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May 5, 2003 4:59 PM   Subscribe

22 year old schizophrenic Farrah Russell was rebuilding her life. But when the plug was pulled on the state program that allowed her to subsist, she took her life. Her heartbreaking story is a cautionary tale of the dark consequences of state budget cuts. While politicians argue over tax stimulus proposals that benefit the wealthy, while wild numbers are applied to war budgets, the States have been forced to cut social programs in order to survive. Whether it's California teachers, Connecticut and New York residents dreading tax hikes, Pennsylvania public transportation, or Texas prescription drug coverage for the poor, the States, supposedly United, have been left out to dry. While the States have been forced to cut their programs, groping for survival, Washington remains silent in its mission. It does not remember history. Why do we turn a blind eye to the hidden costs? What can be done about this? And how do we make it stop?
posted by ed (53 comments total)

 
it's the survival of the fittest
who are the fittest ?
healthy and wealthy
posted by bureaustyle at 5:21 PM on May 5, 2003


(interestingly, bureaustyle, the "fittest" are actualy those who produce the most viable offspring, but anyway...)

What can be done about it? Shout and scream! Demand appropriate support services. Vote for people who are going to shift the focus back to appropriate funding, and if such representatives are scarce, get involved yourself. I also come from a country where there is a constantly heated battle over state funding of health and education services; the sad fact is so many vital programs and services are provided by state governments which have little means of funding compared to the federal governments.
posted by Jimbob at 5:31 PM on May 5, 2003


What can be done about it? Shout and scream! Demand appropriate support services.

By no means do I discourage this, and I am doing it myself, but shit is BLEAK right now for social services. Over a year ago, I began a job with Sentinel (yeah, great web page!). They run a private probation program, with the ankle bracelets and what not, intended as a supplement to a county's regular probation program. Well, as the unfunded homeland security mandates (a very real culprit, ignored by the post) began rolling in, the state switched more and more cases to "our" offender-funded program.

This was seen as great short-term solution: the state saved money, and the offenders themselves made their own bi-weekly payments. This is in the process of backfiring epically. You see, it turns out that people with criminal records can't get jobs, and, gasp!, they are not independently wealthy. Basically, when they miss a payment, they go (back) to prison, thus costing the state way more than simple probation and destroying lives in the process.

I quit this job almost four months ago, after I was forced to call in the mother of a mentally ill client because he was not capable of himself understanding that he was about to go to jail for being poor. Oregon has since closed almost every state-funded rehab facility, and the shit is only starting to roll. If Oregon's poverty is causing it to serve as a canary state, all of you in rich states had better watch out. The Fed essentially makes budgetary decisions for states and counties now. And surprise, they hate fucking poor people.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 5:45 PM on May 5, 2003


Dear Medicated,

Welcome to the real world. Now that you are sane, get a job and pay taxes.

K' Thnx,
Taxpayer
posted by paleocon at 5:57 PM on May 5, 2003


Dear Paleocon,

Suck it.

K'Thx,

The Medicated
posted by Optamystic at 6:03 PM on May 5, 2003


Speaking of suckage.
posted by hama7 at 6:06 PM on May 5, 2003


Taxing the poor instead of the rich is a good idea.
With any luck, the poor will take the hint and get rich.
posted by spazzm at 6:23 PM on May 5, 2003


The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that a dividend-tax cut would deprive the federal government of some seven hundred and fifty billion dollars between 2014 and 2023, just when the baby boomers will be lining up for Medicare and Social Security.

What’s more, the President’s tax cuts may in the end destroy more jobs than they create. As tax revenues fall and the deficit increases, interest rates will rise, and the higher cost of borrowing will impede business investment and hiring.

...Kenneth Rogoff, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, went even further. He recently told journalists, “Suppose for a minute that we were talking about a developing country that had gaping current account deficits year after year . . . a budget ink spinning from black into red . . . open-ended security costs, and a real exchange rate that had been inflated by capital inflows. With all that, I think it’s fair to say we would be pretty concerned.” When I.M.F. types start talking about the United States as if it were a banana republic on a bad day, it’s probably time to change course.


Bushonomics
posted by y2karl at 6:35 PM on May 5, 2003



The letter from the state said she would lose her "medical card," but in the next paragraph it stated that her medical benefits would continue under the Oregon Health Plan. Farrah apparently was confused by the conflicting statements and feared the worst.


So the system worked, she would've continued to receive her medical benefits. What's the problem here? That the letter was too confusing?
posted by gyc at 6:37 PM on May 5, 2003


Speaking of suckage.

Compassionate conservatism is a laff riot!
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:49 PM on May 5, 2003


There have also been massive layoffs across the board. The courthouse is now open only four days a week, and petty crimes are not being prosecuted. Plus, the state employees' retirement system is bankrupt.

I guess that none of this is funny or snarky, so I should just pipe down. Hey hama7, want to read my personal mantra? I hate freedom.

Seriously, I have never seen the kind of poverty in the US that I have seen in Oregon lately (maybe it's my line of work...), and I grew up in Trailerparkistan.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:33 PM on May 5, 2003


At the hospital where I work (in Oregon as well) we've had two patients suffer brain damage from asphyxiation secondary to seizures when their medication was no longer covered by the state...
posted by iamck at 7:44 PM on May 5, 2003


At the hospital where I work (in Oregon as well) we've had two patients suffer brain damage from asphyxiation secondary to seizures when their medication was no longer covered by the state...

But that'll save taxpayers money in the long run! Unless they survive.
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:01 PM on May 5, 2003


This is an old and a sad, sad story. I think it was Reagan who first booted the mentally ill out onto the street. You may remain the case of the schizophrenic man in New York who pushed a young woman in front of a subway train [more]. My uncle suffers from schizophrenia and is only able to live a rreasonably happy life when his compliance with medication is monitored at a group home where his federal service managed to get him decent accomodations. Many of the accomodations indigent patients receive are brutally inhuman, where incarceration, not treatment, is the order of the day.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center
An estimated 4.5 million Americans today suffer from the severest forms of brain disorders, schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness (2.2 million people suffer from schizophrenia and 2.3 million suffer from bipolar disorder). According to the National Advisory Mental Health Council, an estimated 40 percent of these individuals, or 1.8 million people, are not receiving treatment on any given day, resulting in homelessness, incarceration, and violence.
posted by hairyeyeball at 8:38 PM on May 5, 2003


What doesn't make a lot of sense is the perpetual class warfare rhetoric that ultimately proves ineffective at really helping anything.

