Is Poverty the Result of Bad Luck?

On Thanksgiving eve, a Nicholas Kristof editorial instructed us on how to think about poverty in The New York Times. The main reason there is poverty, he tells us, is bad luck.

We don’t choose our parents, after all. Or the household or neighborhood we are born into. Here are a few of his observations, with my emphasis added:

“As Warren Buffett puts it, our life outcomes often depend on the ‘ovarian lottery.

[T]he difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline, but also by an inextricable mix of luck, biography, brain chemistry and genetics.

[S]uccess in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower, but also of random chance and early upbringing.”

So what’s the solution to this problem? It is apparently very simple: All we need is love. (Kristof’s column is actually titled “Where Is the Love?”) And just in case you are not motivated in that way, Kristof draws on the work of Harvard professor John Rawls to give a rational philosophical reason to spend more on welfare programs.

But before getting into that let’s pause for a moment. Is being born really a matter of luck? Doesn’t that take willful activity on the part of two parents? And is the inability of parents to support their children really a matter of luck? Or is it the result of bad habits and undisciplined behavior.

What’s love got to do with it? 

Let’s grant that some people do have bad luck. But bad luck usually strikes randomly. Absent hurricanes and tornados, we don’t expect misfortune to befall entire neighborhoods ― to say nothing of entire cities.

Kristof’s particular focus is on Food Stamps, given the debate in Congress over whether to cut spending on the program. So let’s concede that misfortune can cause some people to be hungry. But does that include the entire city of Dallas?

Every single child attending public school in Dallas, Texas is getting a free lunch and a free breakfast. The reason: There are so few children who don’t qualify for free or subsidized food that it made administrative sense just to give free meals to everybody. And as I wrote previously, the trend around the country these days is to add a free supper as well. So the only time kids will need Food Stamps is on weekends.

By the way, Dallas is not like Detroit. The economy is booming. As Texas Governor Rick Perry is fond of pointing out, Texas has created almost half the new jobs in the entire country over the past decade. So why, in the midst of all this growth and prosperity, is every school child in the city living in a home where the parents cannot afford to put food on the table?

At some point you would think that even New York Times editorial writers would come to suspect that the welfare state is not relieving poverty. It is creating it.

We have spent $15 trillion “fighting” poverty since 1965 and we are currently spending $ 1 trillion a year ― an amount equal to about $22,000 per poor person or $88,000 for a family of four. Yet our poverty rate today (16%) is higher than when we started (14%)! If there has been a War on Poverty, poverty won.

Is it not obvious that we are subsidizing and enabling a way of life? To put it bluntly, we are paying young women to have children out of wedlock. We are paying them to be unemployed. And we are paying them to remain poor.

Now let’s turn to the rational (non-emotional) argument for the welfare state. Kristof writes:

“John Rawls, the brilliant 20th-century philosopher, argued for a society that seems fair if we consider it from behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ — meaning we don’t know whether we’ll be born to an investment banker or a teenage mom, in a leafy suburb or a gang-ridden inner city, healthy or disabled, smart or struggling, privileged or disadvantaged. That’s a shrewd analytical tool — and who among us would argue for food stamp cuts if we thought we might be among the hungry children?”

Warren Buffett, by the way, makes a similar argument.

And in both cases, it’s a surprise that these two very intelligent men cannot think of any other policy options. Remember, behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance you don’t have to worry about what is politically practical. You can choose any public policy you like.

So wouldn’t a rational person ask how public policy could be changed so that fewer children are born to alcoholic mothers who don’t read to them or encourage their mental development?

It appears that government doing nothing would have vastly decreased the odds of being born as a child of such mothers. During the Reagan years the Council of Economic Advisors tracked the reduction in Post-World War II poverty as a function of economic growth. The conclusion: if there had never been a War on Poverty, the poverty rate by the mid-80s would have been significantly below where it actually was.

Bringing those estimates forward, if there had never been a welfare state, economic growth alone should have virtually eliminated poverty by now.

Today, Buffet and Kristof standing behind a veil of ignorance ― about to be born into the United States ― would have a one in two chance of experiencing a birth paid for by Medicaid. Absent the welfare state, their odds of needing charity to be born would have been on the order of two or three out of 100.

Of course now that we have created the welfare state, and the culture that depends on it, it’s virtually impossible to end it and ask everyone on the dole to go cold turkey. But we can do something else. We can privatize it.

More on that in a future editorial.

