Opting-out of social services?

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sardia
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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Fri Nov 08, 2013 5:55 pm UTC

jovialbard wrote:That's kind of my point. Why worry about what the definition of 'Rich' is when that question is already being handled by the progressive tax scheme. You don't need to solve a problem at both ends, Right? I guess it's valid to ask which is the best end to solve the problem, but I think the answer would be progressive taxes... Though the whole Citizen's Wage discussion in the other thread was interesting to me.

It matters politically. Means testing is a spending cut, progressive taxes is a tax increase. The current environment means that taxes are hard to raise, much less create new ones. A lot of the fixes to social security are just attempts to shine a turd sandwich. Chain CPI is a fancy way of cutting benefits, it's commonly enacted because Americans don't understand inflation or math very well.
As for benefit cliffs, you'd just do some form of an income gradient, it's just harder to implement.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby leady » Fri Nov 08, 2013 6:06 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:Rich is a slippery definition. Can you put it in numbers. For instance is sardia's 40k a year rich?


"Rich" needs to be defined in terms of absolute wealth not income and it annoys me that its used interchangeably :) Also it annoys me that pensioners are considered "poor" whilst clogging up 300k worth of housing

jovialbard wrote:Also. I don't think means testing is necessary. With income distribution as it is today I have a hard time believing that it would save more to not give SS to the rich then it would cost to find out who's rich and manage the cost of doing the means testing. Not to mention the cost to recipients to prove that they are poor enough to deserve charity. Maybe that's a failure of my imagination, or knowledge, but I say give it to everyone, the rich paid more in SS taxes than the benefits they get from it anyway. If you don't think it was enough more then we should adjust the taxes to keep the system funded, and consequently the rich will bear more of that burden. I care about net effect, why squabble over a dab of red or black ink here or there? That's how cumbersome bureaucracies are made.


What needs to happen for elderly (or rather the future elderly) across the benefits spectrum (housing, pensions, healthcare) is that western political systems need to catch up with reality. Someone needs to have the balls (or the ovaries) to

1. Cancel the link of general entitlement based on age say in 10 years time
2. Move all these benefits to a real "pension pot / insurance" model out of general politicians hands over a similar timeframe
2. Make benefits opt in so you need to apply at retirement rather then auto-enrolled
3. Make benefits completely means tested at the point of application

yes this basically says to the under 40s "you've been screwed", but lets face reality you are going to be anyway - might as well face up to it now, than act surprised later.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Fri Nov 08, 2013 6:46 pm UTC

You are suggesting to convert social security into an anti-poverty program with elements of a pension(read additional income for anyone old)? Because you're right, it screws everyone young. The real question is, are people going to accept a low lifestyle for the last 30 years of their life. Because if they aren't, those retirees are going to demand for the money of everyone else. Now tell me, who has more voting power, young people or the old fogies?

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby jovialbard » Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:30 pm UTC

leady wrote:
morriswalters wrote:Rich is a slippery definition. Can you put it in numbers. For instance is sardia's 40k a year rich?


"Rich" needs to be defined in terms of absolute wealth not income and it annoys me that its used interchangeably :) Also it annoys me that pensioners are considered "poor" whilst clogging up 300k worth of housing.


I just want to say, this is an extremely valid point. It's like when people living on Manhattan and sending their kids to private school complain that they are poor and have no money to spend on themselves... Dude! You are living on f-ing Manhattan and sending your kids to private school! If only I were so rich!

That said, it's not valid for everyone. Some older people could live with some downsizing, others have already downsized as far as they reasonably can and still have trouble making ends meet.
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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Nov 13, 2013 1:59 pm UTC

jovialbard wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Also, we've long since depicted all the SS and medicaid people as poor old folks. This is inaccurate. These programs are mostly not means tested, so they apply to basically all elderly, and the wealth of this country has dramatically shifted to the elderly over the last decade. This isn't reflected accurately in the current discussions over retirement age benefits. A great many of the people paying in are poor, or at least, not very well off, while a great many of those taking out are doing pretty well.


Now that is intriguing. Do you have sources?


Certainly,

http://www.stlouisfed.org/household-fin ... t-2013.pdf

Found it originally through an interesting WashPo opinion piece, but for some reason, actually clicking on the WashPo article is driving my computer nuts, so I won't quote from it directly, but if memory serves, the elderly increased in wealth(as measured by median income, so results will vary depending on metric for wealth) about 60% from 1989 to 2010, after inflation adjusting. Younger folks went up about 2% over that same period.

Now, obviously, those are medians. There still are poor people in both groups, clearly. However, the image of the elderly as poor is certainly not always accurate, and there are at least some elderly who are pretty well off by any reasonable standard. Often, mortgages have been paid off, children have left, resulting in decreasing expenses in many areas. Sure, people point out the areas that are worse, like medical expenses, but it often appears as if the elderly are coasting on a dated perception of just how rough off life is for them. The situation has definitely changed since pre SS days...or even fairly recent days.

