On the Characteristics of Those Covered under Some Government Programs

A reader writes:

“…SNAP and Medicaid. These are programs for People Who Do Not Work.”

Is this statement true?

SNAP

From SNAPtoHealth:

Stigma associated with the SNAP program has led to several common misconceptions about how the program works and who receives the benefits. For instance, many Americans believe that the majority of SNAP benefits go towards people who could be working. In fact, more than half of SNAP recipients are children or the elderly. For the remaining working-age individuals, many of them are currently employed. At least forty percent of all SNAP beneficiaries live in a household with earnings. At the same time, the majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits (around 10% receive cash welfare), with increasing numbers of SNAP beneficiaries obtaining their primary source of income from employment.

Medicaid

According to Garber/Collins (2014):

Prior to the waiver approval, working parents up to 16 percent of poverty were eligible for Medicaid…Currently, working parents under 33 percent of poverty and individuals ages 19 and 20 under 44 percent of poverty are eligible for Medicaid.

Now it is true that, as CBPP notes, many working poor do not qualify for Medicaid under the old provisions (and in states that refused to expand Medicaid):

In the typical (or median) state today, a working-poor parent loses eligibility for Medicaid when his or her income reaches only 63 percent of the poverty line (about $12,000 for a family of three in 2012). An unemployed parent must have income below 37 percent of the poverty line (about $7,100 in 2012) in the typical state in order to qualify for the program.

The irony is that Medicaid expansion would eliminate disincentives to earn income through working. As outlined here, most of the beneficiaries of a Medicaid expansion in those states that have not yet taken the offer would be working poor — between nearly 60 to 66% in Virginia, Missouri and Utah.

I don’t typically cite anecdotes, but this one seemed sufficiently illustrative to merit quotation. From an October 2013 NYT article:

About half of poor and uninsured Hispanics live in states that are expanding Medicaid. But Texas, which has a large Hispanic population, rejected the expansion. Gladys Arbila, a housekeeper in Houston who earns $17,000 a year and supports two children, is under the poverty line and therefore not eligible for new subsidies. But she makes too much to qualify for Medicaid under the state’s rules. She recently spent 36 hours waiting in the emergency room for a searing pain in her back.

“We came to this country, and we are legal and we work really hard,” said Ms. Arbila, 45, who immigrated to the United States 12 years ago, and whose son is a soldier in Afghanistan. “Why we don’t have the same opportunities as the others?”

Update, 7/5, 12:10PM: Just to be sure we are in agreement, I want to remind readers of how many of the people you meet on a day to day basis working at their job are on SNAP (Bloomberg, October 25, 2013):

America’s low-wage, fast-food workers have been making a lot of news lately. Researchers at Berkeley released a report calculating that 52 percent of families of fast-food workers are enrolled in at least one public-assistance program, at a cost to taxpayers of about $7 billion a year. McDonald’s employees, working for the biggest burger chain in the country, accounted for about $1.2 billion of that total.

Now a McDonald’s (MCD) help line for employees, called McResource Line, has come to broader attention, courtesy of an advocacy group called Low Pay Is Not OK. In a taped conversation published online, a help-line representative is heard offering to help one McDonald’s worker access a range public resources, from food stamps to Medicaid.

The employee, Nancy Salgado, earns $8.25 an hour after working for a decade at a McDonald’s in Chicago. She can be heard describing the two kids she is raising on her own and asks for help to make ends meet. The McResource representative does her job well: She’s matter-of-fact about Salgado’s predicament, calmly explains the benefits Salgado might be eligible for, and answers all her questions. During the entire 14-minute conversation reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek, Salgado doesn’t ask why the McDonald’s franchisee pays her less than she needs to raise a family, and the McResource representative never suggests Salgado should be paid more.

So, I will hazard a guess that there is not an inconsequential number of people on SNAP who “work”.

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61 thoughts on “On the Characteristics of Those Covered under Some Government Programs

  1. Rick Stryker

    Menzie,

    It seems to me that to ask the question in the post is to misunderstand the argument that Steven was making. Steven was not asserting that no one who receives SNAP or medicaid works; moreover, his argument does not depend on whether that assertion is true or false.

    Rather, Steven was contrasting the political philosophies and economic strategies of classical liberalism and redistributionism. His capitalization of “People Who Do Not Work” was a direct allusion to Brownback’s slogan that Kansas is “The State For People Who Work.” And by that Brownback means that he sees it as his role as governor to make Kansas a place conducive to business. Brownback, like many other governors, is competing with other states for citizens, jobs, and business. Richer states such as California have many natural advantages: geography, weather, workforce, educational institutions, etc. and can afford the inefficiencies of higher taxes, greater regulation, and redistributive policies more easily. Brownback, like many governors, sees the exodus of Californians to places like Texas and hopes by lowering taxes and making Kansas more business friendly to attract some of those people and businesses to Kansas.

    Steven closes his comment by identifying himself with the classical liberal philosophy. We should remember on this Independence Day that he is in very good company. Today we celebrate the founding of this country by classical liberals. At the time of the American Revolution, taxes in the colonies were very, very low, on the order of 1 to 2% of income. Most of the original taxes the British had tried to impose on the colonies had already been repealed by the time of the Revolution. The tax on tea was trivial but was put there to establish the principle that the British Crown could tax the colonies. The Founding Fathers rejected that principle.

    The Founding Fathers instead established the alternative Classical Liberal principles of limited government, low taxes, and freedom from government intervention into thought, expression, and religion. These people set up the government to protect the citizen’s from their own government, providing rights against unreasonable search and seizure and self incrimination, among others. The Founding Fathers designed the system with a series of checks and balances to restrain the growth of government and the concentration of power. We should remember that the redistributionist policies of the Left, with their accompanying high taxes and government coercion, are just what the Founding Fathers were trying to restrict. It would be good to keep that in mind as we enjoy the fireworks.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Rick Stryker: Even if we take your interpretation of how Steve Kopits interprets the debate, then we should still critique the view that people who get SNAP are “not working” either literally or metaphorically. To me, ignoring inconvenient facts is merely a way to characterize certain individuals as “the undeserving poor”. They work, but they weren’t smart enough or diligent enough — or lucky enough to be born into a nice stable upper middle class family — to merit being counted as “working” in the “true” sense of the word.

      Yes, the Founding Fathers were wise and prescient people, who among other things argued for separation of Church and state. But the times, they are changing. Or should be. After all, the Constitution allowed slavery. Suffrage was limited. And it was George Washington who led the military effort to put down the anti-tax Whiskey Rebellion. I remember that each time I hear about the Cliven Bundys of our day. And each time I hear somebody talk about “nullification”. Those are things I think we should keep in mind on this day. Happy Fourth!

      1. Otto Maddox

        And the Constitution allowed the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. So what?

        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          Otto Maddox: Rick Stryker was singing the praises of the Founding Fathers. I was observing that not everything they put in place was necessarily appropriate to our times. If the logic of what I stated eludes you, I am sorry.

    2. sherparick

      So that is why Kansas as it has transitioned to a Koch fiefdom has become such a disaster for all businesses not named Koch Industries under Brownback? http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article673701.html and http://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2014/06/30/the-kansas-tax-cut-debacle-the-enduring-power-of-bad-ideas (I won’t reference Paul Krugman’s analysis since any self-respecting libertarian prefer to burn his eyes out rather than read anything by Krugman.

