Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Five: Entitlements and Life in America

It seems I'm on the same wavelength as economist Paul Krugman, who happens to be a hero of mine. Like me, Paul has been thinking about conservative myths, and why they exist:

"Indeed, at this point it’s hard to think of a major policy dispute where facts actually do matter; it’s unshakable dogma, across the board. And the real question is why."

Discussing some of the same subjects I've covered in this series of posts, including global warming, Obamacare and the failure of supply-side economics, Paul says,

"On issues that range from monetary policy to the control of infectious disease, a big chunk of America’s body politic holds views that are completely at odds with, and completely unmovable by, actual experience."

"Well, it strikes me that the immovable position in each of these cases is bound up with rejecting any role for government that serves the public interest. If you don’t want the government to impose controls or fees on polluters, you want to deny that there is any reason to limit emissions. If you don’t want the combination of regulation, mandates and subsidies that is needed to extend coverage to the uninsured, you want to deny that expanding coverage is even possible. And claims about the magical powers of tax cuts are often little more than a mask for the real agenda of crippling government by starving it of revenue."

"And why this hatred of government in the public interest? Well, the political scientist Corey Robin argues that most self-proclaimed conservatives are actually reactionaries. That is, they’re defenders of traditional hierarchy — the kind of hierarchy that is threatened by any expansion of government, even (or perhaps especially) when that expansion makes the lives of ordinary citizens better and more secure. I’m partial to that story, partly because it helps explain why climate science and health economics inspire so much rage."

I couldn't have said it better myself. In this post, I'll be covering conservatives myth regarding welfare programs and other entitlements, as well as few other myths that don't fit neatly into another category.

Myth: Welfare programs failed to reduce poverty and have actually made life worse rather than better for recipients. This is particularly true for black Americans.
Fact: Welfare as we know it is generally understood to have begun with President Kennedy's New Frontier program in 1961 and to have continued with President Johnson's Great Society - the "war on poverty". Ever since then, it's slowly withered away. What was once a series of comprehensive programs to create jobs, improve education and build the country's infrastructure now consists principally of the federal food stamp program and some limited cash grants from states.

But have these programs failed to reduce poverty? No. On the contrary, they've been very successful.
* Under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the poverty rate fell from 23% to 12%. After the Johnson era, the "war on poverty" was largely curtailed, and the poverty rate hasn't changed much ever since. The poverty rate for black Americans has declined steadily, from 55% in 1959, to 30% in 1975 to 25% in 2012.
* Since the early 1960s, high school graduation rates have nearly doubled for white Americans. For black Americans, they more than tripled from 24% in 1962, to 38% in 1972 to 80% in 2012.
* Since the mid 1960s, median household income has risen about 20% for both white and black Americans.

Myth: Welfare programs have made recipients dependent on welfare and given them a poor work ethic.
Fact: About half of working-age adults receiving food stamps have jobs. They continue to qualify for food stamps for because America's largest corporations pay below the poverty line. Wal Mart alone costs taxpayers $6.2 billion per year in public assistance. Many other recipients are past working age or are unable to work. 82 percent of all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits go to vulnerable houses that include a child, elderly person, or disabled person.
The idea that welfare recipients are "dependent" suggests they prefer welfare to work. I have never seen any data to suggest that jobs are going unfilled in areas with many welfare recipients. In 2011, one million persons applied for 62,000 jobs at McDonald's; this hardly suggests that America's poor unemployed folks are not looking for work.

Myth: Welfare is responsible for a dramatic increase in single-parent households.
Fact: It's true that the percentage of families that are single- rather than two-parent has risen dramatically since 1950. However, the percentage of families that are single-parent rose most dramatically in the 1970s and 80s, when welfare programs were being dramatically scaled back rather than expanded. The percentage of poor families receiving federal aid fell from 82% in 1979 to 27% in 2010, while at the same time the percentage of families with only one parent increased from 19% to 30%.

Myth: The food stamp program and other government welfare programs are subject to a great deal of waste and fraud.
Fact: According to the Department of Agriculture, the rate of fraud in the food stamp program is one cent on the dollar. An investigation of welfare programs in the state of Maine found that less than one percent of welfare funds were used for inappropriate transactions.

