Welfare Reform: The Anti-Basic Income
September 7, 2016 12:17 AM   Subscribe

Money spent on welfare hasn't declined since reform, it's just that much less of it goes to poor people. In 1998 some 60% of welfare spending was cash benefits for the poor, now it's less than 10% in many states. Instead much of the money is used for programs meant to "promote job preparation, prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies or promote two-parent families."

Welfare reform was embraced by the leadership of both parties (notably the Clintons), despite a burgeoning economics literature suggesting that direct cash transfers are in many cases the most efficient tool to fight poverty.
posted by blankdawn (50 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
NPR has a great podcast called The Uncertain Hour whose first season was all about welfare and dealt heavily with this topic. It's excellent and detailed, and I highly recommend all of it to anyone interested in this.
posted by schroedinger at 12:25 AM on September 7, 2016 [15 favorites]


(actually, the similarities between the podcast and this article are so close that I would be surprised if this article wasn't inspired by the podcast)
posted by schroedinger at 12:27 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


But, but, the Clintons had to do this because pragmatism blah blah.
posted by anarch at 12:44 AM on September 7, 2016 [27 favorites]


I really recommend listening to the podcast, it is significantly more details about the political atmosphere surrounding the welfare laws as well as the case studies that inspired the reforms.
posted by schroedinger at 12:51 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'd love to see politicians state an actual goal and a measurement metric for their policies and then actually revisit those goals and metrics to see if the policy worked.

But of course we don't do that so we have to fall back on how people, and people don't like just straight up giving cash away, despite the fact that it seems to do a pretty good job of reducing poverty and inequality.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:29 AM on September 7, 2016 [18 favorites]


Evidence based policy, now there's an idea.
posted by xarnop at 3:08 AM on September 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'd love to see politicians state an actual goal and a measurement metric for their policies and then actually revisit those goals and metrics to see if the policy worked

Hey sweet I got the charter school if you got the standardized test and as of right now you and me are in BUSINESS.
posted by 7segment at 3:19 AM on September 7, 2016 [20 favorites]


"Most Welfare Dollars Don’t Go Directly To Poor People Anymore" .... "A variety of other policy changes, such as the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, came around the time of welfare reform but weren’t formally part of it."

This is a problem, though, because those other policy changes constitute welfare dollars spent on the poor. Let's say TANF spends approximately $10 billion on direct cash assistance. Well, the EITC, another cash transfer program, also spends welfare dollars, and it transferred $67 billion in 2014. The only larger federal welfare/antipoverty programs are SNAP ($74 billion) and Medicaid ($496 billion). The CTC's another $60 billion in expenditures, half of that spent on refunds.

Here are the numbers in fancy chart form, but the bottom line is that you can't evaluate US welfare policy by looking at TANF and SNAP alone.
posted by factory123 at 4:03 AM on September 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


It seems as though this article does deal with the EITC - it's in the second chart.

A lot of people who make welfare policy don't, I think, actually know anyone on welfare. All these "it is so mysterious experts debate whether welfare is working" articles don't seem to have any social history.

It so happens that one of my friends grew up on welfare. It wasn't a great life and her parents were troubled people, but she had a roof over her head. She is very bright but, despite doing well in school, hit some financial hard times and had to drop out with debt. She was in and out of lousy jobs and intermittently homeless until she had a baby, a child she wanted very much. I don't want to give a lot of personal detail here, but I can tell you that I went to the welfare office with her and the work requirements and other stuff were so intrusive, for so little cash, that she decided not to bother. Now the state has cut food stamps too.

Like several other young single mothers I know, she pulled herself out of this through....sex work. Now, on a personal level, she's a hero - she has worked so hard and been through so much and is such a good parent. She's worked harder than I ever have. But at the same time, what misery! What a waste of brains and talent! It's not that I want to knock sex work, but for most of the people I know who've done it, it's not like it's their vocation or anything.

But the point is - the welfare that was available to her mother that kept her out of poverty in childhood was gone by the time she needed it as an adult. In a sense, she's bootstrapped her way up - but "bootstrap your way up by becoming a sex worker" is pretty brutal logic, and it's tremendously easier if you're mainstream attractive.

Welfare is worse now. People I know who had it before are in worse shape since the reform. This is only a mystery to people who - like most of our great and good government masters - do not know poor people and have no experience of poverty.

