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Wanker of the Day

[ 165 ] December 10, 2012 |

Nic Kristof.

Evidently Kristof is only interested in poverty if he can personally fly in and rescue women from sex slavery. Otherwise, he’s happy to channel the arguments of Gilded Age social Darwinists.

Here is an illustration of Kristof’s views, from 1877

“Helping the Poor–Gratuitous Distribution of Coal by the City–Cherry Street,” New York City, 1877

Can’t you just feel the dependency developing?

….Follow-up question. Are Kristof’s sex slaves still worth rescuing if the brothel has air-conditioning? Or do they then become the unworthy poor?

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  1. rea says:

    Literacy does not render one ineligible for SSI. Kristof does not seem to udnerstand this.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      There’s a Friedman-esque willful misunderstanding of the entire social welfare system through the whole article. Much easier to use stereotypes of poor whites in Kentucky to score political points.

      • Mo says:

        Actually, it is a real issue. Children with disabilities, including ADHD and “intellectual disabilities” can qualify for SSDI. In theory, this money goes to help fund extra tutoring and such for the child, but if it is money the family needs to survive…

        Part of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD and its ilk are problems in school. If the problems are solved, the diagnosis may change, and thus the SSDI money could be “lost.”

        But yes, the real problem is extreme poverty, not what people do to survive it.

        • Sherm says:

          Part of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD and its ilk are problems in school. If the problems are solved, the diagnosis may change, and thus the SSDI money could be “lost.”

          This is correct. And the inability to read at an age when others are reading is evidence of a functional limitation resulting from a mental impairment.

        • Jim says:

          You almost certainly mean SSI, and not SSDI.

          It is frustratingly imprecise to say that “problems in school” are part of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. And I’m not sure if you are lumping specific learning disorders in with ADHD “and its ilk,” since they are generally considered separate from ADHD.

          At any rate, these are irrelevant to Kristof’s column. The parents he’s accusing of malingering are parents with of children with intellectual disabilities.

          • Sherm says:

            ADHD is considered a “mental disorder” for the purposes of SSI.

            • Jim says:

              Sure, but the anecdata he’s citing – that the parents pull kids out of literacy programs “to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability” – would be evidence of mental retardation under SSI, wouldn’t it?

              • Sherm says:

                Who the fuck knows what Kristoff is talking about. He sure the hell doesn’t. But its easy to see how a child with ADHD without the proper support (familial and school) could be very late to read and eligible for SSI.

                • rea says:

                  Well, (1) let me see one docuemnted isntance of a child losing SSI because he learns to read after participating in a remedial reading program, and (2) logic fail–”illiteracy is a sign of learning disabiliity” does not mean that literacy refutes a claim of learning disability. Most Swedes are blond, but most blonds are not Swedish.

                • Sherm says:

                  Although I have been reading a lot about ADHD lately and will probably be reading a lot more in the near future, I know very little about SSI and ADHD other than that it is defined as a mental disorder and that school records are reviewed by the case examiners. I’ll otherwise defer to timb, who is an expert.

              • timb says:

                No, evidence for retardation under SSA is based upon psychological testing, primarily the WISC, but also using the WRAT,K-bit, and other achievement tests.

                Not knowing how to read is NOT a disabling condition for children OR adults.

                • Jim says:

                  And in many cases (at least in the educational arena), being found to have many disorders requires a rule-out for lack of instruction in reading.

        • timb says:

          You know who that thing about school performance, Mo? Teachers and school administrators, who write glowing reports about John B. Poor, because they have been told for years that his parents are trying to game the system.

          I do these claims daily and we don’t take ADHD claims, unless there is a second diagnosis, primarily because you cannot convince SSA judges or teachers or SSA medical experts that a kid with ADHD alone is disabled, unless you’ve seen that kid on the news.

          • Sherm says:

            because you cannot convince SSA judges or teachers or SSA medical experts that a kid with ADHD alone is disabled

            That is amazingly ignorant of them. I’m guessing that my wife and I are on the path to this diagnosis with our son, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for a working class family to deal with a kid with a severe case of ADHD. Not everyone can afford a fucking nanny.

            • timb says:

              Well, I over-stated because of my frustration. There are plenty of kids on SSI with severe ADHD, but they are almost exclusively allowed at the lower levels (which is a mostly a crap shoot).

              At the hearing level in the midwest, where I do my current work, an ADHD case is DOA with a judge.

  2. Malaclypse says:

    Of American families living in poverty today, 8 out of 10 have air-conditioning, and a majority have a washing machine and dryer. Nearly all have microwave ovens.

    Oh fuck me like a walrus. Will this trope never die?

    Note that the source study, by the always-creditable American Enterprise Institute, treats a single used window unit and full central air as though they were the same thing – air conditioning as a binary present/absent. Further proof that “clever” and “intelligent” are not actually the same thing.