Myth: High incidence of illicit drug use suggests that it is worthwhile to drug test welfare recipients.
Fact: Few welfare recipients use drugs. A Florida investigation of that state's welfare program found that about 2.5 percent of welfare recipients had tested positive for drugs since a testing law went into effect there. In Tennessee, exactly one (1) of the first 800 welfare recipients tested there tested positive for illicit drug use. The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found an estimated 22.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—8.9 percent of the population—were current illicit drug users.

Myth: Many people who receive disability payments are not really disabled.
"What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts — join the club. Who doesn’t get a little anxious for work and their back hurts?  Everybody over 40 has a back pain. And I am not saying that there are not legitimately people who are disabled.  But the people who are the malingerers are the ones taking the money away from the people who are paraplegic, quadriplegic. You know, we all know people who are horrifically disabled and can’t work, but if you have able bodied people taking the money, then there is not enough money for the people who are truly disabled." - Senator Rand Paul, 1/14/15
Fact: From the Washington Post, "Indeed, it is not easy to qualify for disability. According to SSA, between 2003 and 2012, only 24 percent of disability applicants were initially granted benefits; an average of two and 11 percent were awarded benefits after either reconsideration or a hearing, respectively. Thus an average of 59 percent of applicants were denied benefits, even after appeals." The Post further called Senator Paul remarks untrue, saying, "But not only is the rate of fraud relatively low, but it mostly involves people who are working who should not be getting payments, rather than people who are getting paid and not working. Moreover, even a generous interpretation of the data does not generate a figure close to more than half of beneficiaries getting paid for simply back pain and anxiety." also rated Paul's claims, "false."

Myth: Incidence of voter fraud necessitates voter ID laws that require voters to obtain and show a photo ID before voting.
Fact: Voter fraud is virtually non-existent in the United States. These laws disproportionally impact women, the poor and minorities. Numerous Republicans have admitted these laws are designed to disenfranchise Democrats.

Myth: The socialized health care systems of other nations are going broke and/or have other major problems that make them undesirable. Those systems ration care.
Fact: Other leading industrialized nations, all of whom have socialized, national health-care systems, spend one-third to one-half what the United States has been spending on health care per capita. It is routinely more difficult to obtain care in the United States than in European countries. There are fewer doctors and hospital beds per capita in America than in most leading industrialized countries.

Myth: Medicare is inferior to private health care.
Fact: Medicare beats private plans in terms of customer satisfaction. Medicare also has less administrative overhead cost.

Myth: The US Postal Service is running a huge deficit, indicative of a bloated, inefficient government bureaucracy.
Fact: USPS turned a $660 million profit delivering mail in fiscal year 2013. Unfortunately, the post office is the victim of a Congressional scheme to make it look bad in order to justify downsizing it to the benefit of private interests. In 2006, Congress passed legislation that unnecessarily required USPS to pre-fund – within 10 years – most retiree healthcare benefits for the next 75 years. This makes it appear as if USPS is running a deficit. The Congressmen advocating the downsizing of the post office have, not coincidentally, received a lot of campaign contributions from private sectors competitors to USPS such as FedEx and UPS.
In 2006, Congress passed legislation that required USPS to pre-fund – within 10 years – most retiree healthcare benefits for the next 75 years. - See more at:
In 2006, Congress passed legislation that required USPS to pre-fund – within 10 years – most retiree healthcare benefits for the next 75 years. - See more at:
In 2006, Congress passed legislation that required USPS to pre-fund – within 10 years – most retiree healthcare benefits for the next 75 years. - See more at:

Myth: Charter schools are superior to public schools.
Fact: A 2009 Stanford study found that on average privatized charter schools were not performing as well as their traditional public-school peers. An updated 2013 found similar results.

Myth: Carrying a handgun in public increases public safety.
Fact: A 2009 University of Pennsylvania study found that individuals in possession of a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. A 2014 Stanford study found that right-to-carry gun laws are connected with an increase in violent crime.