There's a few reasons for it...younger generations are coping with issues like increasingly expensive college bills, some retirement benefits are less subject to economic downturns, healthy lifespan is increasing, while retirement benefits often remain unchanged. Entitlements for the elderly have generally increased, and measures to reduce economic benefits to the elderly have been politically untenable. One could make a fairly good case for the Boomer generation being the biggest problem America has.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby jovialbard » Wed Nov 13, 2013 3:21 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:One could make a fairly good case for the Boomer generation being the biggest problem America has.


I won't contend that particular point. It is certainly a problem that our society is weighted so heavily toward the elderly, a problem in many developed nations.

On the point of that data, I may be reading this wrong, but it looks like the 80th percentile of "Whites and Asians" over 70 still only makes an income of $48,508. Is that right? That hardly seems like living the high life, and that's the 80th percentile. The 20th percentile shows 17,281. How much of that would be social security? Not to mention that "African-Americans and Hispanics" are even worse off.
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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Nov 13, 2013 4:43 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:There's a few reasons for it...younger generations are coping with issues like increasingly expensive college bills, some retirement benefits are less subject to economic downturns, healthy lifespan is increasing, while retirement benefits often remain unchanged. Entitlements for the elderly have generally increased, and measures to reduce economic benefits to the elderly have been politically untenable. One could make a fairly good case for the Boomer generation being the biggest problem America has.


Yeah, ain't them Boomers hell. The biggest problem of Boomers is they didn't reproduce enough. Actuarial assumptions used by Social Security managers seem to have been predicated off the idea that the next generation would always be larger than the last. Which had been true up to the point where it wasn't anymore. The Boomers liked being wealthy and better educated, kids got in the way of that, thank you birth control. Add to that the political reality that comes into being when politicians get to manipulate the population with that much money and you have a perfect storm.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Nov 13, 2013 6:21 pm UTC

jovialbard wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:One could make a fairly good case for the Boomer generation being the biggest problem America has.


I won't contend that particular point. It is certainly a problem that our society is weighted so heavily toward the elderly, a problem in many developed nations.

On the point of that data, I may be reading this wrong, but it looks like the 80th percentile of "Whites and Asians" over 70 still only makes an income of $48,508. Is that right? That hardly seems like living the high life, and that's the 80th percentile. The 20th percentile shows 17,281. How much of that would be social security? Not to mention that "African-Americans and Hispanics" are even worse off.


Well, it's of little surprise that racial biases persist...keep in mind that that the average median individual income among those who work is $28,567*, with people who don't work averaging far less. So, that spread actually compares pretty decently with the average american, even before considering that many retirees have accumulated significant assets(usually home) outside of income. In addition, in terms of hours worked, those over 70 are significantly below average, so in terms of income vs hours worked, they're usually doing exceptionally well.

Of course, both populations are going to have outliers, but it's pretty clear that if you means tested social security, a significant quantity of money could be saved without actually starving anyone. Political suicide tho, for sure.

*2005 census numbers. May differ slightly if you match them up exactly with the dataset listed in the study, but it suffices to make the point.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Heisenberg » Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:00 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:There's a few reasons for it...younger generations are coping with issues like increasingly expensive college bills, some retirement benefits are less subject to economic downturns, healthy lifespan is increasing, while retirement benefits often remain unchanged. Entitlements for the elderly have generally increased, and measures to reduce economic benefits to the elderly have been politically untenable. One could make a fairly good case for the Boomer generation being the biggest problem America has.


Yeah, ain't them Boomers hell. The biggest problem of Boomers is they didn't reproduce enough. Actuarial assumptions used by Social Security managers seem to have been predicated off the idea that the next generation would always be larger than the last. Which had been true up to the point where it wasn't anymore. The Boomers liked being wealthy and better educated, kids got in the way of that, thank you birth control. Add to that the political reality that comes into being when politicians get to manipulate the population with that much money and you have a perfect storm.

You can also argue that Social Security itself disincentivized procreation. People used to invest in children who would help take care of them in old age when the children were productive and the parents were not. Social Security (and Medicare, etc.) provided the benefits of children (a portion of their productivity) to the older generation, regardless of whether they had 10 kids, 2 kids, or none at all. In turn, children stopped assisting their parents directly because they had less money and the parents had more.

So now children as an investment are even worse than they used to be, since you'll get your piece of the pie regardless of whether or not you helped make it. Boomers had their retirement set in stone, and were offered either a sports car or a child. No wonder they stopped having kids.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby EMTP » Wed Dec 18, 2013 1:37 am UTC

The problem with means-testing social security or medicare is that political scientists have a fair amount of data that says that universal safety nets are far more popular that anti-poverty programs. Means-testing would likely weaken popular support for these programs.

Fortunately, there is no need. Raise taxes on the rich, pay for our current spending, expand social insurance and infrastructure spending, and pay off the debt. Very simple, very practical given our extremely gentle tax burden.

