Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Did Welfare Reform Work?

[ 0 ] August 28, 2006 |

Great post by Brad Plumer on the subject of the 1996 welfare reform bill. The key point is that most assertions that welfare reform has “worked” reference nothing more than the fact that fewer people on welfare. And as Brad notes, this is just a tautology; fewer people receiving welfare benefits isn’t a test of whether the policy worked; it was the policy. It’s like saying that the Medicare drug plan “worked” because, in fact, more government money went to pharmaceutical companies. The meaningful test is whether the policy was better for poor people, and as Brad notes on that score the evidence that the reform has been effective is scant-to-nonexistent: even people who got jobs aren’t making more money on average, poverty rates have stayed the same despite considerable economic growth, and children aren’t faring noticeably better either. While it may have been a political success, as policy while it hasn’t been catastrophic it also hasn’t been effective.

His punchline is worth quoting as well:

Many liberals will say that welfare reform can and will be a stunning success story if only we increase the Earned-Income Tax Credit and raise the minimum wage and provide heaps more funds for child care and heaps more money for job-training and so on. Well, no kidding. Cup Noodle makes a great meal if it comes with a side of steak. If people are going to be forced to work then the government should make work pay. If society isn’t willing to do this, then cash assistance is the way to go.

It may be that indirect subsidies and tax credits are more viable politically than welfare payments, and perhaps they’re even better policy. But welfare reform won’t be effective until the government gets more serious about providing the funds.

Dancing On Parody’s Grave

[ 0 ] August 27, 2006 |

Shorter Verbatim Mark Steyn:

“Ann Coulter’s new book Godless: The Church of Liberalism is a rollicking read very tightly reasoned and hard to argue with…Lest you doubt the left’s pieties are now a religion, try this experiment: go up to an environmental activist and say “Hey, how about that ozone hole closing up?” or “Wow! The global warming peaked in 1998 and it’s been getting cooler for almost a decade. [Sadly, No! --ed.] Isn’t that great?” and then look at the faces. As with all millenarian doomsday cults, good news is a bummer.”

The fact that a third-rate theater critic who knows nothing about foreign policy (or anything else) is taken as a foreign policy guru by the right-blogosphere makes perfect sense; after all, a fusion jazz musician and a Second Amendment scholar who know nothing about foreign policy are the most popular “warbloggers.”

Speaking of which, flogging the deadest of dead horses Reynolds has a post totuting an idiotic WaPo story (amazing how much less scrutiny the dread MSM “527 Media” gets when it reaches politically convenient results) which compares death rates of American soldiers in Iraq to the death rate of the American population, and finds that it’s only half–apparently it’s like a gated suburb! Surely, you say, the Post must have at least taken death rates for the age segment of the population most likely to serve in the military? I’m afraid not–it really does compare the population as a whole to the frequency of much younger soldiers dying in Iraq. An intellectually honest five year-old could see the utter uselessness of the comparison. Reynolds, conversely, crows that “it’s hard to look at these numbers and see the catastrophe that the “527 media” are proclaiming.” Needless to say, to Reynolds the death rates (not to mention the basic inability to even make a living or purchase essential goods because of the lack of a functional state) of Iraqi civilians who don’t live in heavily fortified areas and walk around with flak jackets aren’t weighted in the discussion at all; as long as American soldiers have less chance of dying than an 85 year-old with cancer, everything is great over there! Perhaps he’ll be leaving soon to report, without a military escort, from a typical Iraqi city and confirm his analysis…

…more at The American Street.

…and, of course, it’s not just age demographics; soldiers are pre-selected to be healthy and fit, and are further trained. As Brian notes in comments, “So, it’s seven times more dangerous to serve in Iraq as it is to serve somewhere else among the identical popuation (the peacetime military). In fact, peacetime soldiers are 2.7 times less likely to die than the same male age cohort in the United States, according to the article.”

Also, some commenters make the (correct) point that calling the Post article “idiotic” was glib; it did a bad job of presenting the data, but did ultimately conatin some more useful information. All of this is irrelevant to the central point about Reynolds, who cited only the first (entirely meaningless) data, and made the even worse mistake of generalizing substantial-but-not-catastrophic American casualties to the success of the situation in Iraq itself while completely ignoring the more relevant question of the casualty rates among people in Iraq who don’t have access to armored bodies and vehicles, heavily fortified areas, etc., as well as broader questions of the efficacy of the current Iraqi (non)state.

…and, as Brad notes, it’s unclear why the ozone hole closing up after a set of regulations favored by environmentalists was put in place should be embarassing to environmenalists, but then maybe I lack Ann Coulter’s deft reasoning abilities…

…And I’ll give Kieran the final word.

The Faculty Meeting

[ 0 ] August 27, 2006 |

This gets it right.