    • Joshua says:

      Globalization may have put scores of people into poverty, but they can at least get an AC for less money. Well, less money and more finger-wagging.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Plus, the idea that a goddamned microwave oven is some sort of incredible luxury item in 2012 is pretty embarrassing. He should at least go all the way and note that many people below the poverty-line own these new-fangled color TVs, like a Rockefeller.

      • Joshua says:

        I’ve seen a Fox News graphic floating around the internets that says yes, 99.6% of “poor” households have a [i]refrigerator[/i]. And no, the quotes around poor are not mine.

        • Malaclypse says:

          What next, glass windows? Indoor plumbing? If Jesus Christ Himself didn’t need these things, then why to the so-called poor need them?

        • Hogan says:

          I “had” a refrigerator for many years when I rented. Doesn’t mean I ever bought or owned one, just that it’s standard equipment in an apartment.

          • Junipermo says:

            Long time lurker, first time commenter. I was moved to reply to say thank you for noticing that lots of people rent and that the person who really “has” the refrigerator in that instance is the landlord, and if the folks at the AEI ever got out amongst people for a second they’d know that. But wingnuts and people like Kristof can’t let facts get in the way of a good poor-bashing.

          • DrDick says:

            The same is also true of air conditioning in some parts of the country (especially in the South), especially in newer construction. Of course having it and using it are entirely different things. Oddly, most dwellings have heating as well. The idea that heat does not kill while cold does is repudiated every year in the South.

          • BonnyAnne says:

            also delurking to say: Holy Balls, that had never occurred to me before. I too have always had a fridge but have never ever owned one.

            I wonder how many people that statistic misleads.

            Alternately, I wonder how much worse off poor people in this country would be if not for government standards mandating things like a working fridge and stove in rental units. God knows I can’t afford either.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        Such an argument would by necessity include the technicolor bars Tom Snyder used to float in the intro to his show.

      • R. Porrofatto says:

        Even more ridiculous, a microwave oven is the cheapest way to cook. One can be purchased at Walmart for about $70 and the efficiency is now to the point where a small microwave uses almost 70% less energy than a conventional oven. Holding this out as a luxury is like writing “a majority of poor people have shoes.”

        Similarly, the efficiency of small air conditioners makes the cost almost negligible these days. According to the Energy Guide label, my 5,000 BTU Frigidaire air conditioner with an energy rating of 10.7 has an estimated yearly operating cost of $37. A weekly peanut butter and jelly sandwich costs more.

        Fuck these people. And Kristof should know better.

      • Djur says:

        I’ve seen “color TV” statistics in the wild within at least the last 4 years, although it’s being slowly replaced by “flat-screen TV” as dirt-cheap LCD sets have started to flow down the hand-me-down/flea-market channels.

        The one that will always get me, though, is car statistics. One car or two cars, it’s supposed to be proof of nonpoverty — but the need to keep and maintain a money-guzzling lemon to get to and from work (and the kids to and from school, etc.) is a major contributor to making poverty sticky.

        • BigHank53 says:

          One wonders how many of these clowns have ever lived on a street that didn’t have a sidewalk and trash collection.

          The other thing that gets me is that adding up the cost of all these incredible luxuries (the microwave, TV, and fridge) gives you a total that isn’t far off a month’s rent. $750 won’t get you a great TV, air conditioner, fridge, and microwave, but with a little shopping it’ll get you all four.

        • DrDick says:

          I do not think that you can buy anything other than a flat screen these days and the smaller ones are really cheap.

    • Sherm says:

      Yeah, really no reason to throw that right-wing talking point into his article.

      • Aaron B. says:

        It doesn’t even do any work for him! He never connects it to his argument!

        • tt says:

          He uses it to support the claim that America’s antipoverty programs are not a total failure. There is absolutely no suggestion in the article that the poor are living in luxury (to the contrary). This is a silly criticism.

          • Sherm says:

            Its still a right wing talking point being used by Kristoff for no apparent purpose other than to highlight the the many “luxuries” possessed by those dependent upon the government.

            • tt says:

              The right wing talking point is: The poor are doing fine, as evidenced by their microwaves and color TVs, therefore we don’t need to help them. Kristof’s point is: the problem of American poverty isn’t lack of certain basic consumption goods, but more complicated stuff like lack of access to education or jobs. Therefore, the state should help the poor obtain these things through social programs. This is not a right-wing talking point. No member of the American right-wing makes this argument.

              • tt says:

                Also, note that a paragraph up he credits these things to anti-poverty programs, not to capitalism or whatever. Again, not a RW talking point.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Again, not a RW talking point.

                  Getting all his talking points from the AEI was just a remarkable coincidence.

