Monday, December 31, 2007

Poverty Pimps

In the 1970's Mayor Ed Koch coined the term "poverty pimps" to describe the social service empires created by the likes of Ramon Velez. Ever since then, poverty has become a lucrative industry for a slew of foundations and academic consultants. What all of these minions fail to understand is that a well functioning economic system is always a better remedy for poverty than any of their schemes-particularly for the Black and Latino masses that they pretend to be so concerned about. Or, as Tom Lehrer says in his "The Folk Song Army:" "We all hate poverty, war, and injustice-unlike the rest of you squares."

So now it's Mike Bloomberg's turn at the wheel. With all the fervor of a newly hire Ford Foundation consultant, the mayor is out to find the magic elixir for poverty. This year he has pioneered for New York's poor a Mexican initiative that will pay folks to behave more industriously. As Errol Louis optimistically tells us in a column yesterday: "Scholars and pundits will be watching the anti-poverty initiative to see whether the innovative ideas - like giving cash rewards to students and parents for things like getting a library card or attending parent-teacher meetings - really change people's behavior."

Errol needs to carefully look at how all of that mishogos will be evaluated-and who will be assigned the review task. With the mayor's money in play, the house odds are likely to yield predictable results; with independent auditing given short shrift.

What's really fascinating in all this, is how the mayor stands on Rudy's shoulders. The fact remains that Mike Bloomberg in 1993 would have been so over his head in dealing with NYC's culture of political poverty that he would have been a hopeless failure; the city needed a sea change that Giuliani created, a change that allowed a Mike Bloomberg to emerge as a competent technocratic leader in its wake.

The irony, of course, is that Rudy is scorned locally, while Mayor Mike basks in 70% approval ratings while contemplating his own run for the presidency. In yesterday's weekly musing Little Mike Lupica brings home this point with the following snarky observation: "By the way, how is it possible that the murder rate could have gone down with somebody other than Rudy as mayor?"

How indeed? Not to mention the welfare roles that plummeted when the former mayor took a tough approach to fraud, and to the generational perpetuation of a birthright to the dole. Now Mayor Mike comes in on third base and everyone marvels at the triple he hit.

Which brings us to yesterday's front page NY Times story about Bloomberg's search for a new definition of poverty. Why this is front page news eludes us, but it does put front and center the mayor's national aspiration to appear to be an innovative thinker on all many of issues.

Of course, this search for a new definition has a certain political positioning motive. As the Times wrote: "The politics of determining a poverty level are intense because the number largely determines eligibility for numerous federal entitlement programs. And, perhaps as important, it is used by people across the political spectrum as they debate how well this nation cares for its less fortunate."

Yes, there it is-"caring." The mayor as had any number of political epiphanies-the environment comes immediately to mind; and inherent in all of them is the caring motif. Yet in all of these rather banal sentiments we detect the standard stale bromides of a senescent progressivism that continues to look towards expanding the role of government at the expense of middle class tax payers.

Here's the money quote: "Though city officials insist they are approaching this undertaking without bias, it is almost impossible to separate the process from politics. Douglas J. Besharov, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is watching the New York experiment intently and not without some cynicism that the city will come up with a far too generous formula. "It is highly likely they will come up with a higher poverty rate," he said. "It is perfectly safe politically in New York and it certainly is a good P.R. device for the mayor who wants to be a poverty crusader.”

Crusader indeed, but one whose ability to ride his progressive steed is built on the less than liberal notion of accountability and tough love that the former mayor pioneered in a city whose political class was petrified in amber. All we're seeing from Mayor Mike is old whine in better and more expensive packaging. They offer nothing of innovative value for the country.