walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Published on: April 10, 2012
Ending The Poverty Blues

One of the most important claims that the friends of the blue social model make is that it addresses the needs of the poor and the weak better than any other existing social system. This is a serious point that blue critics sometimes don’t think enough about, but the claim is more questionable than blues admit — and more to the point, from where we are today, the basic methods of the old social model aren’t likely to make things much better.

Social conditions in early 20th century America were genuinely appalling. A lack of basic public health in some places meant unnecessary deaths from infectious disease; child labor in factories and mines was still widespread. Industrial workers faced killing hours in dangerous and polluted factories. Poorly packaged and preserved food was sold without any kind of check. Most kids got at most an eighth grade education; old people who could no longer work were often left destitute. Those who were crippled or disabled often were left to their own resources. Given the widespread discrimination against women, families whose fathers were no longer present were often in terrible want. Poor people did not get fat from bad nutrition in those days; they grew gaunt from hunger.

Racial conditions were barbaric; brutal lynchings were commonplace in parts of the South. Interracial marriage was banned by law in many states, race discrimination was enforced by law, and courts routinely sentenced African-American defendants to hard labor on minimal grounds.

Progressive social programs and government policies aimed to cure these problems, and defenders of the blue social model are correct to take pride in that and correct, also, to challenge critics of big blue to ask what will take the place of the network of entitlements, transfer programs, government regulations, agencies and laws aimed at helping the weak and the afflicted amid the storms of life. That there are many gains cannot be doubted, and while it is not always easy to apportion credit for improvements between changing laws and greater national wealth, the association of blue social programs with a serious agenda for social improvement is hard to dispute.

But those defenders need to acknowledge as well that the blue social model hasn’t cured many of the conditions it sought to address. The horrendous conditions in inner cities, the periodic scandals involving state-managed custodial care institutions, the entrenched mediocrity and worse (far, far worse in too many cases) of so many public schools — all combine to raise legitimate questions about whether blue really performs as advertised. Nor, frankly, does blue seem to get better from decade to decade. Costs go up pretty relentlessly, but results manifestly do not.

It is incontestably true that blue society spends more on social programs and transfer payments than other forms of social organization have done in the past. And it is also true that some of these programs work pretty well: senior citizens, the chief beneficiaries of government spending, for example, are much less poor than old people used to be. More kids get more school than in the 19th century, and programs like unemployment compensation and disability insurance — even if they are sometimes abused — address important needs in a serious way. It seems highly unlikely that post-blue liberal society would push the old folks out on the ice floes or put the orphans back in the workhouses. The blind and the crippled won’t be out begging on the streets.

But it seems equally unlikely that the current approaches to poverty, disability, old age and unemployment can survive without sweeping change. Some of the programs (like Medicare) will literally bankrupt us if not changed; others may be cheaper but they are so ineffective or counterproductive that the public will not indefinitely support them in their present form. If society is going to get better, if the gains of the progressive era can be mostly conserved while the era’s limits are transcended, we will have to find a road to the future that isn’t paved with blue.

For a social imagination that is largely shaped by the assumptions and patterns of the progressive state, the only possible discussions about the social support structures of blue model society involve tweaks and reforms: some means testing here, some administrative changes there, some tweaking of incentives over yonder. This isn’t always wrong. There are some programs (like Social Security) that may very well work over the long run with this kind of reform, and the party line here at Via Meadia doesn’t favor change for change’s sake.

But sometimes big changes are needed, and this is where a new social vision is going to have to take shape. When blue partisans contemplate revolutionary shifts in social policy, they are from less blue to more blue: a shift to a single payer system of national health care for example, is revolutionary but quite thinkable for blue intellectuals because it represents an expansion of the blue model rather than a departure from it. Standing back from the whole system and thinking in different ways about post-blue approaches is going to be necessary if some of our problems can be addressed.