                • tt says:

                  Can you point to where in the AEI paper anti-poverty programs are given credit for their claimed reduction in consumption inequality? I read the entire thing and can’t find it.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Can you point to where in the AEI paper anti-poverty programs are given credit for their claimed reduction in consumption inequality? I read the entire thing and can’t find it.

                  Nowhere. Can you point to how “OMG the poors have microwaves!!!” is a liberal argument supporting a robust safety net?

                • tt says:

                  I never said it was a liberal argument. All I said was that Kristof was not using it as a RW talking point about how well the poor have it. He is using it as part of his own argument about how anti-poverty money should best be spent.

                • Sherm says:

                  Kristoff was writing about breaking the chain of poverty through education for children and how SSI benefits for children can create dependence which interferes with such goal. The bullshit about the “luxury” items owned by the poor was a throw away line which did not add anything to his central thesis.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  All I said was that Kristof was not using it as a RW talking point about how well the poor have it.

                  Fair enough. He used it as a talking point on how he hopes “that the budget negotiations in Washington may offer us a chance to take money from S.S.I. and invest in early childhood initiatives instead.” And my humble response to the idea that we should further shred our tattered safety net is not “tell me more about these sensible tradeoffs that won’t hurt me a bit” but rather “um, no, fuck you.”

          • Malaclypse says:

            A growing body of careful research suggests that the most effective strategy is to work early on children and education, and to try to encourage and sustain marriage… I hope that the budget negotiations in Washington may offer us a chance to take money from S.S.I. and invest in early childhood initiatives instead.

            Protip: when the proposal is to “take money from S.S.I.,” then it is not actually a liberal proposal. Notably not mentioned:

            I hope that the budget negotiations in Washington may offer us a chance to take money from S.S.I. defense cuts and invest in early childhood initiatives instead.

            I hope that the budget negotiations in Washington may offer us a chance to take money from S.S.I. higher tax rates on the wealthy and invest in early childhood initiatives instead.

            See the subtle difference?

            And that is without spending any time thinking through what, exactly, the federal government should be doing to “encourage and sustain marriage.” In the absence of any reasonable proposal, I’m just going to assume it means “cut funding for battered women’s shelters.”

            • Hogan says:

              what, exactly, the federal government should be doing to “encourage and sustain marriage.”

              Well, it could strip out all the features of our welfare system that are driven by horror at the thought of able-bodied men getting public assistance, but if we didn’t have those features, conservatives would see nothing of any value in our welfare system.

            • DrDick says:

              Doubling the minimum wage would go a long way to “encourage and sustain marriage.” Financial problems are now and always have been the major cause of divorce and family break down.

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      When I was growing up in California having an air conditioner was definitely a luxury. I never had one in the US, not even when I lived in such cool summer climes as Virginia and Arizona. Maybe it is a function of my middle age, but I still consider air conditioning to be a haute bourgeois luxury. When I moved to Ghana I got it in my office which I considered to be a great luxury and status symbol. The other appliances were pretty standard even for many working class and lower middle class people in the US even before the end of the 1980s.

      • delurking says:

        You didn’t live in Arkansas or Louisiana, J. Otto. So STFU.

        • J. Otto Pohl says:

          No and I wasn’t poor either. My middle class family, however, never owned an air conditioner. I still do not have one at home and I live on the equator which is a lot more hot and more humid than Arkansas or Louisiana.

            • J. Otto Pohl says:

              That is because it is hotter in the winter here than the summer just like in the Southern hemisphere.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Do you not actually understand that A/C is driven by the higher highs, and not the warmer lows? Are you that clueless about human physiology?

              • Hogan says:

                Dude, click the links.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  I did click on the links and Oklahoma is only four degrees hotter on average in July (one month) than Ghana is for eight months of the year. But, I used to live in Arivaca, AZ. and without AC where it routinely was over 100 for days on end. I also lived in Sacramento for two years. Somebody below claims that it is a necessity there. But, when I lived there from 1999-2001 I knew very few people rich enough to afford air conditioning. Working at a coffee shop I certainly did not have it even though I was not poor enough to qualify for public assistance.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  Oklahoma is also three degrees hotter in August on average. But, for 3-4 degrees for two months is not much. Especially considering less than 20% of people in Africa vs. 87% of poor people in the US have air conditioning.

                • The Polar Ice Caps says:

                  But, for 3-4 degrees for two months is not much.

                  Well fuck us like walruses.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  But, when I lived there from 1999-2001 I knew very few people rich enough to afford air conditioning. Working at a coffee shop I certainly did not have it even though I was not poor enough to qualify for public assistance.

                  87% of poor people in the US have air conditioning.

                  So, your complaint is both that nobody in the US actually has AC, and that all the poors here have it, unlike in Ghana.

