The Blog


11:00 PM, Dec 29, 1996 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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Ten days before the most charity-soaked of holidays, a story appeared in the Washington Post, front page, above the fold, like the Ghost of Christmas Real Time: "Inside Welfare's New World," subhead: "Watching Reform at Work." In this, the threatened "First in a series of occasional articles," reporter Katherine Boo describes the lives of two Washington single mothers.

Elizabeth Jones has resigned from the welfare rolls and gotten a job. Her monthly salary, after taxes, is $ 1,374. But, because she is employed, her public housing rent has risen from $ 103 to $ 497, and her three children have lost their free medical insurance.

LaVerne Peeler is still taking welfare emoluments. She receives, tax free, $ 2,999 per month in public assistance, food stamps, and foster-care payments. Her public housing rent is $ 71, and Medicaid benefits remain intact for her six various progeny and wards.

Katherine Boo writes with nice dispassion. Facts and numbers abound in the piece, all of them seemingly correct. As usual, the Washington Post knows everything concerning the subject covered except what it's talking about. The point of "Inside Welfare's New World" is supposed to be that reforming welfare is painful. The real point is no such thing. When an Elizabeth Jones gets $ 1,374 for doing all that society says she should and a LaVerne Peeler gets $ 2,999 for nothing, welfare shouldn't be reformed, it should be vaporized.

If compassion for the hard-pressed is our motive for welfare, why is someone at the income level of Elizabeth Jones being taxed at all? Why is she further burdened by the regressive exactions of sales levies, excise charges, customs duties, import quotas, and agricultural price supports?

Or, if redistribution of wealth is our aim, why don't we have a negative income tax? And if what we really want is just to help the poor without getting involved in any messy questions of who's deserving, then how come LaVerne Peeler is poor? She has an income equivalent to a before-tax salary of more than $ 50,000. Her rent is minuscule. She has an 18-year-old niece and a 16-year-old son in the house who could contribute something. And yet she still exists surrounded by crime and squalor in an environment where $ 327 is stolen from her purse in her own home. "The money," Katherine Boo tells us, "was meant to forestall an electricity cut-off." Why isn't LaVerne Peeler living over in Georgetown with the liberals who voted her such largesse?

These are tough questions. I suppose we could answer them if we did a lot of difficult research and complicated thinking. But, like the rest of the nation, I'm feeling lazy in this respect. I'd rather do something more modern, more American about the welfare problem -- start a bunch of conspiracy theories, like . . .

. . . AFDC really stands for "All Forms of Death Complimentary."

. . . Why call them food stamps if the recipients don't get stomped on?

. . . You can't spell Medicaid without the a-i-d in AIDS.

. . . Welfare is a secret plot by liberals to exploit the poor. Call it The Poverty Plan. Welfare is so huge, so complex, it costs so much, that it must be related to Iran-Contra, the Vince Foster suicide, crashed flying saucers in Roswell, U.N. black helicopters, the Trilateral Commission, TWA Flight 800, the way the CIA invented cocaine and sexually transmitted diseases, and the fact that Tiny Tim has been silenced forever and cannot tell us what he knew about the Kennedy assassination

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Scenario #1

According to a crumpled piece of paper found at a small airport in Mena, Ark., welfare doesn't cure poverty because poor people vote for Democrats. The minute people quit being poor they vote for Republicans. Therefore the purpose of welfare is not to eliminate poverty but to subsidize it, to make sure that no matter how wealthy this country becomes there will always be some poor people left to vote for otherwise unemployable Democrats such as Bill Clinton.

This is why LaVerne Peeler gets lots of money, but only if she keeps acting poor. If she starts being married, employed, and on the lookout for an apartment near Pamela Harriman's house, she'll be cut off without a cent, like certain Arkansas state troopers.

(Wait a minute, this sounds too plausible. Maybe we should save it for the '98 congressional races.)



Scenario #2