Also, our state has cut food stamps to a lifetime eligibility of three years. What good is that if you're chronically in shitty jobs? You can work and work and still need food stamps all your life.

Again, elites rely on the fact that the most downtrodden people are the most disenfranchised, and they rely on class stratification. People like me, with college degrees and full time work, are not supposed to have friends from welfare families - we're supposed to believe in a lot of myths and garbage and vote accordingly.
posted by Frowner at 6:27 AM on September 7, 2016 [77 favorites]


Shriver Center is doing some really good work right now on the 20th anniversary of welfare "reform". It's exhausting work, though not as exhausting as being poor in America.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:42 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


EITC is a good program, but it's also a program that probably doesn't help the poorest folks. To receive EITC you've got to, at minimum, have earned income for which you receive legitimate documentation (which a significant number of the poorest people do not have), have the knowledge and ability to file a tax return that shows you're entitled to EITC (an undertaking that many very poor people will struggle with), and have a bank account or at least a stable address at which to receive your refund and EITC payment (which the poorest people may very well not have).

There is a lot of evidence that says that direct cash transfers to poor folks is the simplest, easiest, and hands-down most efficient and effective way of reducing poverty. The difficulty is making that strategy politically feasible for enough decision makers and the public that it's possible to implement. That's going to be hard. Necessary, but hard.
posted by Kpele at 6:43 AM on September 7, 2016 [15 favorites]


I was on welfare for many years before and during Clinton. It was bad enough then, but at least I got enough to feed my kids decently. Even back in the early 1980s Section 8 housing vouchers required years of waiting for your name to reach the top of the list.

I could write a book about the absurdity of some of the regulations, about the efforts to dehumanize recipients, about the arbitrariness, pettiness, and cruelty of caseworkers.

Guaranteed minimum income for all , do away with arcane and archaic eligibility rules, do away with bloated bureaucracies and corrupt bureaucrats.
posted by mareli at 6:47 AM on September 7, 2016 [11 favorites]


The EITC reels people in to tax preparers who charge crazy sums and then offer an 'instant refund' loan so that they can skim even more off the top. And EITC money can get intercepted to pay off (often unpayable) debts unlike other programs. So it isn't like all of that money is actually going to poor people either.
posted by Garm at 7:08 AM on September 7, 2016 [19 favorites]


Welfare reform was embraced by the leadership of both parties (notably the Clintons), despite a burgeoning economics literature suggesting that direct cash transfers are in many cases the most efficient tool to fight poverty.
I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately, as election campaigns in both Europe and the US have heightened people's sense of the inherent differences in world view that separate conservatives, leftists, and liberals. And I really do think it comes down to this: social welfare (as originally envisaged) was egalitarian and universalist in scope. The idea with this kind of policy was to offer services for everyone. Of course, one can talk about the race and identity aspects of this—perhaps this kind of comprehensive welfare system can only really work in homogeneous societies—but I think that's a moot point.

Both conservatives and liberals (of all stripes), meanwhile, distrust universalist systems and are instinctively anti-egalitarian. (Neo)-liberals and fiscal conservatives talk in terms of efficiency and value for money. Isn't welfare provision and social housing best aimed only at those in most dire need of it? Shouldn't social spending be rigorously accounted for? Shouldn't there be means testing? Arguably, for both groups too, a kind of moral and tribal means testing also comes into play. They don't like the idea of state spending going to groups they disapprove of. They demand the right to determine who is truly deserving of care and sympathy. Human beings are sorted into hierarchies of moral worth on both sides of the political divide, and assumptions made about whether it is "worth" catering towards certain classes or interest groups, especially those we decide are "their own worst enemy."

This attitude to the (potential) universalism of state-based social provision explains certain schisms in the nominal left that have surfaced recently. Think about Clinton supporters' scorn for Sanders's proposals for universal free college. Wouldn't that be inefficient, they ask? Worse, wouldn't that let, say, Trump's children (i.e., our traditional culture-war enemies) have something that we ourselves might want? And so the proposal lost out in favour of more means testing. Which, as TFA explains, is actually inefficient.

Welfare provision and social services can only thrive where they are (potentially) universal in scope and where people on both sides of the political divide are willing to swallow their social and cultural prejudices in the interests of the greater good. But in an increasingly tribal climate, it's difficult to see this kind of consent coalescing.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:10 AM on September 7, 2016 [16 favorites]


One of the things that I learned on the uncertain hour was how blatantly racist midcentury cash welfare was (not even who qualified, but black mothers automatically qualified for less assistance than white mothers because blacks were used to getting by with less), which probably shouldn't have surprised me but did.

