Ending The Poverty Blues
Published on: April 10, 2012
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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • @ 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

  • 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.

  • Education has never been cheaper. Credentials never more expensive.

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


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