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Debating guaranteed income, shortsighted on mRNA, in praise of telemedicine (and May|Jun), bad credit, and more.

What Nonsense

“Fighting Poverty with Cash” [May|Jun 2021] is another cracked plank in the wobbly Woke Progressive platform that has become the foundation of prevalent thinking at Penn.

It’s hard to take seriously the recently launched Center for Guaranteed Income Research. I long thought a university is supposed to prepare young people to pursue life and vocations on their own merits rather than inculcate them with expectations of “entitlement” to feed at the taxpayers’ trough?

Conservative voices have long been stilled at Penn. Self-reliance, determination to forge ahead on one’s own, critical thinking, and recognition that life is a challenge have all been replaced by emphasis on shielding the delicate students from unpleasant experiences and indoctrinating them to seek the enticing embrace of the Nanny State.

Assistant Professor Amy Castro Baker tries to convince us the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly with guaranteed income. What nonsense. Since FDR, every discerned social problem has gotten the same reply from the left: throw other people’s money at it.

She makes no mention that we all know $500 guaranteed income today will grow incrementally tomorrow. And no mention of the cost to administer such giveaways by a future cadre of more unelected government officials, who will then fight hard to justify their sinecures.

The current struggle to fill jobs is greatly due to huge sums lavished on us all as federal stimulus payments, with the result that many would rather stay home without the bother of working.

Guaranteed annual income is just more socialist pablum—great for crushing initiative, squelching innovation, destroying self-reliance, and glorification of getting something for nothing. The strategy underlying the Democrats’ effort to grow ever longer government tentacles with programs like guaranteed income for all is to build a permanent left-wing US government supported by dependent masses.

Michael Pschorr C’61, Santa Fe, NM

A Better Safety Net: Negative Income Tax

In an industrial society or a post-industrial society there must be a safety net. The issue is how such a safety net should be designed. Since I have believed for many years that the United States should have a negative income tax, Dave Zeitlin’s article “Fighting Poverty with Cash” caught my attention.

A negative income tax should provide incentives for people to work. A negative income tax should provide only a modest amount of money. A negative income tax should be designed to keep families together; I believe that the Great Society has failed to keep families together and in fact has caused families to break apart. A public discussion of the negative income tax will no doubt suggest additional public policy objectives that a negative income tax should promote.

I have read that the negative income tax would cost less than the Great Society. The Great Society would probably undermine the policies that the negative income tax was designed to promote.

People who received a negative income tax would have to manage their money responsibly. There might be concern about the welfare of children whose parents mismanaged money from the negative income tax, but if we do not establish a negative income tax, we will be stuck in the present.

Frederic H. Poor III C’69, Littleton, CO

Cash Payments as “Pump Primer”

I was ready to reject “Fighting Poverty with Cash” just from the title, but Amy Castro Baker makes a valid case for using cash payments as a “pump primer” for helping people take steps towards employment and self-sufficiency that they otherwise couldn’t afford to take. Who knows? A program like this may be like the VA College programs after World War II that returned something like $3 in GNP for every dollar of cost. Her program definitely warrants expanded testing with different populations in different settings.

Lewis R. Elin W’60 ASC’61, Chicago

Not “Will It Work?” But “Is It Enough?”

Giving cash grants to impoverished people to lift them out of poverty is a notion that appeals, or surely should, to every empathetic person.

The article asks: “Will it work?” In the narrowest sense—yes, it will likely work, as long as the cash keeps flowing. Rather, the key question is: “Will recipients become economically self-sufficient?” 

To my knowledge, public welfare programs have never succeeded on a significant scale in making the recipients economically self-sufficient. And a prime reason is they do not acquire the necessary economic skills.

The aim “to see if guaranteed income can lift their residents out of poverty” is too narrow. They must become economically self-sufficient, else they will likely relapse. If self-sufficiency can be achieved, surely policymakers will listen.

Successful or not, I applaud the noble effort.

John S. Thomas CE’52, Bradenton, FL

Losing and Unhealthy

Helping people with government cash without requiring their attempts to look for work is a losing and unhealthy program. Jobs are available now with severe shortages of goods because of lack of drivers sitting at home getting free money.

Oleg Dudkin ME’48, Berwyn, PA

UBI Is a Win-Win-Win

Enjoyed “Fighting Poverty with Cash,” however:

A Universal Basic Income (UBI) should be seen as the progressive section of a new federal tax code. Currently, the poor face extremely high effective tax rates when they lose benefits by earning additional money. For example, a $2,000 raise might cause a $6,000 loss of SNAP (food) benefits. On the other hand, while the rich face “supposedly” progressive high tax rates, those rates are lowered by tax deductions (70 percent of which go to the rich).

Our current tax system is too complicated and inefficient. But a flat tax is a political loser, since it is not progressive. However, if you marry the flat tax with an untaxed UBI for all citizens, the effective tax rates are more progressive than the current system.

The cost of a UBI (at the Federal Poverty Level, eliminating financial poverty) would be $2.5 trillion. Because it would go to all citizens ($10,000/adult and $2,000/child), the poor would see a dollar-for-dollar replacement of safety-net programs ($0.9T of $2.0T total) and the rich would lose $1.6 trillion of tax deductions. The poor would not be looking over their shoulders looking for welfare agents trying to catch them with a husband or under-the-table money. The middle class would do better on net income. The rich would pay more in taxes, but because the economy would be doing 2 percent better, it would be on higher incomes, for a net gain. Win-win-win.

That’s my take. If you are interested, more can be found at:

Nedland (Ned) Williams WG’76, Marblehead, MA

Disincentive Effects Grow

Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) did a number of much larger and more sophisticated studies of what they called a Negative Income Tax in the early 1970s. They found, not surprisingly, that the amount of work disincentive is directly related to the size of the payment and inversely related to any “tax” rate imposed upon the grant. These disincentive effects are minor at first but grow at a nonlinear rate. Also, they grow with time. Even worse, grants had a major impact upon family dissolution.

The positive results reported to date from the Stockton, California, program described in the article would, at best, be applicable to a $1.25 trillion program ($6,000 per US adult with no tax rate) that lasted only one year. (The program was a two-year program, but data for only the first year has been reported.) It would be an error to generalize the results to more ambitious programs. If there were a “tax” rate upon the grants (and/or unrelated income of lower-paid workers), or if the grant amounts were larger, the results would likely have had more work disincentives.

Leon Taub W’68, Selbyville, DE

Permanent Fix Needed

I suggest that we (the federal government through its state agencies, perhaps) adopt a “Guaranteed Allotment,” one that provides not only cash but a rigorous and appropriate application of job training, childcare, housing, education, and medical care to all those in need. In this way, people would (should) be enabled to (learn how to) care for their needs on an ongoing basis. Greater success of such an assistance program would be enhanced by adding the dignity of work—with ample salaries and benefits—to the distribution of cash payments. In addition, a socioeconomic safety net should be established for those who experience unforeseen difficulties and for those who cannot achieve independence because of physical or mental disabilities.

Gail Harrison Roman CW’68, Stamford, CT

No Thanks to Penn for mRNA