                  Yep, I definitely blame Stalinist liberals for your inability to nail tenure in the US.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  No, my reference to not knowing many people with air conditioning was clearly talking about 1999-2001. Whereas the 87% figure is from 2012. You will note that there is over a ten year difference. Evidently since 2001 the number of people with AC has skyrocketed. I can only assume that in the US unlike the rest of the world that AC must now be very cheap. But, how this happened and why it remains confined to the US is unclear to me.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Evidently since 2001 the number of people with AC has skyrocketed

                  Evidently not, unless the leap from 85% to 89% counts as “skyrocketing.”

                  Evidently, your personal anecdata is not, in fact, statistical evidence.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  No, I never claimed my personal experiences were statistical evidence. But, I do find it amazing that all these poor people could afford AC when I still can not.

                • DrDick says:

                  There is also the fact that there may be minor differences in the standard of living between the wealthiest nation in the world and a third world country with the 148th highest GDP per capita. It might also be one of the reasons why the life expectancy in Ghana is 18 years less than it is in the US.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Evidently since 2001 the number of people with AC has skyrocketed

                  No, I never claimed my personal experiences were statistical evidence.

                  Evidently, you are unclear on the meaning of the word evidently.

                • Chatham says:

                  “But, I do find it amazing that all these poor people could afford AC when I still can not.”

                  Well, an AC unit can be had new for $100+, cheaper if you buy it used. And this is assuming that it didn’t come with the house/apt. Now, if your poor $100+ will definitely be a hit, but I don’t think anyone should consider it “amazing.”

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  Chatham:

                  It can cost over $500 a month in electricity to run an ac unit here in Ghana. That is way beyond what my salary will support.

                • Chatham says:

                  Well…right. But why are you amazed that the poor in the US (not Ghana) have it? And keep in mind, the article is talking about having it, not running it. I know plenty of people that will try to save money by cutting down on air conditioner and heating use.

                • Don’t worry about it. It’s just an excuse to say “Here in Ghana…”

                • Malaclypse says:

                  It’s just an excuse to say “Here in Ghana…”

                  Whatever programmer creates a J_Otto_Bot to randomly type “Here in Ghana [INSERT RANDOM ARRAY_SET CIA FACTBOOK GHANA] will win the internet that day.

          • Anonymous says:

            JOtto, you seem like a nice enough person, and I’m sure your heart is in the right place, but I think you should consider the possibility that your recollection of your life is not reliable.

        • DrDick says:

          Or in Oklahoma. I do not have one here in Montana, but summer in NE Oklahoma was debilitating without it. By 1970, you could not buy cars there that did not have it (though it was still only an option).

      • Malaclypse says:

        I still consider air conditioning to be a haute bourgeois luxury.

        I defy you to write a less self-aware sentence.

      • Murc says:

        Maybe it is a function of my middle age, but I still consider air conditioning to be a haute bourgeois luxury.

        It is.

        When my great-grandmother was born (1906, god rest her soul) having a pair of fine shoes was a haute bourgeois luxury. In fact, having more than one PAIR of shoes was. Having an electric icebox (this is what she would often call her fridge, until the day she died) wasn’t just a luxury, it meant you were considered RICH.

        Times change.

        • J. Otto Pohl says:

          I only have one pair of shoes as well. But, spending $100 for another pair of shoes is affordable. I am not sure home air conditioning would be on my salary.

          • FLRealist says:

            I live in Central Florida, in a 1600 sq ft house, with a husband, two teenagers and numerous cats. Even in the summer, with the AC running all the time and set at 75° and the teens engaged on electronic entertainment, our power bill runs only $200 per month. And we don’t try to conserve much. So having AC is not a budget-breaker in all cases.

      • Darkrose says:

        If you lived in Sacramento, you wouldn’t consider AC a “haute bourgeois luxury”. Especially in the summer, when it’s not unusual to have several weeks of 100+ temperatures.

    • Murc says:

      I like that even the poor can, you know, store food and prepare it quickly and efficiently, and not die of heatstroke in the summer or frostbite in the winter, and have access to basic news and entertainment.

      I call this “a good beginning.”

      So much further to go.

      • Anna in PDX says:

        Thanks for pointing out the opposite of the “race to the bottom” mindset sounds pretty logical and humane. I just wonder about people who are so angry that the poor have the effrontery to have some stuff.

    • ajay says:

      Mal, that quote comes shortly after a paragraph which says “I don’t want to suggest that America’s antipoverty programs are a total failure. On the contrary, they are making a significant difference. Nearly all homes here in the Appalachian hill country now have electricity and running water, and people aren’t starving.”

    • timb says:

      Why don’t folks like me point to those facts and argue that that means the fucking safety net works. Our poor folk need more help and more opportunity, but our ideas of a war on poverty have been successful. We don’t have South American poverty here, because we made it — most of it — go away and that’s something to be damn proud about.