Comments (50)

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  1. Buster says:

    I occasionally reflect on how lucky I am to have been born in the United States. Of the estimated 10 billion people who’ve been alive since my birth, most were poor — some of which were desperately poor.

    However, just because I’m fortunate to have been born into a rich society of affluent parents doesn’t mean I think the U.S. Constitution should be thrown out and my assets and earning capacity expropriated for use by political elites that who want to redistribute my good fortune to the less fortunate.

  2. Studebaker says:

    I read an argument awhile back that explained how a $1,000 to a very wealthy person meant little. Yet, $1,000 to poor people would boost their positive feelings by keeping them in a running car, providing clothes on their back, and food on their table. Basically, the negative happiness the rich would feel from losing $1,000 would be much less than the positive happiness the poor would feel from getting $1,000. The implication was that our society could increase the collective happiness by taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

    It might work on a one-time basis but that logic is mostly wrong. The poor would soon get used to the income transfers and the rich would change their behavior and earn less. Also, if we really wanted to increase happiness in the world we would do so by giving to poor, starving Africans rather than to Americans. The poorest of the poor in developing countries would appreciate income transfers much more than low-income Americans.

    • Pam says:

      And giving $1,000 to a poor person does not change the things the habits, circumstances or whatever made the person poor to begin with. As Dr. Phil always said, you can’t solve money problems with more money.

    • John R. Graham says:

      That argument goes back to Bernoulli in the 18th century. It is line with the more general idea of diminishing marginal returns. To a man with no apples, one apple is very valuable. The second is slightly less valuable. At some point, he has more apples than he can bear.

      For wealth, the argument looks initially hard to generalize because money can be traded for other goods. So, when he has enough apples, he can buy oranges instead. However, all goods are tradable (with friction costs). So, the argument is generalizable.

      However, Daniel Kahneman’s new book, “Thinking Fast and Slow” describes experiments that he and is colleagues conducted years ago that demonstrated that the amount of wealth is not as important as the amount of the money lost.

      Rather than straight utility theory, Kahneman and colleagues demonstrate loss aversion, framing, and reference points as important in measuring the value of a loss to a person.

    • Roger Waters says:

      Ahh yes, conjours up the phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” (see Rand, Ayn (1957). Atlas Shrugged. New York: New American Library. p. 614 for an interesting twist)

  3. Perry says:

    When looking at primitive societies, since they are more “socialistic” you have friends, neighbors and families greatly integrated in child-rearing. For instance, if a young husband is killed in an accident or warfare, the widow has immediate assistance from the tribe to help with subsistance and child care. Also, when there is famine, the whole tribe comes together to find food. Thus, there is very little need for extensive self-reliance in those cultures.
    Modern “advanced” cultures like the U.S. have the general view that people should be self-reliant. This seemed to have worked well in the early days of the nation, people took to frontiering and settling the country on their own ititiative. In today’s culture, life is much more complex, and there are issues of gangs, drug abuse, alcohol and poverty which significantly complicates the individual’s ability to pull themselves out of that spiral.
    In a perfect world, the solution would be to clear out the gangs and drugs, get people jobs and a decent eduation and let them move up the ladder. In the current political climate, I don’t see that happening. Not to mention that large cities like Detroit have no money to pay for anything like this.

  4. AndrewThorby says:

    For the individual who cannot choose his or her parents being born into poverty is definitely largely a matter of bad luck. There are really two questions at play. Firstly, how do we discourage those individuals who are emotionally and/or economically unsuited to be parents from inflicting this bad luck on a new generation of children? Secondly, how do we mitigate the impact for those children that do happen to draw the short straw? What we’re doing on both counts clearly isn’t working. I don’t have a good answer for either question however it seems to me that other western countries seem to universally do a better job of it than we do. Perhaps we should look to them for some answers rather than trying to figure it out in a vacuum.

  5. Dewaine says:

    He is right that luck has a lot to do with our lives. The “Ovarian lottery” influences how we develop, how we think, and how we act.


    We still make choices. If we succumb to the thinking that we have no control over our behavior, then our lives really will be a result of luck. And, if we try to “fix” people (hinder the lucky, bolster the unlucky), we will see people making different choices than they would’ve otherwise (worse choices). It is amazing that some economist still don’t understand incentives.

    • JD says:

      Right. We are both completely driven by nature and able to direct ourselves. This seems like a contradiction to people, but it isn’t. In fact, we see “contradictions” like this all of the time in the universe. I particularly like “The Cantor Set” in mathematics. It is both empty and non-empty.

