Two approaches to poverty …

There's a progressive approach to poverty. It starts with intervening in un-free and un-fair labor markets -- where mega-corporations use various means of coercion to depress the value of a day's work -- and keeping concentrated wealth and power from gaming the system to benefit a narrow few. That's followed by modest wealth redistribution that permits us to have a robust social safety net for those who inevitably fall between the cracks.

Those are straightforward public policy initiatives and, as such, require monitoring to assure their effectiveness.

Then there's the conservative way of dealing with poverty, which amounts to covering your ears, closing your eyes and repeating: "Lalalalala, I can't hear you." You move into a gated community, you consume only media that tells you the economy is going gangbusters for everyone and then, when some dirty poor people do manage to worm their way into your well-guarded consciousness -- for example, by dying in a flood -- you indulge in wild intellectual contortions to convince yourself that they deserve it. Hell, maybe they're even happier that way.

If you take the latter course, it's best to keep pesky facts from intruding on your capitalist utopia. That's Bushenomics; it's all about economic mythology, and the Bushies are all about cooking the books to conform to their view that everything is just hunky-dory.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how poverty rates and the statistics for uninsured Americans were being undercounted in the Current Population Survey. Now, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research -- one of my favorite sources -- we learn that the administration is trying to do away entirely with many of the vital statistics that researchers and poverty advocates use to measure the performance -- or lack of performance -- of a whole bunch of social programs.

This is causing the elves of Wonkistan much chagrin. Today, CEPR released a letter to the administration (PDF) signed by over 400 social scientists and economists, including a Nobel Prize winner or two, urging them to reconsider.

From CEPR's news release:

President Bush's FY07 budget would eliminate the Census Bureau survey [Survey of Income and Program Participation], which provides information on programs such as Medicaid, Social Security, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and unemployment insurance. The letter was signed by 432 researchers, including Brookings Institution fellow Ron Haskins and Nobel Laureate economists George Akerlof and Lawrence Klein.
The letter states: "The total cost of the SIPP is about $40 million per year, yet it provides a constant stream of in-depth data that enables government, academic, and independent researchers to evaluate the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of several hundred billion dollars in spending on social programs. We urge you to fully fund the SIPP so that we may continue to use it to evaluate the effectiveness of public policy in promoting the well-being of America's families."
"Hundreds of researchers have come forward to tell Congress: 'Save the SIPP.' This survey is an essential tool for understanding the effects of policy on Americans' economic well-being," said Heather Boushey, economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which organized the sign-on letter.
These are the little things, going on unnoticed and beneath the radar, that differentiate this republican regime from administrations past.

It's death by a thousand little cuts, but just as fatal.

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