      A poor person with a window air conditioner is a triumph of the Great Society and not a reason to abandon the safety net

      • Malaclypse says:

        A poor person with a window air conditioner is a triumph of the Great Society

        I disagree. A poor person with an air conditioner is a triumph of better technology, along with cheap overseas labor to assemble the thing. I vaguely recall back when I was a snotty teenager in the 1970s pissed off about not having A/C that as soon as I coughed up the hundred bucks a month (285/month in today’s money) one cost to run, we could have one.

        I’m willing to admit Dad was exaggerating for effect, and to shut me the hell up, but the simple facts is that these things are ubiquitous because they are now cheap, rather than because the safety net is better now than it was in the late 1970s.

        • timb says:

          Fine point, but about my larger point? Items of convenience don’t mean the poor aren’t poor, only that we help them stay out of Calcutta-esque poverty.

          • Malaclypse says:

            True, but my impression is that after-transfer income for the bottom 20% has fallen over the period discussed, not risen. Yes, the Great Society was working, until 1980, when we killed it, and 1996, when we sodomized its corpse.

    • Linda says:

      Jezus christ on a ritz cracker, fancy appliances were only a sign of affluence when they came in harvest gold and avocado green. I know a poor lady with air conditioning BECAUSE I GAVE HER MY OLD WINDOW BOX. Also, I know you can pick up a microwave for three bucks at garage sales. Because I did, last summer. Conservatives need to dust off their trappings of affluence, along with their rhetoric.

      • KadeKo says:

        Hear hear!

        I guess it’s not in vogue any longer, but during the Cold War we were given a stream of actual factuals on how few hours we Americans had to work to afford consumer goods (or services such as housing) than those poor suckers in the Eastern Bloc.

        The hours of labor to buy a microwave or a window AC today v. 1970? I can’t imagine it’s anything but tons less.

  3. Mo says:

    Shook my head at the column. This is, however, a known problem among anti-poverty workers. It’s a particular subset of dysfunctional families, when “THE FAMILY” is set up as more important than any of its individual members, which usually serves to drain resources from everyone to meet the needs of the most narcissistic/authoritarian,hypochondriac,unstable member(s) of the family.

    If you want to see it in action, watch COUNTRY BOYS, the amazing Frontline documentary, available streaming online. I’m a fan of film noir, and this is more noir than any thousand Tarantino wannabees (and I say that as a Tarantino fan). Jim Thompson? This is the real deal.

  4. somethingblue says:

    A local school district official, Melanie Stevens, puts it this way: “The greatest challenge we face as educators is how to break that dependency on government.”

    Michelle Rhee’s office on line 1!

    I hope that the budget negotiations in Washington may offer us a chance to take money from S.S.I. and invest in early childhood initiatives instead.

    Yeah, that’ll certainly happen. What an asswipe.

  5. Dirty Davey says:

    I have to call BS on the comparison to SS and seniors and the statement that “BECAUSE kids don’t have a political voice, they have been neglected.”

    The reason we won’t help kids out of poverty is because kids live with parents, and it’s impossible to help just part of a household out of poverty.

    Since we can’t help the “deserving” kids without also helping the “undeserving” parents, no one gets help. Because so many people feel that helping the “undeserving” is by far the worst possible thing for the government to do.

    • djangermats says:

      And the kids, failing to lift themselves out of poverty with the no help they get, become the next generation of undeserving freeloader adults!

    • Bill Murray says:

      “BECAUSE kids don’t have a political voice, they have been neglected.”

      I guess we now know the answer to the plaintive cry of “Who will think of the children?”

      St. Nicholas Kristof

  6. Aaron B. says:

    Even if he’s completely right about the illiteracy disability thing, the correct conclusion is “we should design better anti-poverty public policy instruments!” not “THIS IS HARD AND THERE ARE NO RIGHT ANSWERS” which is just so obviously a sop to make himself seem reasonable. Try harder, Kristof.

    • Aaron B. says:

      Yglesias makes a pretty good case for large-scale cash transfers to people living in poverty.

      • Murc says:

        I’m angry with Yglesias a lot, but I do often try and remind myself that he thinks the fact that so many people are poor is disgusting and we should be spending literal boatloads of money, taken from the 1%, to do something about it.

        • MPAVictoria says:

          Yeah… He can be a real ass but sometimes his heart is in the right place.

        • tt says:

          It’s interesting that Yglesias is often attacked by other progressives for arguing that we should take “paternalistic” social programs and convert them into direct transfers, and Kristof is attacked here by the same crowd for arguing that we should convert direct transfers into paternalistic social programs.

          • Murc says:

            It’s interesting that Yglesias is often attacked by other progressives for arguing that we should take “paternalistic” social programs and convert them into direct transfers

            Really? By whom?