Delegating the decisions to the states would be unwise. The Southern traitor caucus showed us what backward communities do with too much responsibility. Never again. We need to strengthen federal control, not weaken it.
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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:36 am UTC

The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:21 pm UTC

Not after we demonstrate the capabilities of this station our fleet of flying deathbots.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby lgw » Thu Dec 19, 2013 9:49 pm UTC

jovialbard wrote:@sardia I would think the answer is that we want old people to have some security in their old age. What if their investments don't pan out? What if they can't or don't make investments? Do we let them starve? Plus I would think it ties in to the old notion of retirement. Personally, I'm not sure I ever want to stop working, I just hope that by the time I'm old I can work less and on something I like more than what I'm doing now. However, if any old person can't find a job and doesn't have any savings, should they starve? This begs the question, though: can't the old get by on something like food stamps, unemployment, and/or subsidized housing? Is SS needed on top of all that or can we simplify the institutions of welfare? Your questions were all interesting. I wish people would ask them, attempt to answer them, and then come to some reasonable compromises.


I just wanted to say "private charities". If we're willing to give a significant amount through taxes to keep the old and poor from starving, do we suddenly change that social norm without government intervention? I think not; rather, I think the current tax-based system reflects our values as a society, and those values would continue to be demonstrated even without coercion by the government's monopoly on force. (Even during the US great depression, before many of the current safety nets were created to deal with it, almost no one actually starved to death, and we've made progress as a society since then IMO.)
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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Ormurinn » Fri Dec 20, 2013 4:26 pm UTC

EMTP wrote:Delegating the decisions to the states would be unwise. The Southern traitor caucus showed us what backward communities do with too much responsibility. Never again. We need to strengthen federal control, not weaken it.


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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Dec 20, 2013 5:09 pm UTC

On a more serious note...

EMTP wrote:The problem with means-testing social security or medicare is that political scientists have a fair amount of data that says that universal safety nets are far more popular that anti-
poverty programs. Means-testing would likely weaken popular support for these programs.


Well, yeah. People usually tend to favor programs that give them things. But ideally, we're trying to solve a problem, not merely all greedily scramble for more wealth for ourselves(that happens anyway).

So, with the term "safety net", what, exactly is the net supposed to be keeping us safe from? I was under the impression that it WAS a protection from poverty, and the entire purpose of it was to keep people safe from poverty.

Fortunately, there is no need. Raise taxes on the rich, pay for our current spending, expand social insurance and infrastructure spending, and pay off the debt. Very simple, very practical given our extremely gentle tax burden.


I don't know that extremely gentle is the most accurate description. "somewhat below average for developed nations" is likely more accurate. S Korea taxes less overall, Japan a little more, etc. Our taxation is not so low that we can simply dismiss gross inefficiency and hurl money at the problem.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Fri Dec 20, 2013 5:26 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:
EMTP wrote:Delegating the decisions to the states would be unwise. The Southern traitor caucus showed us what backward communities do with too much responsibility. Never again. We need to strengthen federal control, not weaken it.


People might make different decisions than me!

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@Tyndmyr
Define what deserves help first. Because we can disagree about how much we can help people. If you bracket everyone poor as "social leach that does nothing", then you're probably very unwilling to help anybody that isn't being genocided by rapewolves. On the other hand, if you ask questions like: Do needy people deserve food if they can't afford it? Housing? Heated homes? Higher education? And then comes the other questions, like is it worth it? Social security and medicare are expensive, but why are food stamps and subsidized housing put on the same chopping block as the entitlements? Lastly, why are you so afraid of taxes on the weathly? Do you believe you're rich and are afraid of the taxes? Because you're not rich. You will never be rich, ever. How do I know you're not rich? Because you pay the majority of your taxes, and don't care about how to minimize your tax burden to your heirs.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Dec 20, 2013 8:45 pm UTC

sardia wrote:@Tyndmyr
Define what deserves help first.


"Deserves" is inherently a subjective term, and cannot be defined in any seriously consistent way unless some additional metric is defined. I do not think that it makes a functional starting point.

Because we can disagree about how much we can help people. If you bracket everyone poor as "social leach that does nothing", then you're probably very unwilling to help anybody that isn't being genocided by rapewolves. On the other hand, if you ask questions like: Do needy people deserve food if they can't afford it? Housing? Heated homes? Higher education? And then comes the other questions, like is it worth it? Social security and medicare are expensive, but why are food stamps and subsidized housing put on the same chopping block as the entitlements? Lastly, why are you so afraid of taxes on the weathly? Do you believe you're rich and are afraid of the taxes? Because you're not rich. You will never be rich, ever. How do I know you're not rich? Because you pay the majority of your taxes, and don't care about how to minimize your tax burden to your heirs.


What exactly does "deserves" mean if it is not related to issues like "is it worth it"?

