference in people’s lives, then people would have the resources to take care of themselves and their family members who need help, thus reducing the number of people who need government aid. The few who would still need aid (perhaps because they have bad families who refuse to help them) would need to apply to private charities.

    Conservatives believe that people should make all imaginable efforts to avoid incurring obligations they cannot meet. For example, if they can’t afford to raise a child, or aren’t willing to give that child up for adoption, those efforts might include using birth control or abstaining from sex, and would definitely include giving up for adoption any unplanned children that the parents cannot support.

    Conservatives believe that our current tax and entitlement system distorts the choices people make in ways that are bad for society as a whole. Most conservatives don’t propose an alternative but are sure there must be one.

    Conservatives believe that one of the advantages of the old system (think fantasy 1950s, not the real experience of that decade but the golden “memories” of it) was that social condemnation of some possible choices reduced the total need for public support by reducing the number of people who need it. For example, disapproval and shunning of women who gave birth to or kept to raise a child out of wedlock resulted in some abortion and some adoption, and less need for welfare/aid to dependent children. Another example, if you didn’t take care of your family’s elderly (parents/aunts/uncles) and your family’s needy (disabled cousin, mentally-ill child, alcoholic and unemployed in-law), you’d be shamed by the community.

    “What is merit-based about a child receiving healthcare, or not, on the basis of whether her parents have work with benefits or oodles of money?”

    This is one of the places where the libertarians I talk to shut up. Holding children hostage to their parents, “teaching” parents a lesson through punishing their children—they never have a good response to these accusations.

    “If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for health care for people who were injured through no fault of their own, like a passenger in a train which crashes.”

    Don’t we have that, through the judicial system and laws allowing claims for direct damage? Why should the government (i.e., the rest of us) be responsible for the support of people damaged through a particular party’s actions or negligence? Make the train company pay.

    “The 85 year old woman who took care of her family all her years, her husband is dead, no pension from the bankrupt former employer? Her only son died in a car accident? She’s just out of luck?”

    Conservatives would say partly yes, because she and her husband made bad choices (should have saved more, or maybe she should have worked—that was a choice). On the other hand, not having family is not her fault, so she might qualify for aid.

    I think conservatives believe social connectedness, genuine community, solved all of these problems. I think they forget that for many people the community didn’t work even when it was working at its best; and they undervalue the burden of social pressure on anyone who was even a little bit different. A manipulative person at the head of an extended family can abusively control everyone else in that family when there is no financial support except inside the family.

  23. 123
    Susan says:

    Kai, this is a fairly unflattering summary of your take on what conservatives think on this topic. (Post 122.) You admit that you do not identify as a conservative.

    I notice also that your summary differs very substantially from that of the people on this forum who do identify as conservatives. (See RonF and Jut, just above.) I find information “from the horse’s mouth” more interesting and reliable. I’m sure I would not recognize a conservative’s description of my own views, and I have to assume that this inaccuracy would go both ways.

  24. 124
    Grace Annam says:

    Me:

    If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for health care for people who were injured through no fault of their own, like a passenger in a train which crashes.

    Kai:

    Make the train company pay.

    You presume that the train company is at fault for the crash. I could construct many examples where it isn’t, including the uninsured motorist with no assets.

    Car crashes involving uninsured motorists with no assets happen every day. And you could invest infinite numbers of other examples. The essential ingredients are:

    (a) the incident is not in any way reasonably the fault of the injured party.
    (b) if anyone else is at fault, that person has essentially no money, and no way to get much, if any.

    Grace

  25. 125
    Grace Annam says:

    JutGory:

    The principle of self-reliance.

    Okay, RonF was just a little more wordy than I was.

    […]

    I am glad you finally got my point. Thanks for your help RonF.

    Wow, Jut. Good thing you could rely on RonF. Between the two of you, you managed to get your point across. Maybe it really does take a village to raise a conservative argument.

    Someday, I hope to be a writer worth reading. Not there yet, but I’m better than I was. Years ago, when someone didn’t understand what I was trying to say, I experienced the same frustration you are feeling now. Why couldn’t they appreciate my scintillating prose? Why?! But then I realized that the only part of the whole process I had any actual control over was my own writing, so instead of mourning the lack of perception in my critics, I decided to rely on my own ability to improve myself.

    But I think you’ve got an innovative strategy, there, and it could take you far. Just point to a better piece of writing which might pass at a distance for what you were intending to write, and then declare them identical. Efficient. Elegant. Almost mathematical.

    Grace

  26. 126
    RonF says:

    There have to be local variations. If you live where I do (SW Chicago suburbs) the cost of living is high and public transportation is almost non-existent. If you live where my mother does you still have non-existent public transport but the cost of living is lower. Living conditions, living costs, ready availability of health care, etc. vary from place to place. What works in one place won’t work in another. The people on site are the best judges of that, and the people who pay for what is provided have both the most responsibility and the best authority to decide what will be paid for and what won’t.

    Will this engender a race to the bottom? To a certain point. But as people needing aid flood into a certain area the resources available have to be divided up among a larger number of people and it will eventually equal out. Certain areas are always going to be more attractive. It’s easier to get to services in cities. It’s warmer in Miami than it is in Cleveland. You’ll never even it out.

    Kai Jones:

    “The 85 year old woman who took care of her family all her years, her husband is dead, no pension from the bankrupt former employer? Her only son died in a car accident? She’s just out of luck?”

    You forgot “Sue the driver of the car.” “The driver has no assets” is countered by “Operating a vehicle on the public roads is a privilege, a condition for which is maintaining liability insurance”. She/a family member was the driver? The driver was not in compliance with the law and had no insurance? Then we start talking about State assistance. But other avenues are exhausted first.

    A manipulative person at the head of an extended family can abusively control everyone else in that family when there is no financial support except inside the family.

    Do you propose that it is the State’s responsibility to fix this? And who gets to define what’s mainipulative and what’s abuse (absent obvious physical abuse)?

    Susan:

    I notice also that your summary differs very substantially from that of the people on this forum who do identify as conservatives.

    Strawman arguments are exhaustingly common on the Internet. Glad to see you noticed that in this case.

    Let me turn the tables and ask a question or two.

    When the State is set up to replace parents in the parental role, you will get to extremes of behavior. The recent riots in England have uncovered examples of this. A woman turned in her 13-year old son because he was involved in the recent riots there. That’s to her credit. But she complained that the Government should bear some responsibility because they haven’t provided programs for her son. She’s got 10 other kids, not all by the same father, and lives off of the State. You don’t have 11 kids by accident. What has this woman done to be self-sufficient and to meet her responsibilities to her children? What is my obligation to her as a member of society?

    Can you not see how this infuriates people who work hard to earn a living and deliberately limit the number of children they have so that they can provide those children with both moral standards and a certain physical standard of living?

  27. 127
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    The problem with the “are you just going to let that poor person DIE??????!!!!??” argument is that–in most cases–the answer is, eventually “yes, sometimes.” At least it is in an asset-limited space.

    It’s marginally simple to make sure that we feed at least 10% of the people who would otherwise starve; it’s difficult to feed 50%, it’s very hard to feed 90%, it’s incredibly hard to feed 95%, and it may well be impossible to feed 100%–since, of course, you have to identify them first.

    Or to use a different analogy: the accident victim.

    Should someone who gets hit by a random driver be left to die on the side of the road in agony unless they happen to be carrying a gold-stamped insurance card? I don’t think anyone here would say yes. But that level of agreement is sort of pointless.

    Should they get emergency care?

    Should they get follow up care?

    Should they get advanced followup care?

    Should they get occupational therapy? Artificial limbs? Followup surgeries? Should it matter if their expected productivity from all of those measures is less than the cost of the measures?

    Should they get a reasonable standard of care? Who decides what that is? Does it vary by location? Should it be related to luck? Should a random victim in NY get better free care than a paying victim in NC?

    Does it matter what they want? If the accident victim was a minimum wage worker for life and if it’s cheaper to buy her a LaZBoy and HD and pain meds than it is to make her a new leg, should she be able to insist on a new leg? Are there limits on what the victim wants?

    Should it matter what their skill set was? Should people who have a higher likelihood of paying society back, be given better care?

    Do they get therapy, if they want it? Pain meds? Prioritized organ donations if they need them? Preferences in future hiring and/or unemployment, if it affects their earnings? Assuming there’s something which can be done (and in my experience there is always something that can be done, whether it’s a new thing or just an improvement) should it be done? What are the criteria for deciding when to stop?

    It is simple (relatively speaking) to provide accident victims with emergent care irrespective of insurance. But it gets a hell of lot more complicated as you go down the chain.

    When it gets to the last question: can we practically give the same standard of care to a random poor victim as you would want for your own kid, in the “can’t anything else be done??” way… well, no, we probably are not going to ever do that. Let’s admit as much.

    That’s why i talked about alternate plans, instead of simply attacking one side. because both sides like to duck reality, or at least it seems that way to me.

  28. 128
    Susan says:

    But she complained that the Government should bear some responsibility because they haven’t provided programs for her son. She’s got 10 other kids, not all by the same father, and lives off of the State. You don’t have 11 kids by accident. What has this woman done to be self-sufficient and to meet her responsibilities to her children? What is my obligation to her as a member of society?

    Well, that’s not a very tough one. By me, she got herself into this, she can get herself out, and that without sticking her hand in my wallet.

    But you’re not asking the right question, the hard question: what are our obligations, either morally or as a matter of enlightened self-interest, to the 11 children?

    They didn’t do it, you see. They were thrust into this situation without anyone asking them. Furthermore, for good or ill, we have to live with them for the rest of our respective lives. In our own interest, we cannot simply abandon them and allow them to become hooligans. If we do, we shall pay dearly for the luxury of our alleged moral rectitude, our (very correct) scorn for the behavior of their mother.

    There are no easy answers here. I think both progressives and conservatives struggle with questions like these.

  29. 129
    JutGory says:

    Grace Annam,
    Okay, my comment was a little snarky.

    But yours have been as well.
    Grace Annam @70:

    But then, JutGory rose like a shining beacon of hope and gave the most direct answer we’ve had so far:

    The principle of self-reliance. The Government is not your mother and it is not your father.

    And there, Susan, you have it. When someone has lost everything and is lying shattered in the ditch, our society has no responsibility. Let them suffer and die.

    You asked for a principle @44 and I gave it to you. You pretty much ridiculed it. RonF very thoroughly in a single post, elaborated on it quite well (I presume he would agree that the driving principle in his thought is the expectation that people be as self-reliant as they are able to be). But, while you and Susan continue to say “no one is commenting so we must be right and you have no arguments,” the points were made and the arguments were there. You just did not engage them honestly.

    Why would I want to continue to engage someone who does not appear to want to understand, but only desires to ridicule and dismiss positions offered (which, I suppose, should make me question why I am even responding now)?

    But, I guess the question now is: have you gotten your response? Do you see that conservatives have a principled stand that does not lead to people dying in the streets by the thousands and they don’t want to shoot the poor and the elderly?

    -Jut

  30. 130
    Susan says:

    Now Jut, just saying that there is such a thing as the principle of self-reliance (and maybe adding a comment about how the government isn’t your mommy), while true, does leave a lot of questions in most peoples’ minds. (How far does this principle go? What happens after that, if anything? And so forth.) RonF unpacked all this in a way that actually answers the question.

    Perhaps I’m dense, but just saying “principle of self-reliance” just wasn’t detailed enough to convey much to my mind by way of answering the question. Maybe you just have to explain things more thoroughly to the slow among us, like me, and not assume that this catch phrase conveys the entire story.

    RonF very thoroughly in a single post, elaborated on it quite well (I presume he would agree that the driving principle in his thought is the expectation that people be as self-reliant as they are able to be).

    Now, I don’t think there’s any progressive except perhaps a real lunatic fringe who would not agree that “people should be as self-reliant as they are able to be.” Everyone agrees with that so far as I know, and if they don’t, well, I guess I’m not that “progressive.” (After all, what’s the alternative? “It’s perfectly OK to just lie around and have Susan support you even though you could perfectly well take care of yourself”? Sorry, no.)

