Posts Tagged ‘Public Policy’

For the sake of clarity

June 27, 2012

Actually (since I’m an old retired guy) all I want is for all Americans to have the same opportunities I’ve had.

Hat tip to Echidne of the Snakes.

Gay marriage, money power and state’s rights

May 10, 2012

President Barack Obama said he believes that same-sex couples have a right to be married.  There are two things to remember about this.

  • His statement comes after gay rights organizations throttled back on contributions to Democratic candidates.  Donations in the 2010 mid-term elections fell by 50 percent from the 2006 mid-term elections.  Evidently the Democratic leaders got the message.  The military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed in the 2010 lame-duck session of Congress.  In 2011, the Obama administration stopped defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a1996  law that forbid any federal government recognition of gay marriage.  And now, with the 2012 Presidential elections coming up, the President endorses gay marriage.
  • President Obama did not propose to support any federal law or Constitutional amendment in support of gay marriage.  He would leave the issue to state governments, which is how things were before he issued his statement.   I happen to think that is the correct position.  I don’t believe in federalizing laws of marriage and divorce either.   But it makes Obama’s statement a mere expression of personal opinion.  It doesn’t change anything.

Mitt Romney for his part has signed a pledge to the National Organization for Marriage to support a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and said he would defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.  While Barack Obama has done little to advance gay rights, he isn’t trying to turn the clock back.

Click on Don’t Ask, Don’t Give and Gay Rights Political Donations Plummet for the story of the gay fund-raising boycott.  Hat tip for the links to Making Light.

Click on Obama and Gay Marriage for Radley Balko’s comment on The Agitator.

Click on Obama’s historic affirmation of same-sex marriage for Glenn Greenwald’s comment in The Guardian newspaper.  [Added 5/11/12]

Click on Mitt Romney reiterates opposition to gay marriage for Huffington Post’s comparison of Obama’s and Romney’s positions.

Click on Christian marriage and civil unions for my argument as to why government should not have the authority to say who’s married and who isn’t.

[Afterthought 5/11/12]   Barack Obama’s statement on gay marriage is historically significant, because no previous President has declared himself so clearly.  So maybe my comment above was a little mean-spirited.   It is not consistent to criticize somebody for being equivocal, and then belittle him when he takes a clear stand.  As Glenn Greenwald wrote, we can’t know people’s motives, all we can judge is their actions, good or bad.

Now you may disagree as to whether his statement was the right thing.  That is a different matter.

[Another afterthought 5/12/12]   As my friend Josh said, this shifts the focus of the Presidential election campaign toward the question of gay marriage (even through President Obama has declared it an issue for the states to decide) and away from the bipartisan consensus on creeping totalitarianism – detention without trial, torture, assassinations, universal surveillance, undeclared wars and governmental impunity.

Paul vs. Paul on banking and debt

May 8, 2012

Last week Bloomberg News hosted this interesting debate between libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, currently seeking the Republican nomination for President, and liberal Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist, on central banking, deficit spending and inflation.  You could watch two important public figures, both independent thinkers who are beholden to nobody, debate what they honestly think about an important public issue.  That is something I fear will be a rarity in this Presidential election year.

Ron Paul wants to phase out the Federal Reserve System.   He correctly pointed out that without the existence of a semi-government agency with authority to buy government bonds and create money, it would be very difficult and maybe impossible for the government to finance either the current endless wars or the welfare state, which he is equally against.

The problem is that without a Federal Reserve, decisions about interest rates and money supply would be made not by an impersonal mechanism, but by powerful individuals such as J. Pierpont Morgan, who would not be accountable to the public.  Or you would have a chaotic system, like that which existed in the United States during the decades leading up to the Civil War, when wave of bank failures were frequent, and depositors lost their money.   Ron Paul would like to go back to that era or, alternatively, to return to the gold standard.  The problem is that impersonal mechanisms are just as fallible as individual people.   There is no magic of the market, or magic anything else–just a choice among imperfect systems.

While Ron Paul focused on deficit spending, debt and inflation, Paul Krugman focused on employment and economic growth.  I think Krugman had the right priority.  The U.S. government dealt with the enormous debt left over from World War Two, not by paying down the debt but by generating strong economic growth so that the debt became proportionately less in relation to the overall economy.