To begin with, we need to remember that income transfers, entitlements and social programs generally aren’t ends in themselves. Building a welfare state is a means to an end: building a society in which as many people as possible have the opportunity to become prosperous based on their own work and achievement, and where the sick, the weak and the disabled receive compassion and care. Seriously rethinking our current set of social programs means looking at the goal and thinking about how that goal can best be achieved in the new conditions of our time.

Some of this involves basic economic policy. All things being equal, a wealthier society will be more willing and more able to help the poor than a poorer one. If we are all fighting for scraps, fewer people will be ready to share and to help out. I’ve written before about the need to develop a prosperous post-industrial society. There is simply no way we are going to help the poor as much as one would like until we start to build a healthy and prosperous post-blue, post-industrial economy that provides the affluence and resources for those in need.

Part of that social reconstruction will involve steps that have a direct effect on services for the poor. Right now our delivery systems for vital social services like health and education are grotesquely wasteful, primitive and inefficient. (Typically, our technology is good; our organizational structures, professional guild systems, and misaligned incentives are grossly inadequate.) One of the chief secrets to a generation of new economic growth, and also of serving the poor and the needy more effectively, involves cutting costs for basic social goods through successive waves of sweeping change.

As good quality education and health care become more expensive, it becomes harder for society to provide these goods to those who cannot provide them out of their own earnings.  The development of a good $10,000 bachelor program would do more for low and lower middle income families than doubling the size of all student loan programs. Generally speaking, anything that makes education cheaper and easier — shifting from a “time served” model to a skills learned model for awarding qualifications and degrees, breaking the guild monopolies through accreditation and other systems so that more institutions can compete in the market — will make society less blue, but make the poor better off.

Ripping up the bloated administrative systems, deflating the cost structures, breaking the hold of the guilds on accreditation, downshifting credentialism and other changes are vital for the social productivity and economic prosperity of the nation as a whole — and for the social and economic advancement of the middle class. They are also urgently required in the name of social justice.

For health care, the connection is even more obvious. Cutting the costs of health care by changing the way we provide it would reduce costs for everyone, and make it much easier to provide insurance for those who can’t pay on their own. It is ridiculous and unacceptable that the fat and dysfunctional US health care system consumes more resources while delivering outcomes no better than cheaper systems in other countries. But to try to imitate those countries in the hope of someday catching up or at least reducing the gap is not the American way.

The kind of health care system Americans should have would deliver significantly better outcomes than the systems in other places. We should be thinking about how we can restructure our system taking advantage of the unprecedented resources of IT to create a health care system that is as superior to what we and the world have seen to date as the interstate highway system is superior to horses and buggies on plank roads.

Again, moving toward this goal would have huge implications for our economic prosperity overall. If Americans have to spend less on health care than people in other countries, while enjoying equal or better outcomes, our taxes will be lower, our firms will be more profitable, our real wages will be higher — and, among other things, we will be a more desirable location for investment than other countries still wedded to what should soon become very old fashioned health systems.

But apart from the benefit to society as a whole, there are special benefits for the poor and the marginalized in a more productive, less expensive health care system. In reality, health care for the poor is always going to be rationed; there are limits to how much the middle and upper classes will consent to redistribute resources away from themselves to those with less power. The poor will benefit from a cheaper, better system because the resources available to them will go farther in it, and because reducing the need to subsidize middle class health care leaves society with more resources available for the poor.

Restructuring health care is a moral imperative; if you seriously care about the poor you need to care about building a health system capable of delivering the services they need at a price we can sustainably pay.

Much of the change that we need will offend powerful interest groups. Big corporations have large interests in the current system. But the professional guilds may be the toughest obstacles.  One of the great advantages of the IT revolution is the opportunity it provides to ‘de-skill’ increasingly sophisticated tasks. Registered nurses (equipped with computers and the ability to contact back-ups where necessary) should be able to handle a significant percentage of the tasks that doctors now do. Practical nurses in turn should be able to do more things that now only registered nurses can do. More, educational reform that makes it much cheaper for people to qualify for these professions can bring costs down by increasing the number of service providers — and reduce the costs that they must charge in order to recoup the price of education.

