Tag Archive for 'George Bush'

Food stamps in America

Here is a NY Times article doing what the NY Times does well, this time looking at the use of food stamps across America.  Here are the basic details (emphasis is all mine):

With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.

It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese
the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day. There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps
Nationwide, food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible, with rates ranging from an estimated 50 percent in California to 98 percent in Missouri. Mr. Concannon urged lagging states to do more to enroll the needy, citing a recent government report that found a sharp rise in Americans with inconsistent access to adequate food.
Unemployment insurance, despite rapid growth, reaches about only half the jobless (and replaces about half their income), making food stamps the only aid many people can get — the safety net’s safety net.

Support for the food stamp program reached a nadir in the mid-1990s when critics, likening the benefit to cash welfare, won significant restrictions and sought even more. But after use plunged for several years, President Bill Clinton began promoting the program, in part as a way to help the working poor. President George W. Bush expanded that effort, a strategy Mr. Obama has embraced.

The revival was crowned last year with an upbeat change of name. What most people still call food stamps is technically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. Benefits average about $130 a month for each person in the household, but vary with shelter and child care costs.
Use among children is especially high. A third of the children in Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee receive food aid. In the Bronx, the rate is 46 percent. In East Carroll Parish, La., three-quarters of the children receive food stamps.

A recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, startled some policy makers in finding that half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent.

I’m not sure how I feel about food stamps.  The classically-trained economist in me wants to point out that money is fungible, so that:

  • for people that, if they were given the equivalent amount of cash, would have bought the same amount of food,  the program largely serves to impose unnecessary administrative costs over a simple cash transfer and places a stigma on the recipients; and
  • for people that, if they were given the equivalent amount of cash, would have bought less food, the program (arguably) willfully deprives them of welfare in addition to the administrative costs and stigma.

On the other hand, we have that:

  • for the (presumed) minority of recipients that have problems with drug or alcohol abuse or have a family member that has problems, receiving aid in the form of food stamps helps ensure that there’s still food on the table (although I do assume that there is a secondary market in food stamps, not to mention in food itself);
  • for the recipients living in high-crime areas, the incentive to steal food stamps is lower than that to steal cash (even if there is a secondary market, it’ll be annoying to deal with and won’t give 100 cents on the dollar), so receiving food stamps is safer;
  • by giving people food stamps instead of cash, you reduce the possibility of a sense of entitlement emerging (one of the major problems in countries, like Britain, with comprehensive welfare systems is that recipients can come to consider the aid they receive as their right and not just (hopefully temporary) assistance); and
  • America, for some reason that is mostly beyond me, has always had trouble facing up to the moral imperative to assist those in genuine need and presenting that assistance as food stamps seems to have granted it some political cover.

Anyway, the NY Times piece comes with some more fantastic graphics.  Here are two snapshots (click-through on either of them to get to the good stuff on the NY Times website):



Understanding John Yoo and the Bush presidency

Brad DeLong is continuing to maintain his stand against John Yoo.  To my mind, there is one clear way that John Yoo’s torture memos can be reconciled with his earlier writing on Clinton: He believes in the absolute primacy of the United States above all other nations.

Taking that as a postulate, placing US troops under foreign command becomes axiomatically unacceptable and was hence labelled unconstitutional [1], but allowing US agents to torture foreigners is acceptable, albeit unpleasant, because the victims are not American.

In practice, this becomes the application to the international stage of Richard Nixon’s famous 1977 quote, “when the President does it that means that it is not illegal.” Indeed, Condolezza Rice argued this exact point earlier this year (2009):

by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

This is simply the logical application (to the arena of military torture) of the belief that America should ignore all international agreements that constrain it in any way because to do otherwise would impugn the sovereignty of the greatest and purest nation in the history of mankind. You really have to admire their mental fortitude in failing to acknowledge the reductio ad absurdum that the Bush torture doctrine represented for that belief.

[1] To almost all Americans (including lawyers), the word “unconstitutional,” especially when applied in a political setting (and when is it not?), essentially means “against my ideology.”