"What can be done about it?"

Indeed. Well, what lead to "it"? During the mid-to-late 90's this country experienced a huge economic boom. Federal and state tax receipts almost overflowed the coffers. Did politicians decide that they had more than enough, and that the best thing to do would be to lower taxes? No. They added program after program, department after department. A remarkable array of "vital needs" were discovered for the first time - and funded.

Now we are in down market. What does private industry do in a down market? It looks for efficiencies. It cuts costs. It looks at business untis that are working, and keeps them going. It looks at business units that are not effective, and closes them. It attempts to do more with less.

What does the public sector do? It cuts - but cuts based on political decisions rather than genuine need. It claims it absolutely must raise taxes - and shows horror stories of the poorest and weakest to justify them. There's massive avoidance, however, of the fact that if government had to run even remotely as efficiently as private industry, those hard choices would not need to be made. There's probably very few local, state, or federal offices that a couple of my least experienced managers couldn't go into for a few months, and re-configure to provide much better service to citizens at a much lower cost. There is an immensity of waste, of endless, mindless paperwork, of ridiculous administrative overhead, and of a labor force filled with unions and bureaucracies that virtually assure that people are not promoted - or fired - based on merit.

No - all of this is studiously avoided. Instead we hear about the poor suffering mental patients who are cut loose because funding has dried up. Why? Well, of course, because the rich, you see, are selfish.

My wife and I are rich. Not Warren Buffet rich, but rich enough to never have to work again in our lives if we don't want to. But I'm still working 16 hours days on a new business that is employing a growing number of people (here's a weird thing about a lot of the rich - that probably will just get hoots of derision on MeFi, but is nonetheless true ... money is NOT the primary motive for working).

You want to tax the rich? complain about cutting taxes for the rich? Ok, please understand this: past a certain level of income, having more or less money does not affect daily life at all.

You want give me a tax break? Guess what I'll do - I'll take the additional money, and I'll invest it in growing companies - to further their growth ... anyone see how this just might produce more jobs? You want to raise my taxes? Ok, the money will come out of the capital markets. Yes, it may pay for a bit of medication for a mental patient - but largely it will go to support a dramatically inefficient government sector, and make certain the the economic health of the nation that is required to fund medication for all mental patients takes longer to return.

Want to give my company a break on corporate taxes? Know what I'll do with the money? Expand my business. Hire more sales people, that will lead to more delivery people, etc., etc. Want to raise my taxes? Ok, then I lay people off, and pull back on expansion until the economy improves ... which it will then take much longer to do than it would if I, and my evil rich colleagues, were using money to grow businesses, instead of pumping into the bureaucratic black hole of the government sector.

But the attitudes - oh the attitudes are great. I love this: "The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that a dividend-tax cut would deprive the federal government of some seven hundred and fifty billion dollars ..."..

Didja get that? "Deprive" the government ... in other words, apparently it is simply a given that "the government" deserves anything it decides it needs. It has no need to work efficiently, no motive to optimize the delivery of services, and apparently it wons all the money, and just lkets people have whatever "it" decides they deserve. and if people actually complain, then they are threatening to "deprive" the government of what it wants. If a corporation earns a profit, it is taxed, and after taxes, it pays dividends to shareholders ... but when the shareholders receive the dividend, the dividend is then taxed again - yet no mention of the fact that the dividend tax currently "deprives" the economy of billions every year ... billions that would largely be re-invested in the growth of companies (and jobs), but is instead funneled into maintaining a government that is now the single largest employer on earth.

The government - and fans of big government - have been very effective at trying to sell class warfare ... it's "the rich", who don't want to pay "their fair share", against the poor workin' man and the mentally ill. That's a false battle. The rich get richer by building their own companies, and finding and investing in growing companies - i.e., companies that produce cost-effective products and services, and provide more jobs (if you've got a few million USD, you certainly don't stick it in flippin' CD's). And most of "the poor" I've met would actually prefer a job rather than dealing with the often terribly demeaning attitudes they face when navigating the nightmare of "public services" ... i.e., the "government" that is being "deprived" of money - and that delivers services so badly that were it a private company, it would have gone out of business years ago.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:55 PM on May 5, 2003


I was all set to rant on this topic until I scrolled down to the comment by MidasMulligan. There is no way I could possibly articulate better the pervasive attitudes among liberals and WHY there should be tax cuts. Make it easier for businesses to flourish and we all benefit.

Sir MidasMulligan, THAT was the finest post I have ever read on Metafilter - period. Regardless of topic. Keep up the good work.
posted by insulglass at 9:11 PM on May 5, 2003


Midas -
I don't often agree with you, But I still get the sense that you're one of the "good guys" across the aisle (so to speak)...if you're not bullshitting us, I applaud you.

However, money is NOT the primary motive for working...I worked for a medium-sized (~300 people at HQ, about 3000 overall) company for four years, and yes, the big guys weren't concerned with money, per se. The president of our company, through luck and guile, also owned and rented the buildings we were in to the company, etc....I started to understand that it wasn't money, but something in between power and avarice that drove him. For right or wrong, I tend to see a lot of CEO types (aka the rich) through the filter he forged in my eyes.

It didn't help that the man was so inept that he I had to teach him *three* *times* how to right-mouse-click to save pictures from a web page...
posted by notsnot at 9:14 PM on May 5, 2003


i don't believe that by simply promoting a "business flourishing" environment, supplemented by tax cuts, that we're going to make the world one iota better for the majority of people in this country.

business has done a bang-up job of streamlining the "efficiencies" of the healthcare system with those lovely HMO's - delivering the cheapest healthcare to those at the mercy of it's efficient rules and regulations.

and if you'd ever known anyone who suffered from mental illness - money isn't their primary motive for working either, because it's generally impossible for them to do so. a company's ideology of looking-at-the-bottom-line-because-we've-got-to-post-a-profit-for-the-shareholders mentality is not going to look after our most vulnerable citizens. period.
posted by nyoki at 9:34 PM on May 5, 2003


Sir MidasMulligan, THAT was the finest post I have ever read on Metafilter - period. Regardless of topic. Keep up the good work.