  2. Joseph

    Rick Stryker: “His argument does not depend on whether that assertion is true or false.

    Thank you for crystallizing the essence of the conservative mind.

  3. Ricardo

    I appreciate Menzie pointing out that more and more productive wage earners are being drawn into expanding government programs. Many of us have been witnessing this for decades. To understand remember that Menzie has stated that he believes that all Americans should be on the SNAP program; in other words all Americans should be dependent on the government for food.

    Progressives will tell you that citizens are being required to be supported by the government because of failures in the economy. That is true, but it is because the government is destroying the productive free market. Why is it that the productive individuals were able to support themselves and make this country the strongest economy in the world, but today we need a despot to hand out benefits.

    It seems that there are many Progressives who believe that the government should control every life-giving activity in the society, they already control food and health care. Some would call this socialism but it is closer to Fascism. The government does not want to control production as with socialism. They want to use crony socialism to control society. Economically. this is Fascism. Progressives are in no way liberal politically.

    Thank you Menzie for a preview of a Progressive America.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Ricardo: I usually don’t respond to your comments associated with your campaign of disinformation, but your assertion “Menzie has stated that he believes that all Americans should be on the SNAP program; in other words all Americans should be dependent on the government for food.” is incorrect. You asked me if I thought there should be a cap on SNAP expenditures; I said no. I nowhere stated I thought all Americans should be on SNAP. Only someone with limited higher brain functions and/or unlimited mendacity would equate the two. Now, if I did make the statement, and you know of the place, then I would be very pleased for you to provide the link to that statement.

      Now, please return to your campaign (begun in your DickF incarnation) that Al Qaeda operated in Iraq during the Sadaam Hussein regime, thereby necessitating the 2003 invasion.

      1. c thomson

        So the number of SNAP recipients, i.e. snap expenditures, should not be capped?

        This would be the same country if, instead of 47 odd million on SNAP, we had 100 million? That is hard to believe, Professor Chinn.

        And can we also assume that it would not matter if those on SNAP were all permanently on SNAP? And that all these people could/should be equal in some broad sense and not just as a legal construct?

        1. sherparick

          Boy, you guys set new standards in moral obtuseness. What is the point of causing malnutrition and hunger in millions of your fellow citizens? Because the economy increasingly is divided by a “free market” into very few winners, most of whom started at home plate at birth and therefore think they hit a home run, and 99% “losers” and “mooochers,” but on whose work and energy provide the wealth to the 1%, something Adam Smith pointed out in Wealth of Nations through the “division of labor.” http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN1.html. Do you think that laboring force will be more docile and productive if half starved? That children will do will in school if hungry?

          The number on SNAP and the amount we pay should be determined by the state of the economy. When unemployment falls and real medium wages increase, SNAP benefits should decrease (and will decrease when unemployment falls and real medium wages increase.

          What economy historically are you talking about? The 19th century? The ante-bellum South? These places as they really existed where the distribution of wealth was sustained by force, both legal and extra-legal thuggery. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_Maguires#Vigilante_justice

          The actual U.S. economy, despite the economic errors of the Obama administration (bail out of bankers, but no debt relief to debtors whose asset prices had collapsed and turn to austerity in 2009 and 2010 when more stimulus was needed), has outperformed all the other large economies in OECD the last 6 years. Despite what Ricardo says about “government destroying free markets,” the NASDAQ, SP 500, Russell 2000, and the DOW have all exceeded Bush/Cheney administration highs and in real terms have recovered to prices of the late nineties. Some destruction. Under the “certainty” and “tax cutting” of the Bush/Cheney administration, 462,000 private sector jobs were lost net over 8 years (which by the way is an unprecedented achievement over a 8 year Presidency in American history since pure demographics of an increasing population should create job growth). Under the current “Socialist Despot,” there are 5.5 million more private sector jobs than when he took office. However, there are 671,000 fewer public sector jobs (ss we Social Democrats frequently remark, Obama is the world’s worst Socialist). http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2014/07/public-and-private-sector-payroll-jobs.html

          So in the end Ricardo and Steve, I don’t see the data, the evidence that supports your arguments. Is their an economy in the world that is a democracy and has a population of more than 10,000,000, that proves you are right? (It is certainly not Germany since the CDU/CSU dominated Government has far more extensive welfare state than the U.S. Same goes for Mr. Harper’s Canada (where the oil baron’s Government is increasingly unpopular).

          On a side note. On really has to follow Bill McBride’s “Calculated Risk” and Dean Baker’s “Beat the Press” to see how really, really bad, business and economic news is covered by all forms of the mainstream media.

    2. JBH

      Ricardo:

      Why is it that the productive individuals were able to support themselves and make this country the strongest economy in the world, but today we need a despot to hand out benefits? The reason is failed Keynesian macroeconomics along with the 1971 replacement of sound money for fiat. The latter enabled: (a) growth of government via deficit spending, (b) creation of private sector credit untethered to the real economy, and (c) money corruption of the political process to the point where there is little difference between Democrat and Republican legislators any more. As a consequence, by the end of the 80s private and public debt ratios had risen beyond optimal. Also the provision of money for nothing which encouraged credit all across the spectrum ramped up the trade deficit starting around 1980. This was turbo-charged by NAFTA and admission of China to WTO in the 90s. The result, a hollowing out of manufacturing that devastated the middle class. Along the way, the educational system dumbed down incoming generations of youth and eroded traditional values of both liberty and work ethic.

      By 2000, the first inevitable credit bubble (consequence of all this) burst. This set up the second. The Fed was culpable every step of the way once Greenspan took the reins, along with both sides of the aisle in Congress and the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama administrations. The collapse of the second credit bubble then had an even more amplified effect on the real economy – in no small part because the debt by now had reached the Reinhart Rogoff danger zone. The ensuing Great Recession drove the economy into a box canyon where it remains. The guide that led the country down this path was mainstream economics. What is horrific is that it has not been by accident. Many levers have been and are being manipulated out of sight of the public. Not the least of which is a puppet mainstream media that manipulates, propagandizes, and hides the truth. Clueless and divided, naturally the unsuspecting public have reached out for any life support they can find in this storm. </p

    3. Marco

      @ Ricardo, Stryker, Kopits et all.

      I have never read a single comment made by conservatives here, or in redstate, or anywhere else, saying what should be done with people who do work (and many of them in more than one job), but can’t provide to his family. What is your position?

      Regards

  4. Steven Kopits

    Very articulate, Rick. Thank you for the defense, and a Happy 4th to all of you.

  5. axt113

    More people are being drawn into government support programs, because the neoclassical supply side zombie economic policies of the right wing have done such a good job of transferring the wealth of the country to the already wealthy while those in the middle and working class see their economic situation stagnate or fall behind.

    The founding fathers were wealthy land owners, of course policies they favored were intended to maintain the concentration of their own wealth and even grow it.

  6. Steven Kopits

    Let’s rewind the discussion to its foundations. Menzie, in his posts regarding Wisconsin and, now, Kansas, has argued that the polices of governors dedicated to small government, low spending, and free markets are in fact leading to subpar performance for their respective states. This analysis has, without exception, focused on statistical analysis of macro data (technical analysis) without reference to causal models (fundamental analysis).

    We determined that the anticipated reduction in spending in Kansas was 6%; Menzie argued that it was somewhat higher. So let’s call it 10%.

