The war on the poor: Let them suffer a bit

In the 1960s LBJ launched a “War on Poverty.”  Over time this war has gradually faded from view, to be replaced by a bipartisan “war on poverty-stricken people.”  The elites don’t much like poor people, indeed they regard them as slightly sub-human.  As a result the elites have enacted a whole range of policies that are premised on the inferiority of the poor.

1.  It’s well known that the poor receive inferior medical treatment in ERs.  This report shows that things are likely to get even worse:

Yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city officials unveiled a new initiative to limit supplies of prescription painkillers in the city’s emergency rooms as a way to combat what they described as a growing addiction problem in the region. Some critics, as documented by The New York Times, however, felt the move would unnecessarily hurt poor and uninsured patients who use emergency rooms as their primary care doctor. Needless to say, Mr. Bloomberg was not swayed by this line of argument.

“The city hospitals we control, so … we’re going to do it and we’re urging all of the other hospitals to do it, voluntary guidelines. Somebody said, oh, somebody wrote, ‘Oh then maybe there won’t be enough painkillers for the poor who use the emergency rooms as their primary care doctor,'” the mayor said on his weekly radio show with John Gambling. “Number one, there’s no evidence of that. Number two, supposing it is really true, so you didn’t get enough painkillers and you did have to suffer a little bit.

I have witnessed people suffering excruciating pain (kidney stones)  in an ER in a low income area due to lack of painkillers—and that’s before Bloomberg’s policy was put into effect.  Torture for thee but not for me.

2.  Reason magazine has a great article on the war on sex workers:

A prostitution charge will haunt these women throughout the interlocking bureaucracies of their lives: filling out job applications, signing kids up for day care, renting apartments, qualifying for loans, requesting passports or visas.

Not all people who do sex work are women, but women disproportionately suffer the stigma, discrimination, and violence against sex workers. The result is a war on women that is nearly imperceptible, unless you are involved in the sex trade yourself. This war is spearheaded and defended largely by other women: a coalition of feminists, conservatives, and even some human rights activists who subject sex workers to poverty, violence, and imprisonment””all in the name of defending women’s rights.

Read the whole thing, I particularly liked the paragraph that described how Gloria Steinem opposes health and education services for poor Indian prostitutes.

Elite men with their mistresses can generally avoid these laws, it is poor women who are disproportionately targeted.

3.  Then there is the “War on Drugs” (AKA war on poor drug-using Americans.)  The laws are set up to target the poor, by giving much higher penalties to drugs used by the poor (crack) than virtually identical drugs used by the middle class (cocaine.)  The laws are especially tough on people who sell drugs, who tend to be disproportionately poor.  And as I pointed out in this recent post, the rich generally don’t have to serve prison time for their addictions (unless they are as dumb as Linda Lindsey Lohan.)

4.  As cigarette smoking has become increasingly concentrated among the lower classes, the war has intensified.  It’s increasingly difficult for low income smokers to find a job that allows them to smoke.  The tax (plus quasi-tax) has risen to absurd levels–up to $10 a pack.  If you take $3000 a year away from the budget of a poor single mom, how does that affect the amount and quality of food she can provide to her children?  This tax is a far bigger welfare issue than whether the rich pay 35% or 39.6%. Yet how often does one see the anti-inequality crusaders at elite papers like the NYT take on this shamefully regressive tax?  That’s right, approximately zero times.

5.  Gambling.  The affluent fly to Vegas and gamble in casinos that take 5% of each bet.  The lower classes buy lottery tickets, and the government takes over 50% of the money wagered.  Another highly regressive tax ignored by our anti-inequality crusaders.  And please don’t expose your ignorance by uttering the term “voluntary tax.”  All taxes are voluntary in the sense that you don’t have to do the thing being taxed, and mandatory in the sense that you must pay the tax if you do the thing being taxed.

6.  Occupational licensing laws.  Most affluent people have the credentials needed to earn a good living.  Many of the poor do not.  Even when they try to do jobs where a college education is not required (cutting hair or driving a taxi or operating a food truck) they are often frozen out by absurd occupational licensing laws.  And yet with the notable except of Matt Yglesias, most progressives also ignore this source of unemployment and poverty.

7.  Car inspection laws disproportionately impact low income people who drive beat up old cars.  (I support pollution controls, but not the rest.)