Bush does the right thing

The US$700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, otherwise known as the mother of all pork, did have one redeeming feature:  It came in tranches.  The first US$350 billion were directly accessible (some of it needed a signature from the president), but the last US$350 billion needs congressional approval.  With just 10 weeks to go in his Presidency and every company big enough to hire a lobbiest bashing on the doors for a piece of the action, George W. Bush has done the right thing:  He’s deciced to not ask for the last 350.  If soon-to-be-President Obama wants to tap it, it’s up to him.

The Bush administration told congressional aides it won’t ask lawmakers to release $350 billion remaining as part of the $700 billion U.S. financial- rescue package, people familiar with the matter said.

The Treasury Department has committed $290 billion, or about 83 percent of the total allocated so far in a program Congress enacted last month to inject capital into a wide spectrum of banks and American International Group Inc. The U.S. invested $125 billion in nine major banks, including Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. and plans to buy an additional $125 billion in preferred shares of smaller lenders.

Paulson told the Wall Street Journal today he is unlikely to use what remains of the package, estimated at $410 billion, unless a need arises.

“I’m not going to be looking to start up new things unless they’re necessary, unless they make great sense,” Paulson said. “I want to preserve the firepower, the flexibility we have now and those that come after us will have.”

Update: I don’t mean to suggest that the money shouldn’t be spent. Maybe it should. Professor Krugman, for one, might argue that it ought to be spent as part of a stimulus package. I just think that it’s correct for Bush to pass on deciding how to spend it. His moral authority as an economic leader was gone some time ago. Paulson’s flip-flopping, even if what he has moved to is the better plan, demonstrates the same for him. America will – I suspect – benefit from being forced to take a breather in their cries for help. Let the new team think about the whole mess carefully and then take up the responsibility handed to them.

Another update: The anonymous authors at Free Exchange aren’t so sure it’s a good idea:

It is, in effect, calling time-out on the rescue until Barack Obama is sworn in, and even then there will be a delay while funds are requested and authorised. Meanwhile, Congress has all but decided not to pursue a stimulus bill during the lame duck session. The legislature is taking up discussions on an automaker bail-out, but given resistance to a rescue among Republicans and conservative Democrats, it seems clear that any bill signed into law during the lame duck will be quite weak.

Now, Ben Bernanke will remain on duty right through the inauguration. There’s still an executive branch, and there are still plenty of international policy makers working to stabilise the global financial system. But in a very real sense, America is going to coast on its current economic policies for the next two (and in practice, three) months. I’m not sure this is a good idea, particularly given the critical nature of the holiday shopping season. By all accounts, consumers are locking up their piggy banks at the moment. A disastrous shopping season will probably mean a wave of post-holiday failures among retailers, which will, in turn, mean lay-offs (as well as pain for exporters to America).

Yes, it’s only three months, but three months is a long time for people and businesses struggling to pay bills. And if the economic situation deteriorates over that span, then the government may well feel pressured to pass a much larger and more expensive stimulus package in the spring.

I’m not convinced.  I do note that, as Paul Krugman points out, it’s difficult to have too large a fiscal stimulus in this environment.  I also think that we might benefit from backing off a little bit and abandoning the idea that America and the world at large can somehow escape the recession.  It needs to sink in.

Sarah Palin: the unholy love child of George W. Bush and Pauline Hansen

Sarah Palin did not know the countries in NAFTA, nor that Africa is a continent, not a country.

I’m with Andrew Sullivan on this one:

Now all I want to say here, ahem, is that they realized all this about this person within a few days of picking her and yet they went ahead for two months bullshitting us … and risking the live possibility that she could be president of the United States at a moment’s notice after next January.

You know: I took a lot of grief for my pretty instant realization back in August that the Palin candidacy was a total farce. But when you cop to the fact that the McCain peeps knew most of that too very early on after their world-historical screw-up, you’ve got to respect and be terrified by their cynicism. I mean: country first?

And they only lost by a few points?

What I find incredible is that people are talking about Sarah Palin as a new leader within the Republican party.  Why?

So long, Dubya …

… you’ll not be missed.