Finest since his other most recent comments, you might say.

Extremely well put.
posted by hama7 at 9:58 PM on May 5, 2003


Midas:
nice rant and all, but for the most serisouly mentally ill, job=schmob. the most robust economy in the world can't independently provide the services on which many people depend, especially for those that are incapable of working.

i'm glad that you and your wife are rich. i'm glad that you think that you shouldn't pay taxes. you must be right, which means that i must be crazy, because i could swear that the first bush tax cut was the biggest in history, and that our economy has gone straight shitter-side ever since then.

i don't know which is more disgusting: that you can compare the plight of the overtaxed to that of those whose lives are literally ended by an erosion of resources OR that you can get patted on the back so many times for doing so.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:05 PM on May 5, 2003


Medicare spends between 2 percent and 3 percent of program outlays on administrative expenses—such as overhead, salaries, and computers—compared with around 9.5 percent in the private sector. Forgive me if I call bullshit on the myth of omnipresent efficiencies of the private sector.

Judging by the number of scare quotes you've got in that post MM I suspect you believe that the bulk of the population of this country just doesn't understand what it is the rich have to go through.

And for people who are not rich, money is not the motivating factor for working, either.

If you believe that the safety net society has voted to construct in this country should be dismantled, feel free to state that, feel free to attempt to enable it through the political process.

But don't be surprised if the great bulk of the populace of this country doesn't choose to support that dismantling. Most people are too vulnerable to one slip to work without any net at all.
posted by dglynn at 10:22 PM on May 5, 2003


Yes, thank you Midas. You articulated my thoughts exactly in a way that I could not.

The bureaucracies of the public sector are outrageous. I've dealt with them in business, and it is common to run across mid and top level managers who would have been let go from a private sector job within their first few weeks. Calls are not returned, efficiency is not stressed, and people do not thrive as they would in an environment where their job would depend on performance.

Though, I am leery of privatization. We need more watchdog groups. We need as fresh blood private sector managers who won't sit on their bureaucratic laurels.
posted by jazzkat11 at 10:23 PM on May 5, 2003


Midas: While I can certainly appreciate your fiscal pragmatism, I cannot abide by the whole of your libertarian screed. I would agree with you that governors and state congressmen should have anticipated the downfall in tax revenue, particularly here in California where a record $8 billion surplus was transformed into a $23.6 bilion deficit. Davis and his baboons had plenty of warning and now education is getting the shaft.

You imply that the program put into place for Farrah Russell was created in the 90s boom, but as the article states, the program was put into place in 1961. The program survived the major unemployment scare of 1983 and the 1982 and 1991 recessions. And it is only now, with a federal government unwilling to invigorate state economies, much less its own, that the plug was pulled. I ask, at a time when we are not "officially" in a recession, why this has occurred.

Why can't "big government" provide for the people? In considering the New Deal, could private businesses have jump-started the economy the way that the New Deal programs did? Probably not. It took a brave President and two houses realizing the severity (and the votes) to get WPA projects through. The results? Better roads, better public facilities and more jobs with reasonable wages.

This nation enjoyed great economic growth throughout the 1950s boom with a 70% top tier tax rate. Of course, it helped that CEOs weren't paid nearly as obscenely as they are now. But it was only when Reagan came into power that this was reduced to 55%. Under Bush, it is somewhere around 50%. And let's not forget about the $1.2 trillion death tax/top tax cut from last year, with the death tax . One year later, with unemployment holding at 6%, please explain to me just how this has benefitted the economy.

I can also agree with you on government efficiency. As we both know every year around April, even the Paperwork Reduction Act has failed to serve its purpose.

But you eye the service sector with your hypothetical investment into other companies. Would you pay these delivery drivers a living wage? Would you pay for health care? I don't think any serious for-profit company can pay them anything more than minimum wage. And I'm almost positive they'd pass over a schizophrenic. Is this enough to live on? Does this promote the general welfare?

You may not work for money, but a hell of a lot of people do. They're called the working poor. Untrained, unskilled, with little financial prospects, these are the people who make your cafe au lait, ship your Amazon products or Super-Size your McMeal. Talk to them. You'll find that a good deal of them work two jobs, are single parents, and are working just as hard as you are -- perhaps more so, given the physical repetition and the carefully devised tedium.
posted by ed at 10:29 PM on May 5, 2003


Thank you ed, for the original post. Wow. And thank you, MidasM for your truly pathetic defense of whatever it is you feel guilty about.
I apologize that I didn't take the time to dig up URLs for the following, but MidasM you might want to learn about some of the fundamental differences between public sector endeavors and private sector ones.
First, selling hot dogs is _easier_ than, say, promoting public health, enforcing national security, or even maintaining a judiciary that can enforce your precious private contracts--that's why selling hot dogs is _allowed_ to be a (mostly) private enterprise.
Second is the principle of elasticity in the economic demand for a good or service (Farrah Russell was not capable of being a Rational Economic Actor, as they call 'em in the textbooks, and perhaps you are not capable of being a Compassionate Human Being).
Third--and this is more about being a human than being an economist--if you think people who believe in taking caring of the most vulnerable members of society (at a MARGINAL cost to the economy) are out of line, then please let us know the name of your business so we can do what any good liberal capitalist would do: boycott your lame ass.
posted by micropublishery at 10:31 PM on May 5, 2003


Ignatius - Minnesota has an incredibly efficient system for dealing with jobs for the mentally ill. Workers are paid on a ability level system that includes a sliding scale pay rate for the employer made up by the state. It's a win-win system in practice, as employers get an able workforce (even if it is scrubbing trays, or similar menial tasks), care costs for the patients are defrayed by earnings, and taxpayers can see the fruits of their taxes. I've personally witnessed someone with severe catatonic schizophrenia mopping floors and being of service.

