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How do We Reduce Misery Caused by Poverty Around the World?

A few weeks ago I had a post looking at the success of a number of countries. I noted that countries that do well include,

(in no particular order): the US, Canada, Northwest Europe, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and, until China began applying a heavier thumb, Hong Kong. Those also happen to be the countries that would attract the most foreigners interested in being citizens, so this quick and dirty list should pass a basic smell test. (If some of these nations don’t have much of an immigrant population and don’t rank on high on the destination of potential immigrants, it is because they are very selective about the who they let in as opposed to being shunned by would be immigrants.)

So what do these places have in common? It isn’t natural resources. Just ask the Japanese. (Plus, in countries outside of the list above, being blessed by nature somehow correlates with suffering from the “Resource Curse.”) It isn’t Democracy as we know it. That’s a relatively new thing for South Korea, Hong Kong was ruled by foreigners for most of the last century, and then, of course, there’s Singapore. It isn’t coming into the post-WW2 period wealthy; quite a few countries on the list were in miserable shape in 1945. It isn’t a matter of exploiting other countries (which Americans of a certain bent are always fond of claiming is the US’ secret) – South Koreans will proudly tell you that the country has never invaded anyone in well over 2,000 years. Switzerland, too, is proudly neutral. The Scandinavians have also been pretty pacifist for well over a century as well. Small government? As much as libertarians like to claim Singapore for their own, ignoring the massive government participation in the economy (think Temasek, Singapore Airlines, Mediacorp, Singtel, Singapore Power, etc.). Nor did Japan, Inc. qualify. Something about about geography and environmental factors that these countries have in common? Nope and nope.

To be blunt, there doesn’t seem to be a factor or group of factors that can be applied to these countries but not to countries that are “developing.”

Let’s go the other way on this post. Most of us care about poverty. We’d like to see a world with less poverty, and more opportunity for everyone. Put a different way – it would be a wonderful thing if Bolivians, Burundians and Bangladeshis were able to live the lifestyle enjoyed by people of Switzerland, South Korea and Singapore. But wishing is easy. And useless. So… how do we get from here to there in a reasonable amount of time?

My answer is that it will take changing the culture. For example, most countries that do well tend to have a reputation for punctuality which is rarely shared in less developed countries. Of course, there is more than just punctuality. Find out what other aspects of the culture of South Korea, to use a specific example, work and export that culture. After all, South Korea was in very bad shape at the close of WW2, and by the 1980s was a force to be reckoned with. If Burundi makes the same transformation over the same period of time, many, many people’s lives will be much improved.

But at this blog, a lot of people don’t like “culture” as an answer. For reasons I frankly don’t get, saying culture is a big driver of economic outcomes is viewed is racist by many people. OK. Fine. But if then how do we do it? How do we reduce the misery that comes from the poverty that is so pervasive around the world?

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Smoking is All About Poverty

by run75411

Smoking is All About Poverty 

I raised the issue of why the elderly pay more than smokers for healthcare insurance since growing old is a natural occurrence and smoking and its associated disorders is self-inflicted. I raised it after STR said smokers are being robbed and I pointed out the elderly non-smokers and smokers pay 3 times the lowest cost insuree as determined by the MLR. Coberly believes there should be Medicare for all. The idea is a great one once we get a Congress who will support it. Even with a Senate majority of Democrats and faux Democrats, any alternatives to the PPACA went nowhere. For now and until Congress gets more sympathetic to its constituency, we have the best which can be conjured up today. With her reply, my fellow healthcare writer and expert in healthcare answered my post to one of her articles:
Me: I am crying crocodile tears for smokers paying 50% more than the lowest cost insuree. This is a tough pill to swallow for smokers who self-inflict this damage to themselves. The 50% premium for smokers pales in comparison to the 300% above the lowest cost insure, the elderly will pay for just being old a condition which is unavoidable. Come on Louise, you can not be serious.

Maggie Mahar: Most people don’t know the vast majority of adult smokers in the U.S. are low-income, didn’t complete high school, and leading very stressful lives. This is why they smoke. As a recent study of smokers in New Orleans and Memphis quotes one of the research subjects:

“”So many things fill your mind and you go through so much, you need your cigarette to smoke to calm down and get things off your mind,” says one of the participants, quoted in an article about the study in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

In our study, cigarette use was defined as a ‘buffer’ for dealing with multiple demands, financial insecurity and daily hassles,” say Bettina M. Beech, Dr. P.H., M.P.H., of the University of Memphis, Department of Psychology and colleague.