Myth: "Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year -- or about 6,850 times a day. This means that each year, firearms are used more than 80 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives." - Gun Owners of America
Fact: I wrote about this one in 2012. Long story short, in 1994 a university study contacted a small number of people and asked them if they'd used a gun to defend their property. Gun Owners of America then extrapolated (and completely twisted) the results of that survey into the quote above. So how often are guns actually used defensively in America? According to a Department of Justice Study from the 1990s, about 38 times a day, or about 0.4% as often as GOA claims. Put it another way. The total number of people shot by guns in the US in 2008 totaled 110,215. This suggests that between 10 and 11 Americans suffer a gun injury for every instance of a gun being used defensively.

Myth: The rate of gun ownership in rural America is much higher than in urban areas, and there are far fewer murders, demonstrating that higher gun ownership rates mean more public safety.
Fact: While the gun ownership rate in rural America is double that of urban areas, gun deaths per capita are actually far higher in states that are primarily rural than in states where most people live in cities.
Deaths by firearm per 100K population, rural states:
Alabama: 16.2, Alaska: 20.4, Arizona: 14.6, New Mexico: 14.9
Deaths by firearm per 100K population, urban states: California: 7.7, Illinois: 8.2, New Jersey: 5.2, New York: 5.1.

Myth: Senator Diane Feinstein of California, a key supporter of the now-expired 1994 assault weapons ban, called for an outright ban on all firearms. "First, while she now contends that her intent is simply to restrict certain “bad” guns (based upon totally arbitrary criteria her staff has established), that claim doesn’t jibe with what she told CBS’s 60 Minutes. Upon seeing her Clinton gun ban enacted in 1994, she said: “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them . . . ‘Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ‘em all in,’ I would have done it."" - editorial
Fact: The assault weapons ban covered only manufacture. Senator Feinstein's remarks were meant to convey that she supported expanding the law to cover possession of assault weapons as well. Feinstein is actually a supporter of handgun ownership and concealed-carry rights.

Myth: President John F. Kennedy supported lower taxes, so he was a conservative on fiscal policy issues.
Fact: JFK proposed a law to lower the top individual tax rate to 65% and corporate rate to 47%. He believed in raising the minimum wage, welfare programs, public works programs,expanded union rights including government employees, Medicare, civil rights and desegregation programs, voting rights programs, women's equality programs, a Clean Air Act and greatly expanded public housing. If that's Republicanism, then I'm Abraham Lincoln.

Myth: Let's use a flat tax to tax everyone at the same rate. That would be fairer!
Fact: Strictly speaking, this one doesn't belong in this blog post. Myth versus fact is objective, "fairness" is subjective; you can argue that anything is fair or unfair. However Herman Cain's "9-9-9 plan" and similar flat-tax plans are definitely unfair unless you want to increase the growing income inequalities we've been experiencing for years. From Robert H. Frank of the New York Times:

"The much more serious concern is that a flat tax would reinforce the trends toward greater income inequality that have been seen over the last several decades. As documented by a recent Congressional Budget Office study, the top 1 percent of income recipients in the United States earned 275 percent more in 2007 than they did in 1979, adjusted for inflation, a period when the earnings of middle-income households grew by less than 40 percent. A flat tax would increase inequality by substantially reducing rates on the most prosperous households, while increasing them on low- and middle-income households.

According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Mr. Cain’s proposal would increase the annual tax bill of a typical family of four earning $50,000 a year by more than $4,000, but would reduce the taxes owed by a similar family earning between $500,000 and $1 million by almost $60,000. The center also estimated that families in the top one-tenth of 1 percent of households would enjoy an average annual tax reduction of nearly $1.4 million under the Cain plan. Similar distributional effects are common under all flat-tax plans, not just Mr. Cain’s."

Myth: President Obama has taken outrageous amounts of vacation time.
Fact: President Obama has taken about one-third as many vacation days as he predecessor.

Obamacare, climate change, immigration, the economy and entitlements - five topics down, one to go. Next time I'll be tackling a big one, and I have a lot to say on the subject: minimum wage.

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