"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

46 Million Poor

In the news today are stories about how there are 46 million poor in America.   Robert Rector, writing in NRO, puts this in perspective:

● Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
● Fully 92 percent of poor households have a microwave; two-thirds have at least one DVD player and 70 percent have a VCR.
● Nearly 75 percent have a car or truck; 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
● Four out of five poor adults assert they were never hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money for food.
● Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television.
● Half have a personal computer; one in seven have two or more computers.
● More than half of poor families with children have a video game system such as Xbox or PlayStation.
● Just under half — 43 percent — have Internet access.
● A third have a widescreen plasma or LCD TV.
● One in every four has a digital video recorder such as TiVo. 

I have a strong memory of an argument I had many years ago with a student of mine (back when I was teacing) where I told her that I was unwilling to pay taxes to fund food-stamp programs for anyone who claimed "poverty" and yet had cable TV.   I made the point that seems obvious to me but that most people still don't get -- money, by definition, is fungible.   So, if I give someone food stamps, that frees up whatever money they would have used to buy food stamps to spend on other things.... like cable, Internet, plasma TVs, etc.      Needless to say, the young undergraduate didn't like what I had to say, and thought I was being "mean."  

In the same article, however, Rector notes the following:

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked parents living in poverty this question: “In the last 12 months, were [your] children ever hungry but you just couldn’t afford more food?” Some 96 percent of poor parents responded “no”: Their children never had been hungry because of a lack of food resources at any time in the previous year. Only 4 percent of poor parents responded “yes,” their children had been hungry at some point in the year.
Put these facts together.   Most of the "poor" have cable or satellite TV, DVD players, and an XBox or Playstation system.   Most of the "poor" -- indeed, the vast majority, are not hungry.   The logic is inescapable.... we aren't really giving people food stamps to buy food they would not otherwise be able to afford; we're giving them XBox or cable TV or Internet or TiVo or DVD player stamps.   That's because, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether the "poor" spend food stamps on food and money on XBoxs, or money on food and food stamps on XBoxs.   It's all fungible.   

If that makes me "mean" or heartless, too bad. 

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