I remember when a lot of these went into effect - it was the end of grade school. Our school was poor enough that a lot of the families were on and off welfare - usually on it for a few months, something would happen and they'd either be disqualified or not need it anymore, the next year something else would happen and they'd apply for it again. The main thing we understood from it at the time was that money would be tighter because their moms and siblings wouldn't have time to do the sort of stuff that they'd be doing to save money - pooling together their efforts for childcare, basic side jobs for petty cash (doing makeup, doing hair, mowing lawns, shovelling snow, mixing nail polish). The welfare to work requirements took too much time. I can't think of a single other policy change that I was aware of when I was 10, much one that seemed to affect so many people I knew.

It comes down to punishing the poor for being poor, and thinking that they're too stupid to realize how to get rich. And then making their children suffer for it, too.

The segment on the uncertain hour on crisis pregnancy centers receiving TANF funds was a malestrom of so many things I hate about US 'morality' policy that I am still amazed I listened to it without spontaneously combusting.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:18 AM on September 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


I just finished listening to the first episode of The Uncertain Hour, that schroedinger linked above, and it did a great job of putting you in the mindset of people who made decisions 20 years ago that still have effects today. I'm not crazy about welfare as it exists today but I can see why somebody thought this was a good idea once.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:18 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also, all these non-cash-transfer-related programs serve to take money that is intended for the poor and put it in the pockets of middle class program managers - of the appropriate social background and political viewpoint, of course. Instead of giving money to a person who needs it, you're giving it to a college-educated person to sit behind a desk and design useless, ineffective, morally-toxic "don't have a baby, ladies, but be sure to marry if you do!" propaganda.

It's basically privatization, isn't it? Take a job that would have been done by one government worker and that was mostly results-centered and hire two or three private sector people at bigger salaries while you stop caring about outcomes. Basically it's a scam run by members of the government to steal money from the government.
posted by Frowner at 7:23 AM on September 7, 2016 [33 favorites]


"Think about Clinton supporters' scorn for Sanders's proposals for universal free college."

Citation needed? I'm surrounded by Clinton supporters and am one myself. Anecdotally I can't think of anyone opposed to free college. Are there numbers/polls backing up this claim?

Not saying you're wrong. I could be living in a particular bubble where I can't see this opposition to free college.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 7:28 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Again, elites rely on the fact that the most downtrodden people are the most disenfranchised, and they rely on class stratification. People like me, with college degrees and full time work, are not supposed to have friends from welfare families - we're supposed to believe in a lot of myths and garbage and vote accordingly.

I will readily admit to being excruciatingly sensitive to obviously well-meaning progressives' subtle elevation of themselves above those of us who spend some or all of our lives on government assistance, but I still have to say: Drawing a line between "welfare families" and "people like me, with college degrees and full time work," even when you're only doing it to make a point about "elites," is class stratification. Welfare recipients get college degrees and work full time in regular jobs. Graduate students and employees clocking ridiculous OT belong to welfare families. The path is often a lot harder and longer, sometimes even impossible, because the trajectory of our lives rarely leaves us equipped with the expected set of skills or resources, but a lot of us still do it. We aren't just friends with people like you, we are people like you.

And while I get that a lifetime of being able to successfully keep real poverty at a minimum of arm's length is likely to encourage such a perspective, especially since so many educated people are so insulated from us and our reality, it still hurts like hell when I see my ideological peers assume a material separation between what you think the end game of "our" success is going to look like compared to "yours."
posted by amnesia and magnets at 7:36 AM on September 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


Sorry, Hairy Lobster, perhaps I should have been more specific. I was talking about Clinton's own position, as she expressed it during the primary debates:
During the early debates, Clinton defended her position not to support free tuition for all students at public colleges. “I disagree with free college for everybody,” she declared at a CBS News debate in November. “I don’t think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump’s kids to college.”
I'm guessing you would say all her supporters would disagree?
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:36 AM on September 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


One of the things that I learned on the uncertain hour was how blatantly racist midcentury cash welfare was (not even who qualified, but black mothers automatically qualified for less assistance than white mothers because blacks were used to getting by with less), which probably shouldn't have surprised me but did.