  6. BJ says:

    It is choices that parents make and taking responsibility for having children. I am the oldest of 13 children, born to parents that had an 8-grade education only. They worked hard and never 1 time asked for any help from the government. All of us graduated in the top fourth of our class, 11 out of the 13 have college degrees and now have successful careers. My parents, who are Catholic, took responsibility for their children and raised us to be responsible adults. BTW – all 13 grandchildren are honor students.

  7. Charlie Bond says:

    Hi John,
    One cause of poverty that should be unacceptable in the wealthiest country on earth is a bad medical diagnosis.
    Charlie Bond

  8. Jack McHugh says:

    I’m good with “poverty a result of bad luck” if “bad luck” is defined as being born into the kind of chaotic underclass or “Fishtown” household Goodman points to. As Murray once said, government doesn’t have a clue how to address the destructive, dysfunctional behaviors that characterize the underclass.

    A recent piece in the Independent Review journal dissected Rawls along the same lines as John here. IOW, if I could choose to be poor a world in which a Milton Friedman chairs the President’s council of economic advisers vs. John Galbraith (or Elizabeth Warren), I’d go for Uncle Miltie’s world in a heartbeat.

  9. Marguerite BarnettMD says:

    Well, i had the misfortune of being born illegitimately to a non-citizen mother. My father was a physician (geographic bachelor as they call it) with another family. He was a leader in his community, active in the church, great family man. This is a story which occurs fairly commonly. None of my half siblings had the struggles i had yet we shared a lot of genes. My odds of turning to drugs or being poor are much higher than my legitimate siblings. i’ve beaten the odds so far but i know that the odds are stacked against someone like me. So i am amused when people think their good fortune is a result of their own actions and fail to see how generations of racism, slavery and other social policies affect individuals.

  10. Al Baun says:


    Item 1)”So wouldn’t a rational person ask how public policy could be changed so that fewer children are born to alcoholic mothers …?”

    Good news, John, ObamaCare provides those preventive services that you consider ‘rational’.

    Item 2) “During the Reagan years the Council of Economic Advisors tracked the reduction in Post-World War II poverty as a function of economic growth. The conclusion: if there had never been a War on Poverty, the poverty rate by the mid-80s would have been significantly below where it actually was.”

    Per the CATO/Tanner citation in your last post, the third worst welfare offender-just behind Medicaid and Food Stamps–was the Earned Income Credit Program at $55,000,000,000 per year. Didn’t Ronny kickstart the program in 86?

    Item 3)”Of course now that we have created the welfare state, and the culture that depends on it, it’s virtually impossible to end it and ask everyone on the dole to go cold turkey. But we can do something else. We can privatize it.”

    Please explain how you intend to ‘privatize’ Medicaid, since privatizing Medicare (Advantage) costs the government more than standard Medicare?

    Here’s a perspective. Since everyone in the United States is a participant in the health care system (as a result of EMTALA legislation), aren’t the young, the healthy, and the uninsured receiving equal access to the health care system at lower or no premiums? And aren’t these ‘welfare’ subsidies afforded to those recipients by the older, the sicker, and our tax dollars? I believe ObamaCare attempts to get everyone to participate on a more even playing field. Somehow I feel the citizens most against ObamaCare are the ones on this particular welfare dole.

    • Morris Bryant, MD says:

      Sorry, but no care plan, not even Obamacare provides preventive care against alcoholism. That is found in the family.

      • Al Baun says:

        I was referring to no-cost birth control included in basic services.

        • Allan (formerly Al) says:

          It appears that we have an individual that wishes to bring back a state controlled eugenics program. That didn’t work too well the last century.

          • Al Baun says:

            So, birth control pills now equate to eugenics? ;-/ Starting a little early this evening, aren’t we?

            • Allan (formerly Al) says:

              Birth control pills are inanimate so they don’t equate to anything.

              It seems we have an individual that wishes to bring back a state controlled eugenics program. That individual is you.

              • Al Baun says:

                Put down the Paul Ryan signed copy of your Ayn Rand novel and focus. I’ll speak slower and more clearly for you tonight Allan.

                Do you seem to think … that the ACA’s Preventive Services, which includes birth control, equates to eugenics?

                • Allan (formerly Al) says:

                  I guess you can’t read. It was clearly stated twice.