More affluent better-educated Americans are far more likely to quit smoking than low-income very poor Americans for several reasons.

1) they have a reason to want to live. If you’re a black male who can’t find work, can’t put enough food on the table to feed your kids, and worry about what’s going to happen to them on the street, you’re angry, depressed and stressed. You are far more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors –smoking, drinking, drugs. No matter how hard you try, chances are slim that your life is going to improve.

2) if you’re poor you cannot afford the nicotine patches and other drugs that making stopping so much easier for more affluent people. You probably also don’t have a doctor to prescribe these things. Louise is right– we need free smoking cessation clinics. The VA and Kaiser have both shown that they work. Of course poor people would like to quit smoking. A recent study in New York state shows that they spend 25% of their income on cigarettes. So why don’t they save up that money and buy a nicotine patch? Depression and stress sap a person’s will–and their ability to hope. Even if they stop smoking, they know that their lives are not going to suddenly get better. As the U. of Santa Clara points out on its Ethics home page:

penalizing individuals for unhealthy behaviors could result in great injustice and social harm.”

While 18 percent of U.S. citizens with incomes above the poverty line smoke, the figure almost doubles to 33 percent for those with incomes below the poverty line. A one-dollar cigarette tax would have a strongly regressive effect on the low incomes these individuals receive. Consider the added problem of tobacco addiction and the probable result of a tax is not less smoking or lower health care costs, but fewer dollars spent on nutritional food and other essentials – conceivably leading to more illness and higher health care costs.”

By charging smokers more for insurance, you increase the chances that they won’t be able to afford it. Given the choice between cigarettes– which they are addicted to and which they associate with relief of stress–and insurance, they’ll choose the cigarettes. Bottom line, when we blame smokers for smoking, we are blaming the poor for being poor. Tobacco companies know why people smoke.

Consider this confidential internal Philip Morris report:

Lower class panelists smoke more and are much more likely to be smokers than upper class panelists…”

It also found that lower class people tend to smoke non-filtered cigarettes (tend to “avoid health filters”) and that they also tend to avoid 100 millimeter-length brands. The writers also observe that lower class people have more incidence of poor mental health, hypothesizing that people use smoking as a “strategy” to combat the stress of low class status as well as poor mental health:

…the incidence of poor mental health is greatest among the lower class…To the extent that smoking is one of the available strategies people can adopt to combat stress, we therefore would expect greater incidence of smoking among the lower social classes.”

This is why in recent years, tobacco ads have targeted low-income people and African Americans. (Btw–they’re right, smoking is also associated with mental health problems.)

Me: I had to reconsider my stance on smokers being let off easy  given the weight of the evidence presented on why smokers should not pay more. “Health Wonk” Health Beat  blog

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Social security cuts offered…why? Irresistible to Obama.

There is no crisis with Social Security. Social Security is not going broke. Social Security adds NOTHING to the deficit. Social Security is not welfare.

Update: Pelosi says she can live with it

There are many options to address issues for the program, which are not offered as part of Pres. Obama’s  insistence on keeping  Social Security on the table and front and center.  Perhaps the ‘chained cpi’ is abstract enough to look harmless, and trying to ‘fix’ a possible problem decades in advance doesn’t appear to be simply weird??   From comments comes this note from Dale Coberly.  There are several other plans  carefully thought out that fix things if needed…

A reader suggested I check the results of the “one tenth of one percent tax increase” against the recent bad news from the Trustees.

I looked at the result of increasing the tax one tenth of one percent for each the employee and the employer whenever the Trustees project short term actuarial insolvency. The results were the same as before the recession: an average increase of one half of one tenth of one percent increase on the combined employer-employee tax over the seventy five year actuarial window results in no insolvency whatsoever.

The effect of the Recession has been to move forward about six years the date of the first one tenth of one percent increase to about 2018.

By 2033 the tax would have been increased about one and a half percent for each, while wages will have gone up about 25%. Workers will have MORE money in their pockets AND will have paid for a longer retirement at a higher standard of living.

There is no crisis. Social Security is not going broke. Social Security adds NOTHING to the deficit. Social Security is not welfare.

Over the whole century and into the next, the SS tax would need to be raised another one percent, while wages will have gone up over one hundred percent.

What the bad guys have done is looked at the possible need for the tax raise, assumed that we will not be smart enough to raise the tax and called the difference “a huge debt.”

There will be no debt. But if people are not smart enough to realize that if they are going to live longer they are going to have to put aside a little more to pay for groceries after they can’t work any more, then they are going to have to learn to live on a little less .

