January 12, 2014
"What if I had lived in a state or a country or a time—like now, for instance—where after the second or third [drug rehabilitation] treatment, they said, “Gosh, Mr. Carr, you seem to be having trouble getting the hang of this. Is this really a good use of the hard-earned tax money of the citizens of our state?” The state of Minnesota, along with the Feds, paid for at least three treatments, gave me general assistance while I was in the booby hatch, and, when I got custody of my children, issued me food stamps to feed them. A few years later, I got cancer, and it paid for all of that too. …Not a bad investment, in retrospect. Not only did the state not have to bear the burden of permanently placing the twins in foster care, but I had been a very good candidate to graduate from jail to prison, which is a very expensive proposition. As a citizen with the wheels glued back on, I have probably kicked back more than $300,000 in federal and state taxes. I’m hoping they drop a little of it on a loser like me."

— David Carr, The Night of the Gun (via prettayprettaygood)

October 17, 2013
"The annual cost that American taxpayers spend on public assistance programs for the 52% of fast food workers who access them out of necessity: $7 billion. The amount of those workers’ employers—the seven largest fast-food companies—netted last year alone: $7 billion. That’s right: The tax dollars going to keep fast-food workers afloat are more or less equal to the profit their employers are making."

How Low-Wage Fast-Food Jobs Actually Take Money Out of Your Pocket

Perhaps the upcoming congressional discussion on entitlements should consider Big Macs?

(via squashed)

LTMC: The real worth of this data is that people might finally apply the axiom that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” to low-wage workers.  Yes, if these companies pay their workers more, prices will go up.  But increased wages will disqualify them for public benefits (and ideally eliminate the need for them in the first place), reducing the cost of welfare programs proportionately (this would also have the tertiary benefit of making social services run more efficiently by reducing caseloads).

In the meantime, there’s always that Walmart study.

April 12, 2012

You present a cake to your family. Is it fairer to:

a) give everybody a slice of [equal] size, or

b) make everybody fight with broadswords, so they all have [equality of] opportunity to win the entire cake for themselves?


Comments, Slacktivist: Jason DeParle on Mothers and Their Children

I would give them equal slices of cake and broadswords.  But that’s just me.

January 11, 2012
"Frequently, demand for government services emerges because of the perception that the private sector has fallen down on the job in that area. This means that the government has been tasked with doing the things that are difficult and unprofitable to do. It is precisely because these government outputs are often so hard to measure that Newt Gingrich’s claims about Six Sigma sound pretty laughable. Even libertarians who want the government to reduce its operations drastically will acknowledge the political risks and costs of trying to execute this plan."

— Dan Drezner, "Governments Are Not Corporations."

March 18, 2011
Minnesota GOP Wants Poor People To Never Get Jobs


St. Paul, MN – Minnesota Republicans are pushing legislation that would make it a crime for people on public assistance to have more $20 in cash in their pockets any given month. This represents a change from their initial proposal, which banned them from having any money at all.

…House File 171 would make it so that families on MFIP - and disabled single adults on General Assistance and Minnesota Supplemental Aid - could not have their cash grants in cash or put into a checking account. Rather, they could only use a state-issued debit card at special terminals in certain businesses that are set up to accept the card.

This is, essentially, welfare paternalism: and it’s not necessarily all bad.  One way to deter people from public assistance programs is to make sure that it is a less attractive option than working for a living.  For most people, the shame of being on public assistance, and the hassle of getting approved, is enough to deter them already (that is, of course, until necessity trumps principle).

However, excessive paternalism can actually cause negative externalities, such as limiting the mobility of the poor by preventing them from being able to use public assistance funds for activities which would help them find a job:

an unemployed person has to utilize public transit to go out in the world and be proactive in seeking work. Instead, they present the poor with isolation, not letting them use their debit card, sit home and not seek employment.

The same free-market principles that make excessive central planning inefficient also apply here: excessive paternalism in public assistance payments limits the ability of the poor to find a job by limiting their monetary freedom.  For example: if public buses aren’t equipped to take these debit cards, then how do they get to job interviews?  How would they get back and forth to work for the first few months of their employment until they have enough money to leave the welfare system?

There are common-sense ways in which these benefits can be and are already restricted.  For example, New York State actually uses debit cards to dole out most of its benefits.  And in NYS, lottery retailers can only sell tickets for cash.  There is one non-essential purchase that is inherently impossible to make.  Many retailers also do not accept food-stamps, which makes life more difficult for people on public assistance (but not untenably so).  But NYS doesn’t go to the extent that Minnesota’s proposed law does, which is so restrictive that it becomes less likely that the poor will bother trying to find a job in the first place.

However, excessive paternalism creates inefficiencies that are counter-productive from a tax-payer standpoint.  If the object is to get people off welfare, then we can’t restrict their freedom to the point where it’s harder for them to get a job in the first place.  Measures like this are far more based in punitive moral judgments than they are in fiscal reality.  And the GOP is not doing Minnesota taxpayers any favors by limiting the fungibility of public assistance benefits in this fashion.

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