Friday, January 30, 2015

The End Of Poverty (and miscellany)

I am acquainted with a person who, based on his income, is solidly entrenched well below the "poverty line". Yet, he is well-fed, has access to "free" high quality health care, owns a large, flat screen color TV, owns a car of vastly better quality than top of the line models produced in the 70s and 80s, has ample heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, owns a smartphone with more computing power than a room sized corporate mainframe of a few decades ago and he lives in a private home that he leases - true, a mobile home - but a large and comfortable one, located in a relatively safe area. He dresses stylishly, (by his standards), and recently (and foolishly), he purchased $100 designer athletic shoes for his 4 year old daughter. Yet the government categorizes him as "poor". Class warriors would doubtless point to him as an oppressed and impoverished victim of the 1% rather than as a fortunate recipient of its prolific productivity and wealth creation.

In contrast, as I was growing up in New York City in the late 50s and early 60s, my family lived in an apartment, had one black and white TV, no car, no air conditioning, and as for a smartphone, Most of my father's income was spent on food, clothing, and rent. And it was spent. There was nothing left for saving or, ha, "investing". Yet, I always considered us to be middle class and by most metrics of the time we were.

One point that Kevin Williamson repeatedly makes is that there is no real poverty in America and the larger industrialized world today. Certainly not the type of poverty that has existed throughout most of human history and still persists in those societies that have rejected or haven't yet discovered free market capitalism. In the capitalist world there is no famine, no near-extinction-sized epidemics, no crushing poverty of the sort that consigned the world's population to live on $3 per person, per day for tens of thousands of years. (Global per capita income in 2013 was $13,000, an incredible sum. And that's following two centuries of explosive population growth).

Megan McCardle, in a column on the Bloomberg News website, celebrates the astonishing prosperity that we enjoy today.

Last week, in her State of The Union response, Joni Ernst mentioned going to school with bread bags on her feet to protect her shoes...the bread bags triggered a lot of hilarity on Twitter...


In 1901, the average "urban wage earner" spent about 46 percent of their household budget on food and another 15 percent on apparel -- that's 61 percent of their annual income just to feed and clothe the family. That does not include shelter, or fuel to heat your home and cook your food. By 1987, that same household spent less than 20 percent on food and a little over 5 percent of their budget on apparel. Since then, these numbers have fallen even further: Today, families with incomes of less than $5,000 a year still spend only 16 percent of the family budget on food and 3.5 percent on apparel. And that's not because we're eating less and wearing fewer clothes; in fact, it's the reverse. (My emphasis).

The average working-class family of 1901 had a few changes of clothes and a diet heavy on beans and grain, light on meat and fresh produce -- which simply wasn't available for much of the year, even if they'd had the money to afford it. Even growing up in the 1950s, in a comfortably middle-class home, my mother's wardrobe consisted of a week's worth of school clothes, a church dress and a couple of play outfits. Her counterparts today can barely fit all their clothes in their closets, even though today's houses are much bigger than they used to be; putting a family of five in a 900-square-foot house with a single bathroom was an aspirational goal for the generation that settled Levittown, but in an era when new homes average more than 2,500 square feet, it sounds like poverty.

At that, even the people living in the last decades of the 19th century were richer than those who had gone before them.


In every generation, we forget how much poorer we used to be, and then we forget that we have forgotten. We focus on the things that seem funny or monstrous or quaint and darling. Somehow the simplest and most important fact -- the immense differences between their living standards and ours -- slides right past our eye. And when Ernst tried to remind us, people didn't say "Wow, we've really come a long way"; they pointed and laughed.

Some other items of interest --

Expert observer of the urban scene, Heather MacDonald documents the disgraceful incitement of anti-police sentiment by government officials (notably Sandinista Bill Blasio).

James Lileks at his best, writing about "othering" white males. A funny and on target skewering of gender-based nonsense.

... Marx is in foul order in Berkeley not for his ideas, or the heaps of corpses accumulated in his name, but because he had a prostate.

