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How Deserving Are the Poor? Bryan Caplan Dep’t of Economics George Mason University.

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Presentation on theme: "How Deserving Are the Poor? Bryan Caplan Dep’t of Economics George Mason University."— Presentation transcript:

1 How Deserving Are the Poor? Bryan Caplan Dep’t of Economics George Mason University

2 Why Do You Need My Support in the First Place? SituationGood ReasonBad Reason Your friend asks you to pay for his lunch. “I was just mugged.”“I already spent my whole paycheck on beer.” Your girlfriend misses your birthday. “My car and phone both broke down.” “I forgot.” Co-worker asks you to cover for him so he can go home early. “I have the flu.”“I want to play Skyrim.”

3 The Key Difference If there are reasonable steps the person could take – or could have taken – to avoid the problem. Examples of reasonable steps: –Your friend didn’t have to spend all his money on beer. –Your girlfriend could have put your birthday on her calendar. –Your co-worker could wait to play Skyrim.

4 Application: The Deserving and Undeserving Poor The deserving poor: those who can’t take – and couldn’t have taken – reasonable steps to avoid poverty. The undeserving poor: those who can take – or could have taken – reasonable steps to avoid poverty. Examples of “reasonable steps”: –Work full-time, even if the best job you can get isn’t fun. –Spend your money on food and shelter before getting cigarettes and cable t.v. –Use contraception if you can’t afford a child. Test: If you wouldn’t accept an excuse from a friend, it’s probably not reasonable.

5 Who’s Deserving and Undeserving? Good examples of the “deserving poor”: –Low-skilled workers in the Third World –Children of poor or irresponsible parents –The severely handicapped Greatly overrated examples of the “deserving poor”: –Healthy adults in the First World –Everyone who used to be a healthy adult in the First World

6 The Undeserving Healthy adults in the First World. –Low-skilled full-time U.S. jobs pay more than enough for people to support themselves. –Average janitor + maid income>>poverty line; 96 th percentile of world income distribution. –Even Americans below the poverty line enjoy many amazing luxuries. Everyone who used to be a healthy adult in the First World. –Elderly could have saved more. –Sick could have bought insurance.

7 First World Problems

8 Why Talk About Desert, I If you oppose any government spending on the poor, you should still consider desert when you give to charity. If you have a more expansive view of government, there’s still a big difference between forcing people to help (a) starving children and (b) irresponsible adults. Ever said, “It’s your mess, you clean it up”?

9 Why Talk About Desert, II Most important lesson: First World governments’ priorities are upside-down. Third World has hundreds of millions of deserving poor, but: –They get near-zero help from First World governments. –It’s illegal for them to move to the First World and accept a job from a willing employer. Even if we owe charity to no one, the least we can do is stop kicking the world’s deserving poor when they’re down.


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