Bryan Caplan  

"Poor Programs" Bleg

The European right and the GOP... We never seem to learn...
"Poverty programs will always be poor programs."  I've heard this thought many times, but the original source seems to be former HEW Secretary Wilbur Cohen.  His exact words: "A program that deals only with the poor will end up being a poor program."

Question: What is the best empirical evidence in favor of Cohen's claim?  Please include URLs in the comments.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
yarbel writes:

I know you are already familiar with the stigmatizing effects of means-testing, but in any case, there is some empirical research that finds that poor-only programs are stigmatizing. This makes them, on one dimension, poor programs.

Jennifer Stuber & Mark Schlesinger, Sources of Stigma for Means-Tested Government Programs, 63 SOC. SCI. MED. 933 (2006)
See also: Amartya Sen, The Political Economy of Targeting, in PUBLIC SPENDING AND THE POOR 11, 13 (Dominique van de Walle & Kimberly Nead eds., 1995): “Any system of subsidy that requires people to be identified as poor and that is seen as a special benefaction for those who cannot fend for themselves would tend to have some effects on their self-respect as well as on the respect accorded them by others.”

Tyler W writes:

I'm gunna be lazy and ask when I should just look it up. What is he saying? That the program will be poor in that it doesn't work, or that it's poor because it will be underfunded?

Charles H writes:

(commentary on other studies)

Daniel Hartley "Public Housing, Concentrated Poverty, and Crime," Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Economic Commentary Number 2014-19

Dangerman writes:

Contrast Medicaid with Medicare.

Contrast any means-tested program with Social Security Old Age & Survivors.

John Thacker writes:
Contrast any means-tested program with Social Security Old Age & Survivors.

Well, Social Security is means-tested. The bend points in the Primary Insurance Amount work like progressive marginal taxes. It's also means-tested because the benefits themselves become taxable if you have other income.

It's true that it's not stigmatized like Medicaid (my grandparents are fairly poor, but have always refused to sign up for Medicaid when they qualified, but have no such concerns about Social Security.) There is, I think, a difference between benefits that are at some point phased-out and those that are only decreased, but never reach zero. If you only use mean-test to mean those programs that people become completely ineligible for, then I suppose you may be right.

As a counterexample, I'd argue that Chapter 7 is a pretty good deal, although means-tested.

Peter writes:


I think Lane Kenworthy has looked into means-tested programs versus universal programs.

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