Krugman is a Keynesian, which means that while he favors a balanced budget and tight money in normal times, he thinks that deficit spending and easy money are warranted in a serious recession, as a means of getting money into circulation so that people will start spending and investing again.   The problem with that is that it doesn’t seem to be working.  I think the reason is that the current recession is more than part of the normal economic cycle.  It is a crisis resulting from decades of running the U.S. economy on debt rather than production.  When people have more money in their pockets, they don’t necessarily spend it, they use it to pay off their mortgages, installment loans and credit card balances.  And the big banks, as Ron Paul said, are content to borrow money from the Federal Reserve at 1 percent interest and lend it back to the government at 3 percent interest.   That does nothing to help the real economy.

I don’t believe in spending money for the sake of getting money into circulation, but I think the government should refrain from cutting back on basic services and that this is a good time to invest in infrastructure repairs, scientific research, job training and other measures to maintain our country’s productivity.  Ron Paul said, perhaps in jest, that it would have been better for the Federal Reserve to give relief to mortgage-holders (perhaps by refinancing their loans?) than to relieve the banks.  Certaintly this would have done more for economic recovery.

Click on Economics Throw-Down! Krugman vs. Ron Paul on Bloomberg TV — Helicopters, Gold and More for highlights.

Click on David Henderson on Paul vs. Paul for a conservative economist’s summary of the debate.

Click on Ron Paul Flunks History for comment on David Frum’s Daily Beast web log.

Click on Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: the Bloody Aftermath for discussion of the issues by Reason magazine’s Brian Doherty.

Click on Krugman Says Fed ‘Reckless’ to Allow High Jobless Rate for a Bloomberg News followup to the debate.

Hat tip to Joshua Chacon.

America’s bargain postal rates

May 1, 2012

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones looked at the new bill enacted by the Senate and noticed one thing missing—a increase in postal rates sufficient to cover costs.

Take a look at countries around the world that have smaller volumes of mail than us: they all charge higher postage rates. They have to. And as volumes keep declining in America, we’re going to need higher rates here too. Right now, a first-class equivalent stamp runs 75¢ in Germany, 72¢ in Britain, 82¢ in France, 98¢ in Switzerland, 97¢ in Belgium, and 63¢ in the Netherlands. There’s no way that we can stay at 45¢ as volumes decline and pretend that somehow everything will be hunky-dory.

But allowing the price of a stamp to go up is apparently even more of a political taboo than closing rural post offices. I suppose Democrats are afraid of annoying granny and Republicans are so intent on busting the postal carriers union that they don’t like the idea of anything that brings in more revenue. We are ruled by idiots.

via Mother Jones.

Postal rates are set by an agency called the Postal Regulatory Service.  Under a 2006 law, the price of first-class mail stamps, periodical delivery and other services in which the USPS is “market dominant” can be increased only by such amount as is necessary to keep pace with the rise in the Consumer Price Index.  The USPS is free to increase prices of services in which it is “competitive,” such as priority mail or commercial package delivery.

My impression is that the Postal Service’s main problem is an excessive requirement pre-paying pensions.  The bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate eases that requirement, saving the Postal Service $5 billion a year and allowing it to reclaim $11 billion in excess payments.  Whether it will survive the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is another question.

But Kevin Drum makes a good point.  Our so-called “snail mail” is a real bargain.   It’s one respect in which our government service appears to surpass foreign governments.  Why get rid of it?

Click on Rearranging the Deck Chairs at the Postal Service for Kevin Drum’s full summary of the bill.

Click on Senate approves bill to help United States Postal Service for the Los Angeles Times’ report on the bill.

Click on In praise of the U.S. postal service for my earlier post on the Postal Service.

The profitable business of immigration detention

April 17, 2012

This documentary by Al Jazeera English shows how the growing crackdown on unauthorized immigration generates profits for the growing U.S. private prison industry.   The state and federal prison population doubled in the past 20 years, but the number of prisoners in private prisons increased 17-fold.  Prison industry is a profitable business, and includes contracting for the U.S. military.

Immigration detention is a growing part of this.  The American Civil Liberties Union reported that, according to one report, nearly half of immigration detainees are held in private prisons,  versus 6 percent of state convicts and 16 percent of federal convicts.  The Corrections Corporation of America, the largest U.S. private prison corporation in the United States, helped the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) draft Arizona’s 2009 law allowing police to lock up anyone who is without documentation to show they are a citizen or a legal immigrant, and lobbied for it, along with other private prison corporations.

The documentary shows people being held in detention centers for up to a year without a hearing.  I guess the idea is that if they were given a prompt hearing and deported, there would be nothing to discourage them from trying again right away.