I think we should all be careful not to stigmatize our personal perceptions of the abilities of MH individuals.

Dglynn - overhead costs are only a small factor in the large scale system of effective program management.

And no one is talking about dismantling our social networks. Rather, this is about enhancing them by making monies spent on them work more efficiently.
posted by jazzkat11 at 10:40 PM on May 5, 2003


The bureaucracies of the public sector are outrageous. I've dealt with them in business, and it is common to run across mid and top level managers who would have been let go from a private sector job within their first few weeks. Calls are not returned, efficiency is not stressed, and people do not thrive as they would in an environment where their job would depend on performance.

Though, I am leery of privatization. We need more watchdog groups. We need as fresh blood private sector managers who won't sit on their bureaucratic laurels.


I do not doubt your experiences, but they differ tremendously from mine. Surely, calls go unreturned. Ask yourself how important your call was. If someone has a caseload of >100 people, your matter had better be pretty damned pressing. Are they incompetent, or charged with nearly impossible workloads? I suspect that one's answer to that question will correspond perfectly with the opinion that they brought to this discussion.

If you are offended by social service beauracracy, give money and time to a local non-profit that serves overlapping goals.

jazzkat11

midas
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:43 PM on May 5, 2003


Thank you Ignatius, for your concern, as well as the link.

You must also be a mind-reader, as I didn't express my personal response to social service bureaucracies, but you are correct; at times I am offended by their inefficiencies. It does strike me in a personal way to know that critical needs within the community are not being properly addressed due to administrational mismanagement.

I am currently filming a documentary on a community court here in Austin that is part of a pilot program to change the way communities address quality of life crimes. Instead of merely sentencing individuals with jail time for their offences, the court has a more holistic and proactive approach. Focusing on the root issues of the crimes, such as drug abuse, lack of vocational training, and lack of correlation between cause / effect, the program offers a full menu of restorative jurisprudence for the community and therapy for the offenders. Since it's inception 4 years ago, the court has enjoyed a great amount of success within the community, and is praised by community leaders and civic groups.

Plus, it is almost self supportive through grants, and offerings of evening classes for dui and mip offenders. If you are truly interesting in what a non-bureaucratic and effective social service program looks like in action, I will gladly send you the film once it's completed.
posted by jazzkat11 at 11:22 PM on May 5, 2003


Why don't all of you who give a fuck start giving your money to charities that help people like Russell instead of insisting that others do it for you? Insisting that governments should tax everyone to fund such programs is fundamentally legislating the "moral value" of compassion.
posted by mischief at 11:34 PM on May 5, 2003


I think it was Reagan who first booted the mentally ill out onto the street.

And thus begins another leftist urban legend.

The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill began in the 1950's. It was made possible by the development of the first effective anti-psychotic medication.

Deinstitutionalization has had mixed success. While it is definitely possible for many schizophrenics to achieve a high level of function while taking medication, for some it is not. Others refuse to take their medication, or simply forget -- they are, after all, mentally ill, and often have poor judgement.

Many, both on the right and the left believe that deinstitutionalization, while it has undeniably been a blessing for many, has been a disaster for others, simply redefining poorly-treated schizophrenics as 'homeless' or 'criminals'. Street and jail are poor alternatives to mental hospitals.

Deinstitutionalization is a perennially thorny issue in social policy. Just Google: 'deinstitutionalization mentally.ill' for lots and lots of stuff. It's not a left/right issue.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 11:50 PM on May 5, 2003


....I started to understand that it wasn't money, but something in between power and avarice that drove him. For right or wrong, I tend to see a lot of CEO types (aka the rich) through the filter he forged in my eyes.

Some of the rich are selfish, cruel, bungling idiots. As, by the way, are an approximately equal percentage of every income class. On the whole, however, the primary motive is, well, creativity. Business is an artistic medium. The best artists I know focus largely on their work. It's not that they don't want to sell their paintings and sculptures, but they paint because they are driven to paint. Even if they were rich, they would still ... paint. Entrepreneurship feels exactly like that. There is no buzz on earth like making something out of nothing. Dealing with the thousands of hassles (many of which come from the government) required to get something funded and off the ground. Of seeing it grow, seeing it being accepted in the marketplace. And believe it or not, there's a huge buzz that accompanies creating jobs, putting people to work, delivering challenges that push people to the edge of their abilities, and not only giving them paychecks, but giving them a sense of fulfillment that little else can deliver.

and if you'd ever known anyone who suffered from mental illness - money isn't their primary motive for working either, because it's generally impossible for them to do so. a company's ideology of looking-at-the-bottom-line-because-we've-got-to-post-a-profit-for-the-shareholders mentality is not going to look after our most vulnerable citizens. period.

I never said it would. However, if you're in a time of tight budgets, ignoring the "bottom line", not tax cuts, is what most hurts our most vulnerable citizens. I worked at a multi-national financial services firm, in it's international brokerage division, until a year or two ago. Facing declining revenues due to a number of factors, cuts had to be made. How did the company cut? First, it used technology to try to optimize inefficient operations. Then it cut out a big chunk of middle management. A number of projects were put on hold. Several tertiary businesses sold off. The last thing anyone touched was the front office people. Endless board meetings revolved around the same topic: How do we significantly lower costs without diminishing service to our clients.

With the government, it is the polar opposite. Middle and upper management cannot be touched (it's union, they have the most seniority). Projects are hardly ever cancelled or put on hold. When they cut, the overriding intention is virtually always to first preserve the bureaucracy - and in fact usually the first thing to get cut, not the last, is the front-line people and services.

Today the NY subways starting charging $2 instread of $1.50 for a subway ride. There was much controversy about it. The MTA and Bloomberg claimed it was absolutely necessary. Budget shortfall you see. So then, the public sector approach was this: close a number of booths that have been staffed by personnal (i.e., the front-line folks in the most direct contact with customers). Raise fares by a substantial percentage. Meanwhile, the $135 million renovation of the MTA's new headquarters has not only not been scaled back, it turns out it has cost overuns in the hundreds of millions (the cost of what was budgeted as a $135MM project is now estimated to be over $400MM). Things like an Italian marble lobby (selected by it's developer, who the MTA flew to Europe, on the Concorde, to shop for), probably have something to do with this. This is just an example of a pervasive attitude.

