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Friday, November 04, 2011

Another lizard-like Smeeding: making poverty disappear in our plutocratic era

When you are dealing with a fire, the experts involved are firefighters. When you are dealing with scuba diving, the experts are scuba divers.

But a funny thing happened to expertise on the way to D.C. The experts on poverty are – upper class. Thus, it is no big shock that under the plutocracy beloved by Obamacrats and Republicans, we are getting a new survey of poverty that, well, tweaks it. And, abracadabra, makes it disappear! Via the New York Times report on poverty spindled and mutilated through the hands of experts, we get things like this:

“One explanation can be found in programs the official count ignores: food stamps and tax credits. Combined the two programs delivered $221 billion across the country last year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than doubling since 2006.
In Charlotte, Angelique Melton was among the beneficiaries. A divorced mother of two, Ms. Melton, 42, had worked her way up to a $39,000 a year position at a construction management firm. But as building halted in 2009, Ms. Melton lost her job.
Struggling to pay the rent and keep the family adequately fed, she took the only job she could find: a part-time position at Wal-Mart that paid less than half her former salary. With an annual income of about $7,500 — well below the poverty line of $17,400 for a family of three — Ms. Melton was officially poor.
Unofficially she was not.
After trying to stretch her shrunken income, Ms. Melton signed up for $3,600 a year in food stamps and received $1,800 in nutritional supplements from the Women, Infants and Children program. And her small salary qualified her for large tax credits, which arrive in the form of an annual check — in her case for about $4,000.
Along with housing aid, those subsidies gave her an annual income of nearly $18,800 — no one’s idea of rich, but by the new count not poor.”
Ah, the new count! The new count in inflation in the 90s – by the magic of hedonics! – broke the back of inflation by counting it otherwise. The new count of the unemployed – by ignoring the long term unemployed and not counting pesky populations like the millions in prison and such – gives us a great employment rate we can wave at the social democratic countries and say, ha! And now the ‘new count” in poverty means that three people living on $18,000 per year are not poor!
The heartening stories, here, should stop the socialist stampede dead in its tracks. On the one hand, we ask people –productive, caring people – like Goldman Sachs CEOs and hedgefund traders to pay millions – millions of dollars! In taxes on their billions of dollars. They can barely come up with the incentive to work, many of them. And on the other hand, we have the so called poor rolling in the dough. Look at another of the newly minted middle class in the NYT article:
“Such is the case for John William Springs, 69, a retired city worker in Charlotte who gets nearly $12,000 a year in Social Security and disability checks. That leaves him about $1,300 above the poverty threshold for a single adult his age — officially not poor. Then again, Mr. Springs had a heart attack last summer and struggles with lung disease. Factor in the $2,500 a year that he estimates he spends on medicine, and Mr. Springs crosses the statistical line into poverty.
An upbeat survivor of a lifetime of need, Mr. Springs fills his prescriptions in partial amounts and argues the poverty counters got him right the first time.
“I ain’t poor,” he said. “I eat. I got a roof over my head.”
Now, let’s turn to the experts! I won't waste time over the Heritage empty suit who is quoted in order to even out NYT's quota of "rightwing pointyheads" and please the publisher. Lets' turn to the supposedly non-partisan experts. Let's turn to the man bearing the brilliantly Dickensian name of Timothy Smeeding - his parents missed a real opportunity by not naming him Uriah Heep Smeeding - who is an economist in Wisconsin . This Smeeding did a ‘study’ of poverty that is cited with an appropriate hush in the NYT article:
“Virtually every effort to take a fuller view — counting more income and more expenses — shows poverty rising more slowly in the recession than the official data suggests. That is true of localized studies in New York City and Wisconsin and at least four different national data sets that the Census Bureau publishes. While the official national measure shows a rise of 9.8 million people, the fuller census measures show a range from 4.5 million to 4.8 million.
“That’s a big difference,” said Timothy Smeeding, an economist at the University of Wisconsin who oversaw the study in that state. “It’s about time we started counting the programs we use to fight poverty.”

So who is this Smeeding? More importantly, on the basis that the deep diving scuba diver is our expert, how far has Smeeding dived into poverty?

Well, Timothy Smeeding is not doing badly. He collects two salaries at the University of Wisconsin, according to the salary database, one for being a prof, one for being the head of an institute studying poverty. And he thus receives a grand total of $244,444 dollars a year from Wisconsin. But lets also include his other compensations, shall we? Since apparently in the whole new world of counting compensation, if you get a deduction on your mortgage, that becomes part of your real compensation, and if you get a tax credit, that, too, goes into your income. How fun! If you get medical insurance from the Wisconsin employee system, that, too, becomes part of your compensation. If we are upping the ante on who is poor in America, it is funny that we aren’t pushing the 244,444 dollar type into another tax bracket – say, the marginal rate above 250,000 dollars. I’m sure Timothy Smeeding, then, would concede he was rich. Too bad he hasn’t been asked how a rich man like him has become an expert on poverty.
Hegel compared Kant’s critique of philosophy to trying to learn to swim on dry ground. Smeeding seems to have succeeded amply in this field, since he seemingly knows just how a woman with two children is going to survive with 18,000 dollars per year – in her total compensation package, including inkind support – without being poor. I have to congratulate him on a job well done.
In other words, we have, here, another lizard-like predator, another intellectual gangsta, who is going to make Mr. Springs' life, and Ms. Melton’s, that much harder.
One hopes that Smeeding will someday have an opportunity to fully experience Mr. Spring's life. To become an expert in deed as well as an expert on a plus +250,000 on poverty. One really really does.


roger said...

I should add that according to the list of the 100 top government pensions in Wisconsin, Smeeding has a 197,000 dollar pension, and an estimated payout of over 4 million bucks. Not bad! I wonder if we should do things the Smeeding way and add this to his current compensation in order to give us his total income package, a la the new Smeeding magic practiced on the lower 20 percent.
A bribed mind in a bribed time produces monsters. The smeedingization of the poor in America is a sort of monument to the state of the culture in Obama's America.

JCD said...

This reminds me of that O'Reilly segment a couple of years back that ranted about the number of toasters and microwaves the poor had. The poor don't have toasters! But the American "poor" do: so the rich can rest easy. Things ain't so bad for the impoverished. They can reheat their left-overs. Yada yada.

Argumentative sleights of hand meant to assuage something. Not guilt. Maybe erode solidarity. Who knows.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to
Include his spouse's salary.
And his consulting income alone sends him over the tax bracket.

roger said...

Hey, could you give me some info on the spouse's salary?

Anonymous said...

But Mr. Smeeding actually DOES have experience watching single women raise 2 children on little or nothing. Note - He has two former wives, each with 2 of his children, all left behind while he pursued more verdant pastures. The latest wife, a much younger model and procured long before the last wife was aware of her impending demise, has just borne the next progeny. Sadly, this leaves Mr. Smeeding little energy or time to devote to his existing children, one of whom has spent most of the summer institutionalized and battling bi-polar disorder. Now that's first hand experience in watching how the poor struggle. Oh, the new vibrant spouse? I believe she is also employed as a professor in psychology at Wisconsin. Her specialty? Studying the effects of fatherlessness on children! How ironic!

roger said...

Anonymous, thank you for your information. Certainly, this deserves another post!