They could even do that. It wouldn’t be wise, but at least it wouldn’t be as stupid as letting them “fix” Social Security in a way that destroys its value as insurance. And that’s all it is: a way to insure your own savings against inflation, market losses, and personal bad luck. Even against recessions.

But unless the people tell the president and the congress… that’s exactly what they will do” “Fix” it.. the way a two year old fixes his daddy’s watch.

David Duyan offers some ideas on the current issues:

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John McWhorter on James Patterson and Some Odd Numbers on Black Childhood Poverty

by cactus

John McWhorter on James Patterson and Some Odd Numbers on Black Childhood Poverty

I’m kinda in the home stretch for the fact checking on my book – we’ve revised and rewritten and rechecked so many times I’m ready to plotz, but even so, I’m willing to bet some mistakes will creep in. Its inevitable in a book as data driven as this one. But I don’t like mistakes, so I recheck again…

Which brings me to this review of James Patterson’s new book by John McWhorter in the New Republic. The point of the book seems to be that welfare was bad for Black families. The review cites some interesting, er, facts, which presumably come from the book being reviewed.

For instance, after a few paragraphs about how welfare destroyed the Black American family, we’re told this:

As such, the refashioning of AFDC in 1996 into a five-year program with required job training was the most important event in black American history between the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the election of Barack Obama. In that light, Patterson is too saturnine about the Moynihan’s report’s legacy. By 2004 the welfare rolls had gone down by two-thirds, and contrary to fears that people off the rolls would starve or languish in squalor (Moynihan was among those who thought they would), black childhood poverty went down to 30 percent from 41 percent, and ex-recipients have regularly reported greater self-esteem and are thankful for the new regime.

Well, if the 1996 refashioning yada yada yada “was the most important event in black American history between the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the election of Barack Obama,” its something worth a look. Since I don’t have a clue where to find data on self-esteem and thankfulness, let’s have us a look at the bit about how, by 2004, “black childhood poverty went down to 30 percent from 41 percent.” We can check out data on Black childhood poverty from this table at the Census.

First, an aside – as of 2002, the Census started differentiating between two definitions of “Black” which is self-evident from the key to the graph above. Other things evident from the graph…. if something in ’96 caused a big drop in Black childhood poverty, it was powerful enough for its effect to work its way back in time all the way to ’93, which is the year Black childhood poverty began its decline. That drop did reach a bottom of 30.2%, but in 2001, not in 2004. In fact, unfortunately, the rate of Black children in poverty rose since then. And when the real facts are placed on a simple graph, its extremely difficult for a rational person to reach so and so’s conclusion.

Now, if this seems like someone was trying to bamboozle, there’s all sorts of “facts” like this in the review. Perhaps the one that is most frighteningly wrong is this one:

That momentous factor is this: After the 1960s, the percentage of black children with one parent exploded from a quarter to—by the 1990s—nearly three-fourths, vastly out of step with the availability of work, the prevalence of racism, or equivalent single-parentage figures for any other race.

Now, I should graph this, but I’m in kinda a hurry, so I’ll just let you know… data on the percentage of Black children’s living arrangements can be found at yet another table at the Census. One of the columns in that table gives you the total number of Black children, and another gives you the total number of Black children living with one parent. Using some of that fancy learnin’, I divide one column by the other and discover that….

1. 54.7% of Black children lived with a single parent in 1990.
2. That rate peaked (for the 90s) in ’96, at 57.4%, and then dropped to 53.3% in 2000.

Now, the ’96 peak might help make Patterson’s point… but if he made that point, its not in the review. (Of course, ignoring the ludicrous “three quarters” number isn’t an outright invention, giving Patterson the benefit of the doubt, what we would conclude is that he might be right about Black children living with one parent, but clearly not about Black children in poverty.)

Anyway, if McWhorter’s review is remotely accurate, call this an “unrecommendation” for Patterson’s book. And a suggestion to McWhorter – if the book cites facts that seem obviously false, check those facts. Because if the key points in a book are ludicrously inaccurate, that’s a big problem that should be mentioned in a book review. And agreeing with stuff that is just plain wrong makes no sense at all.

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Poverty Levels and Health care reform

By divorced one like Bush

It seems to go without saying, that if there is reform, there will be some type of assistance for those who need it. Some numbers are bandied about as to the cutoff points. The Mass Connector has it’s formula up that you can play with by punching in your own numbers and picking a Mass zip code.