                  It seems we have *an individual* that wishes to bring back a state controlled eugenics program. That individual is **you**.

                  • Al Baun says:

                    So, in response to Dr. Goodman’s desire to have programs to reduce children to unprepared (alcoholic) mothers, and I pointed out the ACA makes that option available … you spout off with some eugenics crap. That makes reasonable discussion difficult.

                    • Allan (formerly Al) says:

                      Not difficult at all though you find these relatively easy to understand ideas difficult. The federal government should be limiting its involvement in these types of personal issues. We already had our run with federal involvement in this area and eugenics in particular. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t pretty when another nation ‘copied’ us and practiced eugenics wholesale. You are of a mindset that pushes us to repeat bad history over and over again.

        • Morris Bryant, MD says:

          In Dallas County there has been low cost and no cost birth control available for years. The issue isn’t cost. It’s behavior.

  11. Allan (formerly Al) says:

    There is less than a 3% chance of being born in the US so I believe any child born here is very lucky. Of course to the left being born here might represent a hardship, but if that is the case over 97% of the births are lucky.

    • Al Baun says:

      I am glad to see that you have mastered subtraction, despite your conservative handicap; however, most people in the world consider themselves lucky to be born in their own perspective countries. That’s the point most exceptionalists miss; we are but one of many … e pluribus unum.

      • Allan (formerly Al) says:

        Yes, you might feel lucky being born into a poor family of the third world where starvation or other deprivations are real possibilities. At least you might feel luckier than being born in the United States.

        • Al Baun says:

          You finally got it. Yes, starvation and other deprivations ARE ALSO real possibilities HERE in the U.S., if it were not for our social safeguards. Do the safeguards need adjustment to wean the able-bodied? Yes, but not by us lambasting the left, or right, or center. Stop obstructionism and work together.

          • Allan (formerly Al) says:

            Really? The $15 Trillion wasn’t enough? It is your type that has seen to it that large groups of people never achieved the American dream. Your type were too busy telling them that they knew more than the others knew of themselves. Your type looked at them as if they were second class citizens and unable to succeed because they were inferior to your kind. Such paternalism is sickening and it also diverts a lot of money from those in true need just to satisfy your type of ego that wants to feel superior.

            • Al Baun says:

              You seem to have lost the ability to take what you so readily dish out … partisan rhetoric. You seem to think that this Left-headed monster really exists instead of acknowledging common national goals … a healthy educated populace.

              Back to the point, I get the feeling that you did not research the composition of Dr. Goodwin’s $15T citation. Of Federal spending, nearly half is for health services and a quarter on educational services. You also forget that ALL of these social services have been set into place over the years through constitutional process and as a result of bi-partisan solutions to social ills.

              In closing, ‘My Type’ is the type who supports his government, our laws, and the people they serve. Welfare abuse will always exist, but that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs and do battle with imaginary monsters.

              • Allan (formerly Al) says:

                There is something wrong with your ability to understand the written word.

                I understand Dr. Goodman’s citations very well. I don’t wish to start another subject and distasteful argument, but education is another example of federal failure. I want to let you know that it sounds unintelligent when you think another has forgotten that the federal government’s over involvement wasn’t without Congressional and Presidential support. It was with their support, but that doesn’t make such over involvement good for the nation.

                I will make a correction to ‘Your Type’ (stated above). Your type is the one who blindly supports government and has made the state into a religion where your tithes (taxes) are made to stroke Your ego at the expense of the nation and all the citizens within including those most needy. (Think of the hypocrisy involved in Michelle O’s treatment of those from the ghetto seeking care at the U. of Chicago.) Your generosity of other people’s money is quite noticeable, but it appears your concern for those in need lacks a bit of attention.

  12. DR. L. BRODY says:

    Congratulation John , you are starting a new field of Economic Morality for the Philosophy Departments, or Moral Economics for the Economics Department. I sincerely mean that.

    Also, parents of means can spoil a child, and poor loving parents can raise a moral child. This topic deserves more study and exploration. I await more from John.

  13. John says:

    How would Mr Buffett and Kristoff explain the success of immigrants in this country ? Surely they encountered some of the same problems and overcame them !!!

  14. Diana Furchtgott-Roth says:

    Data show that high school graduates who wait until they get married before having children are not poor. It’s simple—you graduate from high school, and postpone childbearing until marriage.

    • Al Baun says:

      I agree with your solution. If these high school graduates (or even younger) are allowed to exercize their “individual conservative freedom” of choice, the free contraceptives from the ACA should further that end.