The particular case in this FPP is a case in point of how this all gets pitched. A lot of heartwrenching text about Farrah. quotes from the DHS Director saying "she warned lawmakers that cutting programs such as the one that supported Farrah could have particularly serious, perhaps even lethal consequences. Even so, lawmakers cut $140 million from her agency's budget."

NO examination of whether the DHS itself was running efficiently or not. Of whether it was optimizing the use of money for clients, or whether a large number of possible areas to reduce spending were considered off limits. It is just assumed that the bureaucracy itself is fixed - any cuts get passed directly - and first - to services to clients. I think I remember a recent study about welfare reform - while there is only about 1/4 - 1/3 as many people on the welfare rolls as there were prior to the reforms of the mid 90's, curiously enough, the actual caseworkers (and administrators, and managers, and the whole bureacracy surrounding welfare) has barely been reduced at all.

I repeat - during tight money in the private sector, it is understood that service to the client is the last thing that should get touched ... but in the public sector, the "client" ... i.e., people like Farrah ... are always the first to bear the brunt of any cuts. Protecting the jobs of bureacrats, and their pet projects, is the primary goal of cost cutting in the government.

i'm glad that you and your wife are rich. i'm glad that you think that you shouldn't pay taxes.

i don't know which is more disgusting: that you can compare the plight of the overtaxed to that of those whose lives are literally ended by an erosion of resources OR that you can get patted on the back so many times for doing so.

Kindly point out where I said I didn't think I should pay taxes? I do pay taxes. A mind-numbing amount. What I said was that if I get tax breaks, what I do is invest them in either my company or others. Most of the rich do. They do not sit on money, they invest it. The government can choose to take relatively more or less of that surplus capital - but they are taking it from investment in the very businesses required to create jobs. You may believe government can use that money more effectively than the private sector. The evidence for this, however, is pretty damn slim.

Nor did I even remotely compare the "plight" of the overtaxed to the mentally ill. What I did say is that in area after area in the public sector, a completely bogus picture is being painted - one that tries to turn natural allies into enemies through class warfare (strangely enough, my employees don't think it's them against me - they're actually dumnb enough to believe that we'll both succeed or fail together), and successfully avoids major issues.

The "lives that were literally ended by an erosion of services"? A good number of companies have managed to cut costs significantly more than states have had to in the last couple of years, and somehow managed to make certain that there was very little "erosion of services" to their clients. The government should not be able to get away with any less of a standard. You'll notice this is NEVER brought up in the article.

Believe it or not, most the "rich" (including me) are quite proud to pay taxes in America. And perhaps because we pay such a large amount of them, we have an even greater sense of wanting them to genuinely deliver services as cost-efficiently as our companies deliver them to clients (which is how most of the rich got rich in the US). I want the mentally ill to be cared for. I do not want to support a huge number of middle management, career brueacrats with paperwork fetishes, who put their own job security before the well-being of those "vulnerable" you claim to be so concerned about.

And no, it is NOT "disgusting" to assert this issue - in fact it is disgusting to avoid it, and still pretend that some solution is being sought. The "rich" pay well more than enough taxes to care for all of the mentally ill in the US. They don't pay enough to support a massive, inefficient bureacracy to provide that care. But the solution is not to just assume that the bureacracy is untouchable, and raise taxes ... and this is NOT some situation composed of the "selfish rich" vs. the "vulnerable poor".
posted by MidasMulligan at 11:59 PM on May 5, 2003


Wow, these are the best defenses of greed since the Prayer of Jabez turned God into a capitalist.

You know, I might buy some of it were it not for the fact that the "selfless" rich have played the largest part in rendering government bureaucracy useless in most purposes but their own.
posted by troybob at 12:28 AM on May 6, 2003


The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill began in the 1950's. It was made possible by the development of the first effective anti-psychotic medication.

Also by a series of court cases and laws that I'm too lazy to google for that made it *much* harder to forcibly commit people, so some mentally-ill people checked themselves out and became street people. The bad part is that lots of people who need help are too ill to get help themselves, but not enough of a danger to anyone that they can be forcibly committed. The good part is that you can't get committed for being homosexual now, either, which you could back in the day.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:28 AM on May 6, 2003


Midas: but there are reasons why government agencies are often inefficient, and the primary reason is that we force them to be. We force the government to seek efficiencies long after the returns have diminished into negativity.

If you're sinking a pool into your backyard, all you're buying is a pool. Nobody is going to give two shits if the contractor hires his brothers and cousins as the subs, so long as it gets done for the contracted price, and that price will have been found without much search effort, because really the savings you'll get from a really thorough search aren't worth looking for.

But if it's a government contract, all that changes. We worry that the mayor is going to hire his brother or friend, so we make the city use a thorough bidding process that costs city people time to evaluate (and of course every bid will have to get a serious no-shit evaluation and not be tossed in the round-file because it's obviously not good enough after 5 minutes), and where the prices will be higher to take into account the costs of writing the bids. We know that in the bad old days, all the people checking out the bids were cronies of the mayor anyway, so we put into place a civil service system to make them more independent and harder to fire for bad reasons. That also makes them harder to fire for good reasons, so then we worry that the people evaluating the bids are overpaid idiots, so we make them make the bidders use giant complicated cost-sheets running to hundreds of pages that nobody in the public is ever going to look at instead of having a line-item for "Pool -- $150,000." And we hire a monitor to make sure that lazy fuck in the cushy city job that we don't let him get fired from is actually doing his job. We worry that the city contractor is going to hire his brothers and cousins as subs, so we make him use a cumbersome, complex, and costly bidding process to find his subs, adding more costs into it. Then we worry that the contractors are going to hire illegals as diggers, so we put monitors on them, etc etc. The massive, inefficient bureaucracy is largely there to deal with requirements that we've insisted on in the name of efficiency. And that's with everything going right. Add in even normal boring amounts of incompetence or piffling levels of corruption, and you get government agencies spending a lot more to do the same thing than a private firm would, because we keep making them spend thousands to try to save hundreds.