    The problems arrive, in all views, when someone is at the end of that rope. (And maybe fussing around a little about just where the end of that rope is.) RonF gave me at least some ideas about where conservatives, or at least one conservative (him), would come down on these tougher questions. I’m hoping he speaks more or less for the entire movement.

    At any rate, I’m glad that this discussion, after much meandering, produced so much clarity.

  31. 131
    JutGory says:

    Susan,
    Yes, when Grace asked for a principle, instead of writing a long explanation, I thought it better to state what the principle was as succinctly as possible. It was not really meant to be the end of the discussion, but a starting point. As RonF suggested (and which I did, as well), there are going to be exceptions (and we can agree or disagree about the specifics of those exceptions). Those are not susceptible to a broad principle, except maybe that “those who are truly unable to care for themselves should be taken care of by society.” That, again will only get you so far, because you have to determine which people are truly unable to take care of themselves (and we can agree or disagree about that, as well).
    Then, you get to issues about policy. Should the Federal Government do it (and RonF was right to point out that “Federal” is an important qualifier for many conservatives)? What should be left to the States, and what should be left to the private sector? Again, we can agree or disagree about all of those things.
    But, all of these discussions go far beyond the initial issue and are much less susceptible to a general principle.
    For instance, it was suggested that Bachmann wants to get rid of SSDI. That may not be a bad idea. SSDI only covers disabled people with some sort of work history. It does not covers those who do not have one. Why shouldn’t we scrap SSDI and have one safety net that covers all of the people who are unable to work? As I suggested, we can disagree about whether that is the best approach, even if we agree that: 1) people should be self-reliant; 2) those who are unable to take care of themselves should be taken care of; and 3) those who are unwilling to be as self-reliant as they can be should not benefit from the system (not to say you agree with these things; just speaking hypothetically). At that point, the “best” approach is a matter of judgment, and, at that point, we are not talking about “right” and “wrong,” so much as we are talking about “better” or “worse.”
    -Jut

  32. 132
    RonF says:

    Now, I don’t think there’s any progressive except perhaps a real lunatic fringe who would not agree that “people should be as self-reliant as they are able to be.” Everyone agrees with that so far as I know, and if they don’t, well, I guess I’m not that “progressive.” (After all, what’s the alternative? “It’s perfectly OK to just lie around and have Susan support you even though you could perfectly well take care of yourself”? Sorry, no.)

    And yet I’ve seen people advocate for a guaranteed minimum income on this very blog. So I’m not clear that everyone on the left agrees with what I said in that regard or that opposition to it should be considered a real lunatic position from the viewpoint of the left.

    We talked about this a while back on a thread. I opposed it. When I was challenged to reconcile my opposition with my Christian faith I cited 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 (KJV, because I love the sound of the language):

    Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

    Note the usage “would not work”, not “could not work”. At that point the response was to call it evidence that Christianity is oppressive, etc. So, no: I wouldn’t presume that there’s a consensus on the left to agree with my statements in this regard.

  33. 133
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Susan said:
    Now, I don’t think there’s any progressive except perhaps a real lunatic fringe who would not agree that “people should be as self-reliant as they are able to be.” Everyone agrees with that so far as I know, and if they don’t, well, I guess I’m not that “progressive.” (After all, what’s the alternative? “It’s perfectly OK to just lie around and have Susan support you even though you could perfectly well take care of yourself”? Sorry, no.)

    That’s not actually how it works.

    The argument is that (a) if you go to the limits of what people can do for themselves, you’re bound to step over them occasionally; (b) finding those limits is degrading to the individuals involved; and (c) so what if we give a bit extra to some poor people? It’s not as if they don’t need it.

    To use some remembered (and therefore possibly somewhat inaccurate) stuff from this board: there have been discussions about how society should treat social benefit recipients who, for example: own TVs; own fancy cars; own expensive sneakers; take up smoking or drinking; eat food other than the cheapest and most basic available; do things that make them liable to have more medical care; or otherwise refrain from acting in a manner that would maximize their self-reliance and minimize their use of societal resources.

    Going from memory, there is plenty of support for that stuff from progressives here. Not that this support is a bad thing, mind you. It’s based on a belief that such things are needed.

    You can make that argument for all sorts of things. Are you going to let a poor girl die? (no, right?) No? She needs medical care?

    Well, that’s an easy one. Are you going to tell her parents that they can’t spend $15 to take her out to eat at McD’s on her birthday, and that if they choose to do so it means they should be getting $15/year less in support? No? Most people would also say “no”–but then you’re already off “maximally self reliant” and you have only just begun the discussion.

    This comes up because many progressives have a very generous definition of what a “need” is. This isn’t news–hello, they’re progressives!–but it makes things like “only give people what they need” or “people should maximize self reliance ” an argument in semantics.

  34. 134
    Susan says:

    Thanks, Jut, very interesting.

    I can’t really answer the questions (ok, yes, take the kid out for a Happy Meal, I’ll pay for the damn thing personally!) but I want to bring up something I’ve talked about before, namely, the fallibility of human systems, and also, the expense of micromanaging.

    Let’s go back to my example, the mentally ill guy on the streets who uses most of his SSI for illegal drugs. Please please don’t go after me for being “ableist” here, whatever, I’m trying to make a different point.

    Let’s assume he really is unable to support himself. (He is.) Or really to work productively at all. (I actually know this man.) That said, he’s spending tax money on things the taxpayers, who worked for that money, really do not want him to spend it on, to wit, crack. Heck, I don’t want him to spend it on that, I’d rather take a bunch of slum kids to Mickey D’s.

    He gets about $815 a month. Let’s assume that out of every 50 SSI recipients, there’s one like him. To grill and examine and chase after 50 SSI recipients to get this one guy is going to cost a lot more than $815 a month. So at a certain point, just on the basis of economics, you’re going to have to let a certain amount of this go.

    So, that’s the micromanaging part. There is a point of diminishing returns.

    As for the question of what is and is not “need” we have to start by recognizing that we’re going to screw it up in a large number of cases. A lot of people are not going to get enough for basic needs, and a lot are going to get too much. So we’re trying to weigh and balance here.

    I’ll make an analogy to the criminal law. You know that the law assumes that the accused is innocent unless he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The people who designed this system (which goes back at least to 1066) understood perfectly well that this tack on the thing was going to release a lot of people who were and are guilty as sin. They preferred to err in that direction. (Also, we convict a lot of innocent people, but we’re trying to minimize that, right?) You may not agree, but the assumption is built deep deep in the culture.

    Of course as to money we’re going to try to get it right, just as we do in criminal law. But given that we can’t, where do we want to err? Personally, I’d say, beef it up maybe just a little, a few kids who shouldn’t be at McDonald’s is better than a few kids starving to death if we err in the other direction. I think, too, that in this as well I am in general agreement with the general trend of the culture.

    After that, we’re arguing details maybe, which we can do forever. I think we should do our best to get it right, whatever that means.

  35. 135
    Susan says:

    there have been discussions about how society should treat social benefit recipients who, for example: own TVs; own fancy cars; own expensive sneakers; take up smoking or drinking; eat food other than the cheapest and most basic available; do things that make them liable to have more medical care…

    You mean, like the rest of us?

    There have certainly, over the centuries, been discussions about how “the poor” (whoever that is) have less virtue than the rest of us, but very few about how they have or ought to have more. This is new.

    This is a perilously high standard, one I would hesitate to have applied to myself. (….thinks with guilt over those french fries last week…..oh god let them not see….) Geez, I’d more than hesitate, I’m way under the table now.

    Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I took my grandkids to McDonald’s last May AND WE HAD HAPPY MEALS. With the toys!! (Hangs head in shame…is it OK because it was in Europe?….)

  36. 136
    RonF says:

    The argument is that (a) if you go to the limits of what people can do for themselves, you’re bound to step over them occasionally;

    True. No human system is perfect.

    (b) finding those limits is degrading to the individuals involved;

    Too bad. This should not be a consideration.

    and (c) so what if we give a bit extra to some poor people? It’s not as if they don’t need it.

    Erring slightly on the side of generosity is not the issue. I’m not going to get too excited about someone taking a kid out to Mickey D’s. OTOH, even if private charity doesn’t keep up with providing people with the basics, it likely can keep up with something like this. Heck, you could probably talk McD’s into it.

    Take the example of the guy who blows his SSI check on illegal drugs. Or, in a better world, perfectly legal psycoactive drugs that cause him to retreat a little too far from reality to get back in time to function when he has to. Does it pay to chase down people like him? That depends on what factors you put in the equation. If the only money you consider saved is the money you recover from him and the people you catch, no. If you also consider the money saved by people who don’t blow their money on psychoactive drugs because they’re afraid of getting caught and losing their SSI/Welfare/Section 8 money, now you’re closer to the break-even point, or maybe even past it (and no, I have no handy way to calcluate that). Now add in the greater availability of money because people like me are less likely to oppose funding the aid money because we see that an honest effort is being put forward to keep it from being wasted and the total benefit is > 0.

  37. 137
    Susan says:

    Interesting calculation, RonF. But I’m wondering how much time you personally have spent interacting with the Social Security Administration….I’m about to explain why.

    Let’s go back to the SSI druggie. First, of course, crack cocaine is not legal, and he’s already breaking the law and running the risk of jail. This individual knows this; in fact, he’s been jailed twice for this offense. If the police and jail system cannot stay on top of this situation, what is the hope for the SSA? If he does not fear jail, he’s not likely to worry about losing his SSI money.

    Then you, of course, change the facts to have him using psychoactive drugs which are legal (let’s say, for an easy example, alcohol) which cause him to “retreat a little too far from reality to get back in time to function when he has to.” Well, nothing in his life requires him to “function” particularly, so I’m not sure what that means. But I’m ready to stipulate that I don’t want him spending my tax money on alcohol either. So, having thus agreed to change the facts, now does it pay to chase after him?

    As for people like him who are afraid of losing their money if they get caught drinking too much, by and large I think you’re giving most of these guys too much credit. (I mean the druggie/alcohol guys, not the vast majority of SSI recipients, who are neither. We’re been assuming that our druggies are a very small minority, and I think that’s right.) Most of these druggie/alcohol folks are seriously out of touch with reality, aka mentally ill, and most of them are incapable of planning more than about three hours in advance. I think the foresight and forethought you’re looking for are going to be in very short supply here.

    Now a word to the uninitiated about the Social Security Administration. I can only address the office in Oakland, California, but I have no reason to think that there are startling differences elsewhere. I don’t know what these people get paid, but it can’t be much. And there aren’t enough of them. So, you cannot call the office. There is a phone number, but it is NEVER answered. Letters and other forms of written communication are ignored. The only way to get their attention is to show up down there and wait until you can force yourself into someone’s field of view.

    But this does not mean that they are not trying. Every two years they attempt to contact every “client” and force them to show up and “prove” that they still need the money. This I suppose is an effort in the right direction. I imagine that a lot of people who really do need help, but who are not well-organized enough to run this obstacle course, are cut off, but I don’t know that. (This whole procedure makes the DMV look efficient. At least you can make an appointment at the DMV! And they even answer phones, however occasionally!) To charge these people at the SSA with somehow or other intuiting that some guy who shows up temporarily sober is actually drinking up his check….I can’t figure out how they would know that or could know that without detailing someone to follow him around for a while, which no one is proposing. (Or heck, even if he shows up intoxicated, so what? He’s 21, and drinking too much is not, in itself, a crime. Also, serious mental illness can be difficult to distinguish from intoxication. Remember, these are low-paid overworked bureaucrats, not physicians.)

    Then there’s the how much are you drinking exactly question. Are we to require SSI recipients to be tea-totallers? How many drinks is too many? One a day? Two a day? And how do we know? I think I’ve made my point: this is an administrative nightmare.

    I suppose this is an argument for local control, but reviewing the performance of our local governmental bodies does not give me much encouragement that local control of SSI would be any better. (On this note, I see today that the San Francisco Supervisors are building a ten-foot long ramp in their meeting chambers which will cost $700,000, more than the median price of a home in the Sunset District (middle class). Remember, the City is literally broke. This, too, is local control. Can’t blame this one on the feds!)

    If we tighten aid to the disabled up too much, a lot of genuinely needy mentally ill are going to lose the minimal support they are getting. (And most of them are not drinking up or drugging up the proceeds: they’re just trying to keep body and soul together. Like my first example, John.) This might be OK with some people, but it isn’t OK with me, if only because I have to live here, work here, walk here, and commute through this place, and the sight of human misery here is bad enough already without making it worse.