      • Allan (formerly Al) says:

        They should also be allowed to exercise their “individual Liberal freedom” of choice and should be provided with a free Latee at Starbucks. That of course sounds ridiculous as did the comment that generated this response.

        • Al Baun says:

          Oh Al (Allan, formerly Al),
          You’re comparing apples and sour grapes. If you had purchased a membership in Starbucks, you would get a free latee. If someone secures a membership into a health care insurer, preventive services are included in the package. Two different things.

          • Allan (formerly Al) says:

            Baun, I don’t think you understand markets or business no matter what you might do for a living. I don’t think you even understand the concept of insurance nor do I believe you understand what preventive services are or their costs when applied to an entire nation.

            I understand and sympathize with your ultimate goal which is reasonable cost and accesss to quality care. But almost everything you say seems to work against those goals.

            Next time take those grapes off of the vine at the proper time and don’t keep them around too long. Stop blaming the retailer.

  15. Wanda J. Jones says:

    John and Friends:

    I enjoyed this no holds barred exchange here. Here are some observations:

    • This argument has a psychological/political under-pinning; the felt need for a single causation for what is a complex, multi-factor problem. Liberals have to believe in the poor, beknighted underclass that can’t be blamed for their situation so must be helped. Their arguments imply or actually state that anyone who doessn’t subscribe to their “solutions” must be prejudiced against whatever group is being “helped.” They do not have the will to examine the consequences of their programs. (Education, war on drugs, welfare, etc.)

    • In the book, Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family by Leon Dash.” Of 8 children, 6 are illiterate drug addicts, while 2 succeeded, one in the Army and one in security. So the luck of the draw is not wholly deterministic.

    • Liberals place too little emphasis on the problem of IQ. If a large portion of children are born to illiterate mothers, and there is no stimulation in the home, the children will likely, but not always, grow up with no expectation of reading, and actually become candidates for self-fulfilling prophecies that they will fail. Howecer, the efficacy of high expectation education has shown that this early disadvantage can be overcome. The difference is in the educational leadership and the intent to raise skill levels, rather than just “teach to the test.”

    • People from countries that we might consider less advanced than the US, such as India, have become some of the success stories of Silicon Valley. Vinod Koshla, for example. (Google it.) The success comes from personal effort, willingness to accept risk and responsibility, plus deep understanding of a subset of a growing industry. Our educational system has disadvantaged our children in that way.

    • Among the newest sciences is how the Brain works and how it produces what we call “mind.” Already there are programs to help people use their brains more fully. For millions of American children, that help is called “Play Station.”

    • Conservatives live in a different culture than liberals. We fundamentally believe in individual freedom as constitutionally protected. Liberals fundamentally believe in paternalism by the national government and its satellite states. Conservatives believe that their viewpoint is self-evident so they do not need to proselytize. Liberals are constantly proselytizing by laying guilt trips on Conservatives and spouting slogans. Conservatives would get further if they more vigorously presented the positive side of capitalism, and did not ignore the seamy side which drives the underclass to floods of rhetoric which the liberals build on.

    As to eugenics and prevention, birth control freely chosen, is okay,, but birth control mandated by the state is eugenics, and should not be given the cloak of “preventive healthcare.” {Most of the listed “preventive measures in the ACA are not preventive, but only early detection. We do not have the manpower to exercise all these low return services. The only categories of preventive services are clean water and air, safety, and vaccines.

    Anyway, the two arguments would meet in the middle between luck and personal initiative if they could accept that success is a multi-factor phenomenon. Increasing success means a multi-factor approach that is not just the expression of the government’s need to buy votes.

    Liberals–if you don’t want to be responsible for another disaster, have an analysis done by people who can lay out assumptions, facts, choices of policy; effort and cost to achieve; and externalities generated by the program and their costs.

    Wanda J. Jones, President
    New Century Healthcare Institute
    San Francisco

    • Al Baun says:

      Et Tu Wanda?

      I’m glad you enjoy the exchanges. I worry that some take them too seriously.

      One thing I am amazed at is the ability of the commenter’s to know exactly what is in ‘Liberal’ heads and to interpret their every action. You even joined in with your comments above: “Liberals have to believe in the poor, beknighted underclass …”, “Liberals fundamentally believe in paternalism by the national government”, ” Liberals are constantly proselytizing”, etc.. Try swapping your jade colored glasses for rose ones on occasion.