[ 0 ] August 26, 2006 |

Make sure to remember these disgraceful actions of the Alabama Democratic Party the next time you hear “Mudcat” Sanders or some other idiot go into the umpteenth self-pitying rant about how the Democrats can’t possibly afford to write off the Deep South. That’s the Democratic Party using an egregiously selective application of an obscure technicality to disqualify a gay candidate (with, admittedly, some of what deserves the usually vacuous epithet “identity politics” thrown in) who’s running unopposed. The idea that the national Dems could come close to carrying Alabama while maintaining any semblance of their current principles is just a joke. Pam has more.

Among the Dead-Enders

[ 0 ] August 25, 2006 |

Because the blogosphere tends to skew toward the opinions of educated elites, it’s relatively hard–even among conservative blogs–to find nice, chewy wingnuttery on the subject of the decision to make Plan B available over the counter. Even Josh Trevino doesn’t seem to have written anything, although admittedly I may have missed a number of the blogs he’s undoubtedly joined and left in the past week.

But, fortunately, there are exceptions that can provide some amusement. Sister Toldjah gives the standard reactionary boilerplate, claiming that if Planned Parenthood were serious about stopping teenage pregnancies, it would be trying to promote abstinence programs that are demonstrably useless rather than proving teens with tools that can actually stop pregnancies: “Imagine if PP were to change its tune and devote as much time now to promoting abstinence as it has in the past promoting ’safe sex’ and ‘alternative ways to engage in sexual activity that doesn’t involve the actual act’. We wouldn’t have to worry about that high teen pregnancy rate that Richards mentioned.” You read that right–she seriously seems to believe that teens would stop having sex if Cecile Richards were more vocal on the subject. Because if there’s anything besides moral instruction from teachers that teens are thinking about when they’re about to get it on, it’s the words if the head of prominent interest groups. The logic is airtight!

I was expecting Dawn Eden‘s take to top even this, but it’s actually kind of disappointing. Despite a title that promises a spittle-flecked rant worthy of Lee Siegel himself, we are only given the opportunity to play “straightforward answers to idiotic questions:”

So, riddle me this: Why do oral contraceptives still require a prescription, seeing as they’re so safe that you can take 40 times the prescribed amount anytime you want?

Because Plan B is for emergencies and must be taken within a narrow time frame, which makes obtaining a prescription considerably more burdensome than in the case ordinary birth control? You’re welcome!

Break Up The Reds!

[ 0 ] August 25, 2006 |

Having beaten the Giants while the Cardinals were busy getting swept by the Pedro-and-Glavine-free Metropolitans, I note that Rob’s Redlings are now tied for first in the Central. I doubt they’ll be able to win it, but it really is remarkable–and predictable before the season–how much the Cards have let themselves go. It’s hard to say why the NL is currently in such a down cycle, especially now that the Mets are back under competent management, but the Cardinals’ fascination with low-OBP vets and third-rate reclamation projects has caught up to them, as has John Schurholz’s, while the high-resource Cubs have a similar fetish without the kind of core those teams have; they’re becoming the same kind of joke they were in the late 70s. And meanwhile, the Giants have been squandering Bonds’ last years by trying to assemble a team that saves healthcare costs because everyone on the team qualifies for Medicare. (Although admittedly even at age 39 Vizquel is as good as any shortstop in the league except Reyes, and Moises can still hit when he’s healthy.) As for who will win the wildcard, beats me; I think Rowand’s injury all but eliminates the Phils, and while I stubbornly think the Braves are the best of the non-division leaders they’re too far back. The Reds may still hold on to a playoff spot.

Crackpot Tax Protesting: It’s Not Just For A Minority of the Libertarian Party Anymore

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

To given an indication of how much worse things could get, a veritable Federalist Society All-Star panel of judges on the D.C. Circuit (Douglas Ginsburg–who, if I he [much as I'd like to take credit for that--ed.] didn’t smoke pot with his students would probably be on the Supreme Court today– Judith Rogers, and Janice Rogers Brown) held that the federal government doesn’t have the authority to tax damages gained in a suit by a whistleblower after she was blacklisted, arguing that such damages are not “income” and hence beyond the scope of the 16th Amendment. Reaction from tax law profs has been overwhelmingly hostile; see also Marty Lederman and Stephen Bainbridge (“Let a 1000 lawsuits bloom. Every tax nut in the country is probably getting ready to file suit challenging some tax or another using Murphy as a template.”) At TaxLawProfs, Steve Bank explains the peril of law office “originalism”:

This is an odd application of original intent or even original meaning analysis (assuming you agree that either is relevant). The court acknowledges that there were a number of revenue acts before Congress even addressed damage recoveries, thus providing at least five years of separation from the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment to any opinion on this issue. Five years is not long, but the onset of World War I in the intervening years, plus the dramatic increase in the top marginal rates from 6% in 1913 to 65% in 1918, radically changed the landscape under which the issue was considered. That renders the 1918 view of the situation hardly the final word on what was the commonly understood meaning in 1913, prior to World War I. Even then, the opinion was from the Attorney General and not from Congress or any committee of Congress. More importantly, during this period, the definition of income was far from settled. The income tax was only five years old and Congress was borrowing from economic definitions, legal definitions, and popular definitions. The economic understanding of the term “income” at the time was arguably evenly split between those advocating an accretion tax notion of income (e.g., Haig) and those advocating a consumption tax notion of income (e.g., Fisher). The latter would not have supported a tax on capital gains, although the Supreme Court held that it was permissible in a 1921 decision. As I have argued in the context of tax-free reorganizations, the provisions adopted in 1918 were an attempt to compromise between these conflicting definitions of income so as to assure a proper revenue to pay for war expenses while still maintaining the appearance of fairness and responding to heavy lobbying from business and the wealthy. The notion of taxing people who recovered damages during this war period may have violated our sense of fair play when war profiteers were seeking to avoid paying tax on their bounty.

Under the Murphy Court’s analysis, it is not clear whether stock dividends should be taxable (since Treasury held them to be so soon after the 16th amendment was ratified in 1913) or not (since the Supreme Court held their taxation to be unconstitutional – in the only instance in which a tax statute was struck down as unconstitutional – in 1920 in Eisner v. Macomber). There are many other examples, including examples of Treasury flip-flopping on its own positions. The law was in flux in part for the very reason that there had been no “commonly understood” definition of income for tax purposes at the time the 16th amendment was ratified.

Of course, even if the historical analysis were less cursory than what Ginsburg’s, this demonstrates one of the fundamental problems with originalism: attributing a fixed, singular meaning to broad, ambiguous concepts whose definition is often a point of significant political contestation. For most constitutional questions of any interest, this is simply impossible, and assertions of centrainty generally represent policy choices on the part of the judge.

Why Founding A Publication Based on the Principle of Contrarianism For Its Own Sake Is A Bad Idea, Part MCLVII

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

Shorter Jack Shafer: I have yet to be convinced that an article exclusively about why men shouldn’t marry women with incomes over $30K isn’t gender neutral. The fact that the author took gender-neutral data and used it entirely to bash “career women” just proves my point! (Via Feministe.)

Plan B Finally Approved

[ 0 ] August 24, 2006 |

The FDA does, at long last, the right thing. I’m not going to give much administration much credit for finally getting beyond letting the likes of David Hager interpose his crackpot beliefs between American women and the scientific evidence. But kudos to Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray for forcing the issue. And when a Democratic administration takes over hopefully the pointless and arbitrary age restriction–do we consider teenage pregnancies more desirable?–but this is a major step in the right direction.

When Affirmative Action Was White

[ 5 ] August 24, 2006 |

Ira Katznelson’s recent book is a tour de force, a lucid account of an important historical phenomenon which incorporates the insights of historical institutionalist analysis without bogging down in jargon. The book–which begins with a discussion of LBJ’s “To Fulfill These Rights” speech–consists largely of demonstrating how the great social programs of the New Deal and Fair Deal had the paradoxical effect of increasing racial inequality, and moreover shows that this was not an accidental byproduct but a quite deliberate effect of the way these programs were structured. (There is also a concluding chapter about the implications of this history for affirmative action, a discussion I’ll leave for a subsequent post.)

It is true that the major social programs of the New and Fair Deals–the most important of which are the bundle of programs that fall under the Social Security Act and the G.I. Bill–did not explicitly apportion benefits on the basis of race. But, of course, this does not prove a lack of intent to discriminate–as most of you know, African Americans were almost entirely disenfranchised in the South for many decades although even in its most reactionary periods the Supreme Court held explicit racial denials of the vote to violate the Fifteenth Amendment. What happened is that Southern legislators–especially in the Senate–used their overrepresentation both in terms of seats and in terms of leadership in committees–to carefully structure programs so that they would not threaten Jim Crow (which, of course, depended on large numbers of African Americans being held in de facto peonage relationships and in a general lack of economic equality.) Democratic Presidents, who needed Southern votes to get the programs through, had little choice but to acquiesce, and civil rights leaders–who understood that the programs helped African Americans in absolute terms and knew that it would be impossible to pass more equitable legislation–were placed in a terrible bind but generally (and rationally) supported the legislation.

