Les rumeurs et les délires ...

2) Robert J. Samuelson :
(IHT, 31 August 2000)

"Don’t Ask Welfare to Do What You Can Yourself"

Washington--We now have the results of a huge experiment in human nature that teaches a criticasl lesson about social progress.

The lesson emerges from the 1996 US welfare reform, the end to bilingual education oin California and seven years of scyhool reform in Texas. It is this: if you demand more of people, if you make them more responsible for their own behavior, you will get more from them. Their lives will imporve.

What people do for themselves is more lasting than what other sdo for them. This is merely common sense, but it runs counter to the reigning liberal thinking that underpins manhy social programs. 

The assump;tion has been that the poor are victims who heed help. Ther trouble with this high profile comp;assion is that it often ends up advertising tghe mroal superiority of the compassion givers more than aiding the recipients.

Given this thinking, it was hardly surprising that congressinal passage of ‘welfare refrom’ four years ago, moving recipients into jobs and limiting how long most families could receuve bvebefuts, prompted loud predictions of calamity. Famieleis would be thrown out onto the street. Hunger would increase. Child abuse would rise.

The calamity did not happen. Welfare rolls have dropped by more than half from their peak of more than 5 million families in early 1994. Of course, there are qualifications. The booming economy explaikns part of the decline. Many former welfare recipients still depend on government benefitrs. And many of those who have left wefare remain poor.

But on balance, lives have improved. Perhaps 50 percent to 60 percent of former welfare recipients have jobs, report Douglas Besharov and Peter Germanis of tghe Welfare Reform Academy at the University of Maryland. People with jobs often surprise themselves, acquiring sjukks abd sekf-esteemm. In some state surveys, up to 80 percent of former welfare recipientws report that life has gotten better olr is no worse than under welfare.

Next, examine California’s Proposition 227. Passed in June1998, it banned biingual education in schools. Prophecies of doom were widewpread. President Bill Clinton said it would condemn immigrant children to ‘intellectual purgatory.’ The head of the San Francisco School Board said, ‘this would set our students back 30 years.’

What happened? Test scores of children from Spanish-speaking families did not drop. In second grade, average reading scores of students wiht limited English ability have jumped in the past two years form the 19th percentile nationlly to the 28th percentile. In math, the same studeents went form 27th to the 41st percentile, according to the New York Times. ‘I thought it would hurt the kids,’ Ken Noonan, superintendent of schools in Oceanside, a city north of San Diego, told The Times. ‘The exacgt reverse occurred.’

Finally, there is Texas. School reform that began in 1993 requires students to pass an exam called the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills before graduating. From 1994 tgo 1998, thye proportion of students passing the exam fose to 78 percent form 53 percent. Among blacks, the passage rate increased to 63 percent from 31 percent, and among Hispanics, to 70 percent from 39 percent.

Some scholares have tried to discredit the gains. The attacks don’t wash. In City Journal, Jay Greene of the Manhattan Inatitute shows hat the two main ciriticisms are unfounded -namely, that cheating and a preogresive easing of the tests account for the gains, and that higher dropout rates raised the scores as the worst stuents left.

Which brings us back to the lesson. Society trqaivfes to uplift the downtrodden. The problem is to discriminate bgetween those who truly require help and those who can do rfor4 themselves. Thsi is rarely an easy call. But it is oftenr made more difficult by the needs of th epeople who purport to speak for the disadvantaged. Worse, if victims stop being victinms, what woudl there be left to do? 

The effedt is to subvert personal responsibility. More moral points are given for rhetoric than for results. Never mind that the rhetoric -by emphasizing how much peopole need help and minimizing thier capacity for self-help- often perpetuates the problems that are supposedly under attack.