One of the more tantalizing statistics of the decade is this: for a mere $11 billion we could raise every poor American above the poverty line as poverty is currently and officially defined—an income below $3,130 for a family of four. Now, as the world knows, poverty may be a great deal more than a shortage of money, and giving money to the poor may indeed amount to no more than treating the symptoms of deeper personal and social disorders with financial palliatives. All the same, even within the most sophisticated and sociological definitions of poverty, lack of money is at least part of the condition of the poor. Moreover, as every consumer of aspirin should be able to testify, symptomatic relief is much to be preferred to no relief at all.
Now $11 billion is not much, a mere one and a small fraction per cent of Gross National Product, considerably less than half of Vietnam’s annual cost, just about the size of the Pentagon’s underestimate in 1966 of Vietnam expenditure. It must also be said that of all the ways to assist the unfortunate, simple transfer of funds is the simplest, the least niggling, and the most respectful of human dignity. Either of two magnificently efficient agencies, the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration, can handle the affair with infinitely less sweat than the assembled social workers and Welfare Departments of the land who spend substantially smaller sums. No wonder than that economists of very different ideological preferences and diverging motives have come to perceive merit in some version or other of income maintenance as a part or (on occasion) the whole of the assault upon poverty....
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