8.  As more and more of the rich and powerful breeze through TSA checkpoints with special passes, the agents feel freer to treat the rest like cattle.

9.  Brutal sports that lower income people like to watch are increasingly outlawed.

10.  The government subsidizes the arts and media, but only those arts and media outlets that are consumed by the highly educated elites.

11.  The NCAA.  BTW, ever notice that the media calls poor blacks that go right into pro football or basketball at age 18 “foolish”, but affluent whites who go right into the golf or tennis circuit are given a pass?

12. Many elites live in safe neighborhoods where they don’t need guns to protect their homes.  They then favor guns laws which will tend to divert criminal activity away from affluent suburbs, and toward the newly-disarmed residents of inner city neighborhoods.

13.  Government bureaucracies often treat the poor with contempt.  Yes, the affluent may face the occasional petty humiliation at the DMV, but the poor have far more experience dealing with the petty tyrants in government bureaucracies.

14.  In my city (Newton), low income families have a very difficult time finding apartments due to lead paint laws.  Meanwhile the affluent are free to buy a 100 year old Victorian house full of lead paint, and live there with their toddlers.  The government has no regulations on single family homes, just rental units.  And don’t get me going on zoning laws.

The bottom line is that the elites don’t much like the poor.  Of course they are careful to avoid saying so, steering clear of racial stereotypes.  Instead they mock the consumption habits and religious/social attitudes of poor whites.  Poor minorities are not criticized, even though they have similar lifestyles and cultural attitudes.  This makes the elites feel progressive.

It’s not that the elites hate the poor; I would describe their attitude as “condescending.”  They wish them well in much the same way that they favor animal welfare.  They support programs that help the poor make the “right choices,” like food stamps and Medicaid, while cutting back on poverty programs that provide money which could be spent on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, prostitution, gambling, etc (i.e the 1996 welfare reform.)

And of course the War on Poverty-Stricken Americans is a fully bipartisan effort.  The aging baby boomers (my generation) are particularly ruthless in their anti-poor efforts.

PS.  Off topic, a few months back I pointed out that the GOP talks like they hate high income tax rates, but many conservative states have fairly high top rates.  Almost immediately afterwards there was a flurry of activity in a number of conservative states aimed at cutting income tax rates.  This means one of two things:

1.  I’m highly influential.

2.  Much more likely I was flat out wrong about the GOP.  They really do hate income taxes.

Now let’s see states like Texas go after all those occupational licensing laws.



58 Responses to “The war on the poor: Let them suffer a bit”

  1. Gravatar of John David Galt John David Galt
    3. February 2013 at 10:58

    A well-thought-out article, but it only scratches the surface. Nanny-statist efforts to outlaw or limit payday lenders and fast-food stores “for our own good” deserve mention too.

    Then there are efforts such as ObamaCare which increase the minimum cost of hiring people, especially full-time. A lot of working poor are going to be driven onto welfare if it stands. When millions of people are unemployed, government should not be making it more expensive to hire people.

  2. Gravatar of Ashok Rao Ashok Rao
    3. February 2013 at 11:00

    Most points I agree with (and have been making to my progressive friends for a while now), except 4, that is cigarette smoking.

    There are two effects a cigarette tax can have: a) decrease the incidence and prevalence of smoking, or b) compel those who smoke to spend even more to finance their dirty habit.

    a) is probably the intention of any tax on cigarettes. For the affluent, b) hardly matters as sales taxes are highly regressive, and whatever money lost is likely coming from investment in a boring mutual fund, somewhere.

    However, for the poor, b) can be a brutal killer. The single mother who can’t get rid of her habit will be crippled by a higher tax on cigarettes. This is, as you note, unacceptable.

    However, I’d argue that it’s okay so long as the revenue from this Pigouvian tax is aimed towards something that directly benefits the poor – community health centers, school books, etc. In this case, the money is simply being redistributed from a highly corrosive habit to something by-and-large more productive.

    One law I think you missed was the youth minimum wage. Kids of affluent families get away with “unpaid internships” or are productive at a younger age, where their MRP to a firm will be higher than the minimum wage.

    Firms can’t and won’t hire the poor black (or white, brown, or yellow) kid in a poor, drug-stricken neighborhood because he or she is simply not worth 8 dollars an hour. Now not only does he not have the money to finance some good stuff, like community college, (and, perhaps, a few “sins”) – but he has 8 more hours a day to loiter the streets and become a criminal.