Sure, I'm not rich. But I like living in a functional society, and am capable of considering social classes other than my own. However, from a purely self-interested perspective, which you seem to alternately demand and abhor, I observe that various "tax the rich" efforts do result in increases in tax brackets that are directly relevant to me. Pick the altruistic viewpoint or the self interested one, it matters not to me.

And yeah, if I was rich, I probably would try to minimize tax burden for my heirs. Pretty much everyone, rich or poor, tries to help their kids and what not out. Rich people just have bigger piles of money and stuff. However, as I lack kids or enough wealth for death taxes to matter, my caring from a self-interested perspective is minimal. However, I can observe that as a practical matter, the death tax brings in very little money, and is far above average in cost to enforce vs the amount it brings in.

You're kind of all over the map on this reply. None of these topics appear to be strongly related, and you still haven't answered the question about what a safety net keeps one safe from, if not for poverty? Leaving aside the question of where the poverty line is defined, what else does this term mean? DoD isn't described as a social safety net, so obviously, the term is not discussing national defense. Police are not described as a safety net, so it cannot be talking about law and order. Leave aside rambling discussion of rapewolves, and it seems clear that the term "safety net" means "program that keeps me safe from the effects of poverty".

Soooo....safety net spending of (# of people below poverty level) * (enough money to get them out of poverty level) should suffice to end poverty. That defines adequate resources to solve the issue, if allocated to the problem.

Since we are spending more than that, and still have not ended poverty, it follows that one of those assumptions is not being followed in real life. It seems extremely obvious that the issue is that "safety net spending" is often not being allocated to the poor. After all, the rich get SS too. So, is SS really a safety net at all? Do we actually have much of a safety net, or is that term hollow puffery for projects intended to accomplish other ends?

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Fri Dec 20, 2013 9:44 pm UTC

Lemme restate then. You're saying we can't have a distinction on who deserves help vs who we are able to help? Because that is what "deserves helps" means. If that is too loaded for you, you can define it as money we spend on people.

'Is it worth it' is a very important question because there are plenty of poor people in the US who used to get help, or need help but don't get it. Why? Because we could not convince Congress that it is worth it to spend the money on them. You made that argument when you said that the US couldn't afford to pay the full benefits of social security. Again, you're equivocating social security/medicaid/medicare with food stamps and welfare spending.
I think your problem is that social security is a social safety net and an entitlement. This fact is causing you to equate it with other welfare spending. I'm not sure how you are pinning the inefficiency of entitlements on welfare spending.

If you don't want to talk about how desperate poor people need to be before a libertarian helps them, fine. If you don't want to talk about how little the wealthy pay in taxes with regard to the country being unable to pay its debts, that's fine too.
Last edited by sardia on Fri Dec 20, 2013 10:52 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby morriswalters » Fri Dec 20, 2013 10:05 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Since we are spending more than that, and still have not ended poverty, it follows that one of those assumptions is not being followed in real life. It seems extremely obvious that the issue is that "safety net spending" is often not being allocated to the poor. After all, the rich get SS too. So, is SS really a safety net at all? Do we actually have much of a safety net, or is that term hollow puffery for projects intended to accomplish other ends?
Perhaps what it means is that no one "knows" the answer in advance, so they throw the kitchen sink at it and hope something sticks. And once given things become very hard to take away. What you don't want are shanty towns on the Great Lawn in Washington or numerous out of work vets who might decide that the system isn't fair and decide to put their training to use. So what you might say you want is stability, a point where protests don't turn into revolts. You can't eliminate poverty so one goal may be to make sure that it never reaches a critical level where a civil war might be better than a protest.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Fri Dec 20, 2013 10:59 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Since we are spending more than that, and still have not ended poverty, it follows that one of those assumptions is not being followed in real life. It seems extremely obvious that the issue is that "safety net spending" is often not being allocated to the poor. After all, the rich get SS too. So, is SS really a safety net at all? Do we actually have much of a safety net, or is that term hollow puffery for projects intended to accomplish other ends?
Perhaps what it means is that no one "knows" the answer in advance, so they throw the kitchen sink at it and hope something sticks. And once given things become very hard to take away. What you don't want are shanty towns on the Great Lawn in Washington or numerous out of work vets who might decide that the system isn't fair and decide to put their training to use. So what you might say you want is stability, a point where protests don't turn into revolts. You can't eliminate poverty so one goal may be to make sure that it never reaches a critical level where a civil war might be better than a protest.