I admit I don’t have a good answer to the question of unauthorized immigration.   I think it is intolerable to have a underclass within U.S. borders who are outside the protection of U.S. law, who are at the mercy of unscrupulous employers and government officials.  I don’t think it is feasible to hunt down and deport millions of unauthorized immigrants who are integrated into American society, even if the U.S. were turned into even more of a police state than it now is.   I doubt that the American economic and social structure could handle completely unrestricted immigration.  I don’t think repeated amnesties are the answer.

The implied answer of the champions of immigration rights quoted in the video is a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  I don’t think that is a good answer, but I don’t have a better one.   All I can say is that I think it is a bad idea to create a powerful vested economic interest whose profits are tied to maintaining the present bad situation.

Click on Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration for an executive summary of the ACLU report.

Click on Immigration is a moral issue and The least bad option on immigration for earlier posts of mine on the unauthorized immigration question.


Jobs Act 2012: enabling financial fraud

April 9, 2012

I think the federal government should exercise better oversight over corporations and financial institutions, and leave individuals alone.  But the trend is in the opposite direction – more government interference with individuals and less control over abuses by powerful organizations.

President Obama last Thursday signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which was passed with bipartisan support by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate.  The new law make it easier for companies to make stock offerings to the public without filing financial information with the Securities and Exchange Commission.   For reasons why this is a bad idea, view the above video or click on Heard Off the Street from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.   There is nothing about requiring transparency and honest reporting of financial information that interferes with the operation of a competitive free market.

Daniel Yergin on energy security

March 24, 2012

The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World is Daniel Yergin’s magisterial survey of the world energy situation.  His guiding principle is that energy security requires diversity of supply, and so he surveys energy  in all its aspects, from the battle for control of the energy resources of the new nations of Central Asia to the possibility of using genetic engineering to create ethanol-making fungi.

This book is not as focused and gripping as Yergin’s previous book, The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.  Its great merit is Yergin’s encyclopedic knowledge and his ability to see connections among seemingly unrelated facts.  I learned interesting things I didn’t know, such as that China is now the world’s biggest market for automobiles, or that Admiral Rickover was not only the father of the U.S. nuclear submarine, but of the civilian nuclear power industry as well.  This is a long book, but worth the time if you have an interest in the subject.

Yergin is an insider, not a hostile critic of the energy establishment.  I take his views to represent the consensus of well-informed people within the energy industry.  I mean this as an observation, not a criticism, but I do not take his opinions as necessarily the last word.  For example, I can’t agree that the invasion of Iraq was justified though mishandled, and that the U.S. has “no choice” but to attack Iran if its government acquires nuclear weapons.

The book has six main sections
▪    An update on the world oil industry since publication of The Prize in 1991.  The most important new developments, according to Yergin, are the emergence of China as possibly the world’s largest market for energy and the re-emergence of Russia as a major energy exporter, especially of natural gas.
▪    A rebuttal of the assertion that production of oil, other liquid fuels and natural gas have passed their peak.  Yergin argued that “unconventional” sources, including hydraulic fracturing and deep water drilling, will assure supplies at current rates of use for decades.
▪    A survey of the world electrical industry, and the merits of nuclear power, coal and natural gas to power generating plants.  He concluded abundant, cheap natural gas is the fuel of the future.
▪    A report on global warming and its effect on world energy policy.  Yergin is curiously noncommittal on the validity of global warming science.   His concern is its impact on world energy policy.  The chief problem is the conflict of interest between the United States and the energy-efficient Europeans and Japanese, on the one hand, and with China and other emerging nations, which can’t avoid using more energy as they raise the material living standards of their populations, on the other.
▪    A report on photovoltaic cells, wind energy and other alternative energy sources for electrical generation.  Wind energy is the most promising, according to Yergin, but will require continuing government subsidies to be viable on a large scale, he said.
▪    A report on ethanol, electric vehicle technology and other alternative energy sources for automobiles.  Electric and hybrid vehicles are a viable but as-yet small industry, he wrote; the future of ethanol rests not with corn, but less expensive sources such as sugar cane and switch grass.

I put down the book with a great appreciation of the difficulty and complexity of the task of assuring a supply of gasoline for my car, natural gas for my furnace and electricity for the computer into which I am typing these words, and also an appreciation for the difficulty of bringing new technologies into practical use.