Much routine health care could probably be carried out in pharmacies and shopping malls rather than in medical offices. Computerized medical records, better diagnostic software and a regulatory system that promotes lower costs by supporting more flexible health care delivery models would mean than many simple medical needs that now require doctor visits (often for prescriptions) could be handled quite cheaply. And as long as these service providers were trained to kick problems up to a higher level of personnel when more complex problems were in view, much of the work now done by doctors and nurses could be handled by providers charging less, in more convenient locations, and available 24/7.

Micro-reform of health care — making good health care cheaper by focusing intensely on improving productivity and stripping out rules and practices (including the malpractice machine) that inflate costs — doesn’t provide blue reformers with all the fun of big national institution building and oversight, but can deliver better outcomes to more poor people far more sustainably than further subsidizing the current bloated and inefficient system can hope to do.

Both Obamacare and single payer systems bureaucratize health care and slow down the process of deep restructuring that the sector actually needs. At the federal and state levels, policy makers should, for example, be looking for ways to “de-skill” as many health care jobs as possible rather than enacting the status quo into law.

Again, this is a moral duty and not just a pragmatic and necessary set of reforms. If the poor are going to get more health care, health care is going to have to become much more abundant and much cheaper. Before the industrial revolution, many poor people lacked decent clothing. The poor used to dress quite literally in rags, but the industrial revolution eventually made serviceable and even stylish clothing available to almost everyone. The guilds of the spinners and the weavers hated the way the new looms took away their special status and cut their wages; so be it.  IT makes it increasingly possible to have the equivalent of an industrial revolution in health care; it is our duty to carry these changes through.

The massive restructuring of government at all levels is also part of the picture. Reducing the cost of government and enhancing its productivity frees up tax revenue that can either be returned to the taxpayers through tax cuts, applied to pay off past debts and reduce future interest costs, or spent on better programs for the poor. All three outcomes help the poor more than continuing to try to manage our national and state affairs through bureaucracies whose organization and hiring policies haven’t kept pace with practices in the private sector.

A leaner, more effective government will promote economic growth and employment in other ways. If American cities could reduce the time spent obtaining permits by 50% while reducing their bureaucratic headcount, for example, we would see more jobs available for inner city residents. Establishing national, state and local goals for reducing the drag of paperwork and government inefficiency by computerizing and streamlining government agencies while pruning and rationalizing regulations would promote employment and opportunity for poor Americans while reducing the cost of government overall.

Another enhancement could come from abolishing some government agencies in favor of small, community-based co-ops. The unemployed, for example, could be given vouchers for training and benefits and private firms could compete to provide job training, counseling and payment services. The state could narrow its focus from administering complex benefit and training programs to ensuring that service providers complied with the terms of the program. The track record of these service providers could be widely available over the internet so that the unemployed could make an informed choice among those who wanted their business. The cost savings from closing down poorly managed and inefficient government offices could be spent on raising the value of the vouchers for services and benefits issued to the unemployed.

More generally, the use of vouchers to turn government from the provider of bureaucratic services to the promoter of private market transactions would reduce bureaucratic overhead in many areas, give citizens and service consumers for choice, and help shift American culture from a bureaucratic-administrative one back toward entrepreneurship and enterprise.

Given the low level of savings among many older people and the growing pressure on both public and private pension and health care programs for the retired, increasing the income of older people is going play a significant role in handling what could otherwise become a serious social problem. We need to make it easier and more attractive for older people to continue working. This does not mean keeping everyone in full time employment or in their current jobs. Many older people would like to supplement Social Security and other retirement incomes by working part time, shifting to less physically challenging jobs or working from home. For many people the physical demands of commuting are the reason for retirement; their minds may still be keen and their bank balances hungry, but driving or taking public transportation to faraway workplaces becomes unbearable. Finding ways to promote telecommuting will help ease America’s Social Security and Medicare problem — the longer people are paying into the system the better health those systems are in.

