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Ryan on poverty & dependency

Yesterday Paul Ryan gave a speech about poverty in Cleveland, Ohio. The title of the speech was Restoring the Promise of Upward Mobility in America's Economy. As Jonathan Chait points out in his response, the biggest obstacle to upward mobility in this country is not welfare, regulation, high taxes, or any of the other things Ryan worries about; it's income inequality. Countries that have less of that have more social mobility, even if they also have a more generous social safety net and higher taxes.Fiscal hawks sometimes speak as if they regret having to cut federal spending for things like Medicaid and food stamps; such cuts are routinely described as painful but necessary. In his Cleveland speech, Ryan insists that what's good for the budget is also good for the poor: by cutting programs that only encourage dependency, we're actually doing the poor a favor. We're like repentant codependents finally cutting off an addict's supply. As Chait writes,

Ryan paints a picture in which we face an impending debt crisis but also have the good fortune of spending vast sums on poor people in a way that harms them, allowing us to reap large budgetary savings while giving the poor a helping hand. What an incredible stroke of good fortune!
But is it true that these programs foster dependency? Ryan avoids fleshing out this implication with any specifics, perhaps because to do so would quickly expose the vapidity of his claims. For one thing, welfare reform was undertaken during the nineties boom, when a red-hot employment market made it possible for people to transition from welfare to low-rung jobs. The notion that there are jobs today going unfilled but for the laziness of the poor has no relationship to reality.
Second, welfare was designed to replace the role of a male breadwinner and thus created a family model in which a single mother could expect to receive a basic income in lieu of work. That isnt true of the programs Ryan wants to slash.
There is one ironic exception here, though: Medicaid. Medicaid offers health care for the very poor, along with nursing-home care and other special medical needs. It is possible that the availability of Medicaid could reduce a persons incentive to earn more money, because at some point, they would earn enough to no longer qualify for Medicaid and then theyd lose their health insurance. But this would only hold true if we enact Ryans proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Otherwise, people will have access to health insurance at every income level.

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So what Ryan is saying is that because of programs to aid the poor, poverty is no longer a tragedy in America; it's an aspiration? Especially if one is poor and ill since one gets more? That seems like a rather immoral way to look at things.

First, kudos to Ryan for making a speech about poverty in America. I, for one, would not have bet on him to be the first major candidate for national office this year to give such a speech.But....it's hard to decide whether laughter, tears or rending of garments is a more appropriate response to the content of Ryan's speech.As Ed Kilgore observes, "In other words, Medicaid and food stamps will be block-granted, which in the former case will (along with the repeal of ObamaCare) eliminate health insurance for 31 to 37 million poor people, and in the latter eliminate food assistance for a mere 10 million." http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2012_10/a_war_of_pov... for further rebuttal of Ryan's policy proposals, there's Charlie Pierce who remembers his history: "The fact is that, for all Ryan's blather about how poverty was "winning" the war on poverty a line he copped from Ronald Reagan, by the way the programs of LBJ's Great Society did far more good than they did harm. Medicare went a long way toward eliminating poverty among the elderly, and Medicaid did much the same thing for the rest of the people in poverty. Between 1963 and 1970, the poverty rate in this country dropped from 22 percent to 12 percent. Head Start has been an unqualified success, so much so that the Republicans have tried to chloroform it for going on 40 years now. Life expectancy increased and there was a precipitous drop in infant mortality. And all that didn't happen because our churches got better at running soup kitchens, as noble as the people who work in them are. " http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/paul-ryan-poverty-speech-14091290If government support for families in need is such a bad thing, one would think Rep. Ryan would have a powerful testimony on the soul-crushing impact of the Social Security survivors' benefits that helped keep his family together and allowed him to go to college after the death of his father. In the absence of such testimony, and in the absence of any evidence that Mr. Ryan's human nature is fundamentally different from that of any other humans, I guess we'll just have to wait a while longer before feeling obliged to take Mr. Ryan seriously when he talks about how cutting benefits for the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich is an act of Christian charity and justice.