I recently finished the book When Affirmative Action Was White, a short synthesis of various critiques of the great social programs of the '30s, '40s, and '50s which argues that the many superficially race-blind exceptions in these programs effected a program of affirmative action for white people and left black people in Jim Crow's lurch. It's great, and it makes me want to read the material it brings together.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:37 AM on September 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


"I'm guessing you would say all her supporters would disagree?"

Not necessarily. It's just not the case among the ones I know. I'm just curious as to what support and opposition numbers actually are among her base.

That said I don't want to start a highly specific derail here so I'm happy to research this on my own.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 7:51 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Think about Clinton supporters' scorn for Sanders's proposals for universal free college."


OK, but one of Clinton's main points was that if we were to find the money for free college, it would provide far more help to the poor if it was invested in early childhood education, wellness programs, and support for poor families.

Bringing that back to this topic--that's one of the things welfare programs are supposed to do, if the instructions for use weren't so vague that states can use it on basically anything they want.

I'm not crazy about welfare as it exists today but I can see why somebody thought this was a good idea once.

Yes, that was one of the things I found most striking about it. It seemed legislators and social scientists were genuinely trying to find an evidence-based solution--but they did not wait for enough of the evidence to come in.
posted by schroedinger at 7:54 AM on September 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


During the early debates, Clinton defended her position not to support free tuition for all students at public colleges. “I disagree with free college for everybody,” she declared at a CBS News debate in November. “I don’t think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump’s kids to college.”

As a point of reference, the Canadian government directly subsidizes universities and thus keeps tuitions low. But seriously rich people pay the same subsidized tuition as everyone else. Paying to send Trump's kids to university isn't actually crazy or particularly offensive.
posted by GuyZero at 8:24 AM on September 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


"Free college" has pretty much nothing to do with extreme poverty. Writing "the Clintons" over and over seems less than helpful to me too, since only one Clinton signed the bill.

I think it is true that Bill Clinton might not have been reelected if he hadn't signed even a terrible bill, given the context of the times. Then again... Dole. Even a decade ago, meanwhile, people wrote about the reform as if it were a roaring success. Then came 2008, the recession, and then still-struggling economy. Even before that, I'd seen journalism coverage and academic studies that were pretty damning in re to wasteful spending of block grant monies, but that didn't remotely filter its way into the mainstream debate. I've also seen studies showing that even the most liberal reform ideas in the states, a la job training in Wisconsin, had only marginal effects, at best. (I haven't kept up with that in a bit, though, so don't know what people are saying now.)

The problem now is the same as it was before: How to get reform through. If you have a GOP Congress again, all the righteousness in the world will not work. Spotlighting stupid spending a la the college scholarships for affluent families coming from block grants meant for TANF is just about the only thing that could work.
posted by raysmj at 8:33 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


The EITC reels people in to tax preparers who charge crazy sums and then offer an 'instant refund' loan so that they can skim even more off the top.

Fortunately, the IRS finally noticed that this program was little more than a transfer program from EITC to the preparers. Refund anticipation loans are no more.

Welfare "reform" is really one of those political debates on which I would have preferred not to have been proven right, since the cost of vindication has been so high. There seems to be this underlying fantasy of so many programs that at some point we're going to have a society where stable employment sufficient to support a decent life is going to be reliably available to all, and the social safety net exists merely to cover temporary hiccups. But as far as I can tell, this has never been the case in all of human history. Why is it so hard for people to recognize that?
posted by praemunire at 8:45 AM on September 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm not crazy about welfare as it exists today but I can see why somebody thought this was a good idea once.

I've been reading a history of 2nd wave feminism and the black power movement in DC that in part deals with their intersection and cross-pollination w/the welfare rights movement in the 1970s. The single most powerful impression it has made on me so far is the degree to which US welfare programs exist first to control, humiliate, and demonize the poor for political gain and for the sin of being poor, and only secondarily to keep people from starving outright.

Welfare as it currently exists was never a good idea, and if we actually cared about lifting people out of poverty and demonstrating that the more affluent have a real concern for their quality of life, it would look radically different than anything the Clintons or other elite reformers have proposed. But obviously that's only one facet of an entire system that contributes to - and is to a large extent premised on - their misery.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:48 AM on September 7, 2016 [4 favorites]



I will readily admit to being excruciatingly sensitive to obviously well-meaning progressives' subtle elevation of themselves above those of us who spend some or all of our lives on government assistance, but I still have to say: Drawing a line between "welfare families" and "people like me, with college degrees and full time work," even when you're only doing it to make a point about "elites," is class stratification. Welfare recipients get college degrees and work full time in regular jobs. Graduate students and employees clocking ridiculous OT belong to welfare families. The path is often a lot harder and longer, sometimes even impossible, because the trajectory of our lives rarely leaves us equipped with the expected set of skills or resources, but a lot of us still do it. We aren't just friends with people like you, we are people like you.