Similar in the benefits world. It would probably be cheaper just to fire all the HHS drones and give everyone a minimum income, but you try selling that to the public. You can see this at a smaller scale in school districts where it's cheaper to just give everyone free lunches than to actually check on who's eligible and who isn't, but you try dealing with the crowds that are upset that So-And-So is getting a benefit he isn't entitled to.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:52 AM on May 6, 2003


You know, I'm too angry about this to post right now. Logic is just flying out the window. If you put each issue in its little red-vs.-blue box, then, yeah, the country could easily be saved by the hot air of conservative rhetoric alone. But the problems are fucking complex, and as that hot air burns us more and more, things are just getting worse and worse.

Yes, the government is needlessly complex. Who made it that way? Beaureaucrats. Who are they? Businessmen and lawyers, mostly. Why would they intentionally screw up the government? To further their own political, religious, or corporate agendas. Well, if they are so self-involved, why did we elect them? Because they're the ones with the money and the will to put their faces on posters and get elected. But everyone has will; where did they get the money? By being businessmen and lawyers. Why do THEY get all the money? Businessmen make the laws favorable to teir businesses, lawyers make the government needlessly complex so they'll have a steady stream of work. Many dabble in both.

The government doesn't work. The government, at this juncture in history, is jerking itself off trying to get away with what it can while treading water to stay alive. Fuck the government and fuck the capitalism that made it that way.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:42 AM on May 6, 2003


Fuck the government and fuck the capitalism that made it that way.
Yet, for all its failings, the US political and economic environment has managed to build and maintain for its citizens the highest average standard of living in the world. So yeah, fuck that.
posted by mischief at 4:18 AM on May 6, 2003


MidasM: Want to give my company a break on corporate taxes? Know what I'll do with the money? Expand my business. Hire more sales people, that will lead to more delivery people, etc., etc.

Riiiiight. But if you have idle capacity right now, exactly how does a tax cut right now induce you to expand capacity? Are you going to hire more people to stand around and do nothing?

Supply-side relief only works when supply is short. What we have today is a shortage of demand.

Say it with me, Mr. Businessman: Supply does not equal demand.

Its arguments like this that reveal these people as greedy con men. Really.
posted by Cerebus at 5:44 AM on May 6, 2003


Oh, and Midas-- Care to explain how Medicare provides services with 2 to 3% overhead but private insurance takes anywhere from 5 to as much as 20% in overhead (averaging ~9%)? How exactly is that "deliver[ing] services as cost-efficiently as our companies deliver them to clients"? Or are you arguing that Medicare needs to spend more?

I ask only for information.

You forget that business has only one drive: to make money. But there are two ways to do it: lower costs and sell more units (Dell), or raise costs and sell fewer units (Apple). Both are viable strategies.

The invisible hand of the market does not guarantee efficiency in anything at all-- except efficiency in separating customers from their money. That's all. The rest of the market myth is utter bullshit.

But it's comforting bullshit to the wealthy, I'll grant you that.
posted by Cerebus at 5:51 AM on May 6, 2003


For my job in Portland I deal with people every day who can't pay their bills. The difference between when I started my job 6 years ago and today? A significant number who call me now have never had to call before, and they fall into two categories: people who have lost well paying jobs and have sold nearly everything they own before calling me, and those who have been able to avoid falling through the social safety net. The tenacious grip of both groups has finally been loosened by the unraveling economy.
The State employees I deal with are more overworked and stressed out than you can imagine. They have to make the decisions about how to split an ever shrinking piece of pie among now competing groups. Could I make those decisions on a daily basis?
posted by TomSophieIvy at 5:58 AM on May 6, 2003


I find it hard to believe some of you folks actually read the article (esp. the neo-cons). I typically ignore sensationalist stories with no larger significance about individual people. But this was clearly a personal story with huge social importance.

And whether the public sector is owned by, crippled by, or put to shame by the private sector is beside the point. People like us let this stuff happen (some of us with a clear conscience, apparently) by not voting or participating at all.

Thank you Cerebus. Market capitalism is nothing but a pricing system. Public sector goods (services, typically...cheap crap like like justice, public health, civil rights, public education (even Adam Smith advocated that one), etc.) are, by definition, not subject to the rules of any pricing system...and they're subject to many additional rules instead, as someone else pointed out (mainly because they should and do set a good example when it comes to compensation, labor rights, nepotism, etc).
posted by micropublishery at 6:32 AM on May 6, 2003


Midas: Ok, please understand this: past a certain level of income, having more or less money does not affect daily life at all.

Exactly. The economic problem today (as it was before and even during the Clinton years) is one of overproduction and oversupply. If you want to get rid of surplus capital, and "stimulate the economy" as they like to say, giving the rich a tax break isn't going to change anything. As you said, there comes an income point where you no longer are spending your ducats. Usually, after your car, house, kids and food is paid for, everything else is just gravy. Now, certainly a small amount of this goes to luxury items, (a bigger house, a nicer car, a faster computer, etc.), but in general, everything over the $100k mark (arbitrary but a good starting point) isn't being spent on things that will directly affect surplus capital.

You're not going to buy an additional refrigerator, or another washer/dryer. What you might do instead is invest your money (as you yourself said) by buying stocks from a company that sells these things. Fine, except that the companies selling consumer products are having a hard time convincing investors that they're good picks. Why? Well, because they aren't selling as much as they used to. And why is that? See circular point #1: people who would be buying these things are hurting in a big way, and those who aren't hurting financially have already got these things. It's an economic Catch-22. If I'm unemployed, or worrying about becoming unemployed, I'm going to save my money, or if I do spend it, it'll be on essential things (car, house, food, kids). If I'm rich, odds are that I've already got the things I want, can already pay for the things I need, and the rest I either invest, or I sit on.