Are we at the efficacy/spending levels that warrent rebellion and revolt? Because we can probably cut a lot more spending on poor people without widespread chaos. Yes the threat of violence on the wealthy is important leverage to keep the wealthy in check, but it should not be the only reason to help the poor. For example, if you were to convince 51% of the country to hate the other 49%, you could get away with a lot of cost cutting and still retain power. Aka Newt Gringrich's Southern Strategy.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Dec 23, 2013 4:29 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Since we are spending more than that, and still have not ended poverty, it follows that one of those assumptions is not being followed in real life. It seems extremely obvious that the issue is that "safety net spending" is often not being allocated to the poor. After all, the rich get SS too. So, is SS really a safety net at all? Do we actually have much of a safety net, or is that term hollow puffery for projects intended to accomplish other ends?
Perhaps what it means is that no one "knows" the answer in advance, so they throw the kitchen sink at it and hope something sticks. And once given things become very hard to take away. What you don't want are shanty towns on the Great Lawn in Washington or numerous out of work vets who might decide that the system isn't fair and decide to put their training to use. So what you might say you want is stability, a point where protests don't turn into revolts. You can't eliminate poverty so one goal may be to make sure that it never reaches a critical level where a civil war might be better than a protest.


Well, if nobody knows, that's certainly a reasonable state of affairs, but "throw the kitchen sink at it and hope something works" is not terribly effective. After all, resources have to come from somewhere, so all ineffective things have a cost, and if you increase cost enough, you may actually make the problem worse. So, your end result will be anywhere between "fixed problem, really inefficiently" and "made problem worse". One would think that researching how to improve things would be a more logical first step if one does not know what action to take. Experiment on a small scale, that kind of things. Fail repeatedly, cheaply and quickly until you find the version worth scaling up.

sardia wrote:Are we at the efficacy/spending levels that warrent rebellion and revolt? Because we can probably cut a lot more spending on poor people without widespread chaos. Yes the threat of violence on the wealthy is important leverage to keep the wealthy in check, but it should not be the only reason to help the poor. For example, if you were to convince 51% of the country to hate the other 49%, you could get away with a lot of cost cutting and still retain power. Aka Newt Gringrich's Southern Strategy.


I do not think that either a little more or a little less spending on the poor(or a little better/worse efficiency) will cause a revolt. People will revolt if things are desperate enough, true, but the situation has certainly been worse in the past. The great depression would be a fairly significant data point for determining what happens when things are terrible economically in the US. Many undesirable effects happened, sure, but it fell short of armed uprising.

So, we should be able to pursue more efficiency without worrying that society is going to end in three seconds unless we panic and do the first thing that comes to mind.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Mon Dec 23, 2013 5:37 pm UTC

I know, the question was rhetorical and I was replying to Morris. He said we were close to a revolt/chaos from the poor being neglected, and used that as the reason to help poor people. I disagreed because we're not at the level of desperation from the poor yet and that is no reason to let the poor suffer.

There are diminishing returns on efficiency, and increased efficiency is not on the table in Congress. Congress is only debating funding levels. It's kinda sad that while we debate efficient welfare, all we get is "let's cut x% off the budget and they'll figure out how to be more efficient on their own".

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Dec 23, 2013 7:40 pm UTC

sardia wrote:He said we were close to a revolt/chaos from the poor being neglected, and used that as the reason to help poor people. I disagreed because we're not at the level of desperation from the poor yet and that is no reason to let the poor suffer.
Do you think so? Comparatively speaking a lot of adjustments have been made since the late sixties and the early seventies. Johnson and the Democratic party put together the Great Society which tried to help set straight problems which had been endemic for years. Even at that riots broke out across the country in the late sixties as a great deal of rage was exposed. Many of the Social Programs you see date from that period. I can remember the National Guard being called out to maintain order in Louisville, Kentucky a relatively small Midwest city. And that happened time and again all over the country. The difference today is that it is so much easier to see the disparity the poor face, and so much easier to express that rage in ways hard to deal with.
Tyndmyr wrote:One would think that researching how to improve things would be a more logical first step if one does not know what action to take. Experiment on a small scale, that kind of things. Fail repeatedly, cheaply and quickly until you find the version worth scaling up.
This! Up to the point where it becomes a procedure for killing programs. But you would have to show me that there is a desire to find the best way forward or that we can accept that there may not be given the size of the problem. What if it is always going to be a dirty messy process?

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Dec 23, 2013 8:14 pm UTC

sardia wrote:I know, the question was rhetorical and I was replying to Morris. He said we were close to a revolt/chaos from the poor being neglected, and used that as the reason to help poor people. I disagreed because we're not at the level of desperation from the poor yet and that is no reason to let the poor suffer.

There are diminishing returns on efficiency, and increased efficiency is not on the table in Congress. Congress is only debating funding levels. It's kinda sad that while we debate efficient welfare, all we get is "let's cut x% off the budget and they'll figure out how to be more efficient on their own".


This is precisely the problem...the debate revolves around raw dollar value, with little thought for efficiency. Efficiency, when brought up at all by either side, is used as a means, not a goal. In short, both sides have predetermined goal, and if you cast about for stats that you use loosely enough, you can garner evidence for whatever you want.

morriswalters wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:One would think that researching how to improve things would be a more logical first step if one does not know what action to take. Experiment on a small scale, that kind of things. Fail repeatedly, cheaply and quickly until you find the version worth scaling up.
This! Up to the point where it becomes a procedure for killing programs. But you would have to show me that there is a desire to find the best way forward or that we can accept that there may not be given the size of the problem. What if it is always going to be a dirty messy process?