However, I have noted in my very early posts here at AB, that we seem to have slowly understated over time the amount of money actually required to be middle class in the US. I looked at this further here. It’s not just the amount of money, it is the standard of living that has been down graded as we argue over implementing social policy. The clearest standard is that it takes two earners to accomplish what one earner use to. Now, with 47 million and rising, bankruptcy due to medical bills hitting 73% of all filings, having health care seems to no longer be a marker of having achieved middle class and thus the American Dream.

Such thinking could be a problem if we truly want to solve our issue of access to health care services. Mass knew that those at 350% to 450% of poverty would have difficulty buying insurance in their system. They may not view it as such, but this is an admission that our numbers regarding what income level is middle class (other than simple mean and median) are bogus. We are lying to ourselves and when we lie to ourselves, we prevent ourselves from actually resolving the issue in question. We’re faking ourselves out! In doing so, we are further moving away from what was the accepted standard of living as representative of the American Dream. In fact, it has occurred to me that the political approach of redefining what will be considered a successful campaign and thus problem solved regarding any social oriented piece of legislation by reducing the expectations or size of the problem to be resolved has only lead our standard of living and thus the American Dream being defined down. It’s one step removed from just plain ignoring the problem as if it does not exist. Though ignoring a problem is at least not patronizing to those with the problem as is defining it down and declaring it solved.

This brings me to the defined poverty level. A couple weeks ago I received an email as part of an ongoing health care debate that claimed to prove via a referenced article that there are not 47 million uninsured because 48% of those are earning 250% of poverty which is about $65K and thus choose not to purchase health insurance. I suspected there was something wrong and thus went looking.

Well, it turns out that 250% of poverty at $65K per year is for a family of 5! A gross income of $65K for a family of 5 leaves nothing for purchasing health insurance. It is also an income level that in Mass would have subsidies to help pay for health insurance.

I then thought: I wonder what the poverty level was in the old days. You can find the data I used here.
You can find the converting here. Then click on “Relative Values – US” in the left hand column.

The following chart looks at 5 decades (though I could not find exactly 1960 and 1970) and then compare them using CPI, Unskilled Labor, GDP per Capita and Share of GDP.
Certainly based on the CPI conversion, the numbers coming forward to today seem to be as they should. But then, poverty levels are based on CPI. However, looking at Unskilled labor, that family of 5 is getting under paid compared to the old days of 1962. The family has been on a over all downward trend. In the 70′s it was a real roller coaster being down by ’73, up by ’75, heading down by ’76, bottoming in 1978. Even their poverty level based on GDP/cap and share of GDP bottomed. Funky times indeed. From the 1978 bottom this family had a steady gain but, it peaked in 1996. This is the same year the income share to the 99% fell below personal consumption.

What I find most interesting is just how dramatic the change at 250% of poverty level for a family of 5 is based on the GDP share and per capita. My interpretation is that a person at this level of income has continually become poorer even though the income that is considered 250% of poverty level has remained constant comparatively over the decades based on CPI. I guess this bodes well for those who have finagled the CPI? Most interesting, is 2007. It is the only year where this family’s income was valued more than the share of GDP and GDP per capita values. Frankly, I don’t know what to say about it. It is no wonder people don’t know if they are coming or going regarding their financial condition. Though a tendency toward the “going” feeling certainly can be understood. Even the anger expressed at the town halls can be more readily appreciated in that the mind can only handle so many cycles of ups and downs before it finally starts to crack.

It is this clash between the CPI and the GDP converters that is the fake out. If we continue to have such a dichotomy, then our efforts to assure “affordable health care” will be never ending because we are simply not being honest about how much it costs to be middle class and have the American Dream. Nor should we expect the apparent lunacy to subside as longs one’s mind has to deal with the clash between what it is living verse what it is being told it is are living.

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World Health, Poverty and development brought alive

By divorced one like Bush

Hello everyone. Things have been hectic, so no time to blog. But, I thought these two videos would be of interest. They are Hans Rosling presenting his data via his program that animates the changing statistics.

Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.

The first is his introduction of his program while discussing the relationship of wealth and health. His take is that health has to come before wealth to make real wealth progress. This second presentation makes it clearer as you see the change over time as a race between US, Japan and Sweden. He also relates it to climate change in that no nation has made progress without effecting climate.

His goal is to make data more readily available in a form that makes it easier to interpret. He works with the UN.

The videos are about 20 minutes each.
The first video is: Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen

The second video is: Hans Rosling’s new insights on poverty

These come to you via: TED

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