            When I see Yglesias get attacked by progressives, it’s because of his obsession with deregulation, his continually pushing of facts which have been thoroughly debunked, his flirtations with school ‘reform’, and the fact that he often shies away from attacking root causes of inequality in favor of amelioriating the consequences (pity-charity liberalism).

            I’ve never seen him attacked for arguing we should convert some social programs into direct transfers. Disagreed with, maybe, but not attacked.

            • tt says:

              he often shies away from attacking root causes of inequality in favor of amelioriating the consequences (pity-charity liberalism)

              This is the criticism Kristof is making against SSI.

              I’ll withdraw my previous comment, though, because reading some of the old Yglesias vs. the progressive blogosphere debates, the main axis of disagreement is over the relative importance of a fairly specific program of worker empowerment (rather than “root causes” in general) vs. direct redistribution. So this doesn’t become an interesting comparison until the workers involved in conducting the early interventions Kristoff advocates start building powerful unions.

      • spencer says:

        Which will never ever ever happen because moral hazard only applies to poor people.

    • tt says:

      Huh? Kristof’s point is exactly that “we should design better anti-poverty public policy instruments.” He isn’t arguing that we should give up. Did you read to the end?

      • timb says:

        Where he says money for disabled children should be decreased to increase money for education? Yeah, I read down there and the more I read, the more I realized he doesn’t know jackshit about the problem

  7. LoriK says:

    Some young people here don’t join the military (a traditional escape route for poor, rural Americans) because it’s easier to rely on food stamps and disability payments.

    The nerve of poor people, preferring food stamps and (presumably bogus) disability payments to serving as cannon fodder for the plutocrats’ endless wars and quite possibly ending up really, for true disabled.

    • BigHank53 says:

      The military actually tests incoming recruits and tosses some of ‘em back, believe or not. You’d think a big-time journalist might be aware of this.

    • Matt says:

      The nerve of poor people, preferring food stamps and (presumably bogus) disability payments to serving as cannon fodder for endless wars that people like Kristof personally cheerlead for

      Fixed that for you. That’s by far the most retch-inducing line in the whole piece – a warmonger bemoaning the fact that people aren’t quite desperate enough to throw themselves into the meatgrinder while HE TURNS THE HANDLE.

    • Phoenix_rising says:

      He didn’t. Please say he didn’t really.

      I have 2 cousins who were thrown back after the Army had its fill of trying to remediate the lack of capacity instilled in them by the public schools and sports programs of NW Appalachia, in southern Ohio.

      It’s not that they prefer public assistance, it’s really more than they’re not qualified to be cannon fodder.

    • jefft452 says:

      also, too

      how is using the army as employer of last resort not just as much a socialist welfare program as any other safety net program?

      • Linnaeus says:

        Back in the ’50 it would be denonuced as “military Keynesianism”; actually, that referred more to defense-related spending directed to the private sector, but the principle works the same for defense spending or mass employment via the armed forces.

  8. CashandCable says:

    But the bottom line is that we shouldn’t try to fight poverty with a program that sometimes perpetuates it.

    “And Amen, I say to you, if there be but one freerider in a hundred, the other ninety-nine must suffer for his sins.”

    Also…

    But we end up paying for poverty one way or another, and early childhood education is far cheaper than adult incarceration.

    Yes, the only reason we should address child poverty is to prevent them from becoming axe-murderers later in life.

  9. KLG says:

    I wish Harry Caudill were still around to b*tch slap Kristof. Metaphorically, of course.

  10. Left_Wing_Fox says:

    Any welfare that doesn’t allow a person to survive is useless. Any welfare that allows a minimum standard of living is competing with the poverty-wage jobs.

    Solution A: Ensure that even shit-wage jobs actually provide more than the poverty line so people prefer to work.

    Solution B: Eliminate welfare, so that the poor are desperate enough to accept poverty wages instead of starving.

    Solution B is heartless, but solution A is OMG SOCIALISM!!!!! And libertarians wonder why they’re treated with contempt.

    • Murc says:

      Any welfare that allows a minimum standard of living is competing with the poverty-wage jobs.

      By design.

      There is, generally speaking, always work that needs doing. (This may change within the lifetime of some here, but.) If the social safety net allows a standard of living that people can say ‘fuck you’ to people offering physically destructive jobs at poverty wages in demeaning environments, the people offering those jobs will eventually have to modify them in order to attract workers.

      Which is the POINT.

    • fledermaus says:

      Solution B isn’t even sustainable. The big blind spot of the plan B people is that really don’t realize how many previously unattractive options become more attractive when you are working a job that doesn’t provide enough for shelter, food and protection. When boosting a single HDTV can net 1 or 2 month’s wages in one shot and the price for failure is shelter and food provided by the state, crime doesn’t look like such a bad risk.

      The neo-liberals always think that people’s behaviors will always fall in line with their just-so thinking.