If you dig a little deeper, you discover an even worse trend that saps the collective finances. In order for Company Z to appear like a good investment to those who have cash in hand, they've either got to unload their surplus capital, or attempts to sell at either constant or increasing levels. But you can't do that when nobody is buying your products. What you can do is cut your operating expenses, by either optimizing production (and thus reducing production costs), or more likely, optimizing your staffing overhead.

The best ways to accomplish this (if experience and history are any measure) is to either reduce your number of employees and hope the rest can take up the slack (not an uncommon thing nowadays when workers will happily take on extra hours just for the honor of keeping their jobs), or you simply move those jobs to cheaper labor markets. Either way, you cut jobs. Now those people who don't have jobs, do you think they're going to be heading out to the store that weekend to buy Company Z's product? Hell no. It's a vicious cycle.

Just to be clear, I differ with my fellow liberals in that I don't mind giving companies or rich individuals tax breaks, provided there is some stipulation on how that money is used (not hoarded or invested in real estate, which is just another form of hoarding). The problem with so many conservatives, however, is that once the blank check is signed and put in their pocket, personal greed trumps social responsibility and it becomes "My money! Mine! You hear me? Mine, mine mine!" (as Daffy Duck might say)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:50 AM on May 6, 2003


ed: could private businesses have jump-started the economy the way that the New Deal programs did?

Oh. I didn't know that the New Deal lifted us out of the depression.

I asked Sowell for sources, and he cited:
A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz, pages 407-419,
Paul Johnson's A History of the American People, pages 737-760, and
In Out of Work by Richard K. Vedder and Lowell E. Gallaway, pages 89-97, 137-146
posted by trharlan at 7:00 AM on May 6, 2003


Civil_Disobedient, your argument neglects to consider that new markets and thus new businesses can and will most likely open up to take advantage of new demands and thus can take in the excess workers shed by the previous firms. It can be argued that this isn't quite efficient (job training, college educations can't be simply exchanged from one field to the next) however.

(For the record before I get attacked by some of the more trollish posters, I'm not a huge fan of most of the recent tax cuts)
posted by Darke at 7:03 AM on May 6, 2003


Darke: You're assuming foreknowlege you simply can't have. You don't know that will happen, you're betting it will happen.

I'm not willing to let someone make that bet with my life and well-being.
posted by Cerebus at 7:36 AM on May 6, 2003


Right, Cerebus. Also, new companies (or markets) have a much more difficult time "opening up" when people who have money don't invest it in those companies for fear of losing it. Now, if you want to give a tax break to the rich with the caveat that they must invest it in startups, for example, (a ludicrous presumption, I know), then supply-side economics might actually work in some fashion. The problem is, you can't dictate how people will spend their money. Can't, and shouldn't, for a couple of reasons. First off, who's to say where the best place to invest is. Foreign currencies, bio-tech, gold -- it's a crapshoot. Second, it goes against a lot of democratic principles that we still hold rather dearly.

A lot of fiscal conservatives would probably agree with the last point. The thing to remember, however, is that you can dictate (or rather, influence) how the government will spend its money. And when it comes to public services, I'd rather rely on taxation than the benevolence of my peers, who think just because the streets are paved with gold, so should their driveway. Greed is a powerful force, but one that unfortunately needs to be bent to shape the necessities of civilization. Unchecked, it is a cancer that consumes its host.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:46 AM on May 6, 2003


Re: standards of living:

"For those born to low-income families in rich nations, the United States is not such a good place to grow up. The high overall living standards in the United States must be balanced by the fact that these advantages do not translate directly to low-income children. Race, ethnicity. and single parenthood play roles in explaining these differences, but low parental wages and lack of social income support are the two most important factors that explain this result...[w]hile the United States has a higher real level of overall income than all of our comparison countries, it is the high- and middle-income persons (in general), and particularly the well-to-do children in our nation who reap the benefits (and much more the former than the latter). Low-income American children suffer in both absolute and relative terms. The average low-income child in the other 12 countries is at least 25 per cent better off than is the average low-income American child."

(emphasis mine)
posted by trondant at 9:05 AM on May 6, 2003


Think of the children!
posted by hellinskira at 11:51 AM on May 6, 2003


I just finished McMurtry's little biography of the Indian leader Crazy Horse, whose social and economic philosophy basically seems to have boiled down to a refusal to eat unless all the sick and poor in his tribe had eaten and otherwise been taken care of first.

What a crackpot. No doubt he'd have been hospitalized with some type of mental illness in today's America, where "the rich" demand tax cuts (a shirking of their fair share for the services from which they overwhelmingly benefit) to finance their extra SUVs, vacation homes, gated communities, plastic surgeries, country club memberships, William Bennett gambling sprees, and so forth....all while frantically prevaricating that taking funds from the rest of us is actually good for us, and that somehow the rich are more creative with money than the rest of us.

Why would they lie?

Steinbeck nailed these sorry American moneygrubbers to the wall almost seven decades ago, when this country was fighting its way out of another greed driven disaster:

Beside them, little pot-bellied men in light suits and panama hats; clean, pink men with puzzled worried eyes, with restless eyes. Worried because formulas do not work out; hungry for security and yet sensing its disappearance from the earth. In their lapels the insignias of lodges and service clubs, places where they can go and, by a weight of numbers of little worried men, reassure themselves that business is noble and not the curious ritualized thievery they know it is; that business men are intelligent in spite of the records of their stupidity; that they are kind and charitable in spite of the principles of sound business; that their lives are rich instead of the thin tiresome routines they know; and that a time is coming when they will not be afraid any more.

And my, how "the rich" and rich-wannabes come out of the woodwork to howl when any programs to help the sick or poor are discussed (programs which might take a few dollars out of their hands)....

On the whole, however, the primary motive is, well, creativity. Business is an artistic medium.

