Sep. 1st, 2013

pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I have finally found a convincing counterargument to my belief that cash aid is better than in-kind and restricted aid (e.g. public housing and housing vouchers). My belief was based on the following:

  1. Data showing that cash transfers are better at lifting people out of poverty than specific aid.
  2. Intuition that people are generally better at knowing what they need than the government
  3. Intuition that if they don't, they need to learn, and this is how to do it.
  4. A willingness to let mentally competent adults starve for their own bad decisions.
  5. Belief that the government claiming to best know how people should spend their money was inherently paternalistic and poisonous to a healthy citizenry even when it's government provided money.


My goal in anti-poverty intervention is not to eliminate poverty or suffering, but to make sure that an individual's suffering is mostly a result of their own, recent choices, and not bad luck, environmental factors outside their control, other humans, or shitty choices they made when they were 15. Or even mildly poor choices they made a month ago, depending on the cost to do so.

Here are two things I have thought of recently. One, decision fatigue is a thing. There is space to recognize and accommodate that without creating a cycle of dependency. Of course, our current programs often manage to be condescending and induce decision fatigue, so this is no defense of them, but the theory is there.

The second specifically applies to housing, and other consumables requiring extended contracts. Low, and especially high variance, income can easily lead to a poor credit rating. Poor credit makes housing harder to find, lower quality, and more expensive- and justifiably so, since tenants with low credit ratings are more likely to miss payments. You can compensate with a higher deposit, but that doesn't help the poor. A dedicated housing allowance that is paid to the landlord in a timely manner (which the current housing voucher system demonstrably does not do) credibly commits you to paying for housing. That insulates people not only from their own past poor decisions, but from the decisions of other poor people who have created the statistical association between poverty and irregular payment. Stable housing is almost fundamental in establishing a stable life and pulling out of poverty.

I am more and more seeing poverty not as a problem of too-low income, but of unpredictable income. And some sort of minimum income guarantee makes a really credible solution.

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May 2014

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