With Social Security, the key provision was the exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers, fields that (especially in the South) were overwhelmingly African American. In addition to that, the administration of New Deal programs was left to state officials, who in the apartheid states applied them as arbitrarily as you would expect:

By 1935, ten southern states had lower relief rates for rural blacks than whites [although blacks were more likely to objectively qualify], representing not actual need ‘but discrepancies in administrative practices and standards’ in situations where there was wide local discretion. In some Georgia counties, for example, federal relief monies excluded all blacks; in Mississippi relief was limited to under 1 percent. (37)

The programs under the G.I. Bill had similar structural factors that actually increased material racial inequality. First of all, segregation of the Armed Forces and the much higher rejection rate for blacks during W.W. II meant that a much lower percentage of blacks were eligible for the programs in the first place. Second, the segregation of higher education and the often decrepit state of primarily black vocational schools in the South meant that education opportunities offered by the government were far more beneficial to whites, and the federal government did not initially make any effort to use its spending power to disadvantage segregated schools. And, finally, as with the New Deal a significant degree of local administration was maintained. Rather than having the government administer the loans for subsidized mortgages, for example, the government largely went through private banks–who, of course, especially in the South were far less likely to provide capital to blacks. As Katznelson concludes, this legislation constituted affirmative action for whites–the largesse of the government’s social programs was not apportioned based strictly on need, but greatly (and intentionally) favored white people.

In addition to the obvious injustice involved, there are three more general points that I take from Katznelson’s analysis:

  • Looking at the effects of the G.I. Bill and its widening of racial inequality provides, I think, compelling evidence for the Krugman/Yglesias position that government policy affects ex ante distribution as well as changing existing patterns. Particularly since (as Katznelson emphasizes) differentials in wealth are much more enduring than differences in income, having access to higher education and home ownership has a major impact on future generations–and the fact that African Americans had much less access to these benefits surely continues to have large effects on distributions of wealth today.
  • Calling the Senate “the world’s greatest deliberative body” is something close to the opposite of the truth. Its malapportionment–far greater than could be justified by any reasonable interest in geographical representation–and the various rules that allow a minority of Senators to block legislation is largely undemocratic in itself. And these effects are compounded because the substantive views of the majority white southern legislators who have always benefited most from the malapportionment have frequently been appalling. Had the New Deal and Fair Deal legislation been designed in a Parliamentary system, many of these structural defects wouldn’t have existed.
  • This history also provides further evidence against the fetishization of “local control.” Sometime local administration can be valuable in providing particular expertise and adapting to local conditions, but it also increases the chances for arbitrary enforcement and the use of discretion to reinforce existing hierarchies that may be cross-cut to some degree at the national level. The presumption that local control and federalism are ipso facto good things lead to things like the U.S.’ completely irrational federal election system. There are many contexts in which federal administration and/or federal standards are very good things, and this is a particularly stark case in point. (And this also demonstrates a very large potential problem with funneling social spending through religious organizations, which–especially is they are given wide discretion–could easily lead to considerable discrimination against unpopular minorities.)

A Man Doesn’t Need A Maid

[ 0 ] August 23, 2006 |

Frequent contributor gmack sent me a link to this bit of self-parody, which is apparently part of a “make Steve Forbes’ economic theories look rational by comparison” campaign. Fortunately for me, its idiocy has already been thoroughly demonstrated by various sources. (Even Dr. Helen is willing to call it “sexist.”) To this commentary, I add only two points: 1)as is often the case, this kind of sexism is, in its way, as contemptuous of men as of women. The author doesn’t seem to consider than men might enjoy the company of intelligent, accomplished women, or indeed to consider that getting married might be anything but a way for men to avoid having to pay nannies, housekeepers, and hookers; 2)to mount my old hobbyhorse, I will note that aside from “pick up a broom” the other obvious answer to the possibility that if your wife has a job she’ll do 1.9 hours less housework per week is “who gives a shit?” Perhaps we should consider the possibility that this is a rational allocation of priorities rather than a horrible failure to meet the Platonic Ideal of Meaningless Domestic Busywork. Anyway, if having a neat house is important to you, nobody’s saying you can’t sacrifice your own work and/or leisure time, but if you’re not willing to perhaps you should ask yourself if you care if the bookshelves have a little dust on them.

Stay Vigilant!

[ 0 ] August 23, 2006 |

Oh, sure, George W. Bush may have singlehandedly thwarted the terrifying numerologically determined impending attack from Iran by personally throwing the Bill of Rights and the United States Code into a big bonfire at the place where he clears all the brush. But think that this means that the threats–and the necessity for the President to accrue more arbitrary authority–has ended? Not hardly:

I believe the calendar is free of apocolypses for the next six weeks, right until the Chinese Confucio-Nazis begin their long-planned Columbus Day weekend invasion of Missouri. I hope we will have learned the lessons of 1938 by then.

We can only hope so! Perhaps a quick repeal of the 14th, 16th and 19th Amendments will put out that fire…

  • Switch to our mobile site