    I don’t know how hard we have to push to get your support, which is your last point. I imagine that would vary from person to person.

    As a side note, I actually have in mind a better approach to our druggie SSI guy and his fellows, but it is one which is unacceptable equally to the left and to the right, so I don’t hold out much hope for things getting substantially better on that front.

  38. 138
    KellyK says:

    (b) finding those limits is degrading to the individuals involved;

    Too bad. This should not be a consideration.

    Why on earth not? When did we decide that people who need help are somehow less than human and not worth treating with respect?

  39. 139
    Schala says:

    I can’t really answer the questions (ok, yes, take the kid out for a Happy Meal, I’ll pay for the damn thing personally!) but I want to bring up something I’ve talked about before, namely, the fallibility of human systems, and also, the expense of micromanaging.

    Happy Meals here are illegal because it’s advertising towards children.

    Any advertising towards people 13 and under is prohibited under Quebec law. This includes children’s promotion toys, and the McDonald characters.

    Movies that target everyone/family (ie Cars, Rapunzel) are fine, toys based on it, no. At least not in advertising.

    I’m not certain how good it will do, but it might help in a subtle way. Not pressure kids to want the very newest kids’ toy they announced on TV – because quite simply, it’s no longer announced on TV.

  40. 140
    Susan says:

    Happy Meals here are illegal because it’s advertising towards children.

    OK, I’ll take the kid out for a hamburger and fries. Is that illegal in Canada too?

    Talk about missing the point.

  41. 141
    Schala says:

    Also re: “own TVs”, maybe your standard for being poor is much lower than mine, but a working not-too-outdated computer + high speed internet, should be within the means of a poor person, even one on welfare. So a TV is not outlandishly spending out the windows…it’s pretty normal nowadays, provided you need/want one at all.

    Though the Canadian government complaining about illegal cigarettes, mostly bought by the poor, are pretty weird, when you consider the over-300% taxes on cigarettes. Meaning that trying to make everyone quit by making it outlandishly pricy will only drive an underground competitively priced product for those who can’t afford the outlandish price. Seriously, I’d smoke 300$ a month on legal cigarettes.

    I quit 6 months ago, and it wasn’t because of the taxes. And I still think about smoking pretty often. It’s that deep in the system.

  42. 142
    Schala says:

    McDonald’s is not illegal, and they still have their toy areas in many of their locations. They just can’t market on children.

    And marketing to children is just a fancy way of saying “make children guilt-trip their parents into buying it”. And like I said, it drives inter-child competition at school, which is usually negative for people who buck the trend, or who aren’t in financial means.

  43. 143
    Susan says:

    OK, I’m about to leave town on vacation for two weeks, so I Fear No Man. (or woman)

    Here is my take on this thing.

    I don’t have any answers globally for people who are living on public assistance. This post will be confined to people who are living on the streets (aka “homeless”). Understand that my third child, who is seriously mentally ill, falls into this category.

    So. We have person X, who is living in the streets. Perhaps he/she is sleeping behind a store, or in a park. Whatever.

    He/she is almost certainly urinating and pooping in the gutter, or in other public places. This degrades the quality of life for the rest of us. Also, he/she is probably begging in public places, same observation. Stealing. Whatever.

    If you don’t live in an urban area, this may not be a problem to you. For the rest of us, yes.

    So, what to do? Put up with it? That’s what we’re doing now.

    I have another idea. Reinstitute the laws against vagrancy, pooping in the streets, sleeping in public parks, whatever, and arrest all violators. Living in the streets is not OK, get it?? Then, divide them into two groups:

    1. Those who because of mental illness or whatever cannot do any better, and
    2. Those who can.

    Group 1 should be put into locked facilities where their needs are taken care of (but they do not have the option of walking out). Decent, clean facilities where their medical and other needs will be provided for.

    Group 2 should be jailed until they see the error of their ways.

    (This assumes that people who have fallen on hard times will be given shelter until they can get on their feet.)

    The left will oppose this because it is every American’s right to live on the streets and destroy the quality of life for everyone else. The ACLU actually successfully defended the right of a seriously mentally ill woman to live on a grate in front of a restaurant in New York City.

    The right will oppose it because this solution will cost a lot of tax money, and their rich friends might have to pay something to solve this problem. Anyway, they live in gated communities and don’t have to confront any of this. I guess.

    Meanwhile, the hopelessly mentally ill languish on the streets in misery. Public misery. But oh well, close your eyes they will die soon.

    The end result of our current agreement, such as it is, is what we see: mentally ill, drug addicted, screw-ups, living on the streets, degrading the commons, and destroying their own health and everyone else’s. The dirty confused guy who greets me every morning at the BART station, mumbling incomprehensively to himself, rocking from side to side. The grifter with the missing leg claiming that I owe him something, as I come out of the station. The human waste in the sidewalk.

    It’s going to cost money and grit to solve this problem, and we’re lacking both. The right is tight with money; the left is tight with grit.

    (My kid? I think he’s on the borderline. He hates the streets, but he hates confinement more. I think he’d arrange some more humane housing situation if he was forced to do so.)

  44. 144
    Bear says:

    I don’t know the reasons why the right or left oppose that plan, but I personally oppose it because you don’t solve problems by locking people up against their will. Pauper’s prisons have no place in a civilized society.

  45. 145
    Susan says:

    Hi bear, I guess we’re better off with the mentally ill living in the streets. Your call.

  46. 146
    Susan says:

    Bear, you have no idea how many resources are available to those who are living in the streets.

    In San Francisco, there are resources without number. Also, Oakland. The chief barriers are the ability of the homeless to take advantage of them. Believe me, I am an expert here. There are innumerable resources for people who are well enough to apply. San Francisco in particular has extensive programs for people who are able to take advantage of them, as does Oakland.

    If you can’t take advantage of them you need protection, for your sake and to protect the rest of us. Living this way is not OK.

    NO ONE IN THE STREETS IN EITHER CITY NEEDS TO BE THERE. There are programs in both cities which will offer immediate help. (Other places I don’t know about.)

    I know the hard way what I’m talking about.

  47. 147
    Susan says:

    Bear. We should not lock people up against their will. Listen to what you are saying.

  48. 148
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Schala says:
    August 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Also re: “own TVs”, maybe your standard for being poor is much lower than mine, but a working not-too-outdated computer + high speed internet, should be within the means of a poor person, even one on welfare.

    Seriously?

    Yes, your standard for being poor is ridiculous. In fact, I think it hurts because when you fail to differentiate between a “need” and a “want” it makes the real needs disappear.

    As a world, we’re still working on providing needs. Like, say, “food,” or “vaccines,” or “clothing.” To suggest that a general welfare program should allow individuals to own their own PCs on the public dole (and high speed internet yet) is simply ludicrous.

  49. 149
    Schala says:

    @G&W

    I’m poor, and own a 3 years old computer, quadcore Q6600 2.4 x4, 3 Gigabyte of Ram. Able to play games that are not hot brand new (like Crysis 2, that’s not an option) with ease.

    And this I bought on income before I was on welfare. The connection itself is paid between me and my boyfriend, using a router (and that’s VERY standard to divide connections). He’s obstinate about keeping on the plan he’s been on for years, at 60$ a month. I’d rather he go on a cheaper plan by some other company. But by no way is it out of our financial means. Even with both of us on welfare.

    We also own a 32 inch flat screen. Pretty standard stuff. Not deluxe, which would be 45 inches and up.

  50. 150
    Bear says:

    Susan, people who live on the street do so for whatever reason, and I do not presume to guess or judge what those reasons are. And there may indeed be resources available to those who live on the street to get off the street. And you may indeed know what those are. That doesn’t change the fact that it is wrong to round people up against their will and jail them.

    If your solution had been to simply provide the mentally ill with the help they need, I might have been on board. That’s not what you said. You said those street people who are not mentally ill should be locked up “until they see the error of their ways”.

  51. 151
    Solo says:

    @Schala
    I think in today’s times matching up an adult and child on welfare with reasonable access to a PC with decent internet access is a good investment, even if a decade back it was considered a luxury. But your idea of competent PC, internet connection and not-deluxe flatscreen seems too generous. I don’t want to pretend to know anything about your situation, but I’m effectively in a 54.5%* marginal tax bracket on income alone and I don’t have a quadcore or a 32 inch flatscreen and my life is just fine (till I get run over by a drunk). I don’t think those are compatible with welfare.

    @Susan:
    This is a great thread. Unless we are willing to tolerate significant numbers of people wallowing and dying on the streets the government has to be involved in doling out some level of assistance. With that in mind maybe you could help me with two questions:

    a. I hear the ‘rich’ (keep in mind an 80K individual income is already past the 90th percentile) should pay a lot ‘more’ in taxes. What’s ‘more’ in hard numbers. When I hear ‘more’ I’m thinking of a 50%** marginal tax rate.

    b. Are we restricting ourselves to our neighbors when we say we should dole out welfare. The vibe I’m getting is that we don’t like seeing homeless people on the sidewalk or they’ll steal our car stereos if they are 18 and illiterate. Would you oppose the US government feeding starving children in Africa. To that end, would you support a 10% surcharge on anyone making over 100K?

    * If my math is right, an individual making 80K+ effectively pays 28% federal, 10% California state, (6.2+6.2)% Social, (1.45+1.45)% Medicare, 1.2% SDI. That’s before all those property, sales, gas, and ‘fees’ taxes. Some taxes are deductible, but it’s not going to change the rate much.

    ** Over the last decade, expenditures have been 21% of GDP (about 25% during this recession). Revenues are at 17% of GDP. That means we need to raise revenue by 25% to just claw back to deficit neutral budgets. Given that 51% of federal revenue is from corporate and individual taxes, and that the rich pay out 80% of total receipts, we’d have to raise their taxes by about 50-60%. That’s before we get single payer health and Scandinavian style welfare.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_budget

  52. 152
    Elusis says:

    Susan, I live in Oakland too, and know people who work in assorted service agencies in SF, and things aren’t as black and white as you’d like to make them. And Bear is right on. Locking people up for their own good might sound humanitarian on the surface but it gets really ugly, really fast.

  53. 153
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Schala says:
    September 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    @G&W

    I’m poor, and own a 3 years old computer, quadcore Q6600 2.4 x4, 3 Gigabyte of Ram. Able to play games that are not hot brand new (like Crysis 2, that’s not an option) with ease.

    And this I bought on income before I was on welfare.

    It’s not an especially good example, then, is it?

    The connection itself is paid between me and my boyfriend, using a router (and that’s VERY standard to divide connections). He’s obstinate about keeping on the plan he’s been on for years, at 60$ a month. I’d rather he go on a cheaper plan by some other company. But by no way is it out of our financial means. Even with both of us on welfare.

    Then, unless you’re cutting some unusual corners somewhere else, you’re probably getting too much welfare.

    We also own a 32 inch flat screen. Pretty standard stuff. Not deluxe, which would be 45 inches and up.

    OK then, I’d like to change “probably” to “definitely.” We were using a 19″ CRT until I recently got a flat screen as a birthday present. Nothing wrong with it.

    There is no rational social code other than greed which would suggest that I, as a taxpayer, am obligated to buy you a bloody flat screen TV, whether a “standard” 32 inches (are you serious?) or other size. Nor anyone else.

  54. 154
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    And I might add:

    I generally support welfare. I think of it as fulfilling a social obligatino to provide some basic necessities–food, housing, clothes, etc.

    If I thought that welfare was being used to provide computers and 32″ flat screens and high speed internet, I probably wouldn’t support welfare any more. Neither would a lot of other people I know, plenty of whom (like me) currently or recently have avoided owning one or more of those things because they cost too much.

    In fact, i would go so far as to say that suggesting people should have flatscreens, computers, and HSI would be a real punch in the kidneys for welfare in general.

  55. 155
    Schala says:

    It’s not an especially good example, then, is it?

    Why not? It’s not like you are born on welfare. You can have stuff from before.

    “Then, unless you’re cutting some unusual corners somewhere else, you’re probably getting too much welfare.”

