Symptoms

As the campaign rhetoric begins to flow toward this fall’s elections I offer a small anecdotal observation to support the idea that whatever the government subsidizes results in more of the same.

My wife and I often revisit the same restaurant and have become acquainted with several of the waitresses there.  There are three that are currently unmarried and either pregnant

Woman pregnancy month by month.

Image via Wikipedia

or recently gave birth to their second or third child.  Unlike in days of yore there appears to be no societal stigma to this and they discuss it openly.  The fathers in these cases are “around”, but it’s not clear just what the domicile arrangement is.  We asked one of the girls whether she had medical insurance and she cheerfully replied, “Why, yes, of course!  I have MediCaid.”

It occurs to us that the avoidance of marriage is purposeful to facilitate the MediCaid eligibility.  This augurs an increasing role of government in providing what used to be, to use one of those hot-button words, personal responsibility.  I suggest that there is virtually no limit to how much public assistance people will accept because there is no longer any stigma to it.

At the same time, I have been trying to research some of the demographics of society and find a disturbing trend.  In addition to increasing single-parent births, we are incarcerating more people than ever before.  I believe, and many professionals agree, that it is probable that there is some linkage between fatherless households and increased crime rates.  The average annual cost to keep each prisoner seems to range between $50,000 and $60,000.  This graph (from Wikipedia, “Incarceration in the United States”), shows the trend:

I realize these are only symptoms of a gigantic Gordian knot of a problem with the national debt.  I believe that the cost of these kinds of trends is unsustainable.  If government will not restrain itself, then natural forces will cause the financial system to collapse.

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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5 Responses to Symptoms

  1. Jim says:

    Jim one, the situation with governmental assistance and marital status has been an item of contention for a very long time. I recall reading arguments that the counter-productive nature of certain regulations were an intentional mechanism of control by The Establishment (Big Business, The Man, Covert Racist Society, Do-Gooder Liberals – the contradictory list could be extended). I agree that certain regulations in assistance programs probably have undesirable side effects.

    The bulk of folks receiving assistance are easier to accept as beneficiaries of our aid than the dubious folks you have met. It is more common that they are fairly responsible (if not to the point of becoming Manager of my Engineering firm!) and have a limited tenure on public assistance. Some personal issues, such as marital instability, have financial consequences that do reveal themselves in this context.

    There have been proposals to assert some ‘social engineering’ in governmental assistance to improve stabilizing influences. Those proposals have been problematic, since they, also, can be manipulated.

    The U.S. prison population is the world’s largest per capita. Other than countries we don’t want to be compared with (Rwanda? Cuba?, Russia?), we are a prison nation compared to others – Canada has 15% of our imprisonment rate. That is, every free U.S. man, woman, and child spends about $500 a year more on prisoners than do Canadians. More than government restraining itself, Americans need to restrain & re-direct their compulsive need to use only imprisonment as punishment. – Jim too

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  2. ansonburlingame says:

    Jim,

    A couple of thoughts.

    Government cannot dictate personal responsibility. BUT, government CAN stop paying for irresponsibility.

    Draconian perhaps, but here is an example. The prospective unwed mother gets NO medicaid BUT we have a wonderful and free community clinc to provide prenatal care. Expand that clinic for the actual birth thru government subsidy. After the birth place, immediately, the child for adoption UNLESS the mother agrees in writing to be totally responsible for care for the child with ONLY her existing salary and whatever benefits she may have such as food stamps. Pregnancy as a direct result of prosecuted rape would be handled differently (thereby driving up the incarceration rate for a while).

    Simply stop the flow of government money to the irresponsible person. Apply the same rules for anyone “choosing” an irresponsible life. Why for example should government pay for alcohol or drug rehab at the Ozark Center particularly when a “patient” is attending the Center for two or more “visits”.

    I frankly do not have a solution to the incarceration issue. I do know that “treatment” is an empty promise as an alternative UNLESS the treatment has real consequences when it “fails”.(which of course leads to more incarceration)

    Anson

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  3. ansonburlingame says:

    Jim,

    this thought/question came to mind. Is “fixing” the incarceration rate somewhat like “fixing” immigration. FIRST SECURE the border THEN figure out what to do with those already here (or in jail)?

    Take two steps rather than trying to fix a vexing issue in one fell swope.

    Anson

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  4. Jim Wheeler says:

    Interesting approach, Anson. I can see it now. Mom signs up and gets her benefit and later finds that she misjudged being able to support herself and child, and commits suicide. Or, she leaves the child on someone’s doorstep. Globe asks you to write an editorial condemning yourself for suggesting the law.

    I hope you, “Jim too”, are right about most folks being only temporarily-needy, but that is not my impression.

    To both: Speaking of the incarceration problem, I recall reading sometime this week a feature in the Globe by a child psychologist (not Dobson, this time). He was writing about how to deal with a willful child and his message struck me as profound. It was that human beings, unlike dogs or other animals, do not respond well to the carrot/stick (reward/punishment) approach. He said that reward simply makes the child feel entitled, and punishment makes him feel resentful and combative.

    I am thinking that this applies to grown-ups too. If so, then longer sentences have little deterrent value and only serve to keep the criminal off the street, at public expense, for a longer period of time. I believe this to be the case. Some believe that incarceration seems to actually make crime worse in that criminals often treat prison as a school in which to hone their skills by “learning” from other criminals. I suspect this is so as well.

    It seems germane that other countries have a mere fraction of the incarceration rate that we do. Canada’s is 15% of ours! This Wikipedia page I found instructive:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Howell25/Incarceration_Rates

    As you will note, one of the principal factors identified to account for the difference is that we elect our judges and Canada does not. The author(s) say this means that judges are not pressured by popular sentiment to be “tough on crime” by handing out longer terms. There is also evidence that rehabilitation through programs outside of prison can actually work. See Finland in the same reference for an extreme example.

    Finally, Anson, I do see a parallel with the immigration issue, but in the context of the carrot/stick analogy. I think the real solution is reform with a path to citizenship. Sealing the boarder obviously has to be done too. Maybe the two could be done simultaneously, if we can keep from incentivizing the illegals while completing the fence.

    One thing I have always wondered about is why the law doesn’t actually clamp down on employers and dry-up the jobs? It should be obvious who they are – it’s the guys with the crops and chicken plants. Duh. (Could it be that we want it both ways?)

    Jim

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  5. ansonburlingame says:

    Jim,

    For sure I would never write an editorial on a suicide and I doubt that the Globe would so so either. It is a personal tragedy made as a result of personal choices. It is also the “easy way out” for some, in my view.

    The more difficult editorial is about the abused and/or neglected child living in a “crack house”.

    And the issue for both is the age old question of government’s role in preventing either situation. Given the humanitarian instincts of most Americans we “want” government to fix the problem (like the oil spill). The question then becomes CAN government fix the problem and if “yes” then is it within our financial means to do so. Just what are or should be such financial limits.

    Said another way, just how much must Peter pay to support Paul? For sure, today, “whatever it takes” is not the answer to that last question, in my view.

    Anson

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