I apologize for phrasing it so poorly - what I was trying to get at is that we're supposed to live in a clearly stratified society where there are "people like me" and "people who are super precarious". My closest friends are people who have gotten into college from precarious circumstances but have not been able to graduate because of financial problems and lack of support, and who have not made the leap to professional degrees, middle class work, etc, despite being smart and talented. As we've all gotten older, I've watched my friends from middle class backgrounds who do have those degrees sort of pull away from the rest of us culturally - they don't just have more money, they have a lot more money; they live in different parts of town, do different things in their free time, have many more options for their children, etc.

I'm college-educated and have what I hope is a fairly stable pink-collar job - and what that's meant is that my life is an embarrassing misfire to my professional friends but ridiculously stable to my non-professional friends, because I have stable housing, enough money for groceries and good health insurance.

It feels really weird, because very often I'll be in conversations with well-off liberals and I'll be "representing" people who are more precarious than I am, and (as you can see from my careless phrasing upthread) that's not very great. It gets intensely frustrating because it feels like there's nothing that will ever change - just things getting nicer and nicer for some people and more and more precarious for others. It feels like I can't make people believe me because they never meet anyone socially who isn't in the $80,000-a-year or better household income bracket.

I do apologize for accidentally implying that people who've been on welfare can't/don't get professional degrees - I was thinking of how intractable economic stratification appears in my own life and how bad the political consequences are.
posted by Frowner at 9:02 AM on September 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


(Just to clarify - I have a secretarial job. I had to have a college degree to get it, because we live in that type of economy, unfortunately.)
posted by Frowner at 9:04 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, that was kind of a crap apology. I'm sorry I said an ignorant thing that made you feel bad, and I will do better in the future.
posted by Frowner at 9:40 AM on September 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


Welfare provision and social services can only thrive where they are (potentially) universal in scope and where people on both sides of the political divide are willing to swallow their social and cultural prejudices in the interests of the greater good. But in an increasingly tribal climate, it's difficult to see this kind of consent coalescing.

universal programs are scary because you know it's very hard to get rid of them once they're established!
posted by atoxyl at 10:20 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


FPP: Welfare reform was embraced by the leadership of both parties (notably the Clintons), despite a burgeoning economics literature suggesting that direct cash transfers are in many cases the most efficient tool to fight poverty.

xarnop: Evidence based policy, now there's an idea.

schroedinger: It seemed legislators and social scientists were genuinely trying to find an evidence-based solution--but they did not wait for enough of the evidence to come in.

I thought these three comments were worth highlighting together. The "burgeoning economics literature suggesting that direct cash transfers" are the most effective form of welfare didn't exist in the early 1990s, and in fact the economics literature at the time suggested the opposite: that welfare programs that incentivized employment through back-to-work programs were much more effective at lifting people out of poverty. Unfortunately, as it turned out, this literature was largely based on statistical blips and (if I remember correctly) at least one high profile result that was based on a flaw in the data analysis.

So here's the problem: the Clinton-era welfare reform was, in fact, evidence-based policy. It was just policy based on incomplete and flawed evidence. Unfortunately, as is often the case, policy must be made in the face of the proverbial known unknowns and unknown unknowns, when good evidence is not available. When that's the case, you make the best policy you can based on the best evidence you have, and if subsequent evidence points to a better policy, you change your policy.

This points to a limitation of evidence-based policy, though, which is that you may often find yourself making policy on the basis of pretty poor quality evidence. The physician and skeptic Steven Novella draws a distinction between "evidence-based medicine," which informs medical practice on the basis of the best available medical studies, and "science-based medicine," which incorporates an evaluation of mechanistic evidence and scientific data that help provide a complete picture of the likelihood of efficacy of particular medical practices. (E.g., an "evidence-based" approach might emphasize that studies of the efficacy of reiki are mixed, while a "science-based" approach would also take account of the fact that the purported mechanism is inconsistent with the known laws of physics and that therefore "mixed" evidence should be viewed as negative evidence). Evidence is the ultimate ground truth, but a broader scientific perspective helps us interpret and make decisions based on the evidence.

