Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Debating welfare: "There is a predestined [bottom 20%] of the population."

Here's Thomas Sowell, in 1980, in a lively exchange about welfare with a state welfare official named Helen Bohen O'Bannion, who turns out to be a perfect liberal foil for the conservative Sowell:

A particularly revealing moment: When Sowell discusses skyrocketing rates of teenage pregnancy and children out of wedlock (throughout the US but especially among blacks), O'Bannion quips that she isn't "making [welfare recipients] have illegitimate children." She seemed to assume, a priori, that a benevolent government program can only improve disadvantaged people's lives, and can't itself encourage the kind of behavior that causes them to be so disadvantaged in the first place. Sowell retorts: "Oh, you don't have to do that — you simply subsidize it."

For a more up-to-date and rigorous account of how the United States' expansion of welfare beginning in the '60s created perverse incentives with predictable unintended consequences (especially miring blacks in poverty), I highly recommend the chapter entitled "Why Are You Talking About Blacks on Welfare?" in John McWhorter's book Winning the Race.