    I then asked in what sense such a spending reduction would reduce the economic performance of Kansas, to which Menzie replied that it would come heavily out of Medicaid and SNAP assistance. It was not clear to me, then or now, how a reduction in transfer payments would make Kansas less attractive to current or potential employers or workers. If this is where cuts were coming, then it seemed to me that Brownback was positioning the state as pro-business, that is, favoring producers over transfer recipients, and in this sense, was carving out a strategy of Kansas: The State for People who Work. Tax policy was set to favor this group.

    Menzie is now arguing that SNAP and Medicaid are in fact for people who work. I still fail to see how this impacts the economy of Kansas. Does Menzie believe that people will thereby work less in Kansas? I still don’t understand the fundamental linkages between tax and spending cuts, and a deteriorated economic performance in a state, in this case, Kansas.

    1. 2slugbaits

      I think the problem is that Gov. Brownback wants to turn Kansas into Mississippi. In fact, the Mississippi model of economic development seems to be the ALEC solution to everything. When ALEC style Republicans talk about “pro-business” policies what they usually mean are carving out special monopolies, special tax incentives, and ensuring that the labor force faces a highly inelastic labor supply curve by making that labor force, stupid, poor and without any good choices. That is the Mississippi formula. It’s basically a 21st century version of plantation economics. Make sure that downscale Kansas voters believe jobs are gifts that the business community can give you if you’re good, or they can take them away if you’re bad. Look at the states that are consistently among the worst in almost every category. You’ll always find Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama at or near the top. If you follow policies that mimic those three states, then you shouldn’t be surprised if a generation down the line your state begins to look like those three national embarrassments.

      Kansas is a mess. The only part of the state that is growing is the Kansas City area…and that growth is mostly due to economic activity on the Missouri side of the river. The rest of Kansas is undergoing massive depopulation with (literally) thousands of ghost towns. On balance more Americans are leaving the state than coming there. Were it not for low skill immigrants coming into Kansas the state would be losing population. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what causes economic growth, but at the same time I think we have a pretty good idea what frustrates economic growth. Poor educational opportunities are one. Bad health outcomes is another. Tax shifting schemes are another. Reliance upon “extractive” economics yet another. The largest employer in Kansas is the aviation business, and much of that is heavily dependent on defense spending. For example, virtually all DoD aircraft engines are manufactured and repaired in the Wichita area. Now I have nothing against defense spending per se, but it’s more than a little hypocritical for folks like Brownback to blather on about the evils of big government and high taxes and then in the very next breath try to court defense business. Did you know it takes a big tax base to support DoD? So how are Brownback’s policies helping education? How do cutbacks in SNAP and Medicaid help create a healthy workforce? How does tax shifting in order to bribe bottom feeder companies into coming to Kansas encourage upscale people to stay in Kansas? At one time Lawrence, KS had the highest educated population per capita in the country. How long would you expect that to last after a few years of Brownback governance?

      On a personal note, I have a zillion cousins and second cousins in Kansas. As a kid I spent God only knows how many summers there. Now I am very fond of my relatives on that side of the family, but quite frankly they’re all dumb asses with very little education, dirt jobs and in shockingly bad physical health. And yet they all vote Republican, just as they have for the last 120 years.

    2. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Steve Kopits: As I recall, I calculated 4.7% real decline going from FY2013 to FY2014.

      You have an interesting interpretation of the foundation of this discussion. Rather than rehashing things, just let me ask a few questions.

      What’s your productivity if you’re ill and can’t see a doctor. Indeed, what’s your productivity if you die because you can’t get timely medical treatment? Perhaps average productivity will go up in the latter case since one divides by persons alive to calculate productivity, in which case all will be hunky-dory, number-wise.

      Second question. How well do students learn if they are hungry? Third question: what are the implications of malnutrition and resulting poor school performance, etc. for later productivity, and what is the likelihood of dropout and criminal behavior.

      Low productivity seems like a drag on society … so that’s a negative externality, for those who work as well as those who do not (who as far as I can tell do not belong in Governor Brownback’s social welfare function).

      So, maybe one might think just a teensy bit more broadly about what these programs do for all of us.

      1. Steven Kopits

        If there is a positive ROI on medical treatment, then that cost can be internalized to the recipient. If it cannot be, then its is a redistributive program.

  7. Steven Kopits

    Gladys Arbila, a housekeeper in Houston who earns $17,000 a year and supports two children, is under the poverty line and therefore not eligible for new subsidies. But she makes too much to qualify for Medicaid under the state’s rules. She recently spent 36 hours waiting in the emergency room for a searing pain in her back.

    “We came to this country, and we are legal and we work really hard,” said Ms. Arbila, 45, who immigrated to the United States 12 years ago, and whose son is a soldier in Afghanistan. “Why we don’t have the same opportunities as the others?”

    1. Where is her husband?
    2. How many children does she have? She has one in the military. (I assume she’s not supporting him. Is he supporting her?) And she is supporting two others? Is that boy in the picture her son? Or her grandson?
    2. She is as eligible as anyone else in Texas. If she is a citizen, she can vote. The people of Texas have voted. If she doesn’t like Texas, try California. (Ah, but California is not free, either. Housing costs twice as much in California and the unemployment rate is 3 percentage points higher in that paragon of virtue.)
    3. Finally, she is saying, in effect, “Why won’t other people pay for my healthcare bills?” It is exactly this last sentence that cost Eric Cantor his seat. For social and fiscal conservatives, this is the nightmare scenario. It suggests that poor migrants should move to the US specifically to benefit from US transfer payments. Here’s my view: If you can support yourself, come here and work and live. But don’t expect others to support you.

    Now, personally I think there is a lot you could do in that community. But that’s another story.

    1. 2slugbaits

      Steven Kopits Yours is truly one of the most morally obnoxious posts I’ve read in a long time. You should be ashamed. First, your snide question about the whereabouts of her husband tells us more about your prejudices than anything about her situation. Perhaps her husband is dead. Perhaps her husband wasn’t able to come to this country legally. Perhaps she was abused and left him. Who knows? Why does it matter? Second, your comment about how only people who can support themselves should come here. Well, that would rule out most people’s ancestors. So apparently your preferred strategy is that other countries should bear the costs of educating and rearing young superstars who should then and only then come to the US. Sounds like the George Steinbrenner approach to immigration policies. But the worst part is your assumption that you are the rugged individualist who can make it on his own without government assistance. Really? How much of your health insurance premiums are subsidized by taxpayers that do not have health insurance? But yet you would deny her public assistance. You’re in the oil business. Did it ever occur to you that people like her son might have something to do with keeping the oil lanes open. I don’t know if you ever visit naval and military bases (I do…a lot), but you might be stunned at the number of enlisted personnel who come from immigrant backgrounds very similar to this woman’s story of her family. And oh by the way, military families are major recipients of SNAP support.

      Rick Stryker
      Earlier today you treated us to some very bad high school Whig history. For example, we learned that colonial America only paid around 1%-2% of income in taxes. Well, that was taxes towards the Crown. Colonial Americans paid very high taxes at the colonial and local government levels…typically around 30%. Property taxes were stiff, as were tariffs, sales taxes, and user fees. And this might come as a big surprise to Tea Party types who opposed Obamacare’s mandate, but colonial and post-Revolutionary governments oftentimes compelled people to buy specific commodities. One of first bills George Washington signed as President was a bill that required the private purchase of firearms for certain classes of white male civilians. And it was well into the 19th century before state and local governments could no longer require tithing for established religions. Ever read any of Bernard Bailyn’s work on 18th century New York politics? It might disabuse you of the notion that the Age of the Founders was all about free markets. In fact, it was all about mercantilism and crony monopolies. And Alexander Hamilton swam in that same ocean.