I'd argue that a similar distinction might be useful in thinking about evidence-based policy. During the 90s, the available evidence suggested that the proposed welfare reforms made sense. But a broader perspective incorporating a little epistemic humility about the quality of that evidence, and a worldview that weighed qualitative reports from individuals receiving welfare alongside quantitative (but limited) outcome measures, might have suggested a better policy.

For what it's worth, "the Clintons" have acknowledged that the welfare reform of the 90s was a mistake and needs to be revisited. That willingness to revise and update policy on the basis of new information is the best of what evidence-based policymakers offer, and one of the reasons I'm excited to vote for Secretary Clinton this fall.
posted by biogeo at 10:49 AM on September 7, 2016 [17 favorites]


Hey, FYI, #ExpandEITC is trending at the moment on twitter - the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is leading a discussion about the credit generally and about the benefits of expanding the program to help more poor adults who don't have children.
posted by factory123 at 10:52 AM on September 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Great discussion, I'm very interested in the racist aspects of previous welfare, something I can't believe I never heard about before.

As far as why I said "the Clintons," HRC has tied herself to her husbands' policies and I only note her disagreements when they're explicit.

@biogeo, what does HRC propose to do when "revisiting" welfare reform? She won't say, and I'd venture it's because she believes that a Republican House will give her all the cover she needs to not improve on it. (I'd expect something similar with climate change and healthcare.)

This is the difference between her and Sanders et al, they understand that "impractical" stances based on science and humanitarian values are key to progress. You change the debate by moving forward the generally accepted common sense (just as was done in every major social improvement, from ending monarchy to civil rights to 8 hour days to environmental laws etc).

Clinton will take what's "politically possible" (i.e. almost nothing given the built-in gridlock) and argue that it's unrealistic to demand more.

The DNC elite like her aren't even pushing for a future Supreme Court challenge to the extreme gerrymandering that allows the House to remain Republican even in the case of the (hopefuly) Democratic landslide this November.

Think about that.
posted by blankdawn at 11:21 AM on September 7, 2016


And was welfare reform really evidence based? Why did it ignore the evidence from experiments with basic income in Canada in the 70s showing it didn't really lower incentives to work and led to large increases in physical and mental health as well as more family time and bonding (what the BS "training programs" that robbed welfare are supposed to do indirectly)?

True there's been a lot bigger studies from much larger samples in places like Mexico and Brazil in the last 15 years.

But people find the evidence they want. "Those who have ears, let them hear."
posted by blankdawn at 11:25 AM on September 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


The problem with "evidence-based policy" is the policy-makers get to pick the evidence.
posted by atoxyl at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


Think about that.

oh my god you're right i can't believe what a sheeple i was
posted by biogeo at 12:18 PM on September 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Think about that.

oh my god you're right i can't believe what a sheeple i was



My point is the conventional wisdom that politicians want to win at all cost doesn't seem true here.

Sorry a simple rhetorical emphasis offended you.

So do you think Hillary Clinton will push the judicial system to end the extreme gerrymandering that is apparently the only thing keeping her from signing super progressive legislation (like $15 minimum wage) into law?
posted by blankdawn at 12:30 PM on September 7, 2016


But seriously, it is not hard to find Clinton's positions on the issues. To my knowledge, she does not have a concretely articulated plan for welfare reform explicitly, but neither did/does Sanders (seriously? Sanders, still?). However, Clinton does have plans for numerous issues that intersect with it, including (perhaps most importantly) guaranteed paid family and medical leave, the gender pay gap, and debt-free education. The insinuation that Clinton is failing to communicate her stances, and that this is because she wants to accomplish nothing and use the Republican House as "cover," can only come from a total lack of attention to Clinton's entire career and current campaign.
posted by biogeo at 12:31 PM on September 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


Ok, so I thought about it, and here's what I came up with: Bill Clinton, faced with a Republican congress and a public which had grown skeptical of welfare, passed a welfare reform which hobbled the old program. At the same time, he took advantage of Republican tax policies to triple the amount of cash transferred to the poor overall.

To me, that looks like losing the battle and winning the war.
posted by factory123 at 12:34 PM on September 7, 2016


So do you think Hillary Clinton will push the judicial system to end the extreme gerrymandering

How do you propose that she do this? If elected, Clinton will be head of the Executive, not Judicial, branch. Her powers are basically to nominate judges, and direct the DOJ in its role as a plaintiff within the courts. She doesn't get to tell judges how to rule. I honestly cannot even imagine what kind of thing Clinton could actually legally do to push the judicial system to end gerrymandering.

