Thursday, June 21, 2007

Poor Choices

The mayor's poverty prevention initiative, as Nicole Gelinas writes cogently in this morning's NY Post, is a bureaucratic disaster that's just waiting to happen. The mayor wants to actually pay folks to behave better. As Gelinas observes, "The city's 'Center for Economic Opportunity' will pay people $20 per adult and $20 per child each month to take advantage of Medicaid."

Leaving aside the philosophical merits of this experiment for a moment, can anyone envision what it would take to monitor these proposed behavioral incentives? Just when the welfare rolls are diminishing, Bloomberg is ready to introduce a multi-billion dollar cash transfer nexus that is going to make all of the folks over at DC 37 absolutely orgasmic. Think of the thousands of workers this will necessitate. The potential for fraud will be nigh unimaginable.

And now for the philosophical message. Gelinas once again puts her finger on the essence of the problem. The mayor's program actually singles out the poor people who are behaving badly for a municipal reward. What about the thousands of poor folks who are behaving well? Will they be eligible as well for a cash benefit? And how will we distinguish among all of these folks? What societal message are we sending to those the kids who are currently going to school, using their library cards and taking their tests?

As we have commented before, this initiative fits in to the patronizing and elitist mindset that the mayor has become famous for. His menu labeling regulation-the posting of calorie counts at fast food restaurants-devolves from the inherent belief that those folks can't be expected to act well in their own interest without the help of their betters. This comes dangerously close to the colonial "white man's burden" philosophy.

As public policy it is an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen. It will, if implemented as a governmental program when this pilot ends, erode personal responsibility and once again make the government handout the expected benchmark of political participation for the city's poor. And this guy wants to be president?