All of these changes offer benefits to the poor. None of them involve classic blue model social programs or top down bureaucratic command and control organizations. Some might require government investments up front, but all things being equal they are likely to pay for themselves very quickly without cutting services to those in need.

The next stage in America’s effort to reduce poverty and help the sick and the afflicted does not involve more of the same programs, larger and larger appropriations for less and less effective bureaucracies — funded by less and less sustainable debts. It involves an intellectual revolution, a leap from the stale confines of blue model organizational thinking to create 21st century institutions, practices and firms.

Blue partisans are stuck on the idea that progress to be real must be blue. That idea doesn’t work anywhere these days, and it works least of all for the poor.

[Image courtesy Shutterstock]

show comments
  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I don’t see how any of these Governmental changes can occur until there is literally no money left to tax or borrow to pay for things as they are now. There will be no voluntary change from the bureaucracies, who can only see an end to their jobs and benefits in any change. Only the private sector can voluntarily change, as it has the feedback of competition to force continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price. But the Government Monopoly has no competition, and so is doomed to waste, corruption, and stagnation.

    What is needed is leadership willing to make wholesale cuts, getting rid of entire departments, and starting something new from scratch to replace the necessary functions. When the American People finally can’t stand the pain and hopelessness anymore, they will all join with the TEA Party limited Government Fiscal Conservatives, and fire all the Blue Model Politicians.

    We are lucky to have a Federal System where the States can be forced to compete against each other, to serve as laboratories for the development of Healthcare, Education, Energy, Environment, Pensions, etc…None of which are mentioned as powers of the Federal Government in the Constitution. So much of what the Federal Government does is unconstitutional and comes under the 10th amendment “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” It’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court tasked with the responsibility of enforcing the Constitution, has been so utterly incompetent at protecting state rights and the people.

  • Kenny

    The poor, the poor. Ah, the Left is so concerned about the plight of the poor.


    The Democrats use the poor as a means to gain power with which they raid the public treasury to enrich themselves and their non-poor supporters from the Wall Street fat cats to the middle class slugs in the public sector unions.

  • Chris

    Oh, how miserable were those old days, when “race discrimination was enforced by law, and courts routinely sentenced African-American defendants to hard labor on minimal grounds.”

    Remove the “hard labor” from that sentence and every part remains true, as a consequence of the drug war you defend.

    If you’re really curious about ending government oppression against minorities, I suggest you read this:

  • Chris

    I should mention, however, how fantastic this article was. I hardly agree with everything you wrote, but this column reminded me that you provide some of the most original and interesting commentary around. Keep it up, for our country’s sake.

  • Mrs. Davis

    The fundamental problem with this essay is that it treats poverty as if it were exclusively a material problem with out a moral component instead of a moral problem with a material symptom.

    The only time moral comes up is the moral responsibility of the well off to provide for the less well off.

    The government actually does a good job of dealing with the material symptom as the statistics about use of air conditioners, cell phones, cable TV, etc by the “poor” demonstrate. What government does not and cannot do is deal with the moral problem that is the root cause of poverty. And by usurping provision of material goods from those agents who would use them as carrots to address the fundamental moral problem, government consigns the poor to continued poverty, thus providing job security to the government workers who “serve” the poor and see that the Blue Model is re-elected.

    Finally, the Blue Model is not failing because of the poor. In fact the Blue Model is not designed to help the poor. Medicare, government pensions, discrimination against women and blacks, public schools, Social Security, and food safety are middle class programs far more than they are poverty programs.

    The problem with the Blue Model is that it creates moral hazard for the middle class. It leads them to think that a paternal government will provide for all their needs at no cost to them. The rich will pay. And this moral hazard then trickles down to the poor who are more than happy to accept whatever anyone will give them.

    The Blue Model is collapsing under the weight of its promises and the absence of means to fulfill them. What we will get, in one form or another, sooner or later, is a devolution of responsibility back to the individual, family and affinity groups that provide moral support, not more power to the state.