      I don’t particularly care if someone is conservative, liberal, centrist, or extremist. I would prefer to discuss the merit of actions instead of divining ‘what evil lurk in the hearts of man.’

      In this post, Dr. Goodman implies (as do other unnamed commenters) that federal health, education, and food programs (the biggest part of his $1T welfare citation) need to be eliminated for the ‘good of the poor.’ If he were to state that we need to reduce fraud and tighten requirements, or at least propose a workable solution we would be on the same page, but he doesn’t. He leaves the meat twisting in the air.

      Your comment, “As to eugenics and prevention, birth control freely chosen, is okay,, but birth control mandated by the state is eugenics, and should not be given the cloak of “preventive healthcare.”

      First, we all know that selective birth control mandated by a state is eugenics; however, the ACA does not mandate women to terminate their pregnancies or to take contraceptives, it simply make preventative services available. So, your “[eugenics … should not be given the cloak of “preventive healthcare.”” is reckless. In addition, the origin(al) eugenics comment was totally inappropriate in the discussion.

      Second, ‘Preventive’ is an inclusive term used in the ACA which includes some 60 prevention, screening, counseling, assessment, and support services. Your angst, with respect to this simple term–for a supposed professional–is perplexing to me.

      • Allan (formerly Al) says:

        People learn what is in a person’s head by reading what they write, listening to them or watching how they act. Thus a lot is known about Kristof, Buffet and you. A lot is known how groups act by watching, listening and observing their actions in places like Detroit.

        One cannot run away from what they do or say. Neither can you.

        By the way it is you and the liberal side that wants certain programs, thus it is up to you to see that those programs are appropriately managed. The problem with the left today seems that they can destroy, but they cannot build.

        The original comment on eugenics had to do with what you said at which point the original commenter, me, wrote: “It appears that we have an individual that wishes to bring back a state controlled eugenics program. That didn’t work too well the last century. That statement stands unrefuted.

        • Al Baun says:

          Social programs: “thus it is UP TO YOU to see that those programs are appropriately managed.”

          Sorry tiger, but irrespective as to whether laws found their origin in conservative or liberal foundations, we’re all in this boat together and we’re all on the hook for those programs. I don’t particularly like paying for a Hellfire missile to kill an innocent Pakistani child and you don’t particularly like to pay for a hungry 1st grader’s breakfast … but we’re both on the hook for the bill it until we can effect change.

          Ok, eugenics. Since debating ideology is fruitless, let’s settle this simple issue.
          1)Dr. Goodwin was looking for programs to reduce children to alcoholic mothers.
          2) I said the ACA provides ‘preventive services’ (which includes alcohol counseling and increases availability of contraceptives, among other things) for those who want them.
          3) You inferred that I therefore supported (ACA) a Nazi-like mandatory eugenics program.

          After several attempts to divine your rational wrt this statement, I am still dumbfounded by your statement. Since the ACA does not mandate extermination of theoretically inferior genetic traits, how do you draw comparisons? Please explain.

          • Allan (formerly Al) says:

            Al Baun writes: “Sorry tiger”.

            Ok, I’ll accept being a tiger because a tiger is a noble creature. You are an ostrich with the head in the ground or some other orifice. You seem to believe there is no limit to government involvement in our personal lives and you lack the understanding of where to much government control leads.

            You are right. There is no use in discussing ideology for you are an ideologue and the discussion of policy with such an individual generally degenerates into this type of argument. So far you haven’t offered any policy arguments based upon data and proof.

            In answer to your question. I don’t know why we kill a Pakistani child, but I do give the government some credit for attempting to keep us safe and recognizing that sometimes in doing so, despite tremendous care, innocents can get hurt. I note how shallow your argument is. If one innocent child might be killed we should let another 9/11 occur. I’m not Obama who went into awful Libya and created Hell.

            Eugenics: That is something that belongs outside of government. Maybe it should be discussed in religion classes, but then I forget to a dedicated leftist government is their religion.

            Baun writes: “You inferred that I therefore supported (ACA) a Nazi-like mandatory eugenics program.

            I don’t know where I inferred that, but maybe you feel that way because of excessive guilt. Maybe the Pakistani child weighed too heavily on your heart and you can’t think straight. I don’t know. I am not a psychiatrist. What I do know is my statement made numerous times stands.

            It seems we have *an individual* that wishes to bring back a state controlled eugenics program. That individual is **you**.