~guffaw~

Right. So if what you say isn't the same lame rationalization for business rape and pillage as usual (which it most definitely is), then you and the other greedheads shouldn't mind in the least personally doing without all that nasty, prosaic money, right? I mean, with all your tender, sublime, artistic sensibilities and all, why not just take that cash and give it to the homeless and mentally ill, who lack your artistic passions and need the bucks for minor things like food and medication? If you're not just spouting untruths for the sake of your bank account, that is. Let us all know when you and the others have given it all back. Be sure and write to tell us about the ecstacy of your newfound creativity and artistic freedom, unfettered by that manna that we're supposed to somehow believe is so very unimportant to you and your ilk, as you save the world through the supposed magic of perpetually and relentlessly serving your own self interest.

One doubts that breaths will be held.

And for the hundredth time, would any of the greed apologists care to demonstrate any politicial or philosophical position of "the rich" which doesn't further line your own pockets, usually at the expense of the poorest members of our tribe (the homeless, the sick, the mentally ill)? We know you rich folks want to be seen as misunderstood social liberators and all.... veritable Che Guevaras (and now, apparently, Van Goghs) in pinstripes....but this silly American Enterprise Institute/Ayn Rand "greed is good" bullshit is as transparently self-serving as it gets.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 2:52 PM on May 6, 2003


Tax Cut Trickery: Part II - Washington Post lead editiorial, Tuesday, May 6, 2003:

...In Arkansas yesterday, for example, Mr. Bush attributed the deficit to the recession and to his decision to send troops into combat. Both have indeed helped turn projected surpluses into deficits. But so has something Mr. Bush's account omits: his first, $1.35 trillion tax cut. Budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. acknowledged to the House Budget Committee in February that next year's deficit would be more than one-third smaller were it not for that cut. Most worrisome, Mr. Bush continues to suggest, implausibly -- in contrast to the assessment of his own economists -- that his tax cut would more than pay for itself. In Silicon Valley last week, Mr. Bush said, "The way to deal with the deficit is not to be timid on the growth package; the way to deal with the deficit is to have a robust enough growth package so we get more revenues coming into the federal Treasury." The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that Mr. Bush's full tax cut would add $2.7 trillion to the deficit through 2013. That's too robust for our tastes.
posted by y2karl at 2:58 PM on May 6, 2003


"Everyone does better when Everyone does better."

We may have the highest average standard of living in the world, but does that neccesarily matter? How much does it matter to have two cars in the driveway if you have to work 80-hour weeks to keep your high-paying job, and have no time for anything else? This is the predicatment my mother is currently in. For most of us, a high standard of living produces about as much grief as comfort, and at the same time buying into the whole suburban mythos is a rejection of the kind of community support we could expect if we were living in, say, an impovershed farming village in Mexico. Beyond being able to eat, clothe ourselves, and sleep undeer some kind of roof, I'm not really convinced that a high standard of living is all that useful.

I don't know if any of our conservative friends are Christian, but they might do well to learn from the early church. It is said that Jesus and Crew would accept anyone who knocked at their dinner table, and if there wasn't enough food for all, then everyone would fast until there was. Whaddya know? Jesus was a socialist. Comparing that to the present State of things, it's pretty clear that American conservative Christianity has come a damned long way from its roots.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:27 PM on May 6, 2003


You're assuming foreknowlege you simply can't have. You don't know that will happen, you're betting it will happen.

I'm not willing to let someone make that bet with my life and well-being.


If that bet is wrong, won't all our lives go to hell if we're not part of the 1984ish inner circle, and so why live at all? Life's not fun in a dystopian land. Instead of going your viewpoint, I'm going to go with the 100% success rate that innovation and growth has had.

How much does it matter to have two cars in the driveway if you have to work 80-hour weeks to keep your high-paying job, and have no time for anything else? This is the predicatment my mother is currently in.

If one is working when one does not need the money and its taking a major toll on one's life, why not just cut back on the materialism, and or save enough to so that one can get a lower paying job with better hours? An pretty large amount of people would love to be in that sort of predicament, especially in these times.

If the liberals among us aren't willing to give to help out, why should the conservatives?
posted by Darke at 6:08 PM on May 6, 2003


We may have the highest average standard of living in the world, but does that neccesarily matter?

This reminds me of something I said in a universal healthcare policy proposal I made a few years ago. Basically, how are we to judge the success or failure of our civilization? Conservatives would rate it based upon the triumphs of the best of us -- our country has the best doctors, our system produces the most money, etc. Democrats would base it on the failures we allow -- how many people go sick and hungry, how many people are homeless or born into a life without a chance? Judge from the bottom, not from the top.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:42 AM on May 7, 2003


Darke: Why do you automatically assume that 'liberals' don't give time, money and blood, sweat and tears?

I certainly give all of that. Do you?
posted by Cerebus at 5:17 AM on May 7, 2003


money is NOT the primary motive for working

That all depends. First of all, I was a scholarship kid at a prep school and recently attended my 10 year reunion - plenty of rich kids were just hanging around these days, finished with school, some of them finished with professional or grad school, but weren't practicing. Some were taking classes, or doing occasional contract work - but there were plenty of people who did not have, and were not seeking, standard 40 hr/wk jobs, and they did not need them. If I had extensive resources, there are a lot of projects I would launch, and it frustrated me that so many of these kids were just paying exorbitant rent & lying around watching tv.

Second, for the working poor, work is about money: they aren't expressing their creativity and ingenuity by selling donuts or mopping floors. Some jobs are just ways to get the rent, and leave the people doing them exhausted and unable to attempt more interesting ventures in their spare time, because, you know, they have to sleep too.

Insisting that governments should tax everyone to fund such programs is fundamentally legislating the "moral value" of compassion.

It's all right to legislate "moral values" when we outlaw murder and theft, right? All laws come back to ethics. The idea of taxes is that we can make it a fair charitable contribution. If we want to live in a just society, we need to pool our resources for the benefit of all.

I heard a program on the radio the other day about the food industry, and how all businesses have to try to be growth industries, but without a population boom, that's tough in the food industry - we only eat as much as we eat after all. The solution is endless processing, extracting, adding, mixing, coloring, shaping... we'd be healthier living off of direct produce, but the food industry wouldn't make enough money. This is obviously a problem across the board: with a static population, how can a business grow, except by convincing the people they need things they don't need?

Nice post, civil_disobediant.
posted by mdn at 6:39 AM on May 7, 2003


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