      Contrary to today’s Tea Party nonsense, the Founders did not advocate limited government. What many argued was limited national government. The two exceptions would be Hamilton and Madison. In May 1787 Hamilton and Madison both agreed that the states should be abolished and replaced with a central national government, but Madison decided that was a non-starter and settled for a federal structure. And unlike Hamilton, Madison never said that publicly, only his private notes. The general view was that state and local governments could never be the enemy of “the people” under a republican form of government, so they did not see government as something that should be limited. Indeed, back then juries (both petit and grand) were regarded as ad hoc lawmaking institutions at the same level as local legislatures. Juries didn’t just decide guilt or innocence; they actually made law on the fly. The Founders were all about activist government, but only at the state and local levels. Most taxes were at the state and local level. The Anti-Federalist concern was that national government could and would threaten liberties in a way that state and local governments never could. Except for Hamilton (and sometimes Madison), they did not want an activist national government.

      The Founders were a mixed bag. Some were great men. Some were criminals; e.g., the first Chief Justice was on the lamb always one step ahead of the sheriff. A couple were traitors. A lot of them were drunks. They had personal demons; e.g., the man primarily responsible for the first three Articles committed suicide. They got a lot of stuff right; but they also got a lot of stuff wrong. One thing they got badly wrong was the idea that state and local governments were the ultimate guarantors of liberty. We have over 200 years of history telling us that state and local governments tend to be forces of reaction and repression. Hamilton was right; we should abolish the states. Let’s start with Kansas and put it under a national protectorate.

      1. Rick Stryker

        2slugbaits,

        I think you’ve set a record on misstatements of fact in that comment.

        Rather than try to go through it all, I’d just recommend that you read the US Constitution, which is all about limited government. Reading the Constitution could help you with some of your other fallacies too. For example, when Washington signed a bill compelling the purchase of firearms, that was the Second Militia Act of 1792. The Militia Acts of 1792 were designed to standardize the state militias and to authorize the President to call them into action. Support for these laws was explicitly authorized in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution that enumerates the powers of Congress. The militia clause enumerates the following power to Congress:

        “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress”

        Men at the time were expected to provide weapons when serving in the militia. Read the text of the second amendment. The militia clause has nothing to do with the Obamacare mandate. General mandates are not authorized in the Constitution.

  8. steve

    Nope. She said…”“Why we don’t have the same opportunities as the others?” She works hard. Supports her kids. Sent one kid off to fight the wars started by your right wing, and all she asks for is opportunity. You have no response to that so you just make up stuff.

    Steve

    1. Steven Kopits

      She is in a better situation than her peers. Her peers are domestic help in Mexico City who make $5 / day. She’s not a brain surgeon who lost her job. She’s an unskilled Mexican laborer with probably limited English skills. She’s earning 20 times what her Mexican compatriots make, and her standard of living is probably three times better. Compared to the people she grew up with, she is one of the lucky ones.

      Should we open the borders to all comers, as Slugs suggests? What would that do to her wages? Or should we have open borders and a minimum wage? What would that do to her employment prospects?

      I am all for bettering her lot in life. But there are any number of questions that arise in that regard. It’s not just a matter of reflexive ideology.

      For example, let’s assume that she became, say, a manager of a retail store in Houston. Would there not be a demand for a new cleaning person at $17,000 per year? How do you think a maid in Mexico City making $5 / day might think about coming over the border in light of this? What sort of situation would that woman be in? Would she be making $17,000 with two children to support? Would she consider her lot improved, or worsened, even without healthcare coverage?

      1. Eight Over

        Eh, Steve, note exactly comparing apples to apples. She may be making more but comparable expenses would certainly nullify your inference that she’s making some egregious wage..

        1. Steven Kopits

          Eight –

          I was making an argument about i) trade effects on wages in Houston, and suggesting some Malthusian effects, and ii) that her opportunities in life were actually much better than her peers, which are domestic help in, say, Mexico City.

          I stated also that her wages were 20 times that of Mexico, and her standard of living three times better. I have allowed that cost levels are seven times that of Mexico City; the ratio is probably less in practice.

          By no means am I saying that $17k is an egregious wage. I think it would be extremely difficult to make ends meet on it; I could not do it. On the other hand, $1,000 per year in Mexico would probably put her in a neighborhood like this: http://www.3news.co.nz/5-killed-in-Mexico-City-shootout/tabid/417/articleID/253179/Default.aspx So it’s a question of how we think about the problem. If Ms. Arbila lived in Mexico City on $5 / day, would she be our concern? And yet, if she’s a few hundred miles north making $17k, then she is our concern? Why?

          And if we want to help her, where is the best point of attack? What would be the effect of government support on the supply of Mexican labor, legal and illegal? Is tight border control the best thing we can do for Ms. Arbila? What is the effect on those making $5 / day in Mexico? If we believe that DMUWI (declining marginal utility of wealth and income) is the right way to think about equality, wouldn’t we actually be more compassionate if we allowed unfettered immigration and Ms. Arbila’s Houston wage to fall to, say, $9000 / year?

          So, I think ideology is great, and like Menzie, I have my own. But in truth, I think this is a complex and interesting problem, worth discussing on its own merits, both in terms of economic analysis and moral obligation.

          1. Nick G

            if we want to help her, where is the best point of attack?

            That’s simple: we should pressure the Mexican government to improve domestic education and employment opportunities, rather than being content to allow Mexico to provide surplus workers to drive down wages in the US.

  9. axt113

    Steven,

    If Kansas becoming more business friendly is such a good thing for its citizens, then why is household income so low compared to many other states? Why is the percentage of people living below the poverty line so high compared to many other states?

    Many other states, not known for being business friendly have much higher income levels and lower poverty levels.

    1. Steven Kopits

      What is the number and the source?

      According to Kansas Cham of Commerce, Kansas per cap income is just a bit below the national average. Considering that it’s a traditional ag state, I don’t think that’s too bad.

    2. Vivian Darkbloom

      “If Kansas becoming more business friendly is such a good thing for its citizens, then why is household income so low compared to many other states? ”

      Kopits has already given one reason for that: Kansas is traditionally an agricultural state. However, there is a more important aspect to this question. It does not make a lot of sense to me to rank states on per capita income without also ranking them on cost of living. That is, relative purchasing power is what matters. Do you really think that someone living in Kansas City earning a little bit less than someone in San Francisco is financially worse off? Here is a recent study showing that the cost of living in Kansas is the sixth lowest in the nation. Now, adjust those Kansas wages for cost of living and tell me that “household income is so low compared to many other states”.

      “Why is the percentage of people living below the poverty line so high compared to many other states?”

      For that simple reason that it also makes no sense to rank the “poverty level” of states based on a nation-wide level of income and not on relative purchasing power.

      “Many other states, not known for being business friendly have much higher income levels and lower poverty levels.”

      I’ll let you figure out why this is misleading, if not downright wrong. If California is your ideal of a state “not known for being business friendly”, you need to rethink your numbers.

      http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/14/GeographicVariation/UrbanGeographicVariation.pdf

      http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm

  10. Rick Stryker

    Steven,

    Indeed there is a lot that can be done in the community, and much of it is already available.