Kevin Williamson on Progressive Pretentiousness --

For all of its scientific pretensions and empirical posturing, progressivism is not about evidence, and at its heart it is not even about public policy at all: It is about aesthetics.
The goal of progressivism is not to make the world rational; it’s to make the world Portland.

...there is precisely as much evidence for the theoretical basis of yoga (the flow of mystical energy through the nāḍi, which, strictly speaking, do not exist) and chiropractic (the manipulation of vitalistic “innate intelligence,” which also, strictly speaking, does not exist) as there is for the young-Earth creationist notion that Adam rode out of Eden on the back of a prancing brontosaurus. But those ideas receive radically different receptions. Creationism, or even open discussions of criticism of conventional evolutionary models (generally daft but culturally significant) that might conceivably lead to discussion of creationism, is considered by progressives to be so dangerous that it is formally repressed in many circumstances. But fashionable pseudoscience ranging from homeopathy to aromatherapy is — at the insistence of those same progressives — subsidized by the federal government and the states under lunatic provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which should probably be renamed the Theoretically Affordable Craptastic Insurance Policy and Pseudoscientific Mystical Horsepucky Non-Care Because We Say So Act.

Similarly, there is no meaningful evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or safer, but the lifestyle progressives who run the Boulder schools insist on them, along with yoga. What’s banned? Chocolate milk.

... There are many conservatives who prefer organic food, who do yoga, who like trains, and who would prefer living in Brooklyn to living in Plano. De gustibus and all that. The difference is that progressives, blazing with self-righteousness, believe themselves entitled to make their preferences a matter of law.

And that’s the Left in short: A lifestyle so good, it’s mandatory.

And also by KW - Noting that apocalyptic climate change predictions have been pushed safely beyond the lifespans of its proponents.

...the real intellectual achievement of the climate-change alarmists has been to improve on the marketing model of the traditional fundamentalist-wacko/UFO-cult/Mayan-calendar-lunatic operation by eliminating its greatest weakness: the expiration date. When your UFO cult predicts that the world will unquestionably come to an end on December 21, 1954, then you start to look sort of silly by Christmas.

More on "global warming" from Robert Tracinski --

...all changes in temperature that we observe today are relatively small variations within a much larger trend on a geological time scale. We know that the earth is going through a series of freezing and warming cycles on a scale of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. And it has mostly been freezing. We’re fortunate enough to live in a cozy, warm “interglacial” period between ice ages. So we’re all staring down the barrel of the next ice age, yet we’re spending our time worrying about global warming.

Richard Epstein --

...the President wholly fails to understand the importance of economic growth in his relentless attack on economic inequality. The difference between these two programs is striking. A growth-program seeks to expand the size of the overall pie, trusting that the able and hardworking people whom the President lauds will be able to garner their share of the pie. The key point here is that gains from growth are sustainable because no firm has any incentive to back away from employment contracts that work to its own advantage. The hands-off policy thus improves economic incentives and reduces administrative overhead at the same time.

None of this makes the slightest impression on the President, who has concluded that his own brand of “middle-class economics works.” At one level, he is surely correct to insist that everyone “gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” But it hardly follows that the way to make “working class families feel more secure” is to ply them with a set of educational, housing, and health care subsidies, all of which have to be paid for by someone else, whose life is made less secure by the constant threat of ad hoc government intervention.

...He speaks about the 11 million jobs created since the depths of the last recession. But his claim is full of holes. Right now, the total number of employed individuals in the United States is about what it was six years ago, notwithstanding a population gain of over 15 million people. Worse still, virtually all the gain in employment has come from part-time employment, which is encouraged in part by the Obamacare mandate that stipulates that employers must provide health care insurance for those who work 30-hours a week or more—a topic on which the President was mysteriously silent in his State of the Union address.

