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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Phil Gramm and John Early explain how the Census Bureau inflates the measure of the U.S. poverty rate by excluding most social-welfare benefits. Two slices:

The credibility of the Census Bureau’s official measure of poverty didn’t survive the pandemic. Though government payments for social benefits rose by $1.5 trillion, or 47%, between 2019 and 2021, they didn’t dent the official poverty rate. The rate rose to 11.6% from 10.5%. President Biden claimed that the pandemic increase in the refundable child tax credit would cut child poverty in half, but the subsequent official census rate rose from 14.4% to 15.3%. These results were predictable because the official poverty measure fails to count 88 social benefits that low-income Americans receive from the government as part of their income, including almost all of the pandemic benefits.

With the official poverty measure discredited, the Biden administration is pushing the experimental Supplemental Poverty Measure, which counts about half of the social benefit payments as income but redefines the income thresholds that determine who is counted as poor in a way that ensures the poverty threshold rises as median income rises. The official poverty measure has hardly changed for more than 50 years, even as social benefit payments to the average household in the bottom 20% of income earners have risen from $9,700 to $45,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars, because most of these payments simply aren’t counted as income to the recipients.


The fatal flaw of the official poverty measure is that it doesn’t count most government subsidies, such as Treasury checks beneficiaries receive from refundable tax credits, debit cards loaded with food-stamp allowances, and Medicaid payments as income to the recipients. When all benefits are counted, the percentage of Americans living in poverty falls to only 2.5%. Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago and James Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame arrived at a similar figure by comparing the actual goods and services consumed by poor households in 1980 with the actual level of consumption of households that were being counted as poor in 2017. They found that only 2.8% of households in 2017 were consuming at or below the actual poverty consumption level. These findings also comport with the Census American Housing Survey, which has found that 42% of poor households own homes with an average of three bedrooms, 1½ bathrooms, a garage and a porch or patio. The average poor American family lives in a home larger than the average home of middle-income families in France, Germany and the U.K., and 80% of poor American households have air conditioning.

Candace Smith is correct: good manners are cost-effective.

Phil Magness and Peter Earle ponder plant-based meat.

Scott Sumner writes insightfully about drug legalization.

Wall Street Journal columnist Gerard Baker decries the hypocrisy of the climate-lobby elite. A slice:

It was a smart move to hold the COP28 summit, the latest gathering of world leaders to ululate unmerited alarm about the climate and make unfulfillable promises on how to deal with it, in Dubai in December.

At least in the Gulf emirate it is guaranteed to be hot. The forecast for this week is for sunshine and temperatures in the high 80s, enough heat to provide a suitable backdrop for their insistence that we are all going to fry soon—although it has been hot on the Arabian Peninsula since long before man set about his evil carbon-spewing ways.

If they had chosen to hold it in, let’s say, Europe, they would have been in for a distinctly awkward convergence of message and visual. Meteorological winter in the Northern Hemisphere has barely started, and already more of the Continent is under snow cover as of the first week of December than in any year for more than a decade.

In the latest illustration that God has a wicked sense of humor, many members of the planetary emergency rescue elite on their way to the summit were stranded in Munich, where a snowstorm dumped 17 inches of the white stuff and canceled most outbound flights.

I haven’t checked in with the usual alarmist suspects on their explanation for this deep and crisp and even landscape, but I am sure they have a good story. The climate propaganda is so well-rooted now in the West’s media that we are given to understand that everything is the result of global warming: So doubtless historic snowfall, like drought, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, migration patterns, the scarcity of certain foodstuffs, racial discrimination, seasonal temperatures with partly cloudy skies—all, in the fanatic’s taxonomy, the work of climate change.

My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague, Veronique de Rugy, details “the scale of government’s fiscal sloppiness.” A slice:

Year after year, billions of dollars are erroneously disbursed through various federal programs. Whether they are made because of fraud, clerical errors, or inadequate information, these payments represent more than just financial loss; they reflect a fundamental lack of accountability and oversight. It’s an issue that transcends partisan politics.

Jay Bhattacharya tweets:

Prof. @SunetraGupta new column on the UK covid inquiry: “In future, we need to focus our efforts on how to immediately put in place protocols to protect the vulnerable population during a pandemic, rather than attempting to implement impracticable measures to stifle the spread of infection everywhere, while blinding ourselves to the extensive collateral damage that comes in their wake.”

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