  • Matt

    Professor Mead, have you considered writing a book about the collapse of the blue social model? I find your essays on the topic fascinating and I think many people would love to read an entire book on the subject.

  • Robert L. Freedman

    I agree that 2 key obstacles to reform are the professional guilds who are motivated by self-interest and the bureaucrats who dislike delegating to the private sector and much prefer to expand their own empires.

  • Luke Lea

    A good article. I couldn’t find a single thing to disagree with!

    On the healthcare problem: I keep imagining a new WalMart strategy: an efficient system of community health clinics, staffed by nurses and physicians assistants operating on a pay for services (no insurance, credit, cards welcome) moving in on the established turf of hospitals and family physicians for routine medical care — which, after all, constitute the overwhelming majority of trips to the doctor and/or ER.

    I was charged $1200 for a prescription for eardrops for swimmer’s ear last summer. Medicare picked up the bill.

  • John Barker

    As Peter Drucker (I believe) said, “Great ideas always degenerate into work.” The young creators in our midst have challenges and opportunities in abundance. I hope to lend a hand or at least stay out of the way.

  • Don51

    The fundamental problem with the Left’s model is its refusal to recognize Human Free Will and its consequences. That’s why it drifted from the old liberal equal opportunity to the hard left equal outcome. After all the efforts of the 60s and 70s to remediate poverty, they hit a wall created by self chosen behaviors – substance abuse, single female head of household, zombieing one’s way through the educational system, and keeping to the ‘old ways’ of the community. As long as those who practice self destructive and self limiting behaviors, they remain co-conspirators to their fate and not victims. As such, there will always be poor.

  • Ann In L.A.

    I would say too much credit is given above to “progressives.” Much of the work of transforming this country into a safer and less-harsh society was done by religious people, who could not abide the deprivations of industrialization. Likewise, the civil rights movement, like the anti-slavery movement before it, could easily be described, not as a “progressive” movement, but as a movement of people of faith.

  • Timon

    This article seems to me to suffer from the same fundamental incoherence that bedevils our entitlement programs. It nowhere defines, in even general terms, who these “poor” people are who should be the object governmental grace. This lack of focus only generates further confusion. What should be the object of these programs — greater freedom through provision of basic needs, of basic skills and abilities, or cultivation of socially beneficial talents; greater equality, whether of opportunity or result? This post skips back and forth willy nilly between definitions of the “poor” and entitlement purposes that range from the lack of essentials (food, shelter), lack of desirables (college education), and infirmities of some sort or another (old age, illness and injury).

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    Medicare is a horror show, and I dread being forced into it in less than two years, especially since the Obama crew has decided to destroy the Part C option, which was the only potential redeeming feature of the entire enterprise.

    A really good first step, across the board, is to recognize that Social Security and Medicare are welfare programs.

    a) Eliminate payroll taxes for that purpose and adjust income tax to cover it.

    b) Means-test both programs, fixing Social Security to guarantee income at 120% of official poverty level.

    c) Drop all Medicare *except* Part C, allowing people to choose whatever level coverage they wish, but subsidizing only something like a $2,000 deductible, and only up to about 200% of the poverty level. If they wish (and can afford) more coverage, great.

  • victoria wilson

    Professor Mead is providing an excellent venue for the unveiling of a model, most likely already in play, that aids us in becoming more efficient. In this manner we can attain the goals of education, public safety, care for the vulnerable.. within our budget. According to the commenters, we need to find where ” voluntarily change (occurs), as it has the feedback of competition to force continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price” and where “the moral problem (occurs) that is the root cause” of action. I think if we can tie these two fundamentals together, we will see a natural system of selection that prioritizes the choices we make as a society.

  • CS

    All of your “End of Blue” posts leave me thinking of:
    Pseudolus: Wait!
    Hero: Yes?
    Pseudolus: A brilliant idea!
    Hero: Yes!
    Pseudolus: That’s what we need, a brilliant idea.

