Poverty is a Problem, But Big-Government is Really Bad at Solving It

Democrats already know what happens when they attempt to run on Obamacare. They tried that in 2010 and the results were disastrous—one of the most significant electoral swings in American history.

It’s a mistake they’re not apt to make again, especially since the law’s rollout has been rockier than even the most pessimistic conservative could have imagined. That’s why party leaders like Sen. Chuck Schumer are doing the best they can to put some distance between themselves and Obamacare.

“Issues like job creation, minimum wage and unemployment insurance are going to weigh on the minds of voters far more than Obamacare by the time the 2014 elections roll around,” Schumer told reporters when laying out the Democrats’ agenda for the coming year.

Although that’s likely to be untrue, especially since Obamacare’s second year could be even more disastrous than the first, it does pretty clearly telegraph Democrats’ goal: Change the conversation away from their mistakes and towards a no-lose political issue.

And make no mistake, income inequality is about as close as you can get to a political winner. It’s easy to explain, plays up class divisions, makes conservatives seem like greedy a-holes, and allows Democrats to engage in their favorite pastime—promising something too good to be true.

The problem is that most of their solutions make for utterly terrible economics. They either disincentivize work, drive up the unemployment rate, increase the cost of goods, or slow economic growth. Unfortunately, most of those arguments still sound petty when pitted against something as simple as, “Let’s raise the minimum wage so people make more money!”

The problem is that Democrats are asking voters to judge them based on their intentions, not on their results. Or at least we hope they are…because the results are absolutely terrible. Today, the United States spends around $1 trillion each year on anti-poverty efforts and programs and yet the percentage of people living in poverty is about the same as it was during the Lyndon Johnson Administration, which began the “War on Poverty.”

The question is, how on earth could we possibly have failed given the amount of money being thrown at the problem. As economist Ron Haskins writes for the left-leaning Brookings Institution:

We already spend more than enough money on means-tested programs for poor and low-income people to bring them all out of poverty. There were about 46.5 million people in poverty in 2012, a year in which spending on means-tested programs was around $1 trillion. If that money were divided up among the poor, we could spend about $22,000 per person. For a single mother and two children, that would be over $65,000. The poverty level in 2013 for a mother and two children is less than $20,000. So this strategy would work, but giving so much money to young, able-bodied adults would not be tolerated by the public. Besides, if government gave this much cash to non-workers, many low-wage workers would quit work so they too could collect welfare.

Did you get that? For the same amount we’re spending now the federal government could simply cut a series of checks and eradicate poverty (at least in theory, because it’d be tough to find many people to work when they could sit at home and get paid a sizable amount).

So what is going wrong? Well, a big part of the problem is that much to the chagrin of liberals the federal government seems singularly inept at solving large social problems. Somewhere in that great machinery up in Washington D.C., American tax dollars seem to get lost or mis-spent. Rather than adding on to the safety net, which is doing more to ensnare middle-class America than to catch those in poverty, what America needs are things to equalize opportunities for success, like more and better educational options.

You know what else may be helpful for families continuing to struggle through a tough economy? Not having to pay thousands of more dollars for worse insurance coverage under Obamacare. But I guess Democrats just don’t want to talk about that.