Well, some programs might need to be killed or replaced or whatever...but yeah, partisan gridlock is likely to get in the way. Two people with somewhat different views can generally work together to solve a problem...it happens all the time. But the echo chamber of DC is very severely split, and in a very public way, so we have two reinforcing feedback loops trying to get the better of the other, even at the expense of...whatevers in the way, really.

As a basic example, there's the farm bill...everybody in power pretty much knows that protectionism is economically a bad thing. It also happens to be politically popular with the people you are protecting(and can be sold as a good thing to many more). The US sugar industry is fairly small, for instance, and the US does not suffer from dire shortages of sweetners. The need of the US to have protective tarriffs, etc is pretty much non-existent. You could axe every one, and the day to day effect on everyone's life would be fairly small. Sugar would decrease in price. Sugar might displace corn syrup in some uses. Corn prices might drop a touch. Farmers in total make up substantially less than 1% of the US population, and this would only affect a minority of farmers.

I don't believe every rep is so bad at economics as to not understand this. I simply think that the sugar lobby is pretty effective and has a pile of money. So, inefficiency persists at large because the situation benefits lawmakers. This seems fairly indistinguishable from fraud. Sure, the money goes to political campaigns instead of directly into personal accounts, but it is a bit insane to pretend that there is no benefit to the individual there.

Let's bring this back around to poverty. Why did SNAP start? Well, the whole history of food stamps have been deeply entertwined with farm aid, complaints of farm "surpluses", and demands that the government purchase food to keep prices high. Concern for the poor was likely a real thing, but it was never about thoroughly testing a bunch of possible solutions to poverty with the goal of ending it. It was about protectionism.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Dec 23, 2013 8:41 pm UTC

I'll agree in principle although it's more complex than simply price supports.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Dec 23, 2013 10:14 pm UTC

Oh sure, it just happens to be a fairly easy, clear example. When you get into more complex issues, reps legitimately not understanding the economics of the issue becomes a complicating factor, unintended consequences become more likely, etc.

We might really try to eliminate poverty and STILL fail...but right now, we're mostly not even trying.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Mon Dec 23, 2013 10:38 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Oh sure, it just happens to be a fairly easy, clear example. When you get into more complex issues, reps legitimately not understanding the economics of the issue becomes a complicating factor, unintended consequences become more likely, etc.

We might really try to eliminate poverty and STILL fail...but right now, we're mostly not even trying.

Are you pointing the finger at all government programs, most of them, or a select few? In addition, you seem to be combining efficacy and worthwhile. A farm bill can efficiently subsidize farmers with little 'wasted funds', but it's not worthwhile. Likewise, medicare may be incredibly inefficient, but worthy of continued existence. Is there a difference to you?

Morris, this might be nitpicking, but I didn't like the idea that you would only help someone to save your own house from burning. Either way, we're helping underprivileged group x, but the reason why matters somewhat.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby morriswalters » Tue Dec 24, 2013 1:01 am UTC

I see it as important that people understand the self interest side of it, that it is in fact, in everyone's best interest to try and make these things work.

edit
The poor become invisible. We depend on a stable society to make what we have work. It isn't that we should feel threatened, but we should understand that hopelessness can cause people to become angry, and angry people foment revolutions. We have seen this over and over again in South America. But maybe my understanding is faulty.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Dec 24, 2013 10:20 am UTC

sardia wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Oh sure, it just happens to be a fairly easy, clear example. When you get into more complex issues, reps legitimately not understanding the economics of the issue becomes a complicating factor, unintended consequences become more likely, etc.

We might really try to eliminate poverty and STILL fail...but right now, we're mostly not even trying.

Are you pointing the finger at all government programs, most of them, or a select few? In addition, you seem to be combining efficacy and worthwhile. A farm bill can efficiently subsidize farmers with little 'wasted funds', but it's not worthwhile. Likewise, medicare may be incredibly inefficient, but worthy of continued existence. Is there a difference to you?


I'm afraid that I don't understand your use of efficiency. The farm bill is not economically efficient. It may achieve the goals the politicians have(more money for them), but it is a net loss of efficiency. That is precisely why it is not worthwhile.

If medicare is indeed "incredibly inefficient", then no, it is not worthy of continued existence. The more efficient alternative provides more care for the same price. Why would it be worthwhile to introduce greater overall suffering for the sake of a few people who benefit? Does it matter that they are labeled "poor" instead of "politicians" or "rich"? If the inefficiency is incredible in scale, that only heightens the cost. Why could it possibly be worthwhile to inflict vastly more pain and suffering on society overall? Is the label of poverty some great moral virtue? Are they better people, for whom others should be sacrificed in job lots?