    I’m cutting corners in clothing mainly (if I have stuff without holes, it’s wearable until it has too many holes – and it takes years to even get one hole, also thrift stores, I also don’t follow trends), and have 100% meds coverage (from welfare) which makes my hormones cost a non-issue (it would be costly otherwise, as in 140$/month costly). I don’t smoke, but I used to, and it cost more than internet, even super duper high speed internet (which we don’t have).

    Internet isn’t a luxury (for Canada), but a high-end PC might be. Thankfully, my PC isn’t high-end. It cost 900$ 3 years ago, and is worth maybe 300-400$ now. it wasn’t high-end even when it was new (high-end you’re looking at 4000-5000$ new).

    The 32 inch TV was also bought when we worked, it cost 400$. We managed to not break it. So it being in one piece while we are on welfare is not a luxury.

  56. 156
    Schala says:

    Also, does it matter if you live with roommates because rent and electricity/heating/landline are the biggest costs and sharing those significantly helps your disposable income (and to eat stuff that isn’t necessarily ‘no name’).

  57. 157
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Schala says:
    September 3, 2011 at 9:20 am
    Also, does it matter if you live with roommates because rent and electricity/heating/landline are the biggest costs and sharing those significantly helps your disposable income (and to eat stuff that isn’t necessarily ‘no name’).

    Yes: it means that–at least in theory–you’re getting too much welfare.

    Look, you want welfare to be personalized, right? That’s why you feel comfortable getting an extra $140/month for your meds even though Sally down the hall would really, really, like an extra $140/month. And that’s why Sally might get extra help for whatever SHE happens to need–maybe an apartment big enough for her scooter, maybe something else.

    In theory, that personalization should go both ways. If you’re able to happily subsist in a shared apartment with three other people, and if you save $100/month on rent, then the result should be “Schala gets less rent money,” not “Schala has extra money to spend on computer games.” That way there’s $100 back in the system to, say, provide meds to those who need them.

    Now, obviously it’s impractical to deal with that, and nobody wants to sit there and figure out who “can” or “cannot” live with friends, etc. So we ignore the theory and pay a fixed amount. So if you manage to room with others instead of getting your own place, then you get to have high speed cable and a TV. In fact, you get to keep the $100 even if the 5 person family down the hall (who can’t find anyone to share with them) or the lady downstairs (who has a psych issue that prevents her from sharing) could never afford those things.

    But the fact that you can keep the $100 doesn’t mean that the system is designed to have you keep the $100. It certainly isn’t in a moral sense.

    ETA: Similarly, the ownership of expensive “pre-welfare” items isn’t something that we practically can deal with. The system can’t be too individualized or it won’t work.

    But from a moral perspective, social assistance to people should result in their having roughly equivalent possessions and living conditions, which should match the minimum needs. If we agree that “own a TV” is a need, then we need to give people TVs. OTOH if we don’t think that “own a TV” is a need, and if the cost of a TV is above the normal level of discrationary income (if any) that we think is a minimum need, then people on welfare shouldn’t own TVs.

    You’re getting $140 extra in meds. You save extra money from being mentally and physically able to share an apartment. You also have expensive possessions–which you haven’t sold–because you have presumably been non-poor at some recent time.

    That means you’re better situated than some other welfare recipients (albeit probably worse than others.) The imbalance cannot practially be dealt with, but it’s not supposed to be there.

  58. 158
    Schala says:

    But from a moral perspective, social assistance to people should result in their having roughly equivalent possessions and living conditions, which should match the minimum needs. If we agree that “own a TV” is a need, then we need to give people TVs. OTOH if we don’t think that “own a TV” is a need, and if the cost of a TV is above the normal level of discrationary income (if any) that we think is a minimum need, then people on welfare shouldn’t own TVs.

    Have you lived?

    You don’t dismantle your TV just because circumstances made you jobless. Even if it means something to your ethical ***improbable*** behavior (like everyone being on welfare since birth, never having TV or computer or information about affordable ISP or different priorities from everyone else (ie not following fashion or trends to “not-die”)). You deal with the circumstances, but you don’t make them worst on purpose because people in Africa, they starve. And you (royal you) personally starving, isn’t arranging one thing. So parents who shame their kids in finishing their plates lest they make starving kids starve even more are just as screwed up (believe me, I’m fat because of this attitude nowadays).

  59. 159
    Schala says:

    You’re getting $140 extra in meds. You save extra money from being mentally and physically able to share an apartment. You also have expensive possessions–which you haven’t sold–because you have presumably been non-poor at some recent time.

    Selling possessions is a last resort that many even skip, which involves being ceased. So yeah, not too thrilled about being FORCED to sell stuff by people I owed money to.

    Also, It’s not like I’m on coke. So bear with me.

    I’d more than likely cut on the meds, then die by suicide because of the focking hurt it gives me to have testosterone in me period. So yeah, a gift to the system, I doubt it.

  60. 160
    KellyK says:

    I think that expecting people to sell off possessions in order to receive assistance is less about the actual money savings and more about wanting to decide who “deserves” what. Person on welfare has a nicer TV than I do, so I could get all indignant, as many people do. Never mind that I could have a nicer TV any time I wanted, and I’m spending my fun money on a vacation instead. Never mind that they were fully entitled to buy that TV with their own money when they bought it. Never mind that if they live in an area prone to natural disasters of any sort, being able to catch the news stops being a luxury and starts being a necessity. And never mind that their selling the TV would pay one bill once, and then their welfare needs would be unchanged.

    I also don’t think there should be a penalty for having a roommate. If you’re sharing living expenses with someone else, you’ve probably put work into making that arrangement and making it work. Roommates don’t fall from the sky-you have to find someone to live with, figure out how to split expenses, whose name goes on what, etc. Judging from all the “roommate wanted” signs I see around, it’s not necessarily easy to get someone to live with.

    You’re also taking on a risk when you live with another person. What if they blow their half of the rent on cigarettes, or break your stuff (whether accidentally or maliciously)? Sure, there are plenty of responsible people who won’t, but if you’re rooming with someone you don’t know well, how do you know that? And, heck, daytime court shows are full of people who started out as friends or family but had major conflicts over money, so even living with friends or family is no guarantee.

    Penalizing someone for having a roommate seems very backwards to me.

  61. 161
    KellyK says:

    I think it’s also worth noting that most ways of selling off property aren’t free or guaranteed to work. eBay costs money, ads in the paper cost money. Having a yard sale may not cost you more than the time it takes (which is substantial) and the cost of those little price stickers, but it also requires having a yard or a garage and it’s certainly not free. (Also, time spent sitting outside waiting for people to pay 50 cents for your old paperbacks or extra clothes, or twenty bucks for your TV, is time not spent job-hunting or taking classes.)

    I really hate the idea that we would expect this, not just because it’s impractical (although it is) but because it’s demoralizing, dehumanizing, and unnecessarily cruel.

    It’s also penalizing thriftiness, which I thought was supposed to be a virtue. If sharing an apartment with someone does you no good money-wise, then why bother? If wearing clothes til they wear out or sharing babysitting services rather than paying for childcare ends up costing you money, why do it?

    Additionally, the more you nickel and dime people, the more you’re encouraging fraud. People who feel like they’re being screwed over feel entitled to take some back.

  62. 162
    KellyK says:

    But from a moral perspective, social assistance to people should result in their having roughly equivalent possessions and living conditions, which should match the minimum needs. If we agree that “own a TV” is a need, then we need to give people TVs. OTOH if we don’t think that “own a TV” is a need, and if the cost of a TV is above the normal level of discrationary income (if any) that we think is a minimum need, then people on welfare shouldn’t own TVs.

    I think there’s a big difference between “things society has an obligation to give you” and “things that you should be required to give up if you ever need assistance.” This statement assumes that if a TV falls into the first category, it automatically belongs in the second, morally if not practically. I don’t agree with that. If you can’t pay for rent and food without aid, selling your TV isn’t going to get you rent and food. If you didn’t steal the TV or commit fraud to get it, then why is it anyone else’s business?

    Even when people are on assistance, they still deserve some discretion about how they spend money and what sacrifices they’re willing to make. If they’re willing to cram into an apartment with a bunch of other people so they can afford cigarettes and the occasional ice cream, what’s that to anybody else? If they’re not, because their last roommate kept stealing their stuff, that should be their call.

    Basically, it’s not the TV itself that is a need. The need is “be treated with some dignity.” If we accept as a fundamental premise that people don’t stop deserving to be treated decently because they fall on hard times, we’re not going to ask them to sell off all their possessions in the hopes that it might save the system a few bucks.

  63. 163
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    KellyK says:
    September 4, 2011 at 3:32 am
    I think there’s a big difference between “things society has an obligation to give you” and “things that you should be required to give up if you ever need assistance.” This statement assumes that if a TV falls into the first category, it automatically belongs in the second, morally if not practically. I don’t agree with that. If you can’t pay for rent and food without aid, selling your TV isn’t going to get you rent and food.

    Er…. why not?

    When I owned some nice stuff, and I didn’t have money for rent, I sold the stuff. It sucked, of course. But that’s life.

    If you didn’t steal the TV or commit fraud to get it, then why is it anyone else’s business?

    Because it is morally disconcerting to pay money to support people who have nicer things than I do, and that appears to be a pretty general feeling. I do a lot of pro bono or low bono work, for example. But as a result, I don’t make a lot of money, and so I drive a shitty car that’s worth, oh, about $1500, if that. I’ve had people ask me to work for free who own two cars, or perhaps who own a 1 year old car with $10,000 in equity. Um… no.

    Even when people are on assistance, they still deserve some discretion about how they spend money and what sacrifices they’re willing to make. If they’re willing to cram into an apartment with a bunch of other people so they can afford cigarettes and the occasional ice cream, what’s that to anybody else? If they’re not, because their last roommate kept stealing their stuff, that should be their call.

    Practically, I agree with you.

    Morally, I agree… provided, that is, that we can rely on the assistance-getters to do their best to MINIMIZE the assistance they take. Since I know a lot of tax payers who feel that they’re forced to quit smoking because they can’t afford it, it’s odd to suggest that recipients of those taxes should feel morally proper in using those funds to buy smokes.

    Obviously, we can’t enforce that morality. But it’s really a two way street. It’s not just about the obligation to give charity; it’s also about the obligation of th recipient.

    Basically, it’s not the TV itself that is a need. The need is “be treated with some dignity.”

    But that’s either meaningless or so infinitely variable as to be close to meaningless. It’s just like the way “dehumanizing” gets used to refer to anything people disagree with.

    I would consider it “dignified” for someone to think “I cannot have a 32″ flat screen while I’m on the dole; I should sell it.” You would consider it dignified if the reverse were true. So it adds little to the conversation.

    Besides, we don’t get to make rules for how people feel, only what they do. Does “dignity” include more money, or less money? And what about the reciprocity: if I consider it undignified for someone to functionally accept charity from me while having nicer stuff than I do, why is my sense of dignity rendered irrelevant?

    If we accept as a fundamental premise that people don’t stop deserving to be treated decently because they fall on hard times, we’re not going to ask them to sell off all their possessions in the hopes that it might save the system a few bucks.

    “Treated decently” is as meaningless as “dignified.”

    But in any case: If a recipient of charity owns an item of comparative luxury which are not widely available to all of those who are giving the charity, and which are not considered a need, damn right they should be expected to sell it.

    And obviously, there is SOME support which is designed to be above the minimum level. If the goal includes having spending money, and/or the goal includes having other discretion, then it is functionally and morally appropriate to exercise that discretion as you see fit.

    I give stuff to my local food bank, and I live in a small community. I know–really know–that there are people taking food from that place, who don’t need to do so. Some of them own fancy cars (you can pay for a lot of food with $5000.) Some of them have other luxuries, like flat screen TVS. The food bank is designed to help people who couldn’t otherwise afford food. It’s not designed to help people “retain their dignity” by keeping their high speed and flat screen.

    OTOH, I also do a lot of pro/low bono work for a local nonprofit organization. That place is designed to help people move up the social ladder through some complicated processes. In that context, it’s expected that the GOAL is to have people, eventually, afford a flat screen.

    The nonprofit has more applicants than there are spots: no surprise, since the chosen few end up with a lot of money, more than their peers. But the fact that the nonprofit exists doesn’t moraly justify the folks who get food when they don’t really need it.