... the increase in capital gains rates is likely to translate into a reduction of taxable income. Unlike income from earnings, the capital gains tax is only triggered by a sale or other disposition of property. The high tax results in a reduction of the number of sales. That in turn not only decreases tax revenues, but also the efficiency of the capital markets, because it is more costly for people to switch their investments from inefficient to efficient firms.

From Michael Walsh, a fair, measured, judicious assessment of the president. I personally prefer less subtlety. --

It’s easy to despise Barack Hussein Obama, perhaps the least qualified man ever to accede to the Oval Office. The empty resume, the imaginary biographies, the laziness, the arrogance, the profligacy with the public treasury, the weakness, the cowardice and the cringing servility when dealing with America’s enemies abroad: his six years as president of the United States — a presidency we will all look back upon someday with wonder, shame and national embarrassment — have been as disastrous and harmful as some of us predicted at the time. The man is a disgrace.

John Podhoretz --

(Obama) could have looked at some alarming data and noted how he is practically the only elected Democrat in the country who has benefited from his presidency. Since 2010, the Democratic Party has lost 69 seats in the House of Representatives and 14 Senate seats — and a staggering 913 seats in the state legislatures.

Jorl Zinberg, MD (WSJ op-ed) --

A New York Times/CBS national poll indicates that the ACA has made care less affordable and less accessible. "Nearly half of respondents described the affordability of basic medical care as a hardship for them and their family, up 10 points from a year ago." More than half said out of pocket expenses had gone up and a third said expenses had "gone up a lot." A quarter reported care has become so expensive that they are less likely to see a doctor than in the past.

...By prescribing a generous "essential health benefits" package that many patients neither want nor need, the ACA has increased families' premiums and out of pocket costs and forced them into narrow provider networks. By expanding Medicaid enrollment without measures to increase willing providers, the ACA has only done half the work of improving access. Until ACA requirements are relaxed so that patients have a genuine choice of different benefit packages and affordable plans and the problem of inadequate Medicaid fees is addressed, decreasing the number of uninsured will be a hollow achievement.

Kevin Williamson (again) examines the left's Fox News obsession --

Democrats...are about twice as likely as Republicans to believe in astrology, and are significantly more likely than Republicans to believe in a great deal of other superstitious nonsense, such as ghosts and fortunetellers. It is no surprise that the signature piece of legislation produced by the united Democratic triumvirate of Obama-Pelosi-Reid produced a health-care program that will pour subsidies into such discredited claptrap as chiropractic, homeopathy, and acupuncture.

...The Left has learned over the years that winning debates is difficult but discrediting people and institutions is relatively easy. You point the finger and yell “racist!” or “stupid!” or “stupid racist!” long enough and loud enough and it will start to stick. And for a long time, the Left did not have to do very much debating, because there was no Fox News, no Rush Limbaugh et al., and no conservative alternatives online. Now there are, and so the Left’s most pressing order of business is the delegitimization of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh et al., and conservative alternatives online. And if that doesn’t work, Harry Reid is ready to repeal the First Amendment, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is ready to see you locked up for your political views.

Egyptian cleric, Muhammad Hussein Yaqub --

If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not. We will never love them…They are enemies not because they occupied Palestine. They would have been enemies even if they did not occupy a thing…You must believe that we will fight, defeat and annihilate them until not a single Jew remains on the face of the Earth…You will not survive as long as a single one of us remains.

Martin Luther King --

Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.

George Will --

The average attendance at MLB games last year was 30,437, compared with 13,466 in 1955, in baseball’s supposed golden age. Last year’s worst per-game attendance (the Tampa Bay Rays’ 17,857) was better than that of the 1955 World Series–winning Dodgers (13,423).

And yet Dodgers' fans in Brooklyn were incensed at owner Walter O'Malley for moving the team to Los Angeles two years later.

Finally, the vice president continues to be Jonah Goldberg's primary source of comic material --

Look, any week where Joe Biden tells the public he prefers “deflated balls” can’t be all bad. Before you go someplace filthy with that, the quote in context is that “as a receiver” Biden likes softer balls.

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