Friday, September 14, 2007

Checkbook Morality

The long awaited Bloomberg funded poverty policy was announced the other day, and if possible it looks even worse than we first thought-this is a disaster waiting to happen launched by a paternalistic mayor who hasn't a clue about the kind of impact his program will have, nor the message that it sends to millions of low income people who are already struggling to do the right things for their children.

This is what the Manhattan Institute's Heather McDonald nailed when she assailed the mayor's scheme: "The idea that the residents of Brooklyn and Central Harlem are engaged in a "struggle," as Bloomberg put it, against starvation and depredation is a fantasy. Many teens who will be enrolled in "Opportunity NYC" likely wear the latest sneakers and carry pagers and cell phones. Their problem is motivation, not the unforgiving demands of a subsistence economy."

It is this motivation matrix that the pay for play concept seeks to redress. In doing so, the mayor and his defenders like to make the comparison to the capitalist imperative that gets people to sacrifice in anticipation of monetary reward. They couldn't be further from the truth. In the Protestant Ethic-based capitalist calculus, motivation-the inculcation of a strong system of beliefs- precedes behavior. It deals with the sense of personal responsibility and is based on the support of the family. The financial payoffs come much later.

To think that the placement of a crude bounty on behavior will lead to some sort of transvaluation is mindboggling in its stupidity. What it will lead to is a cynical -and ever-escalating-gaming of a social welfare behemoth, the one that will inevitably have to be created to monitor all of this nonsense. Has anyone bothered to do a business projection of what this kind of sysyem will cost if it ever, heaven forbid, transfered over to the public dime?

Which brings us to plan that was unveiled on Wednesday. Already, in the comments of one lucky recipient, we can see the problems that will unfold: "I'm happy. I'm grateful," he declared, sounding somewhat amazed at his good fortune.
"To get paid to do things I'm doing anyway is a welcome feeling."

Why did this dad get chosen if he was already doing most of what the mayor's plan seeks to encourage? Will choosing the "high-end" recipient skew any efficacy study of the merits of this program? What about the parent whose doing nothing, or is too dysfunctional to really parent properly? Will we need to pay this kind of parent more, and will this be fair to those low-income moms and dads who are strenuously trying to make the daily efforts that all parents should be making?

This is all too much for us to contemplate, and indicates to us that the mayor has too much of his own money to burn. It also fails to address the single most important variable in the poverty equation-the rise of single parent homes. As Steve Malanga points out in the City Journal; "Of course, there’s another road out of poverty: waiting until marriage to have children. In the vast majority of out-of-wedlock births, if the fathers of the children had married the mothers, dad’s earnings would have kept the family out of the poorhouse. In New York, in fact, only 3.5 percent of married families in which the husband works full-time are poor."

Tackling this issue, however, will run the mayor afoul of the bien pensants of his clack of politically correct enablers-those not-so-poor folks who are also waiting expectantly for a small piece of the Bloomberg fortune. Don't expect these do-gooders to provide any real critique of what the mayor wants to eventually foist on the beleaguered tax payers of New York.

The real policy issue here is being obscured, and by doing so, the mayor is obscuring any chance that honest discussion and meaningful change will ever occur for the intransigent percentage of those folks who have not been reached by the dramatically successful welfare reforms of the past 15 years. Mike, keep your money.