  64. 164
    KellyK says:

    KellyK says:
    September 4, 2011 at 3:32 am
    I think there’s a big difference between “things society has an obligation to give you” and “things that you should be required to give up if you ever need assistance.” This statement assumes that if a TV falls into the first category, it automatically belongs in the second, morally if not practically. I don’t agree with that. If you can’t pay for rent and food without aid, selling your TV isn’t going to get you rent and food.

    gin-and-whisky:
    Er…. why not?

    Because it’s not that much money. On eBay, 32″ TVs are selling for 200 or 300 bucks. Factor in eBay’s cut and how long is that paying your rent for? A week or two? And this assumes you sell it successfully the first time and aren’t paying the listing fee and getting nothing out of it.

    But in any case: If a recipient of charity owns an item of comparative luxury which are not widely available to all of those who are giving the charity, and which are not considered a need, damn right they should be expected to sell it.

    Because you think this will actually help them not need charity or will put more money back into the system, or because you simply don’t want them to have it? It seems petty and cruel to want someone to give something up with no benefit to others and with no benefit to themselves (because their aid would be reduced by the income from their sold-off stuff but the amount would be small enough that it’s not likely to help anyone else), just because they have something you don’t feel they deserve. That’s why I see that as immoral.

    I could accept expecting someone to sell off property if it’s property that truly would make a significant difference, like the luxury car you mention, *and* they could get the *needs* that that item fills met after selling it off. For example, with the car, it’d only be reasonble if they could get reliable transportation after selling the car. (Telling someone to sell off a reliable car that’s paid for and buy a $500 junker means they need to pay for repairs or a replacement when it inevitably breaks.) I don’t think we should ask people to shoot themselves in the foot job-wise or life-wise so that we can feel better about helping them out. (In the same vein, I don’t think a computer is a huge luxury, and when websites are designed for high-speed, dial-up is pretty close to useless.)

    We may be talking about different things when we use words like “expect.” I’m thinking of “no aid until they prove they’ve done it” where you might be thinking more along the lines of “believe that they should.” If you were in charge of the food bank, would you turn away someone who had a TV, or who hadn’t sold their wedding ring?

  65. 165
    KellyK says:

    Because it is morally disconcerting to pay money to support people who have nicer things than I do, and that appears to be a pretty general feeling. I do a lot of pro bono or low bono work, for example. But as a result, I don’t make a lot of money, and so I drive a shitty car that’s worth, oh, about $1500, if that. I’ve had people ask me to work for free who own two cars, or perhaps who own a 1 year old car with $10,000 in equity. Um… no.

    Is that morally disconcerting, or just a sense of jealousy? I think it’s awesome that you do a lot of pro bono work, and I thank you for doing that, but it is still your choice. Nothing says you’re obligated to work for free or to do so much free work that you can’t afford the things you want. And it’s totally reasonable for you not to choose to work for free for people who you think don’t need it.

    Where we may be talking past each other is that I’m talking more about government assistance than private charity. If a private charity wants to spend its time inventorying what people own and telling them what they need to sell off before they can have any help, I guess that’s their call. But I don’t think the government needs to be in that business. If we’ve figured out what a subsistence-level income is, and we give X amount of money to people whose income is below that, that should be the end of it.

    Since dignity is apparently too vague and wishy-washy for you, how about the idea that the hoops you expect someone to jump through should be roughly equivalent to the benefit that they and/or the system get from it? Otherwise, those hoops are just punitive.

    If Bob has to sell his flat-screen (which he saved for and bought with money he earned) before he gets his welfare check, and he has to spend six hours trying to find someone to buy it (he’s not posting it on eBay because he had to sell his computer too), has to deliver it himself, and he gets $100 for eight hours of trouble *and still needs welfare that month because he can’t feed his family or pay his rent on an extra hundred bucks*, why are we putting him through the aggravation?

  66. 166
    Schala says:

    But in any case: If a recipient of charity owns an item of comparative luxury which are not widely available to all of those who are giving the charity, and which are not considered a need, damn right they should be expected to sell it.

    That’s pure jealousy and spite. As Kelly just said, unreasonable and illogical.

    It’s not like I’d own a 1 million dollar house (or even a 100k one for all I care). And a Rolls Royce of the year.

    I don’t own and have never owned a car, not even a rundown one. I think I’d be a danger to the public if I was to drive, so I avoided even getting a license (I have panic attacks *thinking* about driving in a real life ‘you can die’ context and screwing up inevitably). I have no problem driving in Gran Turismo 5, but I’d also died hundreds of times.

    If you’re running out of cash, maybe trading in your fancy but more costly car (in insurance and other fees) for a more utilitarian one is a sound choice. But see, that reduces your monthly costs, so it’s good for something. The TV isn’t pumping up electricity bills.

  67. 167
    Bear says:

    As I’m reading this thread, it occurs to me that taking care of the poor is the one area in which many people prefer to see a minimization of their investment. That is, welfare at the very least should increase the quality of life (QoL) for the recipient. By promoting the idea that recipients sell off their luxury items, one is saying that QoL for recipients should be lowered.

    It seems to me, the wise position to take is that we should maximize our investment by making sure that QoL increases, not decreases.

  68. 168
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    KellyK says:
    We may be talking about different things when we use words like “expect.” I’m thinking of “no aid until they prove they’ve done it” where you might be thinking more along the lines of “believe that they should.”

    I thought I made that clear, but I’m in the second group. (I’ve been continually distinguishing between the practical reality and the moral ideal.)

    Is that morally disconcerting, or just a sense of jealousy?

    Disconcerting. I probably have the ability to be a fair bit richer if I choose, and to be sure I have the ability to own many more fancy possessions. So I don’t really have reason to be jealous.

    What shocks me isn’t my end income; I can control that pretty well. What shocks me are the people who are morally comfortable seeking or accepting assistance from me and from others, without doing anything to hold up their end.

    There’s a sense of unilateral entitlement which arises from a lot of people I deal with, and it is very disconcerting. It may be true that society “owes them something.” But the debt is reciprocal, not one-sided.

    Where we may be talking past each other is that I’m talking more about government assistance than private charity. If a private charity wants to spend its time inventorying what people own and telling them what they need to sell off before they can have any help, I guess that’s their call. But I don’t think the government needs to be in that business. If we’ve figured out what a subsistence-level income is, and we give X amount of money to people whose income is below that, that should be the end of it.

    Sure. Like I said, the PRACTICAL reality is that we can’t deal with this stuff. It’s impossible to legislate.

    Since dignity is apparently too vague and wishy-washy for you, how about the idea that the hoops you expect someone to jump through should be roughly equivalent to the benefit that they and/or the system get from it? Otherwise, those hoops are just punitive.

    Time was, it was considered relatively dishonorable for people to get charity. That carried all sorts of problems with it, but it served as a strong social limitation on personal excess. You could go on the government dole if you owned a nice car. But you understood that it was, in all likelihood, morally questionable to do so.

    If Bob has to sell his flat-screen (which he saved for and bought with money he earned) before he gets his welfare check, and he has to spend six hours trying to find someone to buy it (he’s not posting it on eBay because he had to sell his computer too), has to deliver it himself, and he gets $100 for eight hours of trouble *and still needs welfare that month because he can’t feed his family or pay his rent on an extra hundred bucks*, why are we putting him through the aggravation?
    This is an odd conversation.

    In many threads on this very board, when we’ve been talking about poverty there has been a continuous stream of discussion about how people can’t even spare a dollar. How food stamps give you only a dollar a day. How losing your bus fare makes you lose your job, and thus your working life. How an unexpected stomach bug could keep you from working your 12 hour shift through no fault of your own, and mean that you don’t get to have heat that month.

    Now you–in all apparent seriousness–seem to be suggesting that Bob shouldn’t have to sell his TV if it’ll “only” bring him in $100.

    I don’t care if it’s enough to pay his monthly rent. Since when do we only care about that? $100 is REAL MONEY. It may not pay the rent, but it can make a difference in Bob’s life–or in someone else’s life, if that money gets used elsewhere. The luxury (and yes it is a luxury) of insisting that it isn’t “worth” selling the TV makes no sense in the normal discussion.

    That’s part of the “goes both ways” issue.

  69. 169
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Bear says:
    September 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    As I’m reading this thread, it occurs to me that taking care of the poor is the one area in which many people prefer to see a minimization of their investment. That is, welfare at the very least should increase the quality of life (QoL) for the recipient. By promoting the idea that recipients sell off their luxury items, one is saying that QoL for recipients should be lowered.

    It seems to me, the wise position to take is that we should maximize our investment by making sure that QoL increases, not decreases.

    But you’re ignoring the desire to disincentivise the use of free services.

    Standing alone I don’t especially like paying taxes, or giving money to others. But it’s part of my beliefs, so I support it in the context of an overall scheme. However, I *really* don’t like giving money to people who don’t actually need it (or who need less then they demand) and I’m far, far, from alone in that view.

    If I’m going to help some random individual–and especially if they’re demanding my help–I expect them to take the moral stance that they are obligated to minimize their demands as much as they can.

    If there were a practically efficient way to, say “require most people getting need-based assistance to sell their 32″ flat screens” I’d be all over it.

    After all, you can ALWAYS justify luxury. I need to keep my 2008 civic because it’s “reliable.” I should keep my flat screen because selling it is “inefficient.” But that’s a load of crap, as anyone know who has ever owned a TV other than a flat screen, or a car other than a new one.

    If someone has a 1996 Fiesta, do we buy them a new Civic? (no.) If someone has a 19″ CRT, do we buy them a flat screen? (no.)

  70. 170
    Schala says:

    Cathodic TVs are outdated. If you still have one, you’ll have trouble replacing it with another cathodic TV, but you won’t have trouble paying about as much as your cathodic TV initially was worth, for a bigger LCD one.

    As in, your 19 inch cathodic maybe cost you 200$ some 10 years ago. Well, a 26 inch LCD will likely cost you the same, now.

  71. 171
    Schala says:

    @G&W

    You seem to think that if we don’t guilt-trip people into not going on welfare, that EVERYONE will go on welfare. Because hey, not working. And while a minority might, what makes most people not want to go on welfare, or on food banks, is that it’s humiliating. Even if they keep their standard of living (as in not sell their goods). Their personal pride can’t take it.

    Another reason is that the income is not that much. Yeah, you can afford a TV (to keep yours at least), and maybe cable on it, and internet. But you can’t do a lot of things others take for granted, like take out every week, or buying new clothes on impulse. Or just save money.

    Also, I much prefer internet to cell phones. That saves the cell money (buying, and plan) for other stuff.

    I also always find it weird when people can’t stand taxes and they’re not extremely rich or paying 90% taxes. They’re paying moderately little taxes in percentage and in absolute terms. But they object to it, because it’s their money, or something.

    Well, if I lived in the US, I’d find that about half the budget going on defense is probably a big spending for no reason. It’s not like the US have been invaded since 1942. Sept 2001 wasn’t an invasion by a country, it was an act by some single organization. Imagine, Canada hasn’t been attacked since, I don’t know when, maybe the riots of 1838? And we’re not insane about our defense spending either, or paranoid about doing preventive strikes on every country that even looks at us weird. And then complain about paying high taxes… (which you absolutely don’t – that’s why you have a huge deficit).

  72. 172
    Bear says:

    I’m not ignoring the desire to disincentivise the use of free services, g-w, I’m saying that desire is at complete odds to the idea that we should maximize our investment. Further, I think part of the problem here is characterizing welfare as “free services”. It isn’t. Unless the recipient in question has never contributed to the system in any way, they are receiving the benefits into which they have paid.

    I think the first step in this dialogue really has to be getting over the idea that people need a disincentive to stay on welfare. The welfare queen is just a myth.

  73. 173
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    It’s not primarily a disincentive argument. It’s primarily a moral argument.

    I’m perfectly capable of conceding a lot of stuff regarding practice. I’m a lawyer; I’m well aware of the many difficulties we face when we try to convert squishy moral codes into hard and fast rules.

    From a practical perspective, I’d rather give people a check more simply and stop the time suck of how we do it now. From a moral perspective, I’d rather that people who get a check use it in a fashion that is designed to minimize future needs, which a lot of people do not do.

