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10/16/2005

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monkyboy

I always enjoy reading Dr. Beckers' posts. It's like watching an episode of my favorite show, "I Love the 70s!"

Just because you wear a suit and tie to collect your government check doesn't mean it ain't a welfare check. Traditional welfare programs like Food Stamps only cost the government $54 billion a year. One need only tally the corporate welfare handed to the top five defense contractors last year to exceed that total.

Does the $300 billion the Defense Department doles out to contractors each year cause dependency? Is that why Iraq is such a disaster?

Why single out the pittance poor people receive from the $2.5 trillion federal budget and label it a bad influience on society?

Let's hear something interesting, like who are "Iron Horse Investors LLC," and why does the government hand them $1.3 billion a year?

J Rothwell


The Empirical Case of why Becker is Wrong about New Orleans, Welfare, and Dependency:

http://www.state.la.us/tanf/welfare%20services%20assessment.pdf

According to Louisiana government statistics (see above source), 8.9% of the New Orleans population is currently receiving welfare, 52% have never received any. In fact, only 17% of people in Louisiana at or below 150% of the poverty line had ever received welfare. Look at Exhibit VI-9, which is a survey of welfare leavers: Only 7% of welfare recipients left the program because the time limit had run out. 63% left because they found work, but the number was even higher under the old welfare law, that Becker so lamented for what he takes as its dependency-inducing effects. Another 15% left because they were receiving income that made them ineligible and another 17% left welfare because they were tired of the hassle involved in sustaining the payments. Does that sound like dependency? No, it sounds like agency. They were fed up with the bureaucracy (probably due to lack of funding) and hurdles, so they tempted fate and tried to make it on their own (which isn't necessarily a good thing if there are no [legal] opportunities available).

The mayor estimated that 288,000 people or 20% of the 1.2 million residents didnít get out before the storm hit. Yet, there were only 128,160 people in the entire city receiving welfare payments. As Posner points out, we must also add to these numbers all the prisoners and elderly who were left behind. [Did the non-welfare receiving whites who left the city forget about them because they were too busy being independent?] So how does Becker explain all of these hundreds of thousands of non-welfare recipients staying behind?

25,777 poor households in New Orleans had no car, thatís 35% of all black households, and if each household has 4 people than thatís 103,108 people without a way out.

Becker said they could have taken the bus back when the call was first made, but apparently he didnít read about the shortages of buses. Moreover, many of those interviewed said they didnít want to leave because they didnít have enough money to pay for hotels, or enough cash to buy supplies. They werenít expecting government handouts, as Becker claims; if so they might have checked into a cushy hotel in Baton Rouge and ordered caviar and seltzer drinks, while waiting for the government to pick up the bill. But no. They stayed home to take care of their home, their property, their parents, grandparents, neighbors and community members. Dependency? Sounds like action to me.

Even those with cars couldnít necessarily fit their families and extended families into them. But instead of being irresponsible, the strong stayed to protect the weak. Becker sees this as a sign of indolence; English knights saw this as the highest code of honor and chivalry.

Should we reject Becker's argument? Absolutely.

Bill Harshaw

I understand Dr. Becker to be saying: the reason why many people did not leave New Orleans when that was the rational course of action is they trusted government to take care of them.

But people do not act rationally. Everyone who visits this site knows he or she is going to die, often with a period of disability preceding it. Does everyone have their affairs in order? No. [Raises hand.] And people differ in their assessments of risk and the costs of change and the benefits of being in control. That's why people drive cars instead of flying.

It's easy enough to imagine someone in New Orleans who doesn't trust the government and government predictions, who lived through Betsy in '65, who knows that most evacuations turn out to be unnecessary (crying "wolf"), who's never been outside New Orleans, who strongly values routine and the known and shrinks from adventure, deciding that the possible risks don't outweigh the known and certain psychic costs of becoming an evacuee.

Kurt Yost

While this too is speculative, I question the extent to which a "culture of dependency" really contributed to the disaster. It seems to me that the post-Katrina dangers of New Orleans were so great that depending on the government to save you would require an amount of optimism that very few people can manage.

It seems more likely that the decision to stay was based on a failure to fully appreciate the risks and dangers of the levees breaking, the hope that the warnings were exaggerated (living in New York myself, I find it increasing difficult to take government warnings of anything as seriously as I possibly should, or even (though hopefully rarely) the expectation that looting would be possible in the aftermath.

Each of these might have been buttressed by the thought, "but if things go spectacularly wrong, the government will send in the National Guard," so there is still a role for the dependence argument, but I think it is a secondary one.

Also, the notion that it doesn't take much money to leave a city is short sighted, in my view. Sure, $25 might get you out of town, but many people might reasonably have viewed the option of staying at home and hoping the storm missed them as superior to joining the ranks of the homeless in a new town. If the latter strategy were adopted, but the hurricane *missed* New Orleans, I doubt locals would have viewed such a homeless refugee with as much sympathy as they actually received. All of that needs to be considered in evaluating the decisions of the poor, made a priori.

I have no idea what it cost at the time to take public transportation in New Orleans, to be honest, but I do know that an Amtrak ticket from New York City to Philadelphia costs between $56 and $109, one way, depending on the train (and the Northeast corridor is heavily traveleed by Amtrak, with plent of seats). Greyhound charges $21, one way. Add a spouse and children into the mix and I can see the costs escalating substantially.

I'm relatively conservative, but I have also spent some time in my teens and twenties living "hand to mouth." As a result, I can see how someone in those circumstances, especially if caring for a family, might not be able to afford to flee without third-party assistance.

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