Daniel Yergin

What Yergin wants is what I want—the blessings of modern, prosperous industrial civilization without burning up nonrenewable resources to the point of scarcity, and without threatening human health and the human environment.  Unfortunately, he wrote, we don’t yet know how to do this.

For at least the next 20 or so years, he wrote, we will have to rely on technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and deep water oil drilling.  Subsidies are necessary because, in the past, promising developments of new technologies have been wiped out every time oil prices fell.  So far the greatest progress has been by eliminating waste, improving efficiency and conservation, which don’t get public attention because they are not glamorous.

Fortunately, Yergin said, there is growing availability of “what may be the most important resource of all—human creativity.”

Click on Daniel Yergin | Official Website for Yergin’s home page.

Click on Daniel Yergin Examines America’s ‘Quest’ for Energy for a link to a National Public Radio interview with Yergin on hydraulic fracturing.

Click on the following for reviews of The Quest.

How Will We Fuel the Future? by Fareed Zakaria in the New York Times

Fareed Zakaria, Daniel Yergin and the elite disdain for clean energy deployment by David Roberts on the Grist green energy web site.

Daniel Yergin explores the energy industry and how it’s reshaped the modern world by Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times

Daniel Yergin’s guide to the essentials of industry in the 21st century is another triumph by Ed Crooks in Britain’s Financial Times

An enjoyable assessment of our energy needs from an industry insider by Derek Browne in Britain’s The Observer

Daniel Yergin can’t quite fully support wind, but he tries hard by Chris Varrone on the Renewable Energy Focus web site.

Visions of an Age When Oil Isn’t King by Dwight Garner in the New York Times

Click on the following links for two of my earlier posts on The Quest

Hubbert’s Peak: are we running out of oil?

Natural gas: the fuel of the future?

Hubbert’s Peak: are we running out of oil?

March 20, 2012

In 1956, the brilliant maverick oil geologist M. King Hubbert predicted that oil production in the United States would peak sometime between 1965 and 1970, and world oil production would peak in about 50 years—that is, sometime around 2006.

M. King Hubbert's 1956 prediction of world oil

He extrapolated the rate of growth in oil production and the rate of discovery of new oil reserves, and based his prediction on when new discoveries failed to keep up with growth.   His chart of the rise and fall of oil production is called Hubbert’s Peak.  He had another chart, showing how nuclear energy could be a source of energy for many centuries.  You could call that Hubbert’s Plateau.

Hubbert’s prediction was accurate in regard to the United States.  Oil production in the Lower 48 states did peak around 1970 or so.  Many smart people believe that oil production in the Middle East has peaked or is about to peak.  But, as Daniel Yergin pointed out in his recent book, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World, worldwide production of liquid fuels continues to increase.

Actual world oil production

What Hubbert failed to take into account, Yergin wrote, were two things—(1) price and (2) technology.  The world gets its oil from sources that were unavailable in 1956, and uses liquid fuels other than oil.   Energy companies drill for oil deep in the ocean.  “Tight oil” and “tight gas” are extracted through hydraulic fracturing of shale deep within the earth.  Oil can be extracted from Canada’s tar sands.  More than four-fifths of liquid fuels—and, according to Yergin, you have to speak of liquid fuels rather than just crude oil—are extracted by advanced techniques that were unknown in Hubbert’s day.  The increase in world oil production probably owes more to chemical engineers than it goes to oil geologists.

In a way, Hubbert was right.  Production of the easy-to-get oil has peaked.  What Yergin calls the “unconventional” sources are available if you are willing to pay a high enough price—a price not only in dollars, but in the risk to the human environment, and in the amount of energy it takes to extract the new energy.

Hubbert's Plateau: nuclear energy as the solution

Yergin says there are enough reserves of “unconventional” energy to last for centuries at (here’s the problem) current rates of use.  The problem is not so much that someday the world have have used up more than half its supply of fossil fuels, as that if the rate of consumption of fossil fuels continues to increase year by year, it will someday catch up with production.  Yergin is aware of that, and is a strong advocate of energy conservation and development of renewable resources.

I don’t claim to have a good answer as to what should be done.  I think that it is amazing that deep water oil drilling or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas are possible at all, without expecting they can be carried out with 100 percent reliability and zero damage.  My inclination is to postpone use of potentially harmful processes as long as possible, in the hope that better technology will reduce risk and in the expectation that future generations will need these resources more than my generation does.

At the same time, I drive a car powered by gasoline and I heat my house with natural gas.  I wouldn’t like to try to get along without the first, and I don’t know how I would get along without the latter.  This is more important to me than the hazards and costs of energy development.