We could override the courts with a constitutional amendment, of course. Like the one Clinton proposed to overturn Citizens United. But maybe she doesn't want to win that, either?
posted by biogeo at 12:36 PM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


At the same time, he took advantage of Republican tax policies to triple the amount of cash transferred to the poor overall.

To me, that looks like losing the battle and winning the war.


Yes and no. Thanks to the provisions in the law that leave much of the decision-making for how federal dollars are spent in the hands of the state governments, an awful lot of Republican-controlled states have funneled that money into programs that don't particularly benefit the poor. If the Republicans in the state houses were actually interested in helping the poor, then maybe the law would work better.
posted by biogeo at 12:42 PM on September 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, blankdawn, your "rhetorical emphasis" didn't offend me, I just thought it was really funny and was riffing off it. I hope we're cool.
posted by biogeo at 12:51 PM on September 7, 2016


@factory123
to me, that looks like losing the battle and winning the war.


I think the EITC is good too, but other commenters have already pointed out its limitations in reaching the poorest people. For example workers in the informal economy or home caregivers don't benefit, it can be garnished for debts, etc. (It's also only once a year.)

The "war" seems to me whether economic rights (as FDR called them) can be something the public should care about and fight for or whether they are "entitlements" that should be stripped away.
posted by blankdawn at 1:31 PM on September 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


@biogeo

First she should call for it, and explain the issue to the public (who should be outraged at the attack on democracy) the way Bernie calls for an end to Citizens United and makes explaining the case a regular part of his speeches.

Second she should only nominate judges who she is aware will consider gerrymandering unconstitutional.

I'm not 100% sure but I think one more judge might do the trick.

A side benefit is it should put some fear into Republicans in the House that their artificial majority has been called out as such and that the actual majority will of the public is likely to leave them unemployed unless they take some major changes of stance.

All of this assumes she would prefer to deal with a Democratic majority in Congress who will sign whatever she has promised or hinted at to one major group or another.
posted by blankdawn at 1:36 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


[Huh, this has really gone down a rabbit hole of arguing-in-your-own-post, and sort of off the side to the notional topic at that. blankdawn, please just give the thread a pass at this point.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:05 PM on September 7, 2016


Why did it ignore the evidence from experiments with basic income in Canada in the 70s showing it didn't really lower incentives to work and led to large increases in physical and mental health as well as more family time and bonding (what the BS "training programs" that robbed welfare are supposed to do indirectly)?

I've read commentary that those studies are flawed, though no in-depth academic analysis. This is an example of the criticisms. You compare that with the crazy-good supposed success of Larry Townsend's program*, the natural US tendency towards a "work is good for the soul" ethos, and the intense racial resentment of imaginary "welfare queens" that Reagan and the Republicans stoked in the 80s, it is not at all hard to imagine why they settled on the "feels right and has good data" answer of welfare-to-work instead of a UBI. UBI is struggling to be accepted even extremely welfare-friendly countries in Europe. The USA in the 90s? Please. You can't blame that all on the politicians.

*They later found if you continued to follow people on his program they did not do as well, and it was apparent a lot of the early success was due to a good economy
posted by schroedinger at 1:08 AM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see politicians state an actual goal and a measurement metric for their policies and then actually revisit those goals and metrics to see if the policy worked.

Well, what we need is randomized trials (excuse me, lotteries) for new policies, lest the "metrics" be gamed for political ends. Such trials would provide a valid comparison group. For example, this has been done with school vouchers, but because of either ignorance or malice, the analysis was botched (they didn't use intention-to-treat).
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:46 AM on September 8, 2016


So here's the problem: the Clinton-era welfare reform was, in fact, evidence-based policy. It was just policy based on incomplete and flawed evidence.... For what it's worth, "the Clintons" have acknowledged that the welfare reform of the 90s was a mistake and needs to be revisited.

This argument, which seems increasingly common these days, is sort of like arguing that the Iraq war was evidence-based because they had lots of evidence for why WMDs necessitated an invasion. After all, those folks did in fact have evidence, vouched for by numerous experts; Iraq apologists concede that the evidence turned out to be wrong, but that reasonable people could have concluded otherwise at the time. And that's not, factually speaking, incorrect -- it just misses the entire point of how the politics of the time actually worked.

