Who would speak up for “dead white males” when ideologues declaimed against them? “Moms and dads have day jobs, and they need to provide for their families,” Mr. Sasse says. “They were patted on the head and said, ‘The experts got this.’ Well, the experts, if they’re people like President [of Harvard Claudine] Gay, they don’t deserve us to defer to the claims of ‘my truth.’ What the hell is that? When she resigns, she goes out and runs to the New York Times and writes an op-ed and defends ‘my truth.’ Well, that’s absolute nonsense. That itself should be a fireable offense.”
[DBx: Yes. And reading this paragraph prompts me to wonder: How does Claudine Gay’s “my truth” differ from Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts”? It seems to me that these ‘concepts’ share much with each other and that each is equally unwarranted. Perhaps Dr. Gay and Ms. Conway should confab together to discuss their shared epistemology.]
Who is poor? / One would expect the analysis to begin with some clarity around just how much poverty is “so much”? The official American definition of poverty, underlying the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), is a family lacking the resources required to satisfy its minimum economic needs. That accords well with the meaning of “poverty” in everyday speech. Desmond seems to agree with that measure, but never gives his reader the number of people that he believes is “so much.” At the time he was completing his book in 2022, 37.9 million people (11.6 percent of the population in 2021) fell below the FPL, but he never says that 37.9 million people is his “so much.”
His only explicit answer to the question is a claim that America has more poverty than any other advanced democracy, based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co‐operation and Development (OECD). But the OECD definition of poverty is different from the American definition, which Desmond adopts throughout the book except when he is justifying his “so much” claim. The OECD defines the poor in a country as families with incomes below one‐half the median income in their country, but this measure describes poverty in terms of income distribution, not material condition. Consider that Americans whom the OECD deems poor have between 40 percent and 100 percent more income than people it identifies as poor in other advanced OECD countries. This relative measure leads to the paradox that a family in the United States with an income of $30,685 would be counted as poor, while families with income of only $14,141 in Italy or $21,904 in France would not be counted as poor. Using the same income standard for all countries shows the United States has at least 60 percent less poverty than other developed democracies.
After citing the deceptive OECD data to justify “so much” poverty, Desmond returns to using the FPL and a “supplemental” measure of poverty from the Census Bureau, neither of which shows any significant change over the last 50 years. He ignores at least two major research studies that show substantial declines in U.S. poverty over the last 50 years, with recent poverty rates between 1.1 percent and 4.0 percent, compared with the official 11.6 percent. These research studies argue that official American measures of poverty are overstated primarily because the Census Bureau does not count 88 percent of government transfer payments (subsidies) given to poor families. The book’s failure to even mention these two studies looks like an intentional exclusion to avoid the uncomfortable possibility that most of Desmond’s claims are wrong. (The author’s endnotes reference a journal article that demonstrates the superiority of one of these consumption‐based measures, but he never even acknowledges the existence of that measure in the body of the book.)
Combating poverty / Desmond praises Johnson’s War on Poverty, writing, “Ten years after the first of these programs rolled out in 1964, the share of Americans living in poverty was half what it was in 1960.” But that is a distortion of history. Between 1960 and 1974, the poverty rate did decline from 22.2 percent to 11.2 percent, a drop of 11.0 percentage points. But during the previous 11 years, from 1949 to 1960, it had declined by 12.6 percentage points without any increases in government transfer payments, just normal healthy economic growth. Even within Desmond’s selected time period, poverty declined by 0.80 percent per year from 1960 to 1964 and by only 0.78 per year from 1964 to 1974 during the War on Poverty. Had poverty merely maintained its pre‐1964 trend, it would have been 9.2 percent in 1974, not 11.2 percent. Furthermore, 1972 and 1973 were the low points for poverty during the entire 57 years after the War on Poverty was announced. Since 1973, poverty rates have simply oscillated with the business cycle, between 11.1 and 15.2 percent.
The official poverty rate failed to fall after the 1960s because government failed to count as income all the new money it gave to poor families and used upwardly biased price indexes to calculate poverty thresholds. If those data failures had been fixed, the measure of poverty would have fallen to a mere 1.1 percent. Desmond ignores those facts, so he then proceeds to claim that far more money needs to be transferred to low‐income households. We can be reasonably sure that, like the extra money transferred in the last 50 years, these additional transfer payments will also not be counted by the Census Bureau, and Desmond and his progeny will continue to bewail “so much poverty.”
After winning the Iowa caucuses Monday, Mr. Trump replayed a golden oldie of a campaign pledge: “We’re also going to pay off the national debt. It’s about time.” He said the same thing in 2016, before he added about $8 trillion to the tab. Roughly half of that was Covid relief, so perhaps voters grade him on a curve. Less forgivable is that he’s now playing for the Democrats on entitlements.
“Americans were promised a secure retirement. Nikki Haley’s plan ends that,” says the grim narrator of a Trump advertisement playing in New Hampshire. A new radio spot adds: “Year after year, you paid into Social Security. Now Nikki Haley wants to keep you from collecting what’s yours.” The Trump campaign alleges Ms. Haley would cut benefits “for 82 percent of Americans.”
This is dishonest. Social Security is running out of money, and doing nothing will result in a 23% cut to benefits within a decade. The retirement trust fund, according to the latest report, will be depleted in 2033, at which point the incoming cash “will be sufficient to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits.” Does Mr. Trump have any plan to prevent this outcome in only nine years? Nope.
Because climate change has been turned into a moral and quasi-religious crusade (see my little monograph “Inside the Carbon Cult“), these are very, very weird times when it comes to how we talk about fossil fuels, electricity, and emissions.
Vladimir Lenin has been gone for a century, but the evil he did lives on. The first leader of the Soviet Union died on Jan. 21, 1924, in Gorki, Russia (now called Nizhny Novgorod), after repeated strokes. His legacy is a world whose moral equilibrium he helped to destroy.
The Soviet Union was based on Marxism, a secular religion, and Lenin was the architect of its system of antimorality. For Lenin, as he said in his speech to the Komsomol on Oct. 2, 1920, morality was entirely subordinated to the class struggle. An action was right not in light of “extrahuman concepts” but only if it destroyed the old society and helped to build a new communist society.
The effect of this theory is felt today in post-Soviet Russia, where the legacy of communism’s blanket rejection of universal morality destroyed the hope for democratic reform. Lenin’s theory also inspired modern terrorism and contributes to the weakness that leads many in the West to condone ideological crimes.