    Democrats are as much to blame for the deterioration of the bottom 10% of our society. That of the middle-class is probably a GOP screwup.

  3. Gravatar of Steve Reilly Steve Reilly
    3. February 2013 at 11:13

    Number 12 isn’t so clear to me. Do wealthy people support gun laws more strongly than the poor do? Also what sort of laws would divert crime to poorer neighborhoods?

  4. Gravatar of Federico Federico
    3. February 2013 at 11:15

    “Linda Lohan”, really? As an influential person you’re expected to know some pop culture — it’s Lindsay Lohan. Then again, perhaps you were going for a more laid-back, slightly off-dimension influential style in which case you’ve succeeded.

    On a more serious note, there’s a problem in your argument (at least how I read it). I’ll extremely oversimplify your argument: A lot of poor people do x, and we punish x. Therefore, we punish poor people. But it may be that there’s a third factor that’s causing people to do x, or it even may just be that most people who do x are poor, simply because there are so many poor people (relative to rich). So we’re not really trying to punish poor people, but punish people who do x. I know I’m not articulating the counterargument well, but think of what Bryan Caplan would say.

  5. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    3. February 2013 at 11:51

    ‘The NCAA. BTW, ever notice that the media calls poor blacks that go right into pro football or basketball at age 18 “foolish”, but affluent whites who go right into the golf or tennis circuit are given a pass?’

    Very appropriate on Super Bowl Sunday, especially since Michael Oher is playing in this one.

    My favorite line from ‘The Blind Side’ movie, being, ‘The NCAA is worried your case might set a precedent.’

    That would be bad for whom, exactly? Not some poor kid from a ghetto with a crack addicted mother and no father, for sure. But, it could be for the educated, affluent middle class professionals who earn good incomes at the NCAA and at college athletic departments.

  6. Gravatar of Kevin Dick Kevin Dick
    3. February 2013 at 11:53

    Don’t forget the war on poor people in other countries. Restrictions on immigration and trade, as well as trying to reduce the supply of jobs elites consider awful, but are nevertheless better than any of the poor’s alternatives.

  7. Gravatar of Brian Moore Brian Moore
    3. February 2013 at 11:59

    This is one of my favorite posts you’ve written. I’m especially interested in studies/charitable programs that replace all the “directed” subsidies with just cash. If you spend $100 to buy someone X, but, if given $100, they would buy something else, it’s hard to say you’re helping them, or respecting their autonomy.

  8. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    3. February 2013 at 12:03

    ‘It’s not that the elites hate the poor; I would describe their attitude as “condescending.”’

    I had that brought home to me once, about 25 years ago. I’d become friendly at work with a young black woman who lived in the heart of what passes for a ghetto in Seattle. Normally a person with a disposition so sunny she could have given lessons in optimism to Mary Tyler Moore.

    One day she came in to work, but she wasn’t her normal self. I dragged out of her what the problem was; she’d gone to her usual bus stop that morning, and there was a seriously dangerous looking guy. Turned out that he now lived next door to her bus stop, as the city had converted the long time retirement home there to a half-way house for newly released convicts.

    ‘Now, I have to get on and off my bus every day in front of a bunch of criminals.’

    All I could lamely offer in solace being, ‘Um, they don’t put half-way houses in Sand Point.’ (Which was where the, then, mayor lived.)

    ‘No’, she said, ‘They put them in my neighborhood because they think I’m used to it.’

  9. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    3. February 2013 at 12:17

    You forgot about Bloomberg’s ban on large size sodas, which forces poor people to buy more than one soda. And it drives business away from minority owned convenience stores and into grocery chains not subject to the ban.

  10. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    3. February 2013 at 12:26

    I wish that someone would write a book on the many laws still being enacted, of which the real intent is to push the poor to another town or state. What towns and state governments don’t realize in their rush to maximize every wealth potential in tax terms: they are also painting themselves into a corner where low wage jobs get offered to mostly to the well to do, who can afford to live where the jobs are offered in the first place. And that is just one sad aspect of society being further, needlessly divided.

    I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed when too many homeless are in a given area – regretfully, when I was still a bookstore owner I once chased a homeless man away from the door of my business. I found myself regretting that action recently, when a local mayor made it illegal for anyone to feed homeless people in downtown areas unless they had gotten a city permit as a non-profit to do so. An image remains in my mind from the eighties, of a well to do woman (among the Houston skyscrapers) outside our offices providing a sandwich for a homeless man, and others looking on approvingly. That probably would not happen now.