Such a big lie. But as Hitler said if you tell it often enough it will seem true. Like the outsized amount of lobbyists who inhabit the halls of congress getting more dollars for their companies and organizations. If the poor had one tenth the amount of advocates they would get their due. So the banks and the auto industry are bailed out while the poor are "too dependent." All those lobbyists in Washington are not there to get government off the backs of the people but to get government to cover their backs. One of those stupendous lies.

Is Ryan's speech available?

Fr. Komonchak,Here's the link, which I've also added to the post.

I would find criticism of what Paul Ryan said in his speech more compelling if the criticism pertained to what he actually said, rather than piggy-backing on other people's criticism.

So you find Jonathan Chait's criticism of Ryan's speech more compelling than mine. That's fine with me. And now that we have that meta-criticism out of the way, how about you respond to Chait's criticism, which is the subject of this post.

"As Jonathan Chait points out in his response, the biggest obstacle to upward mobility in this country is not welfare, regulation, high taxes, or any of the other things Ryan worries about; its income inequality. "That's like saying the biggest obstacle to not being tall is being short. It's not an argument; it's a tautology.So no, Matthew, I did not find Mr. Chait's criticism compelling. And I did not find yours at all.

No, Mark, it's not a tautology, as Ryan and Romney would be the first to tell you: that some people have a lot more money than others does not mean that the people who start out with the most money will end up with the most money. But this is not the place to offer a course in elementary logic.

Chait says:"For one thing, welfare reform was undertaken during the nineties boom, when a red-hot employment market made it possible for people to transition from welfare to low-rung jobs."Did Chait support the welfare reform pushed through by Congressional Republicans in the 1990s? If not, he does not have the moral standing to make this argument. Yet, I don't see where he claims he supported it. Hmmm

Question: How many of the far left who frequent this blog will not give more to feed the hungry and clothe the naked if your tax rates are lowered, and you keep more of what you earn?

SOMEWHAT OFF-TOPIC, BUT YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT THESE TWO SITES SOMETIME:I'm not sure whether anyone has referred dotCWL to these sites already or not. They'r about how Rand's selfishness is clearly no different in kind from that of some psychotics.. This site concerns how she based her hero Robert Galt on an actual serial killer named Hickman, whom she idolized. (I kid you not. I don't really know how good the scholarship is, but I have read some Rand.)http://atheism.about.com/b/2011/05/11/ayn-rand-sociopath-who-admired-a-s... this site for the parallel if not total identity of Rand's "objectivism" and that of Anton LeVay, the founder of the Church of Satan. LeVay has been quoted as saying that Satanism is just objectivism with ritual. There are other relevant quotations at the site which condemn Rand, e.g., from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things, and from Bill Buckley, plus a lot more damning material from Rand (she like to replace the Cross with the dollar sign!)http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/08/27/1124666/-The-Paul-Ryan-Ayn-Rand...'m starting to think that what Ryan is, is dumb or naive beyond belief. Or is Ryan psychotic too?

Mark P. --A person doesn't have to be a saint to speak the truth. And sometimes sinners are right and it's the saints who are wrong. Sanctity is not the same thing as wisdom.