Click on What’s Wrong With Peak Oil for an article by Daniel Yergin in the Wall Street Journal.

Click on Is Yergin Correct About Oil Supply? (an opinion the Wall Street Journal did not run) for a rebuttal to Yergin by Gail Tverberg on her Our Finite World web log.

Click on The Oil Drum for a web log devoted to peak oil and energy issues.

Below are some maps (not taken from Daniel Yergin’s book) indicating where future oil and natural gas may come from.


The epic history of oil

March 19, 2012

I finished reading Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, tells the story of the world oil industry from its beginning with the drilling of the first oil well in Titusville, Pa., in 1859 to Saddam Hussein’s failed invasion of Kuwait in 1991, with a brief epilogue bringing it up to date.  I’m now reading his current book, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World.

It is a big, detailed book which I would not recommend except to somebody such as myself with a lot of time on their hands.  I read it, even though it was published 20 years ago, because I believe the best way to understand something is to understand its history.

  The main things I took away from the book:
▪    An appreciation that the creation of the modern oil industry really was an epic achievement in terms of engineering, technology, organization and the enormous obstacles, both natural and human-made, to be overcome.
▪    An understanding of the central place of the United States in the history of the world oil industry, and of the oil industry in the development of the United States
▪    An understanding of the key importance of oil in world politics and military power.
▪    A  realization that the history of the world oil industry has always been a cycle of boom and bust, glut and scarcity, which makes the current runup in gasoline prices nothing new.

Nowadays I think of oil in terms of the Middle East, but for a century or more the United States was the main producer and exporter of oil.   In the earliest days most of the world’s oil supply came out of Pennsylvania, and the next big discoveries were around Baku in the Russian Empire and Borneo and Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies.  Texas and Oklahoma did not become important oil regions until late in the 1920s, and Saudi Arabia until after World War Two.

Cheap oil made possible much of what we regard as the American way of life.  The oil industry was created to provide kerosine for illumination, as a substitute for illumination.  But without a pre-existing oil industry, there would have been no auto industry, aviation industry or any other industry based on internal combustion.  Early U.S. preeminence in oil made possible our early preeminence in these other industries.  Our periods of greatest prosperity, especially the period from 1945 to 1973, coincided with low oil prices.

I tend to take fruits of oil-fueled industry for granted, but, as Yergin pointed out, there was a time when none of this existed.  Somebody had to think of drilling for oil instead of digging for oil.  Somebody had to think of setting up gasoline pumps instead of selling it in cans.  Somebody had to figure out how to drill for oil in the jungles of Borneo, the deserts of Persia, the bottom of Lake Maraciabo in Venezuela and the north slope of Alaska.  It really was an epic story.

Crude oil prices adjusted for inflation. Double click to enlarge.

We think of oil in terms of scarcity, but there have been times when an oil glut was considered the more serious problem.  This was the case during the Great Depression, when the Texas oil industry was collapsing under overproduction of oil.  The Texas Railroad Commission (which, despite its name, regulated oil) worked with the Roosevelt administration to set up a system of production allocations regulating what could be taken from each oil field.  The federal government restricted foreign imports to prevent Texas oil from being overwhelmed.

Texas increased and decreased production in order smooth out the cycle of boom and bust, so that oil-using businesses wouldn’t be ruined by sudden increases in oil prices nor oil producers by the sudden collapse.

This helps explain why Texas oilmen for so many years supported the Democratic Party.  When I first learned how this system worked, back in the 1950s, it seemed to me to be an example of government-protected monopoly working against the public interest.  After reading Yergin’s book, I can see the need for some entity to fulfill the function of the Texas Railroad Commission.  Price controls don’t work, as we Americans learned in the 1970s.  But it is a good thing to smooth out swings in prices when they are so wild that they periodically crash an industry.

In later years Saudi Arabia took over the function of swing producer, which partly explains the tight relationship between the U.S. government and the Saudi royal family since President Franklin Roosevelt’s first meeting with King Ibn Saud in 1945.  Saudi Arabia’s function as swing producer has been a great source of tension with Iran.  The Iranian government, which unlike Saudi Arabia rules over a large population who need jobs and income, has always wanted to maximize production and income, while the Saudis have been able to afford to take a longer view.

U.S. gasoline prices adjusted for inflation

There’s a lot more in the book.  I put it down with a greater awareness of how oil is intertwined with everything and what a radical change ending our “addiction” would be.

