Megan McArdle misses the point

Megan has some interesting comments on how we measure poverty

Interestingly, the argument I had with Dean Baker over makework jobs is a mirror image of the debate over the poverty rate, in which conservatives “prove” that there’s no such thing as poverty because we really spend quite a lot on poor people, and liberals point out that it still sucks to be poor.

Again, this is fundamentally a debate over what we’re trying to measure. If the poverty rate is supposed to be a measure of how many people are trying to live on the puny incomes that fall beneath the line, then of course conservatives are right: it doesn’t measure that very well…

But the poverty measure also measures something else: how many people in the United States are unable (for whatever reason) to secure the basics of life for themselves without substantial government aid. If we include government aid, we are in danger of obscuring that important figure, because we will be measuring variations in government aid as well as variations in the underlying economy. [bold mine]

All well and good. But the liberals typically turn around and use the “poverty rate” as an excuse for more government aid. And that’s cheating. If you’re going to argue for more government aid because it sucks to be poor, then you have to start out with an honest assessment of of the status of the poor. And to get that, you need to include the value of thei government and private aid that they’re already receiving.

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