Chait's analysis confuses me. Either he's trying to perpetrate an enormous sleight-of-hand, or he's seriously confused himself. The confusion is this: Chait seems to be arguing from details of the Ryan budget. But Ryan isn't talking here about the Ryan budget. Ryan is talking about his running mate's policies. Here is a passage from Chait's analysis that seems to illustrate this:"Mostly, [Ryan] talks about welfare reform. There is a consensus that welfare as we knew it did create serious cultural pathologies. Ryan cites the case of welfare reform frequently. To him, it proves that large cuts to programs that help poor people of any kind at all are not only harmless but will help the poor. The welfare-reform mindset hasnt been applied with equal vigor across the spectrum of anti-poverty programs, he says. Thus he proposes enormous cuts to childrens health-insurance grants, Head Start, food stamps, and, especially, Medicaid, which would have to throw about half its current beneficiaries off their coverage under his proposal."Note that Chait, as though summarizing Ryan's speech about Romney's policies, refers to "large cuts to programs that help poor people", and implies that Ryan "proposes enormous cuts" to a variety of social programs. But in fact, nowhere in Ryan's speech does he propose cuts of any size to any of these programs - and in fact he promises, "Where government is entrusted with providing a safety net, Mitt Romney and I have our own vision for how to keep it strong."And what is that vision? Assuming that Romney's own official web site accurately states his policies, here it is as it pertains to Medicaid and healthcare:"* Block grant Medicaid and other payments to states* Limit federal standards and requirements on both private insurance and Medicaid coverage* Ensure flexibility to help the uninsured, including public-private partnerships, exchanges, and subsidies* Ensure flexibility to help the chronically ill, including high-risk pools, reinsurance, and risk adjustment* Offer innovation grants to explore non-litigation alternatives to dispute resolution""Block grant Medicaid" doesn't sound radically different from Medicaid in its current form. And as for exchanges, subsidies, reinsurance, risk adjustment and so on - those are all elements that are already incorporated into Obamacare. The big difference between Romney's vision and Obama's vision seems to be that Romney wants less federal regulation (the presumption being that states would fill regulatory gaps).My general view is that Romney is a moderate conservative, and his policies, to the extent they differ from those of the moderate liberal President Obama, are usually more in degree and detail than in radical departure.

@Jim Pauwels (10/26, 12:01 am) The Republican plan to block grant Medicaid may not sound radically different from Medicaid in its current form. But if that were true, then how would it save the federal government money?The answer is that Republicans would place a "hard cap" on the growth of Medicaid. That means any growth in health care costs above and beyond the "hard cap" would a) have to be made up for by the states or b) result in benefit cuts to the poor. As Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly noted (see link above @ 10/25, 3:59 pm), the result (along with the result of repealing Obamacare, also part of Romney's plan) would be to eliminate health insurance coverage for 31-37 million poor Americans.Likewise with Romney's plan to block grant food stamps. That would affect an estimated 10 million of the poor among us.To "limit federal standards and requirements" on health insurance would create a "race to the bottom" by making it easier for insurers to "cherry pick" relatively health people and avoid insuring those who are relatively less healthy.It's debatable whether "the big difference" between Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney is that "Romney wants less federal regulation". But even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that to be the case, then it seems to me that we have to, at a minimum, confront the fact that Romney's plans would have an enormous "adverse impact" on the poor.It may be your general view that "Romney is a moderate conservative". (Although I'm curious how you came to that conclusion, given Romney's breathtaking ability to change his views, both during this campaign and throughout the 20 years of his political career.)However, the agenda Romney and the Republican Party have embraced throughout this campaign is not a "moderate conservative" agenda. The idea that a Pres. Romney with a Republican Congress would govern as moderate conservatives is one that, as best I can tell, has no basis in fact.

See also this succinct, fact-based post by Kevin Drum which concludes "Romney's priorities really are pretty stark: He wants to cut taxes on the rich and cut spending on the poor. That's Romney's real poverty plan."http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/10/mitt-romneys-real-poverty-...

"The answer is that Republicans would place a hard cap on the growth of Medicaid."Drum does the same sleight-of-hand, or makes the same mistake, that Chait does: he bases his claim, not on Romney's policy as laid out by the candidate himself, but on the Ryan House budget plan.Ryan isn't the candidate. Romney is.Btw, Ryan's plan doesn't place a hard cap on the growth of Medicaid. It pegs the growth rate at the rate of inflation + one percent. It is true that the federal government will be limited, going forward, in its funding role for social programs. I say "will" rather than "would, if Romney is elected" because this will be true regardless of who wins the Presidential election. That is because the financial state of the federal government is so dire that major ratings agencies lowered its credit score recently, and are threatening to do so again; and because Congress, in the wake of the 2010 election, is now taking seriously its Constitutional and moral responsibility to steward federal spending.If we were in a situation in which the federal government had virtually unlimited funds, and the problem to be solved was merely how to most effectively distribute them to those in need, I'd be in agreement with you, Drum, Chait, et al.But that's not our situation. Our situation is one in which there won't be as much money to go around as before. The chickens are coming home to roost from decades of profligacy. All programs will be affected, including Medicaid and food stamps. And the longer we wait to acknowledge and confront this unpleasant reality, the worse it will be for all of us, including the poor who depend on federal government transfer payment programs.Romney and Ryan believe that the current Medicaid and food stamp programs are not as efficient nor effective as they could be. And so they propose to change the model: they will give states more latitude to determine how to serve those in need in their states. They believe that states, because they are closer to those in need, can use the federal monies - which won't be shrinking - to serve their people better; and with fewer federal restrictions in place, the states will have more leeway to try imaginative new ways of addressing these problems. This is a concrete instance of a pillar of Catholic social teaching: subsidiarity. Romney and Ryan also believe that their policies will result in more of the poor going to work. People who work are far less likely to need Medicaid and food stamp assistance than those who don't work. Ultimately, the best solution to the Medicaid funding crisis is for the poor to work. This vision is also consonant with Catholic social teaching, which is that humans are made to work.These are big bets. Will they work? Nobody knows. But what is certain is that the status quo is unsustainable, and if nothing is done to address the current trends, then sooner or later all programs will be cut anyway, and most likely in a much more painful and less just way than what Romney and Ryan propose (cf Greece). Romney and Ryan believe that America still has the capacity to create jobs for those who need jobs, including the poor. I don't think Obama has that faith in America. The President doesn't offer a vision of Americans who are self-sufficient and responsible.

