What Paul Ryan understands, and what [New York Times op-ed writer] Timothy Egan and his ilk are professionally and politically committed to not understanding, is that the holistic effect of programs intended to help the poor is to make the lives of the poor worse in significant ways, mainly by encouraging the long-term dependency that concerns Ryan and others. By, for example, penalizing work and subsidizing unemployment, or by penalizing marriage and subsidizing single motherhood, the welfare state creates incentives for people to make choices for the sake of short-term benefits, choices that are destructive for themselves and their families in the long term. As economists at Georgia State University’s Fiscal Research Center put it: “The current federal and state tax-benefit system creates price and income effects. The price effects are due to the phase in and phase outs of the benefits from the programs analyzed in this report. In some cases, the cost of earning an additional $100 of income is a loss of benefits double that amount. The income effects of these programs may influence household decisions regarding work, investing in education and the acquisition of skills, and possibly even marriage and fertility.”
Ryan, in a conversation with Bill Bennett, linked the problem of welfare dependency to the “tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” For speaking of a true thing that must never be said, Ryan was ritually denounced as a racist by such inspiring figures as Representative Barbara Lee. If we assume as Ryan’s critics do that “inner city” is a synonym for “black,” then consider the facts: Unemployment among inner-city men of all races is estimated to run roughly twice the national rate, while unemployment among black inner-city men in cities such as Milwaukee and Detroit has been estimated to exceed 50 percent; 71 percent of working-age white men are in the labor force, but the corresponding number for black men is only 63.6 percent — and going down. New York City manages to graduate barely half of its black male students from high school — and among high-school dropouts, two-thirds reach the age of 26 without ever having held a full-time job lasting at least one year. And perhaps most significant, the vast majority of blacks are born out of wedlock. You could not come up with a more effective system for producing poverty if you tried. If Paul Ryan is a racist for criticizing those conditions, what shall we call the people who run New York City’s public schools or those who govern Detroit — the people who help create those conditions?