Click on The Stuff That Makes the World Go Round for Leslie H. Gelb’s review of The Prize in the New York Times.

Click on “the world’s most critical nonhuman economic resource” for a review of The Prize in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty.

Click on Overdue Evaluation for a 2006 review of The Prize by Doug Merrill on the A Fistful of Euros web log.

Health insurance for contraception

March 9, 2012

If it had been up to me to choose a witness to testify on behalf of health insurance for contraception, I would have picked a married woman of modest means who would testify how she and her husband could barely provide for their three children and could not provide for a fourth.

If I had been allowed a second witness, I would have chosen a woman with a disabling hormone imbalance who would testify how she needed the “birth control pills” in order to lead a normal life.

Class warfare in Houndsville

March 3, 2012

Ruben Bolling’s Lucky Ducky cartoons began in response to a series of Wall Street Journal editorials in 2002 and 2003 about low-income “lucky duckies” who paid little or no federal income taxes.  The editorial writers feared that the growing number “lucky duckies” might become a political constituency for raising federal income taxes.  This didn’t happen.   Political pressure for low federal income taxes, which fall most heavily on the rich, is much greater than pressure for reductions in sales taxes, payroll taxes and residential property taxes, which respectively fall most heavily on poor people, wage-earners and the middle class.

Click on Lucky Duckies wiki for Wikipedia’s review of the “lucky duckies” meme.

Click on Tom the Dancing Bug for more Ruben Bolling cartoons.

Welfare reform is a partial success story

March 2, 2012

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Years ago I had a good friend who was a single mother who had received Aid to Dependent Children from the local welfare department.  She attended the same high school I did in the late 1950s and early 1960s, some years after I left to go to college and do my military service.  She became pregnant in her early teens, married the father and dropped out of high school.   She and her young husband were too immature for marriage, and they soon divorced.  In those days, this course of events wasn’t uncommon. She found herself on her own with children to support, and applied for welfare assistance.

When I met her she had a job and no longer was receiving assistance.  She said that going to the welfare department and having her name taken off the public assistance rolls was the hardest thing she ever did in her life.  She told me that she was terrified to do this, because she was putting not only herself but her children at risk.  So long as she was a welfare client, she could be assured that her children would receive food and medical care.  Off welfare, her children’s food and doctor bills were her responsibility.  Things worked out.  Both she and her ex-husband got married again, to different people, and so far as I know did okay thereafter.

Nowadays things might not be so rough for someone in her situation.  Medicaid provides a minimum level of medical insurance for working poor people.  The Affordable Care Act will provide universal health insurance, supposedly at an affordable rate.  The expansion of the food stamp program since that era means that in principle no family need go without enough to eat.

The most significant change was the Clinton administration’s 1996 welfare reform.  Requirements for being on welfare were tightened up, while the Earned Income Tax Credit, a reverse income tax, provides supplemental income so that poor people on welfare are not penalized for getting jobs.

The charts above indicate that the Clinton-era welfare reform worked in terms of moving single-parent families from welfare to work.  It did not work so well in terms of reducing the number of children in poverty, which to my mind is the more important thing.  It is the experience of growing up in poverty, as much asnot just the experience of having a single-parent, that makes an adult likely to be poor themselves.   I don’t think the solution to this is to be found within the welfare system.  What we need is to get back to a full-employment, high-wage economy in which anyone willing to work can earn a decent living.

Double click to enlarge.

Having said this, I acknowledge that there are women in this country who think that it is perfectly normal to make a living by having babies and getting paid by the government to raise them, and that there are men in this country who think it is normal to live off women who are getting paid to raise fatherless children.

I admit I don’t have a good answer.  I don’t believe you can treat children as you would treat unwanted puppies or kittens.  A decent society should not let children go hungry or without needed medical care.

Here is a difference, I think, between liberal and conservative attitudes.  A typical conservative wants to make sure that no help goes to anyone who doesn’t deserve it, even if some deserving people are cut off.  A typical liberal such as myself wants to be sure that everybody who really needs help should get it, even if some undeserving people also are helped.  I agree that a balance is needed, and either attitude can be taken to a harmful extreme.

Click on What Works Is Work: Welfare Reform and Poverty Reduction for a report by Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution.

Click on Welfare Reform Worked for a shorter report by Haskins along with Peter H. Schuck of Yale Law School.

Click on Indicators of Welfare Dependence for a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which provides all the statistics on this subject that anybody could ever want.