NORTON META TAG

05 February 2014

The loss of freedom in enforcing new rules for food stamps & An argument about regulation & 50 billionaires received $11.3 million in farm welfare, could get more in new farm bill 5&4FEB14 & 7NOV13

THIS is an insightful piece on the cuts to SNAP (food stamps) in the Farm Bill passed on Tuesday 4FEB14 outlining not only the harm that is being done to the 6th of our population dependent on SNAP, but the new humiliation and degradation they will suffer when applying for the program, and societies willingness to believe the least among us are the worst among us. I wish people in this Christian nation had a more charitable, Christian attitude about the social safety net and those who benefit from it. I also wish people would open their ears and eyes and realize that our nation's corporate welfare policies are more corrupt, more unjust and not subject to review and justification because of a well managed propaganda campaign funded by corporate America and the rich and powerful who feel they are entitled to tax cuts and subsidies at the expense of the rest of us. This is actually a "negative income tax" for the 1%. Austerity economics will be the destruction of the middle class and (literally) the death of some of our most needy fellow Americans. This is not what a Christian nation should look like. From the Washington Post and Bleeding Heart Libertarians....

Under the new farm bill:
USDA will need to ensure that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, college students and the dead cannot receive food stamps and that people cannot collect benefits in multiple states.
I’m sure that some of those exclusions (lottery winners, the dead) will seem unobjectionable to many readers, and the others (college students, illegal immigrants) will seem unobjectionable to a smaller subset of readers. However, in an insightful post, Jacob Levy argues that freedom-loving people should be skeptical of the new exclusions — even if they are hostile to food stamps in the first place:
A lot of people a lot of the time underestimate how burdensome, onerous, and intrusive complicated bureaucratic rules and regulations are. . . .
I think this is a case in which our biases between groups we like and groups we don’t is especially strong. We are mainly honest competent adults trying our best to do what we’re supposed to do, and they keep getting in our way with these insulting burdensome rules; they don’t take seriously the cost to our time and energy of having to prove compliance constantly, both by paperwork and by subordination to the administrative officials who monitor all of us in order to detect wrongdoing by a tiny few. You are basically suspect characters to begin with, and if we let you get away with it you’d all be running wild, and the other ways you were going to spend your time we don’t really like anyways, and we’re dubious enough about you that monitoring you closely is a good idea anyway even if some of you aren’t technically violating the rules, and the moral cost of even one of you getting away with this terrible thing is so great that we simply have to prevent it, and anyway what are you complaining about, if you obey the rules like you supposed to, there’s no harm to you. . . .
And so poor people will be subjected to another set of forms, another set of inspections, another set of surveillance and monitoring, another set of insults, another risk of false findings of guilt, for trivial financial savings. Someone gets to posture as having zero tolerance for some unacceptable outcome; that’s what the zero tolerance policies are for. And life for a sixth of the country’s population gets worse, more unfree, more subject to the burdens and intrusions of micromanaging regulation.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.
Levy also observes that this is another good reason for Milton Friedman’s proposal that we replace our ad hoc poverty programs with a “negative income tax,” which would just give the poor money (using our existing bureaucratic apparatus) and let them to decide what to do with it.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/02/05/the-loss-of-freedom-in-enforcing-new-rules-for-food-stamps/?wprss=rss_national&clsrd 

A lot of people a lot of the time underestimate how burdensome, onerous, and intrusive complicated bureaucratic rules and regulations are. They casually treat the only cost of a rule as the cost to bad people of not doing whatever the rule prohibits, which isn’t a cost at all. But in order to have effect, rules have to be enforced; efforts have to be made to detect violations and monitor performance on an ongoing basis. This is a burden on the whole class subject to the rule, not only those who were going to break it. They have to devote themselves, at some margin, not to the thing they’re actually trying to do, but to proving that they’re not doing it in the prohibited way. They have to prove it through paperwork, which either they’re inexpert in compared to the official reviewing it or they have to (expensively) hire professionals to handle; and even people who had no intention of violating the underlying rule are put in perpetual jeopardy of wrongdoing-by-paperwork-mistake. They have to prove it in person to the various spot inspectors, administrative auditors, and other bureaucrats put in charge of monitoring and detection; and even people who had no intention of violating the underlying rule are made to feel like perpetual suspects or distrusted children instead of honest trustworthy adults.
I think that everyone recognizes this about themselves and groups to which they’re sympathetic. Politically we associate this kind of talk with business owners and managers complaining about government regulation, and that’s not a class to which academics are (as an overall pattern) especially warmly inclined– but goodness knows that academics understand these dynamics when it comes to the administrative micromanagement of our own professional lives. Time that we should be spending researching or teaching is instead spent asking for permission to do so, by humbly seeking to prove ourselves innocent of all sorts of potential malfeasance. No, I didn’t buy a glass of wine with that grant money. No, I haven’t given an in-class exam during the two weeks before finals. No, my study of Plato does not involve potential harm to human subjects or laboratory animals. No, I haven’t made up publications to include on my CV for my performance review. Yes, here’s the proof in triplicate.
I think this is a case in which our biases between groups we like and groups we don’t is especially strong. We are mainly honest competent adults trying our best to do what we’re supposed to do, and they keep getting in our way with these insulting burdensome rules; they don’t take seriously the cost to our time and energy of having to prove compliance constantly, both by paperwork and by subordination to the administrative officials who monitor all of us in order to detect wrongdoing by a tiny few. You are basically suspect characters to begin with, and if we let you get away with it you’d all be running wild, and the other ways you were going to spend your time we don’t really like anyways, and we’re dubious enough about you that monitoring you closely is a good idea anyway even if some of you aren’t technically violating the rules, and the moral cost of even one of you getting away with this terrible thing is so great that we simply have to prevent it, and anyway what are you complaining about, if you obey the rules like you supposed to, there’s no harm to you.
The point being, the new farm bill:

USDA will need to ensure that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, college students and the dead cannot receive food stamps and that people cannot collect benefits in multiple states.
Let’s start with the easy case: lottery winners. Let’s be wildly implausibly generous and say that there are five big-money winners per state per week. (Not all states offer lotteries, some lotteries are combined across states, some states offer multiple games, and not all lotteries pay out every week; but only “big money,” since presumably no one thinks that the $10 or $100 payout should affect eligibility.) 250 per week; about 12,000 per year. Say that half of those people were on food stamps to begin with (lottery players are disproportionately poor). Say that a third of those winners were inclined to cheat and keep drawing food stamps for which they’re no longer income-eligible, and to keep doing so for the whole year until their income is assessed again; 2000 would-be cheaters. Food stamps for a family of four max out at about $600 per month. So we’re looking at something like $14 million per year total in fraud prevented, if we can manage to detect 2000 would-be cheaters from a population of 47 million food stamp recipients.
Even the financial costs of any detection and enforcement mechanism serious enough to even try to get these false negatives (people who aren’t caught and thrown out of SNAP) down to 0 will be high; it wouldn’t surprise me for those costs alone to exceed $14 million (and I don’t for a second believe there will be $14 million in savings). As conservatives know when it comes to business, environmental, and health regulation, trying to turn one-in-20,000 events to 0-in-20,000 events is hard and expensive and complicated. Moreover (and as they also know) it generates errors in the other direction. “Zero-tolerance” policies are a plague on the American political and legal climate right now. The effort to make sure that no American child ever brings a narcotic or firearm to school is doomed to fail to begin with, and also results in stupid expulsions of children carrying aspirin or squirt guns. What we have here isn’t a new substantive rule (big-money lottery winners are already income-inelgiible for SNAP) but a zero-tolerance mindset applied to the existing rule, an effort to move from trivially-few to zero offenses; and innocent people will get caught in the net. (Something everyone could stand to remember: the lower frequency an offense is, the worse the ratio is likely to be between the false negatives you’re trying to prevent and the false positives you’re going to create.)
On top of all that: the process of proving one’s innocence all the time is a demoralizing, degrading one that subjects you to inspection, supervision, paperwork, and the will and whim of the enforcers. How can states ensure that no one is collecting food stamps for a dead household member? The answer has to involve paperwork and bureaucratic supervision or in-person monitoring by social workers or, in all likelihood, both. Illegal immigrants? Well, by definition they already lead a life of evading some kinds of bureaucratic surveillance. There’s no way to squeeze them our of the system harder without squeezing everyone else, too. (In a related vein, think of the proposals for drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare. That’s a lot of degradation to put a lot of non-drug-using people through for the sake, not of saving money (the cost of enforcement in this case is clearly higher than the money saved), but for the sake of a zero-tolerance regulatory insistence about welfare recipients not using drugs.)
And so poor people will be subjected to another set of forms, another set of inspections, another set of surveillance and monitoring, another set of insults, another risk of false findings of guilt, for trivial financial savings. Someone gets to posture as having zero tolerance for some unacceptable outcome; that’s what the zero tolerance policies are for. And life for a sixth of the country’s population gets worse, more unfree, more subject to the burdens and intrusions of micromanaging regulation.
This kind of thing is, famously, among Milton Friedman’s reasons for advocating a negative income tax in place of the complex array of partial-coverage welfare policies in America. (It’s also among the reasons called upon today by supporters of basic income guarantees.) I think Friedman understood, not only that regulations are administratively expensive to enforce, but that they’re also sources of unfreedom for the many people who don’t violate them. And the effort to make sure that income support only ever goes to the deserving poor however conceived, to regulate their behavior to stop them from doing whatever it is the undeserving do, is regulation, and requires the same costs, sacrifices, and burdens regulation always requires. The bureaucratic state that governs poor people (or would-be immigrants) is the same bureaucratic state that governs taxpayers and businesses and people holding bank accounts and people travelling in airplanes and so on. The arguments about regulation’s costs for the latter groups are good arguments! But they’re arguments that it’s wicked to selectively forget when it comes to regulating the former groups.
A few of our readers here will say: well, food stamps are already theft, so the people receiving them are already not innocent, so they have nothing to complain about. I’m not here defending the existence of food stamps (though neither are the Republicans making the principled argument against them.) For reasons I discussed here, I think that once states exist they just do act redistributively and that there’s sound responsible reason for them to do so in a way that staves off disastrous material deprivation (e.g. hunger). The new food stamp regulations tilt me some little bit closer toward the negative income tax/ basic income guarantee strategies for how that should be organized. For those who don’t share my views about this, I’ll say: you probably also oppose the existence of public schools. I’ll bet that you additionally recognize the stupidity, indignity, costliness, and loss of freedom involved in the wave of zero-tolerance regulations within them. If so, extend the thought here: as long as the state is doing this thing, it ought to do so in a way that is more rather than less compatible with Hayek’s rule of law, with freedom from supervision and surveillance by the bureaucracy, with the ability to get on with living their lives rather than having to waste them proving their innocence.
Update:
Since a couple of people have pointed this out in this context, I’ll link it here: Milton Friedman argues with William F. Buckley on these questions.
And one more:
This is neither an argument against regulation as such, nor limited to cases of state regulation. Bureaucratization is part of the iron cage and we’re stuck with it, across a variety of institutional settings. But there are very important questions of degree when it comes to monitoring, compliance, and enforcement, and costs associated with the whole enterprise that don’t go away when shifting from a regulated class one likes to a regulated class one doesn’t…
http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/02/an-argument-about-regulation/