For those of us who were politically active in the 90s, it was clear that welfare reform was not selected in 1992 out of the vast array of possible flagship policies because the Clinton campaign had investigated the evidence for every government program equally and found that recent social science studying welfare effects suggested that alternative policy mechanisms might be called for. Everyone at the time, and most now, agree that the context was political: in 1992, Clinton wanted to get elected and "ending welfare as we know it" and being tough on crime were central parts of that campaign. Once elected, he then wanted to live up to his promises, get stuff done, build a legacy, cement his DLC credentials, and find something he could work with the House Republicans on. It was part of a sequence of conservative initiatives by Clinton that ran from the beginning of the administration until Social Security "reform" was derailed by the Lewinsky stuff. Clinton certainly believed shifting policy to the right relative to existing Democratic doctrine was genuinely better -- he was an honest centrist -- but the policies they selected to spearhead were driven by the political context of the time, with evidence marshaled to support them, rather than generating them de novo. NAFTA, welfare reform, the crime bill, DADT -- evidence existed to support all of them, but evidence exists to support both sides of most non-insane policies. What caused welfare reform to be singled out, of all the hundreds of other potential policy initiatives, was because "ending welfare as we know it" polled well among the centrist whites who constituted Clinton's fundamental constituency and elected him in 1992. The claim that "we made a mistake" is disingenuous in exactly the same way that the "it was a mistake" retrospective defenses for Iraq are: the evidence was being selected by the politics, and in the presence of uncertainty, politics dictated hugely risky and ultimately disastrous outcomes because the politicians were, fundamentally, not terribly worried about those downsides.

[And for those defending this historical stuff on behalf of HRC, the evidence seems to suggest that on this as with many other issues, she was somewhat to the left of Bill. The left was adamantly opposed to welfare "reform" at the time -- and of course had plenty of evidence to muster on their own side -- and Hillary was, and seems to continue to be, more ambivalent about it not just based on new evidence, but because everyone knew at the time that its political importance was mainly being driven by white racial resentment.]
posted by chortly at 6:49 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


This argument, which seems increasingly common these days, is sort of like arguing that the Iraq war was evidence-based because they had lots of evidence for why WMDs necessitated an invasion. After all, those folks did in fact have evidence, vouched for by numerous experts; Iraq apologists concede that the evidence turned out to be wrong, but that reasonable people could have concluded otherwise at the time. And that's not, factually speaking, incorrect -- it just misses the entire point of how the politics of the time actually worked.

This, so much. As the 1990s have turned from "recently" into history, I've noticed that the history of the left has been written out. The way it works now is that there were always two positions, the Republicans' and the Clintons', and everyone just sincerely chose NAFTA, welfare reform, etc out of ignorance. I devoted much of my sincere, vaguely-Lisa-Simpson-esque college years to writing letters against, calling against, speaking against and sometimes marching against all this stuff - I remember very clearly that all the things that actually happened with welfare reform were predicted in the news articles I was reading. In fact, if you even look at things like Sarah Schulman's novel Shimmer, which came out in the late nineties and has a character who is an anti-welfare reform activist (among many other things) you can even see a literary document of what we understood at the time.

People went to very, very great lengths to present this data to policy-makers in Washington. Welfare recipients themselves (including the local, now kind of moribund as far as I know, Welfare Rights Committee) tried to speak to politicians to explain what they saw as the likely outcome.

I remember seeing a documentary - and it could not have been later than 1999 because of when I was in the program for which I watched it - which detailed the struggles of some local mothers to comply with the reform, get and hold jobs while caring for their kids. Even at the time, I remember being shocked by how the reform bill avoided mandating data collection on what happened to people who dropped off the welfare rolls, and how disgustingly political it seemed.

It's really disturbing to me how the history of the nineties seems to be sold to everyone - let's say - 35 and younger. You must imagine how it would feel, if, for example, in 2035 everyone chose to pretend that in the 2010s Black Lives Matter didn't exist, no celebrities ever name-checked them, no one ever stayed seated during the National Anthem, there was no Ferguson, no one made Fruitvale Station and the left-most position on police brutality was what was advanced by Barack Obama - and then history was written accordingly, as if there had been no left national movement against police brutality and all the politicians taking these milquetoast positions on it were operating out of sincere ignorance.
posted by Frowner at 9:47 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


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