  11. Gravatar of ant1900 ant1900
    3. February 2013 at 12:37

    Scott, one correction – You can no longer go to the NBA from high school (have to wait 1 year), and you really never could go from high school to the NFL (currently have to wait 3 years). You can be drafted in the MLB out of high school, but if you don’t sign with the drafting team and go to college, you have to go 3 years. Of course, these points are consistent with your overall point – it essentially forces these athletes to go to college for little compensation, and generates lots of revenue. Then once you make it through the NCAA, you hit the ‘amateur’ draft for the pro league, which of course vastly under-pays athletes until they can reach free agency.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. February 2013 at 12:46

    Federico, You said;

    “I’ll extremely oversimplify your argument: A lot of poor people do x, and we punish x. Therefore, we punish poor people.”

    No, that’s not my argument. My argument is that we punish people who do X if they are poor.

    Everyone, Lots of good points. I’ll take a break from answering today because I have a cold.

  13. Gravatar of John S John S
    3. February 2013 at 12:48

    Great list. I would add school choice (incl. vouchers, educational tax credits, and tax deductions for homeschooling).

    The unmentionable sentiment behind a lot of opposition to school choice is that poor black parents (and religious, poor whites) aren’t capable of making any decisions re: their kids’ education, and thus should be forced to send their kids to the local public school–no matter how crime ridden and low achieving it is.

  14. Gravatar of Hillary Hillary
    3. February 2013 at 13:43

    Re: 4. Gov. Dayton’s budget proposes raising MN cigarette taxes to the same level as WI. The public health argument they’re making is to price them too high for teenagers to start smoking in the first place.

    Re: 14. Two friends who own a Victorian are currently facing condemnation of their house if they don’t remediate the lead paint that was discovered at their toddler’s one year exam. (in MN it’s part of the standard blood work up, that’s not true in all states.). They make too much money to qualify for any assistance or low-interest loans, and they’re underwater so no home equity loan. But they don’t make enough money to lay out $30k plus for windows and professional remediation (and the city requires certified contractors only).

  15. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    3. February 2013 at 14:13

    A fantastic post, Scott.

    John S,

    As Milton Friedman once put it, the poor are almost nowhere as restricted as in education. Someone on a low income can save up, rent a passable suit/dress, get a bus ticket, and go out to eat a fancy restaurant. If they really want to do that, even a very expensive restaurant can become affordable through time and effort. (Perhaps there are some restaurants where you need to know someone to get a decent table at a decent time, but these are less restaurants than overpriced social clubs. The best food is not found at the snobbiest restaurants.)

    On the other hand, if someone with a low income wants to send their children to a school in a rich catchment area, they’re in big trouble. Bus tickets aren’t enough: they have to get some sort of residence in that area, at fantastic expense. Saving up is never going to do it.

    It’s an amazing contrast: a restaurant won’t turn you away because you’re not local (even a pub in a remote Scottish village won’t do that; in fact, what people mistake for hostility in such places is usually just puzzlement and British embarassment) but we tend to think of schools turning away families as if it were natural and the way things had always been. The same student activists in the UK- good, altruistic people whom I know and like- who protest against the UK government’s restrictions on the number of foreign students have never considered that we have an even more draconian system for elementary schools and high schools that forbids taxpayers from accessing the schools they fund.

  16. Gravatar of Mike Mike
    3. February 2013 at 14:21

    I’m noting that elites hate the poor here, yet almost all of these examples are government polices. What about wage theft? What about the “expensive to be poor” industries? Abuse in shadow labor at the low-end? The debt collection industries, or mortgage servicing? Union-busting?

    Since some of these examples are odd stretches (Are TSA elite? Ordered by elites? Do the poor fly enough to determine that TSA policies are designed to control the poor? Is #9 a reference to dog-fighting?), a few on how the private sector wars against the poor would be interesting.

    There’s also little cost-benefit here: for instance, given the likelihood that rates of violent crime devastating inner-cities are linked to lead exposure (even before you get to lower educational outcomes, mental troubles, etc.), government imposed anti-lead programs have huge benefits for poor communities.

  17. Gravatar of marcus nunes marcus nunes
    3. February 2013 at 15:27

    Interesting that you should write this post on this date:

  18. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    3. February 2013 at 15:37

    You said, “…a few on how the private sector wars against the poor would be interesting.”