    What I hate about these media articles in support of Obamacare is that they pretend to be about helping people, but they are really about using people in unfortunate situations to advance the political agenda of expanding government. Is this really good advice for Ms. Arbila–that she should be trying to get into medicaid and should lend her name, her photo, and her story to the cause? If we were sitting across the kitchen table from her, and had her best interests in mind, is that really what we’d advise?

    There is a good reason why so many low income people don’t sign up for medicaid even though they qualify for it. If I were a reporter sitting across the kitchen table from Ms. Arbila, I’d put my camera down and advise her that medicaid is poor and that it would be good for Ms. Arbila and her children to avoid it if they can. Too few doctors take it and so it’s difficult to even get an appointment, much less get treated. I would advise her to avoid it if she can even though her income is not too high to preclude both her children from getting medicaid in Texas. Medicaid is not a great option for the kids either, even if they do qualify for it. Then I’d go out and write a story that could inform low income people about their options. Maybe medicaid is the only realistic option for some cases, but that’s certainly not always true.

    For example, one good potential option for Ms. Arbila since she is from Houston would have been to investigate becoming a Harris Health System patient. Harris Health System is Harris county’s safety net of public clinics and hospitals. As long as she is a permanent resident of Harris county, Ms. Arbila can apply for financial aid in the Harris system. Since her income for a family of 3 is under 100% of the federal poverty level, she can qualify for reduced costs: co-pays of $3 for a physicians visit, $8 dollars for a dental visit, $8 dollars for prescriptions, $25 for outpatient surgery, and $50 for an inpatient stay. Harris Health System has financial aid plans for people up to 300% of the poverty level. It even has financial aid plans for people over 300% who are self-pay, with fees of 120% of medicare reimbursements but limited to 80% of total charges.

    There are also a number of free or low cost clinics in the Houston area that could be investigated. Too bad for Ms. Arbila and others in her situation that the NYT didn’t cover these other options in their article. But it’s not surprising. If people realized that lack of access to insurance does not mean lack of access to health care, the political case for expansion of government control of health care would be undermined. And we can’t have that, can we?

  11. Jonathan

    1. I love arguments over small effects. The “pro-business” states have followed the same model since the Civil Rights movement ended Jim Crow. In terms of actual effect on growth, by far the main factor has been the spread of A/C not taxation.
    2. Some policies appear to retard growth but are part of the agenda. Education and health spending seem related to more growth and higher incomes.

  12. Steven Kopits

    “Steven Kopits Yours is truly one of the most morally obnoxious posts I’ve read in a long time. You should be ashamed. First, your snide question about the whereabouts of her husband tells us more about your prejudices than anything about her situation. Perhaps her husband is dead. Perhaps her husband wasn’t able to come to this country legally. Perhaps she was abused and left him. Who knows? Why does it matter?”

    The single most important indicator of poverty is being in a single mother household. Number 1, I would guess, by a long shot. When the percentage of children born out of wedlock is exceeding those born to married couples, this is an absolutely central issue. It is not an issue, it is the issue.

  13. Steven Kopits

    “Second, your comment about how only people who can support themselves should come here. Well, that would rule out most people’s ancestors. So apparently your preferred strategy is that other countries should bear the costs of educating and rearing young superstars who should then and only then come to the US.”

    Our service economy here is Princeton is underwritten by the efforts of our Hispanic and Indian communities. Best I can tell, they ask favors of no one and they work unbelievable hard. I would guess the Hispanic men working here send back a significant portion of their wages to their homes in Mexico and other Latin American economies. I admire them, and as far as I am concerned, they are welcome here. I am not keen to give them citizenship, but I strongly believe we should give them status.

    By contrast, Slugs, you seem to think that we should have open borders and unlimited welfare. I think such a policy would be disastrous.

  14. Steven Kopits

    “How much of your health insurance premiums are subsidized by taxpayers that do not have health insurance?”

    Quite a bit, actually, since my wife works for Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. It is not underwritten by the unemployed, but rather by the long suffering taxpayers of New Jersey (of which I am one).

    And before you say, “Isn’t that an obnoxious middle class subsidy?”, the answer is no. It’s an obnoxious upper middle class subsidy. (My wife would say the health insurance compensates for low wages. It’s very difficult to judge this, because the conditions of employment are very different from private sector comps.)

  15. Steven Kopits

    “Second question. How well do students learn if they are hungry?”

    How well do students learn if they are in public schools? How well do they learn if overpaid teachers are taking funds that should be used for education? If you’re telling me, Menzie, that you’re all for the kids, then I am sure you are a big proponent of means-tested vouchers, of charter schools, of market wages for teachers, for an end to teacher tenure, standardized testing, for construction and maintenance pay at market levels, etc.

    You really concerned about kids, are you?

  16. Menzie Chinn Post author

    Steven Kopits: I dunno. I went to public school. Didn’t you? As a participant in not a few seminars on quantification of the performance of charter schools, I would say I don’t believe charter schools represent the second coming, metaphorically speaking. In other words, those things you mention — ending teacher tenure, charter schools — are not an article of faith for me.

    Yes, I care about the kids. Even if you don’t believe in my sincerity, you can take the cynical view, and consider my job. Most of the students I teach are undergraduates. I want them to be well educated, and eager, and ready to learn. I also want them to be (economically) diverse — in other words, I don’t want all my students to be just the children of the well-off entitled. I want them to know that they live in a country that values them as individuals who are willing to work and get ahead (regardless of their parents’ status), with a government that will help, not hinder, them in achieving their goals. If that seems hopelessly idealistic to you, then so be it. I would rather have that outlook on the world than yours.

  17. Steven Kopits

    If public schools are so great, why is Princeton Charter so hard to get into? Why does Harlem Success 5 have a lower acceptance rate than Harvard? You must believe all those parents are wrong. I had all three of my children in allegedly vaunted Princeton public schools. We pulled them all out, at great expense and sacrifice. You seem to believe that parental choice is bad, that monopolies are good. Why would you think that? Why do you support monopolies with a pretty poor track record?

    I–not you–have proposed means-tested vouchers to allow low income kids to attend any school they want in our area. Do you agree with that?

    Do you agree that money spent on unionized teachers would be better spent with longer schools days?

    If public schools are so great, well, aren’t the children of Ms. Arviles also going to public school? Don’t they then have the same opportunity as you did?

    And as for results: Harlem Charter Success 5 vs PS 123: The schools have similar students, but 88% of Harlem 5 third-graders passed New York’s math test compared with 5% of P.S. 123’s. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/02/26/de-blasio-charter-schools-education-common-core-column/5847593/)

    Are you telling me that’s the best we should expect? 5%? How long has PS 123 been in operation? Probably decades. And all they can achieve is a 5% pass rate? That’s a horror, it is hardly an exaggeration to call such outcome genocidal. If you believe that’s the best we can do, well, I hardly know what to say. Then you must really believe that blacks and Latinos form a permanent underclass, and we are condemned forever forward to take care of them as de facto wards of the state. You’re right, I don’t share your kind of hopeless idealism. I believe in concrete results. Harlem Charter 5, if I believe the test score results, is delivering.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Steven Kopits: I didn’t say some charter schools might not exceed in performance public schools. In fact, statistically speaking, if public schools have a mean performance greater than charter schools, it would still be statistically likely that there’d be some charter schools that exceed some public schools (just draw two Normal curve with same spread and different means). I’m just not certain that taking public funds to give to charter school students is the right thing to do. By all means, provide freedom to choose.

