John C. Goodman

"Anytime you leave something closed in South Dallas, they are going to tear it up and destroy it," said Tim Sweet, who has lived across the street from [Pearl C. Anderson Middle Learning Center] for 20 years. "It's just a waste of money."

By way of contrast, on my morning jaunt in North Dallas I pass daily by a home that has been boarded up for more than a month and there is not a spec of graffiti anywhere on it.

A One-sided Debate

When it comes to welfare, we are not having a real debate. On the one side there is scholarship. On the other side there is invective.

The scholarly works on this topic range from George Gilder's Wealth and Poverty (1981) to Charles Murray's Losing Ground (1984) and more recently to Charles Murray's Coming Apart (2012). In The Redistribution Recession (2012), University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan concludes that half of the excess unemployment we are experiencing is due to programs that are paying people not to work. (See my review here.) Other serious economic studies also lend support to the conservative point of view.

I am not aware of even a single book or study on the left that proposes a credible alternative explanation of what is going on. Along with other New York Times readers, however, I am regularly exposed to arguments ad hominem in the columns of Paul Krugman. This is from his latest:

Republican hostility toward the poor and unfortunate has now reached such a fever pitch that the party doesn't really stand for anything else — and only willfully blind observers can fail to see that reality…

They're still clearly passionate about making sure that the poor and unlucky get as little help as possible…

So there is indeed a war on the poor, coinciding with and deepening the pain from a troubled economy. And that war is now the central, defining issue of American politics.

Why does he bother? It is now well known that folks to the right of center actually care more about people in need than people on the left. They give more money, more of their time, more blood, etc. (See Arthur Brooks, Who Really Cares.)

Bottom line: We're not having a debate. One side is serious. The other side is slinging epithets.

The Race Card

Make the statement that "welfare causes poverty" and it won't be very long before you will be accused of being a racist. Krugman does that routinely. In his latest column on the subject, he cites the results of a left wing public opinion poll:

They found the Republican base "very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority" — and seeing the social safety net both as something that helps those people, not people like themselves, and binds the rising nonwhite population to the Democratic Party. And, yes, the Medicaid expansion many states are rejecting would disproportionately have helped poor blacks.

Ah yes. Ad hominem again. Let's take a brief detour and consider some evidence ? first from a country where there virtually are no whites and then from a study that focused exclusively on whites. These are two different ways of taking race out of the picture and observing whether any fundamentals change.

Barbados. This is a country that is almost all black (96%). It has some similarities to the United States. Their relative poverty rate is similar, their welfare programs are similar and their out-of wedlock birth rate is similar. But, there the similarity ends. Since the 85% of the population that is not poor is also non-white, Barbados is an island nation with its own black culture. And it's a remarkable one.

Barbados has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Its income per capita is one of the highest in the Caribbean. One reason for these accomplishments is the heavy emphasis the Barbadians place on education. Secondary education in Barbados is like our university system in the United States. Students (and their parents) can choose what school they want to attend, but they have to be accepted. Competition is fierce to get into the highest performing institutions. Do you know someone who thinks school choice is bad for black kids? Send them to Barbados.

You don't have to do a formal study to know that the culture of Barbados is different. Climb in any taxi cab once you arrive there. With little prompting the driver will probably tell you all about his own children's school choices and their aspirations. (See my Howard Law Review article.)

A high percent of high school graduates from Barbados are admitted to Ivy League colleges in the United States. In fact a little known secret in U.S. higher education is that our elite universities are achieving their diversity goals with black students ? not from the U.S., but from the Caribbean.

Coming Apart. In his most recent book, Charles Murray describes a nation that is coming in two. One part is self-motivated, self-reliant and extremely productive. The other is basically not working at all and relies on government to meet its basic needs. And the study was devoted exclusively to non-Hispanic whites. From my review of his book:

Upper-middle class professional types may pretend that they are cultural relativists, accepting of whatever lifestyle their fellow human beings happen to choose. In reality, they live by old fashioned puritan values, however. They get married and stay married. They work hard and work long hours.

Not so for the blue collar, never-got-beyond-high-school class, however. A shocking number aren't even working at all. Many are not getting married in the first place. Of those that get married, the divorce and separation rates are soaring.

What about happiness and well-being? About 65% of the upper middle class professional types say they are in happy marriages. That number has been dropping steadily for the past 40 years for the working class types; and today it stands at 25%!

So What Can Be Done?

I'll discuss solutions in a future editorial.

John C. Goodman

John C. Goodman is President of the Goodman Institute and Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute. His books include the widely acclaimed A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America and the award-winning Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the "Father of Health Savings Accounts.”