This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.
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.
Antipoverty programs also discourage marriage: In a means-tested program like S.S.I., a woman raising a child may receive a bigger check if she refrains from marrying that hard-working guy she likes. Yet marriage is one of the best forces to blunt poverty. In married couple households only one child in 10 grows up in poverty, while almost half do in single-mother households.
Most wrenching of all are the parents who think it’s best if a child stays illiterate, because then the family may be able to claim a disability check each month.
~ Nicholas Kristof, from Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy
Grouch: The three laws of social programs all too often apply to those receiving Government benefits under the best of intentions:
- The Law of Imperfect Selection. Any objective rule that defines eligibility for a social transfer program will irrationally exclude some persons and all efforts to correct that exclusion will expand that program well beyond the original problem area.
- The Law of Unintended Rewards. Any social transfer increases the net value of being in the condition that prompted the transfer (i.e., what you subsidize you get more of).
- The Law of Net Harm. The less likely it is that the unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce change will cause net harm.
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