      • DrDick says:

        Even without that, in the absence of welfare programs, the quality of labor deteriorates over time living below poverty. Chronic malnutrition and chronic untreated diseases have long term debilitating effects which reduce your capacity to work.

    • UserGoogol says:

      Solution C: Basic Income Guarantee! If you get to keep your welfare benefit after you get a job, (with it phasing out only very gradually from paying taxes on your job) then they aren’t in competition.

      Of course, A is also a good idea. (Depending on how you ensure such jobs, but still, good.) But damn it, C is my pet issue so I like bringing it up.

  11. Leeds man says:

    There’s a danger in drawing too firm conclusions about an issue — fighting poverty — that is as complex as human beings themselves.

    Horseshit. Guaranteed Basic Income is a simple answer to a fucking simple problem, which cuts through all the red tape, overhead and hoop-jumping that the poor have to negotiate through.

    See*. Also.

    *The bloke giving this talk is a Conservative senator who served under Mulroney.

  12. Linnaeus says:

    “I don’t mean to write anyone off, but I’ll go ahead and do it anyway.”

  13. BigHank53 says:

    Maybe the constant air travel is getting to him and he’d like some underage prostitutes closer to home.

  14. Chatham says:

    Kristof seems to subscribe to Friedman’s school of tourism journalism. You can learn all you need to know about a place by flying there for a couple of weeks, talking to the elites there, and then interviewing a couple token poor folks (“Hello mam, are you poor? Can I ask you some questions? How does it feel to be poor?”). A lot of the things he writes simply aren’t accurate. When I have experience with a country I often find a number of inaccuracies in his articles about said country, which leeds me to doubt the veracity of the rest.

    But hey, at least he’s not asking “Why is the Middle East backward?” again (telling Arabs in this column that “the break is over, there are no excuses, and it’s time to move forward again”).

    • gmack says:

      Good God. Isn’t public wanking like this illegal?

    • Karate Bearfighter says:

      When I have experience with a country I often find a number of inaccuracies in his articles about said country, which leeds me to doubt the veracity of the rest.

      His book “China Wakes” was the one of the most insightful general audience books I’ve read on China; not coincidentally, he spent five years there as a correspondent. Just another example of why pundits should be replaced on op-ed pages by actual experts.

      • Chatham says:

        I wouldn’t trust him on China. Take a look at this article. He thinks that the Communist Party in China are unusually competent, and that if free elections were held, they’d win in a landslide. His example of the “stunning improvement” in the standard of living in China is that he has friends that ride in chauffeured limousines and have homes with indoor basketball courts and personal theaters. As far as I know, he doesn’t speak Chinese.

        His article is very much one of where wealthy Americans go abroad, hang out with the elite, and occasionally study the poor as if they were insects. Then they feel as if they know the country, often without even having much grasp of the language. James Fallows is like this. He once wrote that Stephen Colbert is wildly popular amongst Chinese college students. He’s not, the vast majority of Chinese college students have no idea who he is. He was apparently popular with some of the kids that Fallows taught, but for some reason Fallows was unable to grasp that that they were probably in the top .1% of Chinese society.

        • Karate Bearfighter says:

          I read “China Wakes” 15 years ago, while living in Shantou. It is literally one of only two general audience books I have ever found on China that does not reduce the Chinese people to some inscrutable, undifferentiable Other. To my mind, Kristof instead analyzed Chinese current (at the time) events in terms of universal, recognizable motivations.

          I think you’re misreading that article; he discusses indoor basketball courts and limousines not only as evidence of development, but also as symbols of the massive, growing income inequality that the government needs to start addressing. His point, (as in “China Wakes”,) is that Americans need to stop seeing China as exceptional, and start seeing it as an actual country populated by actual people.

          For what it’s worth, when I lived in China, I honestly believe the CCP would have won open, fair elections.

          • Chatham says:

            I don’t know what public opinion was like then, but when I lived there in the past few years public sentiment about the CCP seemed to range from apathy to disgust. If you have a 微波 or 开心网 account, I encourage you to look at the current discourse about the government.

            The people I found that were most supportive tended to either be people in or planning to go in to the government on a political track, and well-connected and wealthy individuals (like Kristof’s friends). Since the latter group tended to have people that spoke English better and spent more time with foreigners, hence giving foreigners – especially those that didn’t speak Chinese – a very slanted view of things.

            It felt that, unsurprisingly perhaps, the discourse you’d hear from Chinese that liked to hang out with foreigners differed greatly from those that didn’t speak English at all. There were even times when Chinese people would wait until the two of us were alone to breach certain subjects. Which is why I’m always skeptical about tourist journalism, especially when the results seem to be at odds with what I’ve seen (no only in this article, but also on the one about Chinese schools, were I’ve worked).

