No friend of the poor

Big gov­ern­ment hits low-in­come Americans the hard­est

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Ed Feul­ner Ed Feul­ner is founder of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion (her­itage.org).

When you’re a con­ser­va­tive, you have to de­velop a thick skin. You get used to hear­ing how heart­less you are. How de­void of com­pas­sion. And why? Be­cause you don’t au­to­mat­i­cally support ev­ery gov­ern­ment pro­gram that claims to help poor peo­ple. Why, you con­ser­va­tives must hate poor peo­ple.

For our lib­eral friends, life is sim­ple. “Hey, here’s a so­cial prob­lem,” they’ll say, in essence. “Let’s throw some money at it. That will solve it.” If we dis­agree, they take it as proof we care more about money than about peo­ple.

There’s a cer­tain irony at work here. Sure, money is a con­cern. Af­ter all, scarce re­sources are be­ing taken, ei­ther from the tax­pay­ers or bor­rowed from fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. But it isn’t just — or even pri­mar­ily — the money that both­ers us. It’s all the reg­u­la­tions, all the big gov­ern­ment, that goes along with it.

Be­cause when ac­tual flesh-and­blood peo­ple are be­ing con­sid­ered — when we con­sider how big gov­ern­ment af­fects hu­man be­ings —we find many vic­tims of its poli­cies not among the rich, but among the poor.

The prob­lem of big gov­ern­ment crops up in many dif­fer­ent ways. The rules, the reg­u­la­tions, the fine print — they all af­fect what you can buy, or how much it costs, or what you can do. They dic­tate whether you can run a le­mon­ade stand, or sell roses on a street cor­ner, or even just drive a car with­out hav­ing to go through some overly com­pli­cated gov­ern­men­tal process.

A new Her­itage Foun­da­tion re­port, “Big Gov­ern­ment Poli­cies that Hurt the Poor and How to Ad­dress Them,” out­lines the phe­nom­e­non in de­tail. One of the charts shows ex­actly why big gov­ern­ment amounts to mis­placed com­pas­sion — the one that shows house­hold spend­ing as a per­cent of af­ter­tax in­come.

It’s bro­ken down by in­come quin­tiles, and guess what? Gov­ern­ment data show clearly that it is the poor who pay the big­gest per­cent­age of their in­come for things such as hous­ing, food, cloth­ing, elec­tric­ity and ga­so­line. So when reg­u­la­tions and other gov­ern­ment poli­cies jack up the cost of th­ese items, the poor are the ones hit the hard­est. Not those of us who are for­tu­nate enough to have done bet­ter and moved up the in­come lad­der.

When we’re deal­ing with big, in­tru­sive gov­ern­ment, we need to for­get about good in­ten­tions. In­stead, let’s fo­cus on how it ad­versely im­pacts peo­ple at the lower end of the in­come spec­trum.

We don’t need an­other pro­gram. What we need is for gov­ern­ment to get out of the way. Stop in­ter­ven­ing. Stop re­quir­ing peo­ple to do cer­tain things, whether it is to attend cos­me­tol­ogy school to be­come hair-braiders, or to stop them in other ways from mak­ing their own eco­nomic de­ci­sions — which they, ob­vi­ously, are in the best po­si­tion to make.

It may seem hard for big-gov­ern­ment ad­vo­cates to re­al­ize, but I know how to spend my own money bet­ter than some face­less bu­reau­crat does. I be­lieve that frus­tra­tion on this point has done much to cre­ate the new eco­nomic era and the new po­lit­i­cal era in which we find our­selves to­day.

This isn’t a new con­cept. The wel­fare stud­ies we were do­ing 20 years ago ad­dressed the same kind of ques­tion. We wanted to know how to rethink the dozens of means-tested wel­fare pro­grams that are out there in a way that en­cour­aged eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for all Americans, no mat­ter what their in­come.

We suc­ceeded, and the great wel­fare re­form act of 1996 led to some real and sig­nif­i­cant changes. I hope that this lat­est study will bring some sig­nif­i­cant changes as well.

“Gov­ern­ment is not the so­lu­tion to our prob­lem,” Ron­ald Rea­gan said. “Gov­ern­ment is the prob­lem.” The sooner we re­al­ize this, the sooner we can help all Americans — es­pe­cially the poor.

We don’t need an­other pro­gram. What we need is for gov­ern­ment to get out of the way. Stop in­ter­ven­ing. Stop re­quir­ing peo­ple to do cer­tain things.

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