On Forks In The Road


Credit: psmag.com

NPR is commonly considered to have a liberal bias, but having of late listened to many of its products I would now disagree. Of course, that might have something to do with a drift politically leftward, but I prefer to think it’s a matter of just paying more attention, albeit late in life. One recent article I mentioned in a comment on another blog did elicit a complaint. “Unfit For Work” remarks on the sudden growth in the rate of applications for disability status under the Social Security System. That increase is being accelerated by states which are employing subcontractors to the tune of over $2,000 per person to transition the poor from welfare roles funded by the states to the federal disability rolls wherein they receive a monthly stipend of about $1,000 or so and also virtually free medical care.  They get that only if their disability prevents them from working, and they don’t have to prove their disability. Thus far some 14 million people have that status and at the present rate of growth their numbers are projected to double in 15 years. Personally, given the obesity epidemic and the graying of the Boomers, I fully expect those rolls to grow even faster than that.

Does this imply that people have a slothful nature and are therefore being naturally drawn to such a program, thus depriving them the motivation to be self-supporting? That was the concern and that’s the same theme embraced by many conservatives and notoriously expressed in the Mitt Romney recording in which he disparaged “the 47%”. It was also a motivating force behind the Clinton-era welfare reform effort, now considered a success. Rather than see this as denigrating human nature and categories of poor people, however, I prefer to see it as instructive of how economic policies affect people. Haven’t we all read of or know people whose lives seemed to take turns for the worse or the better seemingly on small pivots of influence? Consider for instance one Barack Hussein Obama, a half-black kid raised in a polyglot landscape (no, not Kenya, Hawaii) by an abandoned mother and grandmother. What chance did he really have of making something of himself? Colin Powell is another. If not for the U.S. Army, what might he otherwise have become?  (Perhaps a discouraged community organizer.)

The problem I see with the disability thing is that it subsidizes dependency and that it’s growing rapidly. At least demographically, people act in predictable ways. On an NPR Planet Money pod-cast today however, I heard about a give-away program that incentivizes productivity and it’s one that may surprise you as it did me. It is the Earned-Income Tax Credit. It pays poor people a subsidy, being in effect that conservative anathema, a direct transfer of wealth from haves to have-nots.  But here’s the thing: The EITC requires a person to have earned income, and the more they earn, the larger the subsidy (up to a point of course). One person in the story, a single mother making $9,000 from part-time work got a “bonus” of $3,000. But the point is that she was incentivized to not only keep on working, but to try to earn more.  (Read the pod-cast to find out more about what happened – there is humor there as well.) The Earned Income Tax Credit is considered a success by economists and according to the article it sprang from a concept proposed by none other than conservative economist Milton Friedman.


Credit: selfpublishordie.com

Thus we see two government programs here. One incentivizes dependency and one self-sufficiency. Personally I believe in the butterfly effect. I believe that when people come to a fork in the road, they take it.  (Thanks, Yogi.)   And I believe it’s all too easy to take the wrong fork. That’s not being down on human nature, I submit, it’s being realistic. What do you think?

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: Democratic.
This entry was posted in Taxes and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to On Forks In The Road

  1. PiedType says:

    I’m an idealist. I think most people, given half a chance, would rather not be dependent on others.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I agree, PT, that presented with a choice between self-sufficiency or dependence, it’s no contest. But I think it seldom presents as such a clear choice, except in the case of sudden accidents or something like a stroke. I think we can see from Izaak Mak’s comment that disability can be a gradual thing and that it has a significant psychological component. I believe it can be, for many, something like an addiction and the difficulties with addictive behavior are huge.


  2. Jeff says:

    Congratulations on finding an issue that conservatives and liberals might agree on… (maybe)


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I hope you’re right, Jeff, but I’m not sanguine about it. The dilemma here, as you can see by Izaak Mak’s comment, is in the difficulty of diagnosing disability and the added problem of dealing with its associated psychological problems. It is a pit into which you’ve once fallen that can be very hard to climb out of. And if you can’t really diagnose it, then how do you structure government programs to deal with it? Conundrum.


  3. ansonburlingame says:

    Actually, Yoggi left out the really important point. When coming to a fork in the road most people will, yep, follow to road with the biggest dollar sign along the way and many could care less where the $ come from.

    OF course, Pied, if the $ signs are equal, most people would prefer those paths where they remain independent of government. NO ONE wants to stand in those lines, fill out those forms, be beholding to those bureaucrats, no one. But if the $ are bigger from government, well a helluva lot will put up with those issues and go for the $ instead.

    SOME people even could care less if “danger this road is illegal” is a sign posted as long as big $ are seen along the way. Why else would anyone “deal drugs” etc. THAT is at least dangerous work, but law and hard work “standing on corners” (OK dangerous not hard in some neighborhoods) do not prevent them from such aspirations, either.

    Money drives such choices for a lot of people, the majority of people. MOST people will NOT go the illegal route either, unless it is just a “white lie” like my back hurts, a lot and it is HIS fault!!.

    As long as “government” can match the money of hard work, well why work so hard many will ask, will they not, particularly if it is “free” money?

    Now is that too cynical for the rest of you?



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.