            • Al Baun says:

              I apologize to everyone one on this site for having to read what this exchange has become, but our lack of maturity precludes us from backing off ;-)

              Tigger, I hope you feel better after that rant. I’ll try to narrow my comments so you can stop hopping around on topics.

              John: ”So wouldn’t a rational person ask how public policy could be changed so that fewer children are born to alcoholic mothers …?”

              Baun: “Good news, John, ObamaCare provides those preventive services that you consider ‘rational’.”

              Nobel Tigger, (Allan,formerly Al): “It seems we have *an individual* that wishes to bring back a state controlled eugenics program.”

              My point to John was that the ACA was ‘public policy’ attempting to do what he requested. If your comment was simply in jest, C’est la vie, but your incessant reiteration leads me to believe you are serious. So … please point out how the ACA’s preventive services [Alcohol Misuse Counseling, Depression Screening, Domestic and Interpersonal Violence Counseling, and Contraception (which does not include abortifacient drugs)] equates to “a state controlled eugenics program”.

              • Allan (formerly Al) says:

                Your much needed apology is accepted, and thank you for returning my name which you immaturely took to confuse other readers after we had a bit of a disagreement. I have no problem with anything I have said because it is all true. There is data and studies behind my assertions.

                I so happen to have been involved with some of these government programs you talk about. They don’t work very well and cost huge amounts of money. By the way if you provide just enough for an able-bodied human to survive one finds that too many will not find jobs. With all that time on their hands they can end up on alcohol, drugs and sometimes recreational theft so they can have a bigger TV etc (pertains to every group). “That government is best which governs least.”

                As far as confrontation. I believe the right has been too polite and puts up with a disingenuous left whose back up plan is violence.

                I’ll answer your last question regarding state intervention into our personal lives (eugenics… birth control… abortion). The state has a tendency to increase its power along many fronts where many of their actions initially appear to be quite benign. Many that read history have learned that these small actions lead to greater and greater ones if resistance is light or non existent. There is a lot of literature on the murder of Jews and others by the Nazi’s. There was inadequate world resistance to those acts and with time those acts became more heinous leading to the deaths of over 8 million Jews (about half the Jeish population) along with millions of others. We saw that as well in Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and elsewhere. If you remember Walter Durante reported, perhaps for the left, on Stalin’s wonderful Russia as Noam Chomsky did on Cambodia while there during which time half of all Cambodians were murdered.

                • Al Baun says:

                  Allan, we all appreciate your having “been involved with some of these government programs.” I’m sure you made good use of the tax dollars you received, but please … just answer the question.

                  [ … point out how the ACA’s preventive services [Alcohol Misuse Counseling, Depression Screening, Domestic and Interpersonal Violence Counseling, and Contraception (which does not include abortifacient drugs)] equates to “a state controlled eugenics program”.]

  16. David Lenihan says:


    Your post raises a question that I have been grappling with. You state that the amount spent by the US since 1965 on the War on Poverty stands at $15 Trillion. This is almost exactly what our national debt is. This cannot be a coincidence.

    • Al Baun says:

      It could also be the amount spent on wars, HLS, and DOD since 1995 … which is 3 times the rate of spending.Or it could be the amount spent on SS and Medicare since 2000.It’s all perspective.

  17. Bob Hertz says:

    The article by Dr Goodman and all the posts are but limited probes into one of the hardest questions of American social policy:

    - Does government simply ameliorate the poverty and family troubles that can happen in a modern capitalistic society?

    - or does government aggravate those troubles and even make them worse due to subsidies for bad behavior?

    I am not capable of answering this question. I think you would need a longitudinal study of poor families from the 1930′s through today to make a solid judgement.

    I would bring up one point regarding welfare. This may sound liberal but in fact a conservative like George Gilder was the one who got me thinking on this.

    America has been generally unwilling to let black men earn a living wage. This was done legally in the old South and much of the North through at least 1970.

    This fact alone hurts black family formation. Welfare probably did make this worse,but did not cause it.

  18. Allan (formerly Al) says:

    If you are really interested Thomas Sowell wrote extensively on this exact subject in his books. He provides real numbers and real history. You would be amazed how many things are considered truisms that are totally false and proven so.

    Black families were discriminated against without question, but they were rising the economic and educational ladder before the War on Poverty. Look at Sowell’s documentation and look what his conclusions are. While you are at it take a look on the Internet at pictures of Harlem before the 60′s.