Posted on | January 11, 2014 | 48 Comments
Yesterday I praised Kevin D. Williamson’s elegant account of poverty in Appalachia, but of course the liberal know-it-all Paul Krugman couldn’t resist adding his two cents of Nobel Prize ignorance:
My take on Williamson’s report . . . is that it basically says that William Julius Wilson was right. Wilson famously argued that the social troubles of urban blacks emerged, not because there was something inherently wrong with their culture, but because job opportunities in inner cities dried up. Sure enough, when the God-fearing (and definitely white) people of Appalachia face a loss of employment opportunity, their region turns into what Williamson calls the Great White Ghetto.
And this in turn says that the problem isn’t that we’re becoming a nation of takers; it’s the fact that we’re becoming a nation that doesn’t offer enough economic opportunity to the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 80 percent, of its citizens.
Idiot. What is overlooked in Krugman’s reading of both Wilson and Williamson is this: Welfare tends to act as a glue that adheres recipients to the economic floor, in part because it encourages them to remain in areas after economic decline takes hold.
Historically, poor people have left impoverished areas to seek out jobs and opportunity elsewhere. Why leave home to seek opportunity, if you can collect a check for staying put and doing nothing?
The main problem with the welfare-dependent poor of Owsley County, Kentucky, is that they’re still in Owsley County, Kentucky. And the reason they’re there is because welfare pays them to stay there. Otherwise, they’d go somewhere else and find work.
This is why the distinction between cyclical unemployment and structural unemployment matters. If you’re a construction worker in Florida, for example, the recent recession has been terrible, but there is every reason to expect that eventually the housing market will recover, and there will be more work. So if you go on unemployment for a few months or accept Medicaid and food stamps, this is not necessarily the beginning of a cycle of permanent dependency.
On the other hand, if you’re a teenage girl in Owsley County, Kentucky, and you go on “the draw” after you get pregnant, it’s likely you’ll never get out of poverty, because there is just no prospect of economic growth in your community.
Kevin Williamson has a few choice words for Krugman, none of which are “fuck you.” But if you really want to understand this issue, ignore Krugman, and pay attention to the immortal Sam Kinison:
You want to help world hunger? Stop sending them food. Don’t send them another bite, send them U-Hauls. Send them a guy that says, “You know, we’ve been coming here giving you food for about 35 years now and we were driving through the desert, and we realized there wouldn’t BE world hunger if you people would live where the FOOD IS! YOU LIVE IN A DESERT!! UNDERSTAND THAT? YOU LIVE IN A FUCKING DESERT!! NOTHING GROWS HERE! NOTHING’S GONNA GROW HERE! Come here, you see this? This is sand. You know what it’s gonna be 100 years from now? IT’S GONNA BE SAND!! YOU LIVE IN A FUCKING DESERT! We have deserts in America, we just don’t live in them, assholes!”
Really, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Ethiopia, Detroit or Kentucky. If you’re someplace where the economy sucks, don’t go on welfare. Get the hell out of there and go where the jobs are.