            As for the problem with indoor basketball courts, movie theaters, and limos, he did mention them as a sign of a growing inequality. But he also held them up as a sign of a growing standard of living. The thing is, you can see such excess in many countries, including the autocratic Arab states he says are “backwards.” Several of whom have a higher per capita GDP than China, I should add.

            • Karate Bearfighter says:

              Fair enough; public opinion is going to change a lot in that amount of time. My experience was that even people who criticized the government harshly in private in those years tended to give a lot of credit to the CCP for raising the standard of living very quickly. As growth has slowed, maybe that attitude has become less prevalent.

              • Chatham says:

                Well, I will say that one thing I’ve noticed a bit of is a divergence regarding how the current party is viewed and how the party is viewed historically. Of course, there are people that dislike the party as a whole, but it’s always hard to gauge how big a percentage that is. But among people that are fond of at least parts of the party (particularly Mao), there does seem to be some view of the current leadership as corrupt, feckless, and unworthy. In the recent row with Japan, people kept talked about the current leadership being weak in comparison to past leadership – part of the reason why I think the government pulled back a bit. The widespread use of the internet has added fuel to the fire, with widespread discussion of scandals and corruption (though the printed media also covers this to some extent).

  15. timb says:

    As an attorney practicing disability law, I will just tell you that not only is Kristof wrong about SSI, but he used the wrong sources. In the absence of his citing a single example, I will write his essay off to misinformation.

    The Disability program has thousand of urban/rural legends about kids whose parents tell them to do poorly in school to get a check or immigrants who use interpreters to lie for them, or lawyers who pay off crooked doctors. Many of these stories have no basis in fact and others are gross exaggerations of an event somebody heard of from somebody else.

    Particularly galling is this statement:

    a 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of these children make the transition at age 18 into S.S.I. for the adult disabled. They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole — and that’s the outcome of a program intended to fight poverty.

    I am the rare breed who both worked for SSA doing claims and now works “on the other side” and I can tell you if your takeaway from two-thirds continue to get benefits is that poverty programs don’t work INSTEAD of the more obvious “the kids are disabled and cannot work,” then you are an idiot

    • Murc says:

      I would also note that if those legends were true, my response would be “so what?”

      If you are so hard up that you tell your kid to do poorly in school so you can get a check that lets you eat and pay the rent, I say you’re doing what you have to do to make sure your family is provided for and our society has failed you on multiple levels.

    • Sherm says:

      Yeah, and its really intellectually dishonest too. His piece focuses on the kids with “fuzzier intellectual disabilities short of mental retardation” who could be helped with education but aren’t because of their parents, and then he lumps those kids in with kids with all levels of disability to give the impression that two-thirds of the kids who are the focus of his piece can’t work as adults because they have become dependent upon government.

    • Jim says:

      Charlie Pierce recently linked to this story, detailing misinformation about SSI, and how media figures happily pass it on. Kristof’s column made me think of it immediately.

    • njorl says:

      One thing I’ve learned about programs for the disabled is that they appear to underperform because too few people get into them.

      My son qualified for a temporary placement in a special school for developmentally delayed kids. His principal lamented, “We never see these kids again. It’s never temporary.”

      It isn’t because the program doesn’t work. It’s because the only kids who get into the program for “temporary” placement are the ones who undoubtedly require permanent placement. Any student who is merely developmentally delayed rather than developmentally disabled can’t get into the program at all.

  16. Darkrose says:

    Hey, if there are no grateful brown women for him to play the Noble White Knight for, Kristof doesn’t give a shit.

    • fledermaus says:

      Yeah

      “But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.”

      - Nick Kristof, January 2009

  17. Linnaeus says:

    Re: air conditioning: As it happens, I’m reading _Heat Wave_, Eric Klinenberg’s analysis of the 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed around 700 people. Klinenberg points out that heat waves kill more people (at least in the US) than other natural disasters, but this goes unnoticed because 1) heat waves are not regarded as disasters and do not receive the same attention as storms, earthquakes, etc. and 2) the victims are often marginalized (poor, elderly, isolated) and so their deaths are not tied to heat waves and they do not make the news.

    Klinenberg points out that one reason for heat wave deaths – and especially so in the case of Chicago – was lack of access to cooled, i.e., air-conditioned spaces. It was by no means the only factor, but simply having some place to be that is air conditioned would have helped a great deal.

  18. Tiny Tim says:

    Yglesias gets crap because even when he’s being liberal (Advocating redistribution) he’s often trolling the left (we should give poor people money directly instead of spending it on libraries).

  19. FindDickens says:

    That Charles Pierce article is a masterwork of narrative journalism. Kristof would read it and be truly shamed by the confusion he’s sown.
    http://www.esquire.com/_mobile/features/era-big-government-marcus-stephen-0400

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