Saturday, July 26, 2014

The best piece I've read... far on Paul Ryan's anti-poverty plan isn't from Paul Krugman. (I actually thought his blog post on the subject was a little lame; I expect more from him. Perhaps his next column on Monday will be a more thoughtful piece.)

No, the best thing I've read on this topic was in Mother Jones, "Paul Ryan's Anti-Poverty Plan Would Cost Billions to Implement. Will GOPers Go for That?" For starters (my emphasis):

His ideas about tailoring the safety net to the individual sound fabulous in theory—indeed, they're not far off from what liberals have been trying to achieve for decades. But, in practice, a central component of his anti-poverty prescription is unattainable. It could only be done right at an enormous cost to the taxpayers and with the expansion of the kind of government intrusiveness conservatives like Ryan typically despise.


Individualized anti-poverty services are way more expensive than just giving people cash or food stamps, and creating such services would inevitably expand the administrative demands on any social program or limit the number of people who could be served.

Consider, as a hypothetical, the food stamp program, which Ryan thinks should require people to work as a condition of receiving the benefit (ignoring, for the moment, that nearly 60 percent of working-age adults getting food stamps already work). More than 40 million Americans get food stamps. Providing all them with a hand-holding caseworker with whom, under Ryan's plan, they'd draft long-term plans and contracts outlining their responsibilities and goals before they'd be allowed to eat, would require a fleet of roughly more than 700,000 social workers, assuming a reasonable caseload of about 55 clients per caseworker. Social workers don't make much money, with a median salary of about $44,000 a year. Even so, 700,000 of them would cost more than $30 billion a year, not including benefits. That's nearly 40 percent of what the country currently spends on food stamps and nearly twice the entire federal welfare budget. By comparison, the current food stamp program delivers 92 percent of its funding directly to people in need; only 5 percent goes to administrative costs.

Like most libertarian schemes, it sounds better in theory than in practice.

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