    Whether or not we enforce it, I’m interested by the fact that nobody seems to really be defending the morality of owning luxury goods.

    Because of course these arguments are not dichotomous. If John insists that Bob sell his mahogany dining room set, then John may be overly punitive by insisting. Yet if John refuses to sell the furniture, Bob may be greedy. BOTH can be true, not only one of them.

    The welfare queen is just a myth.

    Hmm.

    Would you say that the goals of welfare (either from a public policy sense, or the “common person on the street” sense) would include ownership of flat screen TVs or quad core computers?

    they are receiving the benefits into which they have paid.

    True for Social Security. Not true, necessarily, for welfare.

    Besides, those benefits are limited, or they’re supposed to be. The social compact is just that: a compact, i.e. an agreement. There are obligations on BOTH sides of the agreement.

    “We will provide emergency food banks for those whose larders are bare” is supposed to be met by “I won’t use emergency food banks, unless I am having a food emergency.” “We will provide money for housing for those who cannot afford housing” is supposed to be met by “I will do my best to find reasonably affordable housing if I can.” “We will provide free health insurance” is supposed to be met by “I will not go to the ER for routine medical care.” The goal is to take what you need, not to find a way to use up what you take. Otherwise it’s social security, not welfare.

    Or, to summarize: Welfare should have a higher maximum. But in order to do so it needs to be a maximum, not a flat rate entitlement.

  74. 174
    Bear says:

    g-w, are you talking about flat screen TVs and quad core computers that were bought before or after the circumstances that led to our recipient being on welfare? Because it seems to me that if it were before, none of us have any right (moral or otherwise) to expect our recipient to sell off those items for a quick, one-off payment, any more than one has the right to prohibit an average person from buying such items in the first place. If it were after, then there’s some fraud going on that needs to be addressed, and an entirely different matter.

    Further, why are you assuming that the ownership of nice things from prior to the precipitating circumstances translates into a flat rate entitlement?

  75. 175
    KellyK says:

    The part of my reply that you didn’t quote, which I thought was important, was the *time and effort* that hypothetical Bob is obligated to put in to sell his legitimately owned TV, as compared to the return. When we say that people getting welfare shouldn’t own luxury goods, there’s the implicit assumption that selling them off for something even resembling what they’re worth is quick or easy. Or free. That TV isn’t worth one cent until you find a buyer, and selling things online or advertising them in the paper costs money, often regardless of whether or not you’re successful.

    My argument is that the hoops you expect someone to jump through to be deserving of aid should be equivalent to the value they get from them (in terms of moral fairness, not just in terms of practicality or enforcement.), and that their time and effort should not be seen as disposable simply because they need help.

    It’s also important to remember that most people receiving assistance work. It’s much easier to tell him what he should be doing if we picture Bob loafing around watching TV all day, instead of going back and forth between two difficult minimum wage jobs–or being disabled to the point that daily activities are more work for him than a full-time job is for someone who’s currently able-bodied.

    I also think that the goal of any assistance (charity or government aid) should be to help people eventually not depend on that aid. The TV may not make a difference in that regard, but asking him to sell off his high-end computer (again, previously purchased legitimately) and cancel his internet service because we’ve decided it’s too much of a luxury makes it a lot harder for him to job hunt or take classes or do whatever other things he might be working on to get out of his current situation. Even if we allow that he can have a crappy old computer and dial-up, anything he wants to do in that vein takes twice as long and be about ten times as frustrating.

  76. 176
    KellyK says:

    I should say “a fair number” rather than “most” people receiving assistance work, since I don’t know what the actual statistics are. I recall reading that the majority of people receiving government assistance in a specific county do hold at least one job, but I now can’t find it to cite it. I do know that you could work a minimum wage job for all the hours they’d give you and not be able to live on that income.

  77. 177
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Bear says:
    September 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    g-w, are you talking about flat screen TVs and quad core computers that were bought before or after the circumstances that led to our recipient being on welfare? Because it seems to me that if it were before, none of us have any right (moral or otherwise) to expect our recipient to sell off those items for a quick, one-off payment, any more than one has the right to prohibit an average person from buying such items in the first place.

    Let me try to suss that out a bit more, before I/we give up on agreement. For clarification again, I am talking about need-based social assistance, not general “you earned it” social assistance:

    Do you believe that recipients of social assistance bear any obligation to share in the burdens of society (no matter where it comes from?) What is that obligation? (I’m not talking about the obvious things like “don’t kill people”, FYI)

    If you said “yes,” do you think that any portion of that obligation stems from their receipt of social assistance? I.e., what obligation(s) arise from, say, going on welfare? Are there any extra ones?

    I’ve run into some folks who believe that there are practically no obligations to society once you’re poor enough (this is, in my view, a functional equivalent of refusing to discuss those obligations in pretty much any context. If Bob says “of course the poor have obligations” but is never willing to talk about them, it doesn’t count.) I don’t know if you’re in that group, but if you are then we’re unlikely to reach a lot of agreement here.

  78. 178
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    KellyK says:
    September 6, 2011 at 6:40 am

    The part of my reply that you didn’t quote, which I thought was important, was the *time and effort* that hypothetical Bob is obligated to put in to sell his legitimately owned TV, as compared to the return.

    Let’s say that it takes Bob a whopping 10 hours to sell his tv for a measly $100.

    First of all, let’s make it very clear that is deliberately setting out something akin to a worst case scenario here. I’ll respond: but let’s face it, ten hours is a stretch (and yes, i sell things all the time.) What is hard is selling something FAST. What is also hard is selling something for top dollar: getting $125 instead of $100, or better yet $150 instead of 100, is difficult.
    But if you can go the “spread the word to friends and stick up a handwritten a on a few local posterboards” route it’s a lot cheaper.

    When we say that people getting welfare shouldn’t own luxury goods, there’s the implicit assumption that selling them off for something even resembling what they’re worth is quick or easy.

    What they’re worth to who? Please tell me you’re not arguing both that bob shouldn’t have to sell his fat screen, and also that, if he sells it, he’s entitle dto top dollar. Please.

    Or free. That TV isn’t worth one cent until you find a buyer, and selling things online or advertising them in the paper costs money, often regardless of whether or not you’re successful.

    [shrug] i sell things all the time for free. My local paper and lots of other ones I know has a limited free section for really cheap stuff. You can also just stick up a few ads here and there. Or sell by word of mouth.

    My argument is that the hoops you expect someone to jump through to be deserving of aid should be equivalent to the value they get from them (in terms of moral fairness, not just in terms of practicality or enforcement.), and that their time and effort should not be seen as disposable simply because they need help.

    Hmm. I don’t entirely agree here.

    Let’s say you own a valuable ring. You may choose to sell it, only if you get $1,000. But if you’re poor, you may have to sell it, even if you only get $500.

    Similarly, you may consider yourself “worth” $25/hour. but if you need to work and can’t find a job that will pay your rate, you may have to work for $10/hour.

    I think that’s OK.

    In any case, let’s use an extreme example and assume that Bob puts in 10 hours of unscheduled time in order to make $100.

    Since when is that immoral? Should we not expect someone on welfare (who is capable) to ‘work’ for $10/hour? Aren’t people always looking for flex time work? Doesn’t it help that the 10 hours are more like a maximum than an average–maybe Bob will make $100/hour?

    It’s also important to remember that most people receiving assistance work. It’s much easier to tell him what he should be doing if we picture Bob loafing around watching TV all day, instead of going back and forth between two difficult minimum wage jobs

    Sure. But we’re not talking about 10 hours/week. We’re talking about 10 hours. Once. Spread over as many days (or weeks) as needed. And which aren’t necessarily exclusive (one might run errands, watch kids, cook, clean, while selling.)

    There are probably SOME people for whom that would be an incredible hardship. But let’s face it, it’s not usually a huge deal.

    –or being disabled to the point that daily activities are more work for him than a full-time job is for someone who’s currently able-bodied.

    No problem excluding the disabled.

    I also think that the goal of any assistance (charity or government aid) should be to help people eventually not depend on that aid.

    Sure, sort of.

    The TV may not make a difference in that regard,

    Yahoo! We agree on something!!

    but asking him to sell off his high-end computer (again, previously purchased legitimately)

    I’m not suggesting he stole it; what’s with the “legitimate” thing?

    but i have to ask: Surely there is some luxury that you would not permit Bob to keep. What is it? You’d let him keep a 32″ flat screen. Imagine that he’ll only get 20% of value. Still: does Welfare Bob get to keep a 44″ flat screen? a 60″ flat screen? A $5000 seven speaker home theater system?

    [to] cancel his internet service because we’ve decided it’s too much of a luxury makes it a lot harder for him to job hunt or take classes or do whatever other things he might be working on to get out of his current situation.

    Nice “might.”

    There are some people who would job hunt and self-help if they had a computer, but who would not do so if they didn’t have a computer.

    Others would do it with a PC, but would otherwise make it work without one (library,etc.)

    And others won’t do it no matter what.

    only the first group really needs a PC. And if you’re going to look at whether the program should allow PCs in general, you need to figure out what the %ages of the groups are.

    Even if we allow that he can have a crappy old computer and dial-up, anything he wants to do in that vein takes twice as long and be about ten times as frustrating.

    Man oh man, do you have a different definition of “luxury” than I do. Now, welfare recipients should not only have a computer, but a FAST one? With high speed?

    Seriously, have you forgotten what the subject was?

  79. 179
    Schala says:

    Since when is that immoral? Should we not expect someone on welfare (who is capable) to ‘work’ for $10/hour? Aren’t people always looking for flex time work? Doesn’t it help that the 10 hours are more like a maximum than an average–maybe Bob will make $100/hour?

    Except he loses his TV in exchange for the 100$, so he’s not paid 10$/hour, he’s paid the worth of the good, then doesn’t have it. Not like Bob MAKES TVs in 10 hours.

  80. 180
    Schala says:

    but i have to ask: Surely there is some luxury that you would not permit Bob to keep. What is it? You’d let him keep a 32″ flat screen. Imagine that he’ll only get 20% of value. Still: does Welfare Bob get to keep a 44″ flat screen? a 60″ flat screen? A $5000 seven speaker home theater system?

    Yes hypothetic person gets to keep his 7.1 dolby system with a 60 inch TV, because NOT keeping it DOESNT HELP YOU.

    Also, it punishes the poor permanently for temporary bad luck. Selling off your 60 inch screen for 25% of the price “just because, you should have been luckier” is assholish at best.

  81. 181
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Of course it helps me. It helps me by the value that Bob gets for the TV, less any extra (if any) that I have to compensate Bob for the time and effort he spends selling his TV. It means that I have to give less money to Bob (who is getting my money, remember?)

    It also reassures me that Bob has some sense of morality: that he is thinking not just about his own benefit, but about everyone else, and what part he can play. I feel reasonable expecting that of Bob because Bob may be expecting it of me.

    But I’m interested in the “no luxury is too much” analysis that you seem to be taking here. Have you really thought this through?

    More to the point, are you in the category of people who agrees that people subsisting on need-based services are often in dire, dollar-makes-a-difference, situations? If so, how do you combine your two stances? It seems like “Bob should be able to keep his $100 of stuff” and “Sally will just have to get by for the week, even though an extra $2/week would make a difference for her” don’t belong in the same mindset.

  82. 182
    Doug S. says:

    Now, I don’t think there’s any progressive except perhaps a real lunatic fringe who would not agree that “people should be as self-reliant as they are able to be.”

    Any economist will tell you otherwise. If you don’t trade with others, you quickly become poor. If you are hired by an employer to do clerical work in an office and then use the money to buy food from a grocery store, then you’re clearly not as self-reliant as a subsistence farmer. Giving up self-reliance is the cost of living in the modern world; we all depend on each other to provide the goods and services we need.

    Although, I don’t think that’s quite what you mean by “self-reliant”… ^_^

  83. 183
    KellyK says:

    Sure. But we’re not talking about 10 hours/week. We’re talking about 10 hours. Once. Spread over as many days (or weeks) as needed. And which aren’t necessarily exclusive (one might run errands, watch kids, cook, clean, while selling.)

