Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Moving to Opportunity Program" a Failure

In 1994 the federal government initiated a social experiment, designed to examine the effects of different neighbourhoods on poverty. Jon E. Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal explains the program: “Beginning in 1994, the federal government offered a lottery for housing vouchers to families in five major cities. Families were randomly assigned to different groups. One group received vouchers to be used specifically to subsidize rents in neighborhoods where poverty was low. About 860 families eventually moved. Another group, of 1,440 families, wasn't offered vouchers and, initially at least, stayed in high-poverty neighborhoods. Researchers have since tracked and compared the fortunes of the two groups.”

The experiment, however, did not work as expected. The federal government assumed that moving poor families to affluent neighborhoods would lead them out of poverty. The empirical evidence demonstrates that the program failed: earnings of the families who moved to low-poverty areas were just 3% higher than those that stayed in poverty-afflicted locales. Furthermore, depression, crime, and school participation were found to be significantly worse among those who were moved to low-poverty neighborhoods. The reasons for such results are understandable: the new inhabitants most likely felt isolated, or harassed by police, and were unable to adjust.

The success (or in this program’s case, the lack thereof) of the program, however, is ultimately insignificant. The equity of such a program must be considered and it is clear upon examination that subsidizing the housing of low-income individuals and families compromises the competitive capitalistic society present in America. It, in effect, destroys the very incentives that drive the society that has made America the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind.

Americans are not divided by a class system, as is present in a nation such as the United Kingdom. Instead, Americans, if they are divided at all, are partitioned into different socioeconomic groups. The famed “American Dream” explains such a phenomenon: it is every Americans desire to make themselves better off financially. This “American Dream” mentality is what drives American capitalism. More even than Americans’ great propensity towards consumerism, it is the American’s desire to become more wealthy that has made America’s economy so successful. This desire towards wealth leads Americans to educate themselves, work hard, and invest. Indeed, the proof is in the proverbial pudding: the American education system is among the best in the world, America’s workers are among the most productive, and America is the world leader in global investment.

Why compromise such a system? Giving housing vouchers to the poor, so that they may live in housing complexes inhabited by middle and upper class residents clearly gives unfair advantages to those that have yet to earn them. Government must instead target, and subsequently improve, institutions that allow the poor to become wealthier. For example, the government operates educational institutions, many of which are in dire need of improvement. Instead of attempting to bandage the problem by bettering the lives of a select few poor individuals and families (and using taxpayers’ money in doing so,) the government should concentrate on bettering institutions that directly lead to less poverty. It has been shown statistically that better education, less crime, and more job opportunities lead to less poverty, less crime, and better overall well-being.

Therefore, a different voucher system should be instituted: school vouchers. Instead of using middle class families’ tax-money to give housing that they themselves could not afford to poverty-stricken families, education vouchers should be given to all families on a per-need basis, allowing children who meet the educational requirements of the schools to attend educational facilities more conducive to their progression out of poverty and into the productive workforce.

A government that meddles, especially one that meddles with the tax-money of the individuals it purportedly serves, is one that will inevitably not be successful in achieving its social objectives. It has been proven that the best solution is to allow the market mechanism to drive the economy forward, with the government providing a light helping hand to those in need, complementing the free-market rather than compromising it.

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