50 billionaires received $11.3 million in farm welfare, could get more in new farm bill

Farmer in combine.
This is not Paul Allen.
Gee, where could we come up with some of the money need to replace that food stamp funding that was lost this week? Maybe from these people who are all collecting farm subsidies?
  • Paul Allen (Net worth: $15.8 billion)
    Co-founder of Microsoft
  • Charles Ergen (Net worth: $12.5 billion)
    Co-founder of DISH Network
  • Philip Anschutz (Net worth: $10 billion)
    Owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group and co-founder of Major League Soccer
  • Leonard Lauder (Net worth: $7.6 billion)
    Son of Estee Lauder and former CEO of the Estee Lauder Companies Inc.
  • Richard DeVos (Net worth: $6.8 billion)
    Co-founder of Amway and Republican candidate for governor of Michigan in 2006
  • Jim Kennedy (Net worth: $6.7 billion)
    Chairman of Cox Enterprises
  • S. Truett Cathy (Net worth: $6 billion)
    Founder of Chick-fil-A [...]
And many, many more. That's a list composed by the Environmental Working Group, using their database of farm subsidy recipients compared to Forbes 400 list of the country's richest people. Between 1995 and 2012, these 50 people—who have have a collective net worth of $316 billion—received $11.3 million in farm subsidy payments. They've probably have even received more in crop insurance payments, but we don't know because the law doesn't allow prohibits the disclosure of the identities of crop insurance policyholders.
While a congressional conference committee meets to decide if they're going to cut $40 billion (House bill) or $10 billion (Senate bill) from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, they are probably going to give billionaires even more!
[P]roposed changes adopted in both the House and Senate versions of the bill will likely allow these billionaires to bank millions more in premium subsidies. Both bills would shift subsidies from programs currently subject to means testing to the more generous crop insurance program. Unlike traditional farm subsidies, crop insurance premium subsidies are not currently subject to means testing, payment limits or conservation requirements. In 2008, Congress created a means test that was designed to deny some subsidies to individuals with annual off-farm income of more than $500,000. The year before, Bloomberg News published a report highlighting some of the billionaires who had been receiving subsidies. But, lawmakers specifically declined to apply it to crop insurance, which has become the primary government support for farm business income.
The system is already skewed for, of course, the largest one percent of farm businesses. They received about $227,000 a year in crop insurance premium support in 2011, according to EWG's analysis from USDA data. Meanwhile, the bottom 80 percent of farmers received only about $5,000 apiece. There is no reason on earth taxpayers should be subsidizing what are already nothing more than tax write-offs for the nation's wealthiest people. And we particularly should not be subsidizing them when millions are in danger of going hungry because the austerity fetishists in Congress think they're getting too much food.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Thu Nov 07, 2013 at 09:09 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/11/07/1253828/-50-billionaires-received-11-3-million-in-farm-welfare-could-get-more-in-new-farm-bill?detail=email