Jim P says: "I don't think Obama has that faith in America. The President doesnt offer a vision of Americans who are self-sufficient and responsible."I see. Requiring all adults to be responsible and purchase health insurance doesn't meet your criteria?I could use your same rhetorical strategy. Let me try this: Obama believes that American entrepreneurs have sufficient patriotism and drive to respond to incentives to do the right thing and create jobs here at home, including the poor, while shouldering some additional tax burden to help the country deal with its long-standing structural debt. I don't think Romney and Ryan have that faith in American entrepreneurs. Their vision is that the teeniest imposition of additional responsibility for helping our country recover economically and deal with the long-standing structural debt will instead cause all entrepreneurs to either slack off or ship jobs overseas. The only incentive to grow a business in America is low taxes and special privileges for the wealthiest. Romney and Ryan don't offer a vision of Americans who are patriotic and grateful for the opportunities provided to them by this wonderful country.There - what do you think?

@Jim Pauwels (10/26, 11:03 am) Thanks for the response."Btw, Ryans plan doesnt place a hard cap on the growth of Medicaid. It pegs the growth rate at the rate of inflation + one percent." And the effect of that in the world as it is (combined with repealing Obamacare which Romney has pledged to do on "day one") is to create an additional 31-37 million Americans without health care coverage."...the financial state of the federal government is so dire that major ratings agencies lowered its credit score recently, and are threatening to do so again." One rating agency lowered the federal government's bond rating in the summer of 2011 in the wake of the House Republicans' refusal to raise the debt ceiling without $1 trillion in spending cuts. This demand was unprecedented in U.S. history."...Congress, in the wake of the 2010 election, is now taking seriously its Constitutional and moral responsibility to steward federal spending." I'm curious what your definition of "steward federal spending" is. The last two presidents to run budget surpluses were Johnson and Clinton. When W. Bush inherited the Clinton surpluses, he immediately passed two major income tax cuts, created an unfunded health benefit (Medicare Part D) and ran two wars "off the books" (also unprecedented in U.S. history). Most of the congressional Republican leadership (including Paul Ryan) voted for all of those measures." Our situation is one in which there wont be as much money to go around as before." Technically, with the economy growing (at a rate of 2% in the most recent quarter) there will be more money to go around. The question we face is what to do with it. " The chickens are coming home to roost from decades of profligacy. All programs will be affected, including Medicaid and food stamps." Two things here: 1) the "decades of profligacy" that have created the federal debt are the '00s and the '80s when Republican presidents led the charge for unpaid-for increases in federal spending. 2) If "all programs will be affected", then how is it that Gov. Romney is proposing $2 trillion of additional military spending above and beyond what the Pentagon is requesting?"Romney and Ryan ... believe that states, because they are closer to those in need, can use the federal monies which wont be shrinking to serve their people better; and with fewer federal restrictions in place, the states will have more leeway to try imaginative new ways of addressing these problems. " Assuming you're correct and this is their belief, what is the basis for their belief? The states failed to come up with ways of providing access to health care for the poor in the decades before Medicaid was created. Likewise, before food stamps poor people just went hungry in most states. In looking at the history of state policymaking, where is the evidence that, say, Mississippi or Texas has come up with better ways of meeting the needs of their poorest citizens?"Ultimately, the best solution to the Medicaid funding crisis is for the poor to work." The U.S. does not have a crisis about the cost of Medicaid. The U.S. has a crisis about the cost of health care. Solve that and you solve the crisis of the cost of Medicaid, Medicare and the VA health system. We have, I think, no disagreement about work. However it's worth nothing that the vast majority of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid. These are not folks who are going back into the work force."