  • stan

    I think some serious research needs to be done on timing and causation with respect to some of the victories Mead claims for progressives. For example, feminists claim that Title IX is the reason so many more girls participate in sports today than a half century ago. But research shows that the participation rate was moving rapidly upward a number of years before Title IX ever kicked in and the participation rate did not change trajectory because of it. The law followed social change. It didn’t cause it (other than to bastardize the change with some bizarre rules).

    As for how this relates to child labor, etc a century ago — I read some years ago that much of the legislation that finally passed did so AFTER society had already made many of the changes we now identify with the law. I am not that familiar with the history, but it would not surprise me that this is true. Many blue legislative changes (see e.g. the environment) are only possible after society has reached a level of overall economic success that is sufficient to support them and after a majority of the voting public believes in them. It isn’t the law that deserves the credit. It’s the factors/arguments/etc that helped public opinion change. And chief among those was likely to be an increased affluence that allowed society to afford the costs.

    If some govt had been foolish enough to try to impose a law a century ago that required children in farm communities to attend school in the summer, the law would have been completely ignored. Children were needed to labor on the farm and law or no law, that’s where they would have been.

  • Alex Scipio

    As long as Blue services are delivered by govt union labor and their pay automatically docked to fund Blue politicians who in turn must raise Blue earnings, IT and creativity won’t matter. Unions once had a place and accomplished needed goals. Those goals now have been codified and much of the industry needing unions has vanished from America as we have moved past the Industrial Age, from which unions are a relic. Unions never have had any rational place in government, and even FDR opposed them.

    The private sector worker has figured this out. Doubtless union membership would become vanishingly small if all states adopted right to work legislation.

    But until government unions are outlawed no amount of IT or creativity will get us to post-Blue. Fact.

  • stuff

    Firstly, we should align incentives for reproductive rights in the inner cities.

  • VA Teacher

    If people were serious about “Let’s help those who need help,” this would be a no-brainer. The problem is that all of these huge bureaucracies which have been built to help the needy are really more interested in helping themselves, so fundamental change and reform are impossible.

    It’s ironic, because the radical reformers are labeled “conservatives” and the people who are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the status quo against any kind of reform are label “progressives”.

    I fear that the old system will have to collapse into a heap of dust before we can hope to build something new.

  • Jim Bob

    Here is a thought about the cost of healthcare:

    Does anyone remember when polio was a scourge of childhood? How parents feared for their children being sentenced to a life in an “Iron Lung”? The polio vaccine alleveated that fear and wiped polio off the charts.

    OK – now does anyone remember the “Manhatten Project”? It was the mamouth, concentrated effort that can us the secrets of the atom.

    So, let’s move from TREATING the results of diseases and move to PREVENTING the diseases.

    For instance, what if the Feds “Invested” in the developpment of something like the polio vaccine for DIABETES, ALTZEIMERS, HEART ISSUES, etc. Say something on the order of $20 + billion annually each to find the answer (that would be a drop in the bucket of money spent on treating these problems)? And throw in a Billion Dollar reward to the person/organization that finds the answer.

    Why hasn’t anyone on the national political scene ever talked about this kind of approach for reducing healthcare costs ?

  • Engineer

    It seems to me that one example of Blue vs. innovative re-engineering might be to consider the cases of the Post Office and the telephone system since, say 1950. Both institutions were Blue, unionized, and regulated at the outset. Even before the break up the Bell System, I would suggest that the phone industry was out-innovating the Post Office in terms of delivering more service for the dollar. In the last 30 years, the phone industry has re-invented itself and segmented markets to give people an array of services at market-disciplined prices while the Post Office is increasingly struggling to remain relevant.

  • PTL

    The poor. Democrats love them so much they keep making more of them all the time. Without the poor, the homeless, people with AIDS what would all the social workers do?
    What will all the government agencies do? Unemployment would rise to untold levels because these people have no real world skills.

  • stan

    Growing Out of Poverty

    A World Bank report makes clear how free markets—and U.S. leadership—have led millions to better lives.