    But if it’s immoral to help him until he sells it, aren’t we asking him to sell it quickly? If his next rent check is dependent on his not having excessive luxuries, he needs to get rid of it before the rent comes due, even if he gets $20 for it. If it’s wrong for him to have it, how long is it wrong for him to have it for? How much less than the value is he obligated to take, and how much effort is he obligated to expend to get something out of it now?

    I’m also not arguing that no luxury is too much. I didn’t *ever* say that. I actually said that if selling off the luxury would make a meaningful difference, be vaguely worth the time the person put into it, and not deprive them of other needs, it might be a reasonable thing to ask. (For example, if it was easy to get a half-decent car for a thousand bucks, I’d be okay with asking someone to sell their $5000 luxury car. If they couldn’t replace it with anything vaguely reliable, and having them sell it would be saddling them with a series of junkers that constantly drain money with repair or replacement, I’d say it’s unfair.)

    Nice “might.”

    There are some people who would job hunt and self-help if they had a computer, but who would not do so if they didn’t have a computer.

    Others would do it with a PC, but would otherwise make it work without one (library,etc.)

    And others won’t do it no matter what.

    only the first group really needs a PC. And if you’re going to look at whether the program should allow PCs in general, you need to figure out what the %ages of the groups are.

    Even if we allow that he can have a crappy old computer and dial-up, anything he wants to do in that vein takes twice as long and be about ten times as frustrating.

    Man oh man, do you have a different definition of “luxury” than I do. Now, welfare recipients should not only have a computer, but a FAST one? With high speed?

    Seriously, have you forgotten what the subject was?

    No, I haven’t, and that was a little rude. I never said we should make sure every welfare recipient has a top-of-the-line PC with a fantastic internet connection. What I did say was that the PC is used to meet an awful lot of *needs* not just wants. Not just job-hunting, but kids doing homework too. And that I’m against depriving someone of an item that fulfills needs because we’ve deemed it too luxurious.

    Public libraries are great, but there’s often a lot of waiting to get a computer. Again, people’s time should be worth something. Say Bob is putting X hours into job hunting with his current computer. If he has to sell it, he needs to put in 3X or 5X to achieve the same result. Getting to and from the library, waiting in line, getting interrupted every half hour or hour because that’s usually the max you can use a public library computer. Or, if we allow him to have a junky computer and a cheap, lousy connection, probably 2x waiting for things to load, getting partway done with a resume submission and watching it time out, and rebooting it when it crashes.

    My parents have a cheap computer and a dial-up connection. I pretty much don’t use the computer at their house, because most modern websites assume that everyone has some form of high-speed. If I were living at home and job-hunting with that connection, it would be an extraordinarily frustrating experience.

    I’m in the privileged state of never having been on public assistance (unless you want to get nitpicky and count a need-based grant and a small subsidized loan that helped me pay for college), but I imagine it’s already chock-full of frustrating experiences. So I’m not really inclined to make things harder for people unnecessarily. It just seems to me like kicking someone when they’re already down.

    I’m not suggesting he stole it; what’s with the “legitimate” thing?

    I keep pointing out that Bob owns those luxuries legitimately because I think it’s very different to have something from before you needed assistance that you don’t feel it’s worth the time and aggravation to sell (remember, it does Bob absolutely *no* net good because we’ve reduced his aid by that amount) than it is to be on welfare and be buying a flat-screen. That is, there was no fraud or cheating on his part. Those things are his. He worked and he earned them. I think that makes the bar for expecting him to get rid of them higher.

  84. 184
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    KellyK says:
    September 7, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Sure. But we’re not talking about 10 hours/week. We’re talking about 10 hours. Once. Spread over as many days (or weeks) as needed. And which aren’t necessarily exclusive (one might run errands, watch kids, cook, clean, while selling.)

    But if it’s immoral to help him until he sells it, aren’t we asking him to sell it quickly?

    That’s not what I’m trying to say; let me correct the miscommunication. I’ll put this answr in its own post.

    The practical side: -I don’t think that it’s practical to demand that Bob sell his TV, for a variety of reasons-including the issue of knowing who has TVs in the first place.

    -I don’t think it’s practical in all cases (though it’s appropriate in some) to condition Bob’s need-based benefits on sale of assets. (It’s perfectly practical if the assets are large enough, at least IMO. But even though $100 is “real money,” it’s not enough real money to serve as a bar to benefits.)

    The moral side:
    -Whether or not it’s practical to require Bob to sell the TV, it’s immoral for Bob to continue to own the TV if Bob is receiving need-based benefits of the type I’ve been describing.

    -Whether or not it’s practical to use an asset-based screen for eligibility, it’s immoral for Bob to enter into the recipient pool for need-based benefits, if he could sell certain luxury assets to avoid it.

    To the question “who should decide how fast to sell the TV?” I would answer “Bob.” Practically, there’s nobody else.

    But the fact that the decision falls on Bob doesn’t imply that any decision Bob makes (e.g. “kepp the TV”) is moral.

  85. 185
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I’m also not arguing that no luxury is too much. I didn’t *ever* say that. I actually said that if selling off the luxury would make a meaningful difference, be vaguely worth the time the person put into it, and not deprive them of other needs, it might be a reasonable thing to ask. (For example, if it was easy to get a half-decent car for a thousand bucks, I’d be okay with asking someone to sell their $5000 luxury car. If they couldn’t replace it with anything vaguely reliable, and having them sell it would be saddling them with a series of junkers that constantly drain money with repair or replacement, I’d say it’s unfair.)

    I have bought more than one brand-new car, including luxury cars, off the lot. I have also bought (and used as a daily commuter) a multitude of 10-25 year old cars. My current daily driver is 20 years old.

    The concept that old cars are really expensive is, often, simply wrong. Yes: I have had cars where I occasionally had to sink $1,000 into it. But I wouldn’t do that every YEAR. If you drive a $1500 car instead of a $7500 car, it takes a long long long time before you spend $6000 on repairs.

    I know that you don’t see it this way, but: wny are you not considering the “reverse issue?” Would you support BUYING someone a more expensive car? If not, why would you support them keeping it?

    No, I haven’t, and that was a little rude

    true. Sorry.

    I never said we should make sure every welfare recipient has a top-of-the-line PC with a fantastic internet connection. What I did say was that the PC is used to meet an awful lot of *needs* not just wants. Not just job-hunting, but kids doing homework too. And that I’m against depriving someone of an item that fulfills needs because we’ve deemed it too luxurious.

    But pretty much everything fulfills a “need” of some type. The question isn’t whether a need gets fulfilled. The question is whether a need that society is obligated to provide for gets fulfilled. Or if you want to put it differently, the question is how the MINIMUM needs are defined, since those are usually what a need-based program is designed to address.

    Public libraries are great, but there’s often a lot of waiting to get a computer. Again, people’s time should be worth something.

    Sure. but how much? Isn’t the time of the people who are making the money to pay Bob to own a computer, also worth something

    Say Bob is putting X hours into job hunting with his current computer. If he has to sell it, he needs to put in 3X or 5X to achieve the same result. Getting to and from the library, waiting in line, getting interrupted every half hour or hour because that’s usually the max you can use a public library computer. Or, if we allow him to have a junky computer and a cheap, lousy connection, probably 2x waiting for things to load, getting partway done with a resume submission and watching it time out, and rebooting it when it crashes.

    That’s not great for Bob.

    but.

    But that is still not necessarily an insurmountable problem. Nor is it too much burden on Bob.

    After all, how often does Bob apply for a new job, online? The concept of a public library PC is that it allows you to leverage that same computer and INternet connection so that it can serve the part-time needs of 100 people, instead of the needs of 1 person.

    My parents have a cheap computer and a dial-up connection. I pretty much don’t use the computer at their house, because most modern websites assume that everyone has some form of high-speed. If I were living at home and job-hunting with that connection, it would be an extraordinarily frustrating experience.

    Sure. But “avoiding online frustration” is not a base human need, nor a need which social programs are designed to meet, nor–for what its’ worth–an issue on which I and most folks I know would spend any money at all.

    I’m in the privileged state of never having been on public assistance (unless you want to get nitpicky and count a need-based grant and a small subsidized loan that helped me pay for college), but I imagine it’s already chock-full of frustrating experiences.

    Yes, it is. And they’re all linked to money, and to trust, by and large.

    In a perfect world, we’d be able to trust Bob not to have expensive shit while taking public money. And we’d be able to rely on Bob to do his damndest to get a job (even one he didn’t like much,) and to generally do his part.

    In that perfect world, Bob could just say “hey guys, i’ve tried my best. but I really need $472.30 this week. trust me, the need is real” and we could just give him the $472.30 and be done with it.

    Of course, we don’t actually trust Bob to do that. We’re worried that bob will decide he “needs” a 45″ flat screen and a $7000 car and, what the hey, a Keurig, because he has an early morning job and doesn’t like to wake up in time to make coffee.

    So I’m not really inclined to make things harder for people unnecessarily. It just seems to me like kicking someone when they’re already down.

    It’s all linked. If we demand a higher standard of morality and GET it, it makes things EASIER, not harder, in the long run. The more that we trust people like Bob, the less frustrating we can make it for people like Bob.

    And there have to be some limits, right? this is a resource-limited pool. No matter where you set the limits, there are always going to be things that Bobs want, which society doesn’t think Bobs should “get for free.”

    I keep pointing out that Bob owns those luxuries legitimately because I think it’s very different to have something from before you needed assistance that you don’t feel it’s worth the time and aggravation to sell

    When you accept welfare, one of the things you trade off is a certain degree of control over what you do. If you take food stamps, you can’t spend them at Six Flags. If you get housing assistance, you can’t spend it on a Bermuda cruise. If you take unemployment, you are obliged to actively pursue a job, and to take it if you get one. And if you get general “I’m really poor and need public money” assistance, you can reasonably be obliged to sell your expensive shit, even if it’s not “worth it to you.”

    Your ability to unilaterally make the “what is this worth to me” decision is contingent on doing it with YOUR money, not SOCIETY’s money.

    (remember, it does Bob absolutely *no* net good because we’ve reduced his aid by that amount)

    Weren’t you talking about the social benefits of the system, or was it someone else?

    Of course it does Bob good. It does the same good for Bob as it does for everyone else in society, whether or not they happen to be on welfare at the very moment in time: it makes more money available for other things, or other people, that are more important.

    As a society, we are ENTITLED to make those decisions. Someone has to. And I am not the slightest but embarassed to suggest that “flat screen TVs” are way, way, down the priority list.

    Maybe Bob can only save the system $100 by selling his PC; maybe he can only save $10/month by cancelling his Internet. But maybe ten Bobs can buy a $1000 PC with a $100/month connection, that can serve the part-time needs of 100 people at Bob’s local library.

    He worked and he earned them. I think that makes the bar for expecting him to get rid of them higher.

    OK, then: what’s the bar?

    Please give an example (or better yet a general definition) of how Bob should be able to define “worth” and how society should react to Bob’s decisino. No need to talk about practicality; we’re in pure morality land here.

  86. 186
    Schala says:

    And if you get general “I’m really poor and need public money” assistance, you can reasonably be obliged to sell your expensive shit, even if it’s not “worth it to you.”

    I’m sure glad it’s not like that on this side of reality. Because whew, my being trans causing me employment problems would just be another excuse to make me even more poor than I am now (check out the trans unemployment rate, and the reasons for it).

    Oh and how fun. You couch my responsibility in doing stuff for society, and companies couch their responsibilities in making money – not in employing people. So not employing and THEN pointing the finger at me for not being employed, is totally legitimate for them. Them not wanting to hire me because clients might go “eww, a tranny”? Not their concern.

  87. 187
    Schala says:

    Your ability to unilaterally make the “what is this worth to me” decision is contingent on doing it with YOUR money, not SOCIETY’s money.

    Except (Bob) DID do it with his own money. You’re saying the money he had before doesn’t matter, now he must live like a pauper who’s never tasted non-mildew bread or bought new clothes.

  88. 188
    Bear says:

    The way this conversation has turned leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. It just seems like a “I’m giving you money, so get down on your knees and kiss my ring” mentality. Forget about selling TVs and cars, what is really being advocated is that Bob sell his dignity.

  89. 189
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Nobody in this country should have to be undignified to obtain basic survival needs.