    In local and state government terms, private and public sector gain frequently morph into the same dynamic, in terms of acting together to “keep the prices high” for mutual benefit.

  19. Gravatar of J J
    3. February 2013 at 15:49

    Unrelated to this post….Did you see Marginal Revolution’s post on whether economists believe in liquidity traps ( Does this mean that most economists agree with you on NGDP targeting, but just don’t realize it?

  20. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. February 2013 at 18:04


    Really excellent post. Well maybe the bit about the TSA seemed possibly to have just been a personal peeve. I think that’s more of the “war on everybody” not just on the poor. (By way of disclosure, I have a pass. Everyone who travels a lot should get one.)

  21. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    3. February 2013 at 18:30

    They want to force them to act middle class which leads me to think that they don’t like to see poverty. They are trying to get their children earlier in hopes that they can instill middle class morals

  22. Gravatar of marcus nunes marcus nunes
    3. February 2013 at 18:31

    Maybe they think the US situation is very different. After all, there´s no deflation. What I found surprising was Bob Hall´s answer:

  23. Gravatar of War On Poverty Stricken People « Peter Hefti Blog War On Poverty Stricken People « Peter Hefti Blog
    3. February 2013 at 18:46

    […] War On Poverty Stricken People […]

  24. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    3. February 2013 at 19:03

    Scott, are you interested in joining the Bleeding-heart Libertarians? You seem like a natural fit. Although here you seem to have given in to Marxian thinking, assuming that the elites as a class are consciously responsible for the biases of the legal system against the poor.

    After no. 6 your points are getting increasingly flaky and ill-supported, except for the last one which is also good.

  25. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    3. February 2013 at 19:14

    Also, who were you going for in the SuperBowl?

  26. Gravatar of Fonzy Shazam Fonzy Shazam
    3. February 2013 at 20:50

    I agree and think you’re, ssumner, on to something saying elites basically view the poor and lower classes in general with disdain. By lower classes I would include anyone who pursues interests not in favor by the elites. So we even could go as far as to include a new money/old money dichotomy.

    Inspired by these recent posts, I posted the following:

  27. Gravatar of Don Don
    3. February 2013 at 21:00

    I seem to be the only one that thinks this post was sarcasm.

    Hear me now on this. Texas is a nanny-state. Suburban moms in Dallas run things. They like drug testing high schoolers, forcing HPV vaccines, and licensing pole-dancers. They are not going to lead an opening of occupational licensing.

  28. Gravatar of ant1900 ant1900
    3. February 2013 at 22:24

    Also, this is similar to Robin Hanson’s views on “Homo Hypocritus.” Humans are all about status and punishing and demeaning the low status. High-status folks are especially likely to design rules that supposedly apply to everyone, but hurt the low-status the worst, and which can be subtly evaded by the (smarter) high-status folks.

  29. Gravatar of Geoff Geoff
    4. February 2013 at 00:04

    “The bottom line is that the elites don’t much like the poor. Of course they are careful to avoid saying so, steering clear of racial stereotypes. Instead they mock the consumption habits and religious/social attitudes of poor whites.

    What a fascinatingly provocative, and enlightening, argument.

  30. Gravatar of Geoff Geoff
    4. February 2013 at 00:10

    This list should include

    “Central banking, which the wealthy elite overwhelmingly support, disproportionately hurts the poor and benefits the wealthy”.

    After all, central banking was created by the elite, to benefit the elite.

  31. Gravatar of Ben J Ben J
    4. February 2013 at 00:17


    Why didnt you just say “Remember everyone, I disagree with Scott about central banking,” instead of being pointlessly snide?

  32. Gravatar of mbk mbk
    4. February 2013 at 01:08

    Yes, it’s appalling. The callousness in 1. is particularly vivid.

    And of course most members of the elites in various countries feel completely good about all of this hectoring of poor people because, you know, it’s all “in their best interest” to make the “right choices”. Those would be the choices a) scientifically determined by the elite to be necessary in order to b) achieve goals that the elites believe everyone must surely agree to desire. a) is not always as sure as it is made out to be and b) is so entrenched that it is never even discussed. Or can you imagine someone proposing in public that the trade off between risk and pleasure vs. longevity could be a valid choice? That deferred gratification only makes sense in a stable world where the individual’s future environment is reasonably predictable? etc.

    The great irony is that the modern enlightened elite person has an attitude virtually identical to the crusader / witch burner / inquisitor / puritan / militant missionary of the past, no matter how a-religious (s)he believes to be. It is all about the pleasure to inflict pain onto other people in order to “save” them. I suspect the real psychological motive is that once you made an unpleasant but “reasonable” choice (say, quitting smoking, counting calories) you increasingly can’t stand looking people in the face who do live out all sorts of guilty pleasures, who aren’t being “reasonable”. So you force them to it.

  33. Gravatar of Very smart libertarian Very smart libertarian
    4. February 2013 at 01:26

    Excellent article. It’s worth to mention that war on the poor started many years ago. I want to argue that child labor law was one of the first battles in this disgusting war on the poor.

    As very, very smart people know, children of rich people don’t work. So, ban on child labor was designed to strip poor children of opportunity to work and to provide additional income to their struggling families.

    Very smart libertarians should definitely fight to give poor families a chance to compete with rich families by sending their children to work. We need to stop pretending that ban on child labor is beneficial for poor families!

  34. Gravatar of Geoff Geoff
    4. February 2013 at 01:39

    Ben J:

    “Why didnt you just say “Remember everyone, I disagree with Scott about central banking,”

    Because I am not against central banking per se, contrary to your insinuation that I am?

    I am totally in favor of it, provided of course that I am the sole money issuer, or, second best, the sole primary dealer.

    “instead of being pointlessly snide?”

    I was simply stating what I consider to be the truth.

    Maybe you are confusing your own emotional reaction problems to what I said for my actual demeanor? I mean, just because I recognize that central banking disproportionately hurts the poor and benefits the wealthy, it doesn’t mean I have to be against it.

    Would you say that a necessary reason I should be in favor of central banking is that I believed in my own mind that it didn’t disproportionately hurt the poor and benefit the wealthy, but the reverse, or nobody at all? That I am not “allowed” to support central banking if I was convinced of my “snide” comment?

  35. Gravatar of Ben J Ben J
    4. February 2013 at 01:54


    None of what you said is relevant, because whether or not you believe in any form of central banking and whether or not I agree with you has no bearing on whether or not you were being snide. That you equate me calling you snide with me disagreeing is a little bit tragic.

  36. Gravatar of The war on the poor: Let them suffer a bit « Economics Info The war on the poor: Let them suffer a bit « Economics Info
    4. February 2013 at 05:00

    […] Source […]

  37. Gravatar of Eliezer Yudkowsky Eliezer Yudkowsky
    4. February 2013 at 05:11

    1. Have lots of laws, so many that everyone is probably breaking one of them.

    2. Let police officers and prosecutors freely decide who to actually investigate and charge.

    3. Have penalties so large that people must either plead guilty or face 120 years in prison.

    4. ???

    How many of your friends use drugs? Okay, now how many of them have been arrested for it? That _actually happens_ to people who are poor, or, not to put too fine a point on it, black. This isn’t just a story about the War on Poor People, though, it’s about the end of governance by statute and the beginning of governance by prosecutorial discretion.

  38. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. February 2013 at 06:30

    Everyone, Lots of great points. Thanks.

    Saturos—sorry, I didn’t watch the game.

  39. Gravatar of errorr errorr
    4. February 2013 at 06:54

    I consider myself fairly progressive and agree with just about everything you wrote (not sure how I feel about Pigouvian taxes on cigs even though I am a smoker). I would also add is a preference for in kind government services over direct subsidies to the poor which are a major inefficiency. Most of the other progressives I know are unaware of their condescension. At heart I am a classical liberal (neoliberal is too much of a bad word although it is properly descriptive). I hope people like Yglesias are a model for the next age of progressive politics that focuses on smart growth, cash benefits, and liberalization of regulatory regimes.

  40. Gravatar of errorr errorr
    4. February 2013 at 07:01

    I feel uncomfortable with child labor in this country today and would prefer a subsidy for children. For other countries it may be different. I remember a anecdote I read about a baseball manufacturing company that employed children for half days and then payed for schooling the other half in Haiti or Dominican Republic. When it was publicized the products were banned in baseball and the company had to stop. The end result was that the children made no money and had no school to go to. How was that ban on child labor beneficial?

  41. Gravatar of errorr errorr
    4. February 2013 at 07:08

    There is an argument that forcing athletes that go to college is a freedom of contract issue because it is upheld through the labor contract between the sports teams and players unions for the benefit of incumbent veterans who have roster spots that would be taken up by younger athletes who would need to be under contract to retain their rights. Although, American sports are horribly socialistic models compare to say soccer which is as capitalist as is possible.

  42. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    4. February 2013 at 07:35

    Kevin Dick,

    Fantastic point. Cue up Krugman’s essay “In Praise of Sweatshops” (and yes, “Very smart libertarian”, that goes for you too). And beyond trade restrictions, immigration restrictions are easily the hugest way in which global elites and governments oppress the poor of the world. There is absolutely no reason why someone born in Bangladesh or Indonesia should be consigned to staying there all their lives, except for the squeamishness of global elites about letting them move somewhere better.

    John S, your point is made even stronger by polling data which suggests that ethnic minorities disproportionately support school choice in the US. I’ve never really seen school choice opponents address this fact head-on.

  43. Gravatar of Rich Privilage « azmytheconomics Rich Privilage « azmytheconomics
    4. February 2013 at 07:55

    […] about Assange. Should Obama be detained for violating the NDAA? Sumner on drug enforcement and the War on the Poor. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. from → 2 Minutes Hate, […]

  44. Gravatar of Tyler Healey Tyler Healey
    4. February 2013 at 08:07

    According to official data, the poverty rate in America declined from 12.1 percent of the population in 1969 to 11.2 percent in 1974, that is, from the first year of the Nixon Presidency to the year in which he resigned. The amount of money spent by the Federal Government for assistance to the poor increased from $21.3 billion in 1969 to $34.8 billion in 1974, both in constant 1972 dollars.

    I guess we now see the poor as inflation-fighters rather than human beings.

  45. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    4. February 2013 at 12:11

    Tyler, what was the poverty rate doing between 1945 and 1969.

  46. Gravatar of MikeDC MikeDC
    4. February 2013 at 13:27

    Well, the “inflation fighters” angle is interesting because I’ve always wondered about the implications of NGDP targeting on the poor.

    My understanding is that the poor use cash in for both transactions (especially off the books economic activity) and savings proportionately more than everyone else.

    In that sense, wouldn’t moving to a system in which we inflate away some of our rgdp problems constitute a war on the poor?

  47. Gravatar of Tyler Healey Tyler Healey
    4. February 2013 at 13:29

    I’m short on time, but I found that in the late 1950s, the poverty rate for all Americans was 22 percent. These numbers declined steadily throughout the 1960s.

  48. Gravatar of Geoff Geoff
    4. February 2013 at 18:33

    Ben J:

    “None of what you said is relevant, because whether or not you believe in any form of central banking and whether or not I agree with you has no bearing on whether or not you were being snide. That you equate me calling you snide with me disagreeing is a little bit tragic.”

    None of what you said is relevant, because whether or not you believe I was being snide has no bearing on whether or not you were incorrect to suggest that I disagree with Dr. Sumner on central banking. That you equate my suggestion that central banking should be included in the list offered by Dr. Sumner with my being snide is a little bit tragic.

    See what I did there?

    You being antagonistic towards me (probably because you can’t control your emotions after being exposed to a claim that central banking has disproportionate effects) is not helpful nor is it contributing to the discussion. I am not interested in your opinions on whether I am being snide or not snide. It doesn’t interest me.

  49. Gravatar of Eric G Eric G
    4. February 2013 at 19:33

    Actually there are NO exceptions to the lead law requirements of Massachusetts or on the federal level for any home built before 1978.

    But it is a problem even though landlords are legally obligated to delead the homes and they’re legally not allowed to deny a prospective tenant because they have a child under 7.

    However landlords in poor neighborhoods are more likely to abide for larger apartments. One reason is that section 8 requires the home to meet tight guidelines including de-lead or a certificate stating there isn’t a harmful level lead paint.

    Ps occupational costs by the government are the least expensive start up cost. Private vendors require more money and time than getting a license or a DBA.

  50. Gravatar of Eric G Eric G
    4. February 2013 at 19:35

    Pardon the errors
    I wrote it on my iPhone

  51. Gravatar of John David Galt John David Galt
    4. February 2013 at 21:25

    Don, and anybody else who thinks the post was a joke or is misguided — you simply need to understand and accept the principle of consumer sovereignty. That is the One True Litmus Test of who is a libertarian.

  52. Gravatar of War on the Poor « Free Radical War on the Poor « Free Radical
    4. February 2013 at 22:18

    […] This post by Scott Sumner points out a lot of the ways in which government hurts the poor which most people don’t realize or think about.  I think the occupational licensing laws are indeed the most detrimental.  The last time I got my haircut I noticed the license displayed in my “stylist’s” workspace.  I wish I could call her my barber but I found out after asking about the license that not only do you need a license to cut hair, you have to complete a college program, and that there are two separate licenses for stylists and barbers.  It turns out that it is illegal to do certain things like color hair if you only have a barber’s license.  Meanwhile, a stylist can do pretty much anything except use a straight razor. […]

  53. Gravatar of Ben J Ben J
    4. February 2013 at 22:27

    And Geoff demonstrates the strange inability for Libertarians to apologise for being rude. Must not be rugged and individualistic to do such a thing.

    Submit to oppressive social conventions? Unthinkable! Anyone who chastises me for being snide must be in an uncontrollable rage, probably from their inability to fend off my perfect arguments.

  54. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. February 2013 at 07:37

    errorr, Good points.

    MikeDC, NGDP targeting has no impact on the trend rate of inflation. And of course the poor are hurt far more by unemployment that inflation.

    Eric, De facto, the laws are completely different for homeowners and landlords.

    Ben J, My blog contains dozens of apologies, and I’m a libertarian. In contrast Krugman . . .

  55. Gravatar of Geoff Geoff
    5. February 2013 at 11:34

    Ben J:

    “And Geoff demonstrates the strange inability for Libertarians to apologise for being rude. Must not be rugged and individualistic to do such a thing.”

    The only person who was rude was you Ben. What I said was not snide, nor rude. I suggested that another thing be added to this list, and you had a meltdown because you can’t control your emotions, and now you’re blaming me for it.

    Now you’re insulting me personally. How about you stop being so rude and so offensive, and just consider the simple fact that I proposed a non-offensive, non-confrontational suggestion that the list contain another addition, namely central banking.

    What is so rude or snide about that? It’s what I think is true! If being honest with myself and others constitutes snideness, then sorry, I will be happy to be “snide” in your now increasingly worthless opinion.

  56. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    5. February 2013 at 11:43

    I have always wondered why inner-city congressmen don’t oppose things like milk price supports and ethanol requirements that result in highly regressive increased food prices. How can you not want to campaign for lower food prices?

  57. Gravatar of TylerG TylerG
    5. February 2013 at 19:07


    Regarding your theory on urban poor people potentially sustaining the costs of gun control policies imposed by higher-income voters that not living in violent areas..

    Here’s a 2010 Pew Survey where respondents were asked “What is more important: To protect the right to own a gun or to control gun ownership? ….by income:

    %P %C
    100k 45 52
    75-99k 54 43
    50-74k 52 45
    30-49k 50 45
    <30k 40 56

    %P = % Protect
    %C = % Control

    Poor attitudes seem to agree! If people likely can't afford a gun (<$30k) or likely don't live in high gunfire areas ($100k+) then on average they favor gun ownership.

  58. Gravatar of Callie Callie
    13. March 2013 at 01:47

    I am one of the working poor in this country (US). I was in a profession that was either being outsourced to India or being taken over by a computer, which in turn drastically reduced my wages. Back in May 2012 I got out of it completely and took a job out of this profession, but was left with mounting debt. I was just evicted from my apartment because of paying my rent late (was paying $80 late fees). As a result of a not-so-favorable credit rating and also an eviction to boot, finding housing was a real challenge. My lifestyle has been greatly reduced. I am currently looking for a part-time job in addition to working my full-time job trying to make ends meet. The problem I’m having is finding a job, because so many companies run a credit check on you and will turn down your application because of bad credit. This is so frustrating. I’m trying to fix my credit by getting additional employment, but can’t because of credit checks by potential employers. It’s getting to be pretty standard practice in this country–running credit checks when seeking employment. This needs to be changed in this country. This is so not right. The cards are stacked against the poor in this country. It is outright war on the poor. I’m a good person, hard-working, and have always loved this country, but lately I’ve not been loving it so much. This country has grown cold because of the greed that is so prevalent amoung businesses these days. I don’t know if things will get better. I was told this is the direction our country is taking and it will only get worse.

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