  • Luke Lea

    @ Ann in L.A. – “Much of the work of transforming this country into a safer and less-harsh society was done by religious people, who could not abide the deprivations of industrialization.”

    You are so right. The greatest unsung hero in American history is Francis Perkins. She’s a great raconteur too without even trying:

  • Jimmy

    One possible way to cut costs. Make more medicine over the counter. Even the addictive stuff could be handled with giving everyone a limit. Say ten viacodin a quarter. Nonlethal nonaddictive meds, such as prozac or ambien or birth control pills dont require doctors.

  • Jimmy

    Also I always found it cruel that we dont allow homeless to build shacks. A little more freedom for the poor could go hand in hand with aid to the poor. It would be so much cheaper to just give poor people money than worry over their morality. Do you know that soup kitchens never verify that that the clients are poor or citizens or in any way deserving? They just provide free food on a schedule, and feed the homeless. This model works very well for food.

  • Andrea Ostrov Letania

    “Racial conditions were barbaric; brutal lynchings were commonplace in parts of the South.”

    Nonsense. From 1865 to 1965, the number of blacks killed by lynching didn’t amount to more than 2,000. Compare that to millions killed in a few yrs in Russia, Poland(by Nazis and Soviets), China, etc. Compare that to the number of people killed in a single month in black-ruled South Africa. Compare that to the killings in a single year in Detroit or South Side of Chicago. Look at the image and sound of Rap culture. Look at our interracial porn culture. And think of all the white women raped by blacks since the 1960s. It’s in the 100,000s. Is that not barbaric?
    Or, look at ‘youth’ mob violence that gets worse and worse.

    Also, the great improvements since early 20th century had less to do with blue model than economic growth thanks to capitalism. If anything, rise in wealth due to free markets allowed and paid for social programs that improved things that needed to be improved.

    Compare Singapore and Hong Kong. Singapore is heavily regulated and HK is laissez faire. Yet, both have made great improvements because both are committed to free markets.
    And it wasn’t only blue modelists who called for government regulation where needed but conservatives and populists.

  • Anthony

    Ending The Poverty Blues: blue model programs have not altered the historic maldistribution of resources…

    WRM, should Americans commit to contributing to the common benefit and cooperating for mutual gain? should government help the poor (not welfare but as backstop for health, education, food stuffs, etc.)? And if so, you would agree that there are no simple solutions – the doctrine of subsidiarity has merit as centralizing principle – “The most powerful tool for breaking extreme poverty is a holistic community-based development strategy that combines vocational training and job placement, early childhood development, educational upgrading, and local infrastructure.”

    Post blue can America, given our social/economic arrangements as well as recognition of our myriad social problems, end our benign neglect and put our best brains at the service of country and not an overreaching global market place? An idea/question that is worthy of ruminating.

    “The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power…There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, leeways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries, etc. – none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another….” The aforementioned remains post blue for the poor and unless pondered poverty blues continue.

  • teapartydoc

    Wanna reform the accreditation guilds? Get rid of government licensing. Want cheaper, more efficient–and better–health care? Get rid of government licensing of health care workers. THAT is the only way you will ever see a market in health care. If you think we have one now you are deluded. What we have now is a feudal system. The government is the king, the hospitals and mega-health care systems are the feudal lords, specialists are the knights, PCP’s and nurses are the armies, and the people are the peasants dragged into their wars. I’m a knight who recently switched allegiances between lords. This isn’t a market. It’s Medieval World. Keep an eye out for a cowboy robot that looks like Yul Brynner.

  • Pete Dellas

    When we get it in our heads that the best social program to lift the poor out of poverty is called A JOB, then we will stop obstructing businesses with power and money grabs and allow the true power of capitalism to be unleashed.

