Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bartleby, the Welfare Queen

There's a neat story in the LA Times on a pathetic 27 year old woman with 4 kids, on government assistance struggling to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Here's a snippet:
After months searching for work and feeling increasingly discouraged, Natalie Cole caught a break — an offer of a part-time position at a Little Caesars Pizza shop in Compton. The manager scheduled her orientation and told her she had to pass a food safety test. She took the test — and failed. But rather than study and take it again, she shrugged it off. "I guess I am not working for a reason," she said.
People unwilling to work seems to be a real moral quandary, as reflected by the Fark comments on the story. Some don't have any sympathy, some think she needs more help.

 I'm certain that in 500 years this will no longer be such a puzzle because we simply will not have any room for those who want to have children but have neither ability nor willingness to provide for them.  There are some real long-term constraints that will bind at some point.  

10 comments:

A. Hitler said...

Yea! Bring back the great 20th C. policies of sterilization.

Eric Falkenstein said...

Godwinned in 1!

Anonymous said...

"we simply will not have any room for those who want to have children but have neither ability nor willingness to provide for them." Isn't it likely to go the other way?

As average productivity rises, our budget set expands and we're able to pay for more and more incompetence. If incompetence is a normal good, we will spend more on it as wealth increases.

In the cross-section, Natalie may be in bad shape, but still the living standards she has given her level of personal problems is almost certainly quite high compared to 60 years ago. Back in 1950, a third of housing didn't even have indoor plumbing.

And in 500 years, I'd imagine we'd be rich enough to afford even more extravagant failure.

Anonymous said...

What might stop this sad behavior won't be our ability to afford it but improved capacity to produce skills, including soft skills such as self discipline.

Higher quality schools driven by increased competition, ending the drug war, and liberalizing labor markets (such as by ending the minimum wage), might go a long way in lowering costs and barriers to gaining useful skills.

Over the longer run I'm optimistic. For example, I think an increasing percent of the population understands teachers unions have made an absolute mess of public K-12 education.

Mercury said...

"I'm certain that in 500 years this will no longer be such a puzzle because we simply will not have any room for those who want to have children but have neither ability nor willingness to provide for them."
- - - - - - - - - -
Maybe, but in the meantime you better hope that they're also too lazy to go to the pols (or that the government doesn't issue them smartphones with voting apps). How many potential voters are living in your house?

Jim Oliver said...

Don't worry in 500 years the people will all be Hasidic Jews and Anabaptists, 2 group not prone to be on welfare. (smile)

Eric Falkenstein said...

Well, I'm thinking eventually we will max out our population at 100 or 500 billion people. At that point, we can't afford to pay for that minority of free-riders continue to generate babies in the limit we could not support them. I don't think we can have 1 trillion humans.

Anonymous #5 said...

I think it's fairly easy to write off this adult woman as completely hopeless. The moral quandary comes into play when we think about her children, who did not choose the circumstances of their birth and cannot fairly be assigned "personal responsibility" for their upbringing.

cig said...

High (integrated) welfare states seem to have fewer such cases, probably because the kids do learn not to be like their parents, if given the chance.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, while my wife finished college, we qualified for food stamps. This required goi9ng down to the office and waiting until your number was called. There were three groups in there - older people who probably never made much money while working, young adults needing a bit of temporary help, and people that were pretty much unemployable.