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Dec 24, 2013 11:56 am UTC

@ Tyndmyr, how can you decouple goals from efficiency? From what you write, it sounds as if you oppose protectionism for corn farmers already as a goal. You don't think that the people who benefit from the program should receive such extra support in the first place. Efficiency doesn't have much to do with that. It's like saying that trains are an inefficient way to get to Augsburg, because you don't want to go to Augsburg.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Dec 24, 2013 2:35 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:@ Tyndmyr, how can you decouple goals from efficiency? From what you write, it sounds as if you oppose protectionism for corn farmers already as a goal. You don't think that the people who benefit from the program should receive such extra support in the first place. Efficiency doesn't have much to do with that. It's like saying that trains are an inefficient way to get to Augsburg, because you don't want to go to Augsburg.


Protectionism should not be opposed as a goal, but as a means to better economic efficiency. The goal is not to end protectionism....imagine a plan to end corn protectionism that included MORE economic inefficiency. Obviously, it'd be a net loss. Incidentally, this describes some republican plans fairly well. Some politicians understand a few economic principles, but seem to entirely miss other ones. Or at least, it's politically advantageous to act as such.

Incidentally, I suspect that poverty is an inefficient use of human resources. So, I'm not against fixing the inefficiency, but not by layering on increasingly bad band-aid "fixes". You see this all the time. People justify protectionism of their industry by pointing out some other industry that also gets bennies. The logical response to this is to fix the original problem, not continually add stuff for everyone. If you do that, nobody is really better off*, you've just incurred a bunch of transactional costs for shuffling money and resources around.

*leaving aside unequal lobbying power for simplicity. In reality, he with the best lobbyists wins. This is only worse, mind you.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Tue Dec 24, 2013 3:16 pm UTC

Can you explain more on how poverty alleviation occurs while minimizing the impact on "the market"? These two goals don't have to be exclusive, but you should explain why the 2nd goal is more important. I know the example you already provided was "minimum wages are bad because price floors cause less jobs, aka market inefficiency". But, do you have more examples?

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Dec 24, 2013 3:51 pm UTC

sardia wrote:Can you explain more on how poverty alleviation occurs while minimizing the impact on "the market"? These two goals don't have to be exclusive, but you should explain why the 2nd goal is more important. I know the example you already provided was "minimum wages are bad because price floors cause less jobs, aka market inefficiency". But, do you have more examples?


Sure. A friend of mine was on WIC, and got the food packages for his family. The food packages included four gallons of milk a week. He stopped getting them because he felt bad about it going to waste, because they simply couldn't use that quantity of milk. Now, there's nothing wrong with milk...it's consumption can certainly be part of an anti-poverty effort, but obviously, the quantity being given was out of proportion. Perhaps this is not the case for all families, and some people do drink that much milk. It seems likely that there is no single package that is right for every family without introducing significant waste.

By wasting production, you require more work overall to create those goods, generally driving prices up and decreasing availability of those goods. As the entire problem of poverty is being unable to afford sufficient goods in the first place, this introduces a negative effect. Now, the point of this is not to say that WIC is a bad program in general, merely to point out that like a great many such programs, the benefits are touted widely while the real costs are mostly ignored, and if they are listed at all, they are listed in dollars and cents, while the benefits to the poor receive a great deal more attention and individualized examples to humanize the benefits.


How you alleviate poverty depends on your goal. Throwing a few resources to the existing poor without doing anything to actually remedy their situation is of marginal value. If you're going to fix poverty, you want to end it. Now, we understand that poverty is a cycle, so I'm going to skip over demonstrating that. Obviously, you would want to study those who escape from poverty, and deduce the commonalities, and then test reproducing those for those who are less fortunate. An obvious example is education. Education is very highly correlated with escaping poverty. And yet...our educational system is remarkably unequal, with impovershed areas having significantly shittier schools. Previous attempts at remedying this have had lovely effects like teaching the test, etc. It seems highly unlikely that our existing system here is training children very efficiently. Now, any one particular solution to the issue might have unwanted effects, sure. That's why testing is necessary. Hell, I could be wrong about the whole education thing being helpful for escaping poverty. I don't *think* so, but I'd want it thoroughly tested before throwing billions of dollars after it.

In essence, I'm arguing for the primacy of science in politics, instead of it's current occasional supporting role.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Tue Dec 24, 2013 4:58 pm UTC

I thought you got a check limited to certain goods, and then you buy how much you want. I believe the changes in WIC were made to minimize waste and all that.

I will make a point that our current social safety nets do not make many effort to end the recurrence of poverty. Instead, it eases the sting of poverty and it is up to the person to get out of poverty. I do not count work requirements as helping someone out of poverty. If they could get a well paying job, they probably would.

