In response to my article The War on Poverty to Blame for Problems in Baltimore, reader Cai Phillips-Jones disagreed with a statistic I quoted therein and ascribing my mistake to some cognitive biases. Here is the text from his comment:
"After spending more than 15 trillion dollars on the poor in America, we do not have less people in poverty, as a percentage, than before the War on Poverty started." Well that is a good example of an easily verifiable falsehood. An absolute, if you will. The official poverty rate does not account for the redistributive policies that the "war on poverty" created. Other poverty measurements that do (such as the supplementary measurement) have the poverty rate significantly lower than it was.
BTW, "I believe in absolutes" translates to "I believe in stupidity for stupidity's sake" to someone who is aware of the concept of critical thinking. Here's an interesting article showing why political extremists should generally stay away from facts and numbers and focus instead on getting people emotionally worked up over fantasies: Science confirms: Politics wrecks your ability to do math. Enjoy your cognitive biases.
Let us consider his accusations, one by one:
- Assertion: The official poverty rate does not account for the redistributive policies that the "war on poverty" created. Other poverty measurements that do (such as the supplementary measurement) have the poverty rate significantly lower than it was.
My response: OK, let's consider the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM was developed as an alternative to the current official poverty measure (OPM) which was developed in the early 1960s. The SPM now includes benefits such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance (SNAP), credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit
[EITC]), the National School Lunch Program, the Supplementary Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Housing subsidies, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP), etc. Less any expenses such as payroll taxes (which poor people rarely pay), work expenses (if they don't have jobs, what work expenses?), out-of-pocket medical expenses (which they rarely pay).
One would think that with all these hundreds of additional assistance programs and benefits, the new SPM would show that the poverty rate to be lower than the standard, official rate You would be wrong. In 2010, the first SPM estimate was released which actually showed a rate of poverty higher than the official rate - 16.0% vs 15.1% (source: The US Census Bureau PDF).
I expect some reader to object that the SPM might be higher only for that year, however the US Census data for the years following 2010 also show that the SPM is higher than the official rate, despite the inclusion of benefits. In fact, the SPM is generally higher than the official rate of poverty - (source: The US Census Bureau - page 5 Poverty Rates: Official and SPM PDF).
Contrary to Mr. Phillips-Jones' assertion that other measures of poverty such as the SPM show a lower rate of poverty, the Census Bureau figures say otherwise.
- Assertion: "I believe in absolutes" translates to "I believe in stupidity for stupidity's sake"
My response: This non sequitur may simply be a dig at Ayn Rand but I have no idea how this is relevant to my argument that the War on Poverty is a failure.
- Assertion: political extremists should generally stay away from facts and numbers.
My response: I couldn't agree more. Reader Phillips-Jones obviously let his cognitive bias cloud his thinking. His own facts and figures show that he is quite mistaken and that I, as usual, am right.
If my brother-in-law is broke, has no job, no place to live, and cannot afford to buy food - then he is poor and should be listed as a statistic in the measure of poverty. Doling out welfare will feed him, clothe him and give him a place to live, may lift him technically out of poverty but isn't he still really poor? Perhaps we should just give every man, woman and child a million dollars a year? If money were the problem then that should eliminate poverty in one year. Of course, if we did that, a million dollars would become worthless and we would end up with even more poor people because those who were legitimately rich before would then be holding worthless millions in their bank accounts.
As in all my articles, I cite authoritative sources to buttress my articles rather than simply offer a biased opinion.
But I will give any liberal out there another chance. Give me a government source showing that there is less poverty today than in 1965 and I will print it. But please, no irrelevant digressions or ad hominem attacks accusing me of being a racist or bigot - just the facts.
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