      By the way, for a person who professes to value data and data collection, I find it surprising that you fall back on anecdotes when talking about charter schools. Don’t we want to know about charter schools as a whole compared to public, controlling for entering student characteristics?

      Now speaking of Ms. Arbila (not Arviles), I don’t know if her kids went to public school. But in her case I thought we were debating Medicare. And I was fortunate to be covered, back in the day when health care was relatively (vs. consumption bundle) cheaper.

      1. Steven Kopits

        Re: Charters. Let the market decide. If parents are clamoring to get their kids in, then that’s all I need to know. I am glad you agree with me.

        And I think you’ll agree with me that markets should also decide on the cost structure of schools, no?

        BTW, it’s not at all clear that a voucher system would hurt public schools. In Princeton, for example, the public grade schools are right in the middle of residential neighborhoods, within easy walking or biking distance for many people. If these schools were more customer-oriented, they could easily capitalize on their location to compete very effectively.

        But it would also allow people to attend a wider variety of schools. We have a French school, a Friends school, a Christian school, a Waldorf school, a Montessori School, and–where my younger son attends–the American Boychoir School. To give you a sense of their school year: they started with a two week tour in Korea, cut an album, toured 10 states, sang with the BSO in Boston, and with the Canadian Brass at the University. Second semester they toured ten states in two tours; filmed a movie with Dustin Hoffman (‘Boychoir’); cut a soundtrack to the movie; sang at Bunny Mellon’s funeral with Bette Midler; and ended the year with a tour of France for D-Day’s 70th anniversary. It is a very different kind of education. A voucher system would allow a greater number of boys (5-8th grade) of modest means to attend the school. Vocal talent and income do not necessarily correlate, and a voucher system would allow a greater and more diverse ecosystem of educational institutions.

        So, I pay a great deal in tuition; I pay in addition a great deal in taxes. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. But I want the money well spent. I want results, cost-efficient results, for the money that’s spent. And I am unwilling to accept the blacks and Latinos are destined for the ghetto just because teacher’s unions and Bill DeBlasio aren’t willing to let parents make their own choices and face down excessive teacher costs.

        1. baffling

          steven,
          what you fail to grasp is an education setting is not a business. schools do not have the resources to ramp up or down for changes in enrollment. a school that “closes” creates significant hardships on the young students who attended the institution. kind of like the kids who get moved from town to town-new friendships and relationships are not easily constructed. teachers create lectures based on semesters at a time. these types of positions are not fire and replace-that creates discontinuities in the education-and an environment most good teachers will likely avoid. i agree with you that we need good schools-but you need to provide solutions to the reality on the ground.

  18. Rick Stryker

    Steven,

    I had a very similar experience. We had our kids in what was supposedly a top public school district. But it was very problematic. We continued to struggle with the bureaucracy and low standards, getting nowhere. The fundamental problem with the public schools is that the school administration really doesn’t have to answer to the parents in any real way. Because property taxes are compulsory, the public schools get your tuition payment whether you are satisfied or not.

    Imagine for a minute that everyone had to pre-pay through compulsory taxes for a burger, fries, and a shake at Uncle Sam Burgers. If you don’t like the way your burger is cooked, you can go complain to the manager. Maybe he will help you, maybe he won’t. But in that negotiation, you lack the fundamental power to take your business elsewhere. Uncle Sam Burger is getting paid whether you are satisfied or not. Yes, you can go to Hayek Burger Heaven and get a great burger, but you’ll have to pay twice. If there really were an Uncle Sam Burgers, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the burgers aren’t very good and that the manager doesn’t care too much when you complain. Nor should we be surprised that the burgers served by Uncle Sam Burgers in the low-income parts of town are practically inedible.

    When we complained about the trivial level of math and history at the school, the principal said that we were free to leave if we weren’t satisfied. And so we did.

    We went to home schooling and then ultimately to private school. We found home schooling to be fantastic academically, better than the best private schools–and cheaper too. Given that the public school we were in was supposed to be one of the best, I can only shudder at the education kids are getting when they are at the bottom of the income scale. It’s a scandal.

    Often, people don’t leave public school because private schools are too few or too expensive and the charter schools are very difficult to get in to. But home schooling is a very realistic option for a lot of people. When you home school, you cook your own burger just the way you want it.

  19. Rick Stryker

    Menzie,

    You said:

    “Yes, I care about the kids. Even if you don’t believe in my sincerity, you can take the cynical view, and consider my job. Most of the students I teach are undergraduates. I want them to be well educated, and eager, and ready to learn. I also want them to be (economically) diverse — in other words, I don’t want all my students to be just the children of the well-off entitled. I want them to know that they live in a country that values them as individuals who are willing to work and get ahead (regardless of their parents’ status), with a government that will help, not hinder, them in achieving their goals. If that seems hopelessly idealistic to you, then so be it. I would rather have that outlook on the world than yours.”

    In this statement, you illustrated clearly the conceit of progressive liberalism. You presume that only you and those who agree with you want those things and that those who disagree with you don’t want them.

    This may come as a shock to you, but everyone wants those things. We just disagree about how to achieve them. You want Ms. Arbila’s kids to show up in one of your economics classes and I’d like to see that too. But I believe the policies that liberals and progressives advocate make it much more difficult for that to happen.

    I’m not sure if it has been noticed that Ms. Arbila is wearing a Texas Organizing Project shirt in the NY Time photo. She’s not someone the NY Times picked at random but rather a member of a left wing community organizing group they likely carefully selected to advance their political agenda. By wearing that shirt in the photo, Ms. Arbila is displaying to the world her belief that activist government will help her and people in her situation. The challenge for conservatives is to convince people like Ms. Arbila not to put their trust and hope in activist government but rather to put that trust and hope in themselves. They can solve their own problems. Activist government hurts them. They need to oppose it at the ballot box and to work around it in their personal lives.

    The first step is to take off that shirt.

  20. Menzie Chinn Post author

    Rick Stryker: I cast no aspersions on Steven Kopits’ desires. He wrote first “You really concerned about kids, are you?” which I took as a sarcastic aside, to which I responded. If I mis-apprehended his meaning, I apologize.

    I don’t claim to read your mind either.

    On the other hand, your touchiness about what I believe about others when I merely state my preferences is interesting.

    1. Steven Kopits

      I had a chance to live through the transition from state-owned to private-sector in Hungary, in which we effectively privatized “Uncle Sam Burgers”.

      The transition is smaller than you might think, but greater in importance. Thus, if you have a client you’re losing 5% of revenues on, then that client is a burden. If you have a client you’re making a 10% profit on, then that client is a great benefit. Thus, a swing in price or efficiency of as little as 10% of sales is enough to change a producer-led to a consumer-led mentality. Thus, making a public school competitive is not as great a transition as Menzie may imagine. It’s very large in mentality, not necessarily so large in terms of finances.

      If we asked Menzie, what’s the difference between him and Ms. Arbila’s son, I would guess that it would be, in some order, discipline (culture) and intelligence. Intelligence is largely innate; there’s not too much we can do about it. Discipline, on the other hand, is very much a learned thing. You can plonk down Indians and Chinese in pretty miserable schools, and they’ll still thrive. So, discipline–accountability, coupled with some optimism–is perhaps the most important education we can give Ms. Arbila’s son. As you point out, it is exactly this accountability which is missing from public schools.