    ‎”When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing; when you see that money is flowing to those who deal not in goods, but in favors; when you see that men get rich more easily by graft than by work, and your laws no longer protect you against them, but protect them against you; you may know that your society is doomed.”
    ~~~~~Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

  • SenatorMark4

    Wasted effort! Until you can see that government MUST be forced to follow the same rules they write for us none of this matters. YOu’re talking entrenched teams of pie grabbers from both sides. “Income” is earned or redistributed but ONLY earned income is reported for wage slaves->W2, contractors 1099-MISC. When government starts issuing #1099-GOV we’ll finally see what is happening and be able to put a fence around it. Why shouldn’t I get IRS deductions for a cell phone when people are getting free cell phones without a 1099-GOV?

  • victoria wilson

    Without a doubt the commercial market place is the ideal environment for individuals to earn a living and avoid poverty. This is the reasoning behind that World Bank report referenced by Stan #23. If every individual had the access and ability to generate income in the private marketplace, then those funds would service their consumption. But, what happens after that? The Mexican farm worker does not get hypnotized by the individualistic nature of capitalism and keep all their earnings; the worker sends funds back home. Why is that? And how is it distributed once it reaches Mexico? I think that is what we are really trying to analyze. What is the system of allocation that supports those who find themselves in desperate predicaments; does everyone have a role; is there a consistency to the activity?

  • Daniel M. Ryan

    I certainly hope, Prof. Mead, that you’re the type of person who derives satisfaction from being ahead of his time. Implementing your suggestions would entail a long, hard, uphill climb – with a lot of backbiting along the way. Given the liberal penchant for moralizing, it would take a near-saint to carry your reforms through. Only that kind of soul could plow through the backbiting.

    What you’re really up against is a kind of venality that many liberals carry around with them. Have you heard the conservative quip, “A liberal accuses you of what he is”? The continual yells of “greed” is one of those accusations. If some folks think that throwing more money at a problem suffices, they are in fact venal.

    Granted that the venality is somewhat intellectualized, especially at the lower-middlebrow level. The level at which someone believes that spending $X will automatically lead to Y, without any thought about how the money is deployed.

    Fact is, if you assign me power of attorney over your wealth and give me a month’s supply of crystal methamphetamine, I could turn you into a pauper via the penny-stock market. If Al Gore or Theresa Heinz Kerry did the same, my meth-addled actions would do exactly the same on the futures market. In all cases, there’d be nothing to show for it. The money would be wasted.

    Fact is, spending $X in and of itself does not lead to Y. The $X has to be spent shrewdly.

    The typical liberal seems ignorant of – in fact, oblivious to – that crucial codicil. You might consider taking this topic up, as it would help you advance your fellow liberals to your goal.

  • Toni

    Immigrants come here penniless, not speaking English, and work and save themselves into nice houses in the suburbs in the first or second generation. This suggests that the problems of the native-born poor are behavioral, not structural. Only individuals can change people’s behavior. Government can’t do it for them, and can’t force them to change.

    The best thing America can do for its urban and rural poor is to improve their children’s schools. Even with better schools, climbing out of poverty is up to the child and the parents. Government can’t force them to study hard, avoid substance abuse, not get pregnant, obey the law, graduate high school, and then do the same at college or a trade school, work honestly and diligently for an employer, or both.

    As for health care — yes, yes, of course it needs to be more efficient and accessible. But be careful not to break what American health care excels at. On average, it may be cheaper in other countries — but how many medical, pharmaceutical, and treatment breakthroughs come from those cheaper countries?

  • Boritz

    These descriptions of the blue model as it is today remind me of nothing so much as an alcoholic who must first lose all employers, all family, all friends, all means of support and experience life threatening delirium tremens before putting 35 cents in a pay phone and saying “I need help.”

  • Ignorant Man

    We’ve all had this experience: you go to a medical practice and sit in the waiting room for an hour and a half so that in ten minutes a physician’s assistant can take vital stats, shine a light in your ears, and prescribe an antibiotic for a sinus infection, all with a three digit price tag. It does make you wonder why the pharmacy down the street couldn’t hire a nurse to do the same thing for $25.

  • M. Simon

    Education has never been cheaper. Credentials never more expensive.

  • M. Simon

    Health care – the cost of Lasik is going down. The cost of other types of care is stagnant to rising.


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