...what is certain is that the status quo is unsustainable...." Well, I suppose that depends on what one means by the status quo. Currently, the U. S. economy is growing, unemployment is falling, housing starts are increasing, federal deficits are decreasing (compared to what Pres. Obama inherited). If we take that set of parameters as a rough definition of the status quo, then there's at least a case to be made that the "status quo" is sustainable---provided we keep moving forward and don't turn back to the policies of the '00s." I dont think Obama has that faith in America. The President doesnt offer a vision of Americans who are self-sufficient and responsible." If you have time, I'd be interested to hear how and why you've come to that conclusion about Pres. Obama...and his vision. One thing I find striking, and somewhat reassuring, within the context of the "American Dream" is that both Pres. Obama and Pres. Clinton have lived it: raised largely by their mothers and grandmothers in often difficult circumstances, working hard, using education as their ticket out of poverty, believing that they could do anything they set their minds to, rising to the pinnacle of our political system. In his brief community organizing career, the young Barack Obama would have had the "Iron Rule" of organizing drilled into him by his supervisors. The Iron Rule is "NEVER, never,....never do for people what the can do for themselves." As the Iron Rule is taught in community organizing networks like the Gamaliel Foundation (with which Obama was associated), it is often referred to as the other side of the coin on which the Golden Rule appears. The two are, in that world view, inextricably linked.

Fine post, Luke. Especially the last paragraph. The American right lives off of the myth that the poor can't and won't accept responsibility for themselves. True, there are probably some deadbeats among the poor too, but the right never even bothers to offer any evidence to support that claim. They assume (illogically) that "the poor" who are always with us are always exactly the same people -- they're always there, so it must be because they're lazy, and so they just continue to live off of other peoples earnings. Sheesh.

What Luke said.

Jim,To see exactly why you're wrong about Romney's Medicaid plan, have a look at this article by Ezra Klein.

Matthew, three things about Klein's article:1. It cites a Kaiser Foundation study that studies, not Romney's plan, but the House plan that came out of Ryan's committee. Romney has not yet released a detailed plan for Medicaid reform, but has stated explicitly that Ryan's plan is not his.2. A large portion of the service cuts projected by that study are based on statements by Romney that he would 'cut Obamacare on Day 1'. (Ryan's House budget also calls for the repeal of Obamacare). This is pertinent to a Medicaid discussion because Medicaid's enrollment has spiked as a result of Obamacare; I believe it has added something on the order of 17 million - 18 million enrollees. Without getting into the question of the proper scope of Medicaid, let's just note that a President Romney, like any president, would lack the authority unilaterally to 'repeal Obamacare on Day 1'. Only Congress or a court can repeal or overturn Obamacare. Personally, I'm extremely skeptical that Congress, even a Congress with Republican majorities in both houses, which itself isn't a likely outcome of these elections, will muster the will to overturn Obamacare. Such an initiative, like a lot of initiatives, would die in the Senate.3. The non-Obamacare cuts projected by the Kaiser study, from what I can tell, seems to assume that Medicaid enrollees would be funded the same way they are now (and, I believe, have been since the program's inception). But that is precisely what Ryan states that he and Romney want to change. This article by Avik Roy, helpfully linked by Klein, does a deeper dive on why there are prospects for success, both financially and in enrollee health outcomes, from a block grant program.http://www.forbes.com/sites/aroy/2012/09/30/why-block-granting-medicaid-...