      As for home schooling, I have my doubts. It depends very highly on the quality of the parents. If the parents are smart and well-educated, then you can teach kids a lot more, very fast. I agree. On the other hand, if the parents are weird (for lack of a better term), then their children’s upbringing can also be weird. I have some first hand stories of these. (“Why teach them to read when they can experience nature?”) Institutional education tends to drive you to the group mean, but if you’re below the mean, then that may be a good thing. Unfortunately, the home schooling revolution is in many cases a reaction to the crudeness and low quality of public schools. Thus, bad schools may have the further bad effect of pushing children out of society at a formative age.

    2. Steven Kopits

      I meant that, if Menzie really cared about kids, he would consider a broader palette than just egalitarian approaches. He would also use liberal and conservative approaches, and he would be more frank about the limitations of egalitarian policies. I don’t need to tell Menzie about trade effects on Ms. Arbila’s wages, or the impact of government subsidies on migration flows. I don’t need to tell him that aligning incentives or paying market represent opportunities for gains in public schools. I don’t need to tell him that discipline matters. I don’t need to tell him that a binding minimum wage increase is, at best, a blunt tool and at worst a real risk to black and Latino boys, those most at risk of getting off the rails in our society. He knows all these things.

      I meant that he should be more courageous, more willing to take a stand against established orthodoxy, to be more innovative in his thinking, to put his own imprint on the debate, rather than recycling 1970s canned lefty rhetoric.

      If you look at the underlying ambitions for Ms. Arbila and her children, I think you would find very little difference between Menzie and me in those hopes as a practical matter. We differ greatly in approaches and priorities, but not much, I think, in the vision of a good future. Consequently, I am willing to entertain egalitarian approaches, but there has to be more to it than let’s-spend-more-money-on-everything.

      Today, Menzie is a loyal member of a tribe. I get that. But it does a disservice to his intelligence and skills. He can do better than that. Much better. He can be a standard bearer, or he can set the standard. I think he should set the standard. Neo-egalitarianism (modern, cutting-edge egalitarianism)–one which acknowledges and accommodates liberal and conservative perspectives–could use a champion. Menzie could be that, if he wanted to be.

      That’s what I was trying to say.

  21. Jay

    So where do you fall in the debate over where the incidence of labor income subsidies/taxes lies for McDonald’s workers? On the employer or the employee?

  22. Martin Ranger

    Steven Kopits (or anyone else),
    you basically say a single mother with two children who makes $17000 per year is to be blamed for being poor, because of her lifestyle choices or whatever. You also say she should not expect the public to pay for her health care. Correct?
    So here are my questions for you:
    1. Why would you blame a person whose earned wages are so low that she and two children cannot live of them, rather than an economic system that has led to this situation? Why do you demand two-income households, or that children support their working parents? Would your answer be the same if the a hypothetical husband was the single income-earner?
    2. Under what moral system can healthcare be denied to someone who cannot pay for it?
    3. By what metric are teachers overpaid?
    Additional question: if any of the answers include the “free market”, could you please explain why the outcome of the “free market” is necessarily morally justified?
    Thank you,
    Martin

    1. Steven Kopits

      “1. Why would you blame a person whose earned wages are so low that she and two children cannot live of them, rather than an economic system that has led to this situation?”

      The economic system that led to this situation is the government of Mexico. We don’t have a lot of Swiss creeping over the border to be house cleaners. The answer to better governance is the FAA, which I have already laid out a couple of times.

      “Why do you demand two-income households, or that children support their working parents? Would your answer be the same if the a hypothetical husband was the single income-earner?”

      The first obligation of the citizen is to support him/herself. The second obligation is to support family members. We have a two earner family, and my mother lives with us. You do what is necessary, including multiple earners. (We have three in the house at present; we’d have four if necessary.) If the husband is a single earner, then you have to live out of that budget.

      “2. Under what moral system can healthcare be denied to someone who cannot pay for it?”

      The line will be drawn in any healthcare system at some level, whether with rationed services or price rationing. There is no infinite supply. By the way, Obamacare is re-privatizing healthcare with those high deductibles. Everyone can have universal coverage, after they cough up the first x thousand dollars…

      “3. By what metric are teachers overpaid?”

      Free market wages versus union wages. This question is beyond basic. Use Google.

      “Additional question: if any of the answers include the “free market”, could you please explain why the outcome of the “free market” is necessarily morally justified?”

      A free market, with appropriate regulation and public goods, will provide a higher standard of living for more people than any other system.

      1. Martin Ranger

        Alright. Your answer to all my questions is basically: Free Market. If this is the full extent of your argument, then certainly the question may seem “beyond basic”. The big problem of this answer, of course is that it is in itself a big basic in that it gives no reason whatsoever why “Free Market” is in any way the preferred option of organizing the economic relations within our society. I was hoping for a bit more clarification in that regard, especially since there are no moral arguments (that I know of, hence my questions) of the superiority of the Free Market. The only thing a Free Market buys you is an efficient allocation of resources under a set of fairly unrealistic assumptions. Why efficiency rather than equity should be preferred is not clear ex ante. What if Free Markets lead to an outcome where an individual cannot support himself?

        Also, your empirical observation about the “higher standard” of living seems to overlook Europe.

    2. Rick Stryker

      Martin,

      I’ll take a shot at your questions.

      1. Why would you blame a person whose earned wages are so low that she and two children cannot live of them, rather than an economic system that has led to this situation? Why do you demand two-income households, or that children support their working parents? Would your answer be the same if the a hypothetical husband was the single income-earner?
      A: No one is blaming anyone for being low income. However, there are social problems that are often part of the picture in being low income and we should address those problems as well. For example, after divorce men often inadequately support their children.

      2. Under what moral system can healthcare be denied to someone who cannot pay for it?
      A: We are not really talking about this question of political philosophy. The key point is that access to insurance does not necessarily mean access to health care. We want to increase access for everyone, including low income people. The way to do that is to deregulate medicine so that prices come down and more treatment options are available. Additional help for the low income population should be provided at the state and local level and by private charity. I already mentioned in a previous comment that Ms. Arbila could get financial aid at the Harris Health System locally. And there are many great places that need your donation. For example, you could donate here. Obamacare is taking us in the wrong direction, increasing federal control and regulation of medicine.

      3. By what metric are teachers overpaid?
      A: See this analysis by Lee Ohanian which discusses the public sector wage premium in general and for teachers.

  23. Ricardo

    Menzie wrote: You asked me if I thought there should be a cap on SNAP expenditures; I said no. I nowhere stated I thought all Americans should be on SNAP.

    If that is the case why didn’t you include a link?

  24. Ricardo

    Slug wrote: “Steven Kopits Yours is truly one of the most morally obnoxious posts I’ve read in a long time.”

    Wikipedia: “theft is the taking of another person’s property without that person’s permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.”

    Slug,

    As religion is removed from society, theft becomes more and more acceptable as long as it is done by the state. Your idea of taking from established citizens to give to immigrants who have improved their lot 20 fold proves that your moral compass is pointing south. Using moral arguments to justify theft does not change the fact that theft is morally wrong.

  25. Marco

    Ricardo and Steven, if in the given example the subject is not an immigrant, and I’m sure there are a lot of examples – you know, Americans who work at 2 jobs, that respect the sacrament of marriage, and can’t make ends meet – what’s you conclusion? What should be done with them, in a case that they can’t pay for health services?

    You can’t compare them with their peers, and say they are better here, no matter what – after all, they are legitimate Americans, and in this exrecise, they should be compared to you guys. I’m really curious.

    1. Steven Kopits

      Why don’t you do the research, Marco, and tell me how many people that affects and their relation to Medicaid, Obamacare. and private healthcare.

      But in general, if someone is working and still cannot support themselves, then we have reached a Malthusian subsistence level of some sort.

  26. Ricardo

    Marco,

    There are many organizations that will give temporary help to such people that are funded by voluntary donations. I do not believe that someone like your hypothetical person would have trouble finding help.

    Let me relate a true incident in my life so you can understand. I have a friend who is a far left Progressive. She was helping a lady in the inner city learn to read. She and I were talking and she told me that the lady had 2 children but did not have enough to eat. Her story touched me and so I contacted a friend who was responsible for the distribution of food from a religious organization in her area. I called her back and told her that the organization would provide the woman with food for her and her children, My progressive friend caught me totally off guard when she became angry. She said she would never gave the woman’s name and address to a religious group. I protested that if the woman and her children were hungry wasn’t that an immediate problem to resolve. She told me that it was more important to protect the woman from religious groups than to provide her with food. I was totally shocked that her ideology was more important to her than the physical wellbeing of a suffering person. This is not the only time I have found Progressives more interested in ideological purity than in a person’s physical wellbeing. I believe in large part that is why Progressives give so little to charity.

    Now would you answer a question for me. If someone is making $17,000/year do you believe they have a right to rob someone who makes $100,000/year? Do you believe that the government has a right to rob someone making $100,000/year to give the loot to someone making $17,000/year?

    Last question, do you believe that Progressives should give more personally to charity or is it better that they give the wealth of others to charity?

    1. Marco

      I don’t think inequality per se is wrong – people more apt, that work harder, should earn more, period. At the same time, it’s also wrong not to give some similar starting point for everyone (think of Christopher Hayes’ iron law of meritocracy). A kid from a poor family should have access to education and healthcare to compete with any other kid, no matter what his upbring is. Not an economist, but it looks to me the most efficient policy for the society. Also, even having some malthusian tendencies, I think everybody that at least try (like the woman in the example) should have a roof and food.

      In Brazil (I’m an italian living here for many years) the same discussion happened a few years ago, and the vision of a “redistributive only” society won. It ended the hunger, but Brazil is a country going nowhere, with the lowest productivity possible, and not one policy aimed at helping the entrepeneur, only to tax, tax, tax, spend, spend, spend. People dying of hunger in the streets isn’t something pretty, but to solve this, and only this, is not enough (but is enough to win the elections in the next decade).

      That’s why I think both sides in US (at least in the forums that I follow) are wrong. I’ve never read a liberal saying something like “relief must be temporary, we must have policies to insert everyone in the market, to give chances to them study more, be more efficient”, only “we must give money to the poor (and they will vote on us)”. Conservatives, on he other hand, never answer how is fair to people not compete on the same basis. The world is much different from 30 years ago, and eventually the self made man, the hard worker, will be capped at a much lower level than in other times – not because the government, but due to where the society is going. Also, they don’t say what to do with someone that is trying, but can’t succed (Steven did say, but wasn’t pretty). But how to give everyone the same chances, and don’t let people starve, or die in the cold? I don’t see anything except some redistribution.

      Regards

  27. eric

    Wow. Here’s the US, at the absolute bottom of developed countries in terms of taxes, govt expenditure (except on war), child welfare, health care efficiency (all other developed countries spend much less and get similar or better outcomes), etc., and we’re arguing over Obamacare, which was after all based on conservative ideas? This is absurd! Menzie, why do you waste your time?!

  28. Rick Stryker

    Eric,

    You have obviously been reading Krugman, and like so many of his audience have accepted his misinformation uncritically. Krugman and other Obamacare apologists understand how unpopular the program is and sense retribution at the polls. They understand that the public blames the Democratic party for Obamacare and they would like to share the blame with the Republicans somehow. However, no Republican supported it and Republicans have been consistently opposed to it. So, the apologists fall back on the claim that Obamacare is a conservative idea.

    That’s nonsense. What RomneyCare became was very different from what Romney originally proposed. It was changed by the Democratic legislature over Romney’s vetos and then changed further when the Deval Patrick Administration implemented it, ultimately becoming a Democratic program that served as a model for Obamacare.

    No, Obamacare is a Democratic idea. It’s a program that Democrats could barely get their own party to support. You own it.

    1. baffling

      rick,
      why do you continue to denounce obamacare when it has shown itself to be acceptable to the people, and working. you spent hours on this blog denouncing the program with absurd scenarios about your kid and brother opting out of the program. it was foolish talk back then, and it continues to be foolish today.

      you may not like the historical origins of obamacare and romneycare. but you really need to face up to the reality of those programs instead of rewriting history like a political hack.

  29. Steven Kopits

    Some numbers on Mexican immigrants:

    They send back a lot of money to Mexico: “…nearly half of the $51.1 billion in remittances sent from the United States in 2012 ended up in [Mexico]…” (NYT)

    Pew reckons there are 34 million Hispanics of Mexican origin in the country, of which 12 million are documented and undocumented Mexican immigrants. Mexicans of all sorts represent 8.2 million households. If we allow that 50-65% of these households remit to Mexico, then the average remitting household sends something like $4,000-$6,000 to Mexico per year, on a median income of $34,000. Thus, remitting households probably send something like 12-18% of their income back to Mexico. This is an impressive feat, but by no means unprecedented. Italian laborers in the early 20th century sent as much or more home to relatives in Italy.

    We have established that a maid in Mexico City costs $5 / day, or about $1,500 per year (assuming she’s on call six days a week or so). Thus, typical remittances from the US would represent 2-4x the annual wages of domestic help in Mexico City. It is a big deal in Mexico, and I would think explains the high rate of remittances. It is material to the recipients, indeed, US pay rates are worth risking life and limb to come over the border for.

    If Ms. Arbila remitted at a typical rate to Mexico, it would be around 10% of her income, that is, enough to pay the wages of her counterpart in Mexico City.

    Mexicans tend to be less insured for healthcare than other groups. Remittances, and the relative youth of Mexican immigrants, might explain this. If health insurance costs, say $1500 per year, and that is equivalent to a year’s wages in Mexico, then many Mexicans might well prefer to support their family south of the border than obtain heath insurance for themselves here. It’s a better use of money.

    One statistic I found interesting was the length of time Mexicans had been in the US. In 1990, 30% of Mexicans had been in the country five years or less. In 2011, this share had dropped to 11%. Further, in 1990, only 19% had been in the US 20 years or more. Today that number is 40%, and about 75% of Mexicans have been here more than 10 years.

    http://www.pewhispanic.org/2013/05/01/a-demographic-portrait-of-mexican-origin-hispanics-in-the-united-states/

    About 35 million Hispanics in the US self-identify as having Mexican heritage.

  30. eric

    I don’t need to read Krugman to know it’s a conservative idea. In fact Krugman is much more positive about Obamacare than I. Like many Democrats, or progressives, or whatever you want to call us, I would have preferred a health care solution that didn’t rely as much on for-profit insurers. That Obamacare didn’t include a public option was a real disappointment to me. Anyway, this is really not a very fruitful conversation for any of us, as far as I can tell. Best wishes,
    Eric

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