    I don’t especially give a crap if we make them feel undignified about owning luxuries, though.

    Why do you prioritize that? Why is retaining Bob’s dignity with respect to luxury goods more important to discuss than providing for the socially-defined BASIC needs of all people Bob?

  90. 190
    Schala says:

    You’re aware that in the case of bankruptcy, that a bank or someone else you owe money too, will NOT come to get your kitchen or room set, and will let you have your TV unless it’s brand new and they expect a nice price from it (like a large and new 3D TV maybe).

    They’d *laugh* at a 32 inch flat screen, call it a waste of time, and tell you they’ll leave it to you because they’re nice. Same thing about computers – resale value is very very bad. They devalue faster than cars. No one wants to resell used computers solely.

    But you think welfare should consider stuff as too much that even bankruptcy people won’t take as luxury. They have to leave you a minimum to live with, and only sell what could repay part of your debt (and it’s usually higher than a few 100s if you’re even declaring bankruptcy). Houses they’ll want. Cars are iffy, the rest they won’t even ask. Well, unless you’ve been really really rich at some point and have pretty valuable art pieces or antique furniture.

  91. 191
    areanimator says:

    There’s a passage in Zygmunt Bauman’s book Freedom that is highly relevant to the discussion in this thread and I think is worth quoting at length.

    “On the one hand, social welfare was the way of paying ‘collectively’ the social costs of the private pursuit of gain (i. e. mitigating the damage suffered by the losers); on the other, social welfare was from the start a method of keeping in check all those who, being ‘masterless men’ – neither masters nor master’s servants – could not be trusted to guide their own actions or to have their actions already guided in the right direction. These people were to be deprived of freedom to choose and put under conditions where their behaviour could be fully determined and constantly under scrutiny.”

    […]

    “An important tendency in the recent history of welfare is the progressive ‘infantilization’ of its objects. Their expenditures, furnishings, clothes, food, style of life are carefully controlled; their privacy is violated at will by unannounced visits of the experts in health, hygiene, education; welfare payments are offered only in exchange for full confessions and total exposure of the most intimate aspects of life to the inquisitive officials; after all that, payments are set at a level which leaves no room for the recipients’ discretion and choice, allowing only for the bare necessities. The rules which regulate the welfare process are based on the assumption that the client of welfare is a failed citizen, someone who evidently cannot exercise his own freedom, someone imprudent and improvident, someone who cannot be trusted to be in control of his own actions. Set in operation, these rules accomplish what they assume: they systematically deprive welfare clients of initiative, de-train them in the art of free choice, force them to remain passive and socially useless.”

    Forgive me the long quotation. To my mind, the issue at hand concerns the way that recipients of welfare and charity efforts are viewed. Rather than proceeding from the assumption that charity recipients are free agents like any other citizen currently above the poverty line or some other boundary that demarcates welfare clients, a common assumption is to view them as scroungers, exploiting the system for their own gain because they are “too lazy to do honest work”. Even discounting the issue that exploiting the welfare system is a time-consuming enterprise that requires ingenuity and cunning, and takes up as much time as “honest work” does and more, there’s also the issue that the very fact that a system can be exploited cannot be used to discredit the system (after all, any conceivable system would also be exploitable due to the nature of social systems). A welfare system that views its recipients as suspected criminals, guilty of fraud until proven innocent, may save taxpayer money but will inevitably result in producing the parasites it was intended to keep away from welfare.

    The conversation about “Bob” is particularly illuminating. It’s as if once “Bob” falls beneath some arbitrary povery line, his freedom of choice, rational agency, and property rights just magically vanish. As soon as he becomes poor, “Bob” is a defective consumer; his choices are now dictated to him by the providers of his welfare. Effectively, Bob is a serf, owned by the state or charity that supplies his needs.

    Why care about the dignity of welfare recipients? I’d say for the simple reason that free, dignified human beings who can make their own choices in life are far more likely to escape poverty than powerless slaves. If your goal is to fight poverty, you’re far more likely to succeed by empowering the poor than by reducing their (already limited) freedoms.

  92. 192
    nobody.really says:

    Should we design social safety nets to protect the dignity of those who rely on them? Three views:

    1 Out of sheer compassion, taxpayers should be willing to pay extra simply to ensure that people in the social safety net enjoy a modicum of dignity. If this policy also produces some added benefit of encouraging people to escape poverty and get out of the social safety net, so much the better, but that’s just icing on the cake.

    2 Taxpayers should provide a social safety net to provide for life-sustaining necessities, but should not bear any unnecessary costs. If policies that maintain people’s dignity prove to be a cost-effective means for helping them out of poverty, thereby reducing the cost of the social safety net, then we should adopt those policies. But if not – if, for example, the net effect of those policies is to make people more comfortable in relying on the social safety net, or make people less anxious about falling into the net to begin with – then we should not adopt those policies.

    3 I don’t believe in social safety nets, or my belief in meritocracy and status trumps my compassion. If we have to have social safety nets, I want them to be demeaning to discourage people from relying on them unnecessarily – and more generally, as a means to vent my frustrations with being saddled with a policy that offends my values.

    A friend managed a local Habitat for Humanity office ten years ago. The office receive many, many donations of building materials – fancy tub and shower fixtures, bay windows, insulated sliding glass doors, sky lights, ceiling fans, gas fireplaces, chandeliers. They had more of these materials than they knew what to do with. But they felt that they had to dole them out sparingly. Evidence that people in a Habitat home were living a life of luxury – even if that luxury did not come at public expense – was regarded as a threat to people’s sense of meritocracy and status. In short, Habitat for Humanity provided people with less benefit than they could have, while providing no offsetting benefit to anyone else, simply to avoid offending the sensibilities of people who were not even involved.

    I don’t really grasp the world view of people who feel this way. But it’s a time-honored feeling – even if not a well-honored feeling.

    [A] landowner … went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius [day’s wages] for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

    He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around…. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

    When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages….’

    The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

    But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? …I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

    Matthew 20:1-15. Yup, generosity inspires envy. Like it or lump it, this seems to be an immutable human dynamic – one we need to consider when designing public policy.

  93. 193
    Ampersand says:

    NR, that story about HfH is pretty damned sad.

    I don’t think G&W is really talking about what welfare policy should be. He’s said several times that, as a matter of good policy, he doesn’t think that welfare should be involved with forcing welfare recipients to sell off their TVs and laptops.

    Rather, if I understand G&W correctly, he’s saying it would be morally better if welfare recipients voluntarily sold off their computers and TVs, so that they could honestly say that they have cut their own expenses and possessions down to genuine necessities before they accepted aid from the government. The point isn’t to save any taxpayer money, but to say what would make someone a morally better welfare recipient.

    And to a certain extent, I agree with G&W. If someone on welfare owns a luxury auto that they could sell for $100,000, I’d say that was pretty sleazy. That’s someone who is perfectly capable of supporting themselves in a reasonable fashion, choosing to be on welfare instead. The person is free-riding on the rest of us.

    The argument here seems to be, at least partly, one of scale. If owning a $100,000 Porsche while on welfare is obnoxious, isn’t owning a computer that could be sold for $100 also obnoxious? I don’t think it is. The person with the Porsche is choosing to go on welfare by not selling her car; in contrast, the person with the computer is not going to be able to keep herself from needing welfare by selling the computer.

  94. 194
    Mandolin says:

    “. The person with the Porsche is choosing to go on welfare by not selling her car; in contrast, the person with the computer is not going to be able to keep herself from needing welfare by selling the computer.”

    & selling the computer has later financial repercussions; it’ll probably cost money in the long run. These are the sorts of things we’ve been running into w/ my husband’s mother’s financial problems–when you slough things that are bound up with the way we interact with the world, you often end up incurring different kinds of costs. Getting her back online, and back with access to online banking and that kind of stuff, was a priority.

  95. 195
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ampersand says:
    September 9, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    I don’t think G&W is really talking about what welfare policy should be. He’s said several times that, as a matter of good policy, he doesn’t think that welfare should be involved with forcing welfare recipients to sell off their TVs and laptops.

    Rather, if I understand G&W correctly, he’s saying it would be morally better if welfare recipients voluntarily sold off their computers and TVs, so that they could honestly say that they have cut their own expenses and possessions down to genuine necessities before they accepted aid from the government. The point isn’t to save any taxpayer money, but to say what would make someone a morally better welfare recipient.

    Yes. thank you for recognizing that.

    The argument here seems to be, at least partly, one of scale. If owning a $100,000 Porsche while on welfare is obnoxious, isn’t owning a computer that could be sold for $100 also obnoxious? I don’t think it is. The person with the Porsche is choosing to go on welfare by not selling her car; in contrast, the person with the computer is not going to be able to keep herself from needing welfare by selling the computer.

    Yes and no. I don’t think the morality issue only arises when it’s a “welfare / nofare” decision.

    The discussion IMO revolves around (1) the value of the item; (2) the worth of the item to its owner, as defined by its current owner; and (3) the worth of
    having the owner keep it, however society defines that.

    There are things with non-zero value which might make moral sense, with those criteria, for welfare recipients to keep. Maybe a cheap but functional computer is one of them. And there are things which may not make moral sense, even if the item is of relatively small value.

    But there are obviously (to me) differences between things. I won’t even go to arguing about whether they are, the balance, worthwhile. It’s a bit frustrating, though, to have what seems like an apparent refusal to acknowledge the existence of a luxury/need continuum, instead of a black and white welfare/nofare scale. I can’t easily talk specifics with someone who won’t even concede that there’s an upper bound at all.

    Cheap computers (which work fine for word processing and basic web surfing) are easier to justify than expensive computers which can run games, watch movies, etc.

    Dialup (which is slow but frankly not unusable for basic internet use) is less of a luxury than high speed (which admittedly works far better for Youtube).

    And a flat screen TV is more of a luxury than a computer.

  96. 196
    Mandolin says:

    Vimes boot problem. When you spend $10 on a cheap pair of boots and have to replace it every year, you end up spending $100 on boots over ten years. Rich person has $50 to spend on a really good pair of boots that lasts the ten years, ends up saving money. People who are economically stressed end up staying that way.

  97. 197
    Jebedee says:

    The problem seems fairly quantifiable in terms of assets. If someone has a big heap of cash lying around in the basement, there’s probably a consensus that they ought to live off that before receiving any outside support. What if it’s a big heap of foreign cash? Well, probably a similar consensus – it’s reasonably straightforward to convert that into local currency, even though it does involve a bit more work and some loss in the conversion.

    But of course, pretty much any possession lies on the same scale on which foreign currency is an extreme example – given sufficient work and conversion loss, you can convert it into cash, and whether that’s a net positive depends on what value you assign to the work (plus listing fees and the like). So whether or not you think someone ought to be doing such a conversion (i.e. selling their stuff) depends on a) what value you assign to their “selling work” and b) the total net value of assets (with selling work/costs deducted) you think they ought to be able to possess before receiving public support. (I’m admittedly ignoring another important variable here, which is time; almost everything is worth less if you have to sell it right now.)

    Of course, foreign currency isn’t useful in itself, whereas possessions often are, so what about things, like an old computer, that it makes more sense to keep in terms of improving someone’s situation? Well that seems quantifiable too. How much is it worth to the policymakers for someone to have a computer? If this value (call it $X) is more than its net selling value (call it $Y), they shouldn’t be forced to sell it.

    I think the interesting thing about this last point is that you might object “Well, why doesn’t the govt. go out and buy everyone who lacks one a computer for $X then?” and the answer is that there’s no guarantee the govt. can do such a thing. Because even if $X>$Y, $Y is the market price of the computer minus the cost and effort of selling it, so it’s below the actual market price. Secondly, buying stuff requires time and effort too, so the real cost to the govt. would be the market price+the buying overhead, which could be even further above $Y and $X as well. In that situation, letting someone keep their computer is equivalent to the govt. taking advantage of a govt.-only super-duper one-time offer to buy this particular person a computer for the far-below-market price of $Y, and that may well be worth doing, even if it isn’t a policy to buy them for everyone.

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    Grace Annam says:

    Stumbled across something (thanks, Amp) which reminded me of this thread:

    http://wakingupnow.com/blog/the-american-dream-inequality-and-immobility

    Grace