I'm guessing you want to unify our social safety net programs and point them towards ending poverty. However laudable that is, I'll remind you that the goal of our safety net isn't to stop the recurrence of poverty, but to help people who are impoverished. That said, the only way I know how to prevent poverty would require a massive unified spending program. For example, a kid born in poverty would need food, shelter and healthcare for the mother from conception to birth. Then more food, shelter, healthcare and education for the kid from birth to college graduation. That's a tall order, even for small scale programs.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby morriswalters » Tue Dec 24, 2013 4:59 pm UTC

Just to clarify some things about your example. Most states use a voucher system and the WIC products are picked up at stores who participate in the program as needed. From the USDA website.
In most WIC State agencies, WIC participants receive checks or vouchers to purchase specific foods each month that are designed to supplement their diets with specific nutrients that benefit WIC’s target population. In addition, some States issue an electronic benefit card to participants instead of paper checks or vouchers. The use of electronic cards is growing and all WIC State agencies are required to implement WIC electronic benefit transfer (EBT) statewide by October 1, 2020. A few State agencies distribute the WIC foods through warehouses or deliver the foods to participants’ homes. Different food packages are provided for different categories of participants.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Tue Dec 24, 2013 5:21 pm UTC

Ah, so some people still get food deliveries. I remember when I was a grocery clerk, and we dealt with WIC customers. They good ones had those fancy debit cards, the annoying ones kept buying unapproved goods with those WIC checks. We had to send someone to get the WIC version of the food.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Dec 24, 2013 5:55 pm UTC

sardia wrote:I thought you got a check limited to certain goods, and then you buy how much you want. I believe the changes in WIC were made to minimize waste and all that.


*shrug* I know he got food directly, can't say for everyone. The newer version certainly seems like an improvement. Not perfect, likely, but hey, better is better.

And yeah, there's always a few people that have to try to slip one by any given system. Annoying, indeed. Nature of humanity tho, I guess.

I will make a point that our current social safety nets do not make many effort to end the recurrence of poverty. Instead, it eases the sting of poverty and it is up to the person to get out of poverty. I do not count work requirements as helping someone out of poverty. If they could get a well paying job, they probably would.

I'm guessing you want to unify our social safety net programs and point them towards ending poverty. However laudable that is, I'll remind you that the goal of our safety net isn't to stop the recurrence of poverty, but to help people who are impoverished. That said, the only way I know how to prevent poverty would require a massive unified spending program. For example, a kid born in poverty would need food, shelter and healthcare for the mother from conception to birth. Then more food, shelter, healthcare and education for the kid from birth to college graduation. That's a tall order, even for small scale programs.


*shrug* We're basically paying the money now, we might as well get something for it. A number of programs exist for this purpose already. Those things are all provided, just in a piecemeal manner. The lack of integration contributes to welfare cliffs, unnecessary complexity and duplication in administration, sign-up, etc. I see no reason why the federal government couldn't work with a given locality to integrate systems for a test case on a small scale. This'd give us a pretty accurate idea of cost and benefit.

I agree that systems are not currently constructed to remove people from poverty...but they should be. Time spent navigating the intricacies of government support program could be better spent in any number of other ways. Welfare cliffs do nobody any favors. Education falls short long before we even talk about college...property taxes are such an essential part of many public school systems that poor areas have poor schools. If the kid is college age, but not ready for college, throwing money at the problem then will do comparatively little good. It needs to be addressed earlier in the chain.

If a program gets people out of poverty, then even a system that is somewhat more expensive on a per-person basis may save from a shortened benefit duration as well. Obviously, this is a popular claim with many variations, but something that is somewhat harder to prove.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby sardia » Tue Dec 24, 2013 6:47 pm UTC

If we were to ignore the political suicide of what you're proposing, and assumed that we repurpose funds spent on the poor...would poverty end sooner? I think we won't be able to prvent as much poverty as you think we can. The main reason is that insufficiently educated adults are hard pressed to compete against young college grads. Children in poverty, we can improve their outcomes, but I don't know how you would help out the older ones. I fear that our only choice is to support them until they die.

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Re: Opting-out of social services?

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Dec 24, 2013 9:11 pm UTC

sardia wrote:If we were to ignore the political suicide of what you're proposing, and assumed that we repurpose funds spent on the poor...would poverty end sooner? I think we won't be able to prvent as much poverty as you think we can. The main reason is that insufficiently educated adults are hard pressed to compete against young college grads. Children in poverty, we can improve their outcomes, but I don't know how you would help out the older ones. I fear that our only choice is to support them until they die.


Generally speaking, yes. There will be exceptions, of course, but in general, it is cheaper to educate people correctly the first time around than to bungle the job and come back to it half a lifetime later.

Fixing poverty isn't something you do overnight by implementing a grand new program and adding $x. It's something you work on over generations. Some might find that discouraging, but the big social changes always take some time to build momentum.

Some people would rather cut safety nets entirely because they think that fixing poverty as a whole really is impossible. *shrug* It's difficult, I'll grant. Politically impossible, maybe right now. Political landscapes can be changed, though. The entire image of a safety net is one conjured to catch someone who slips, not that of a place for a person to relax and spend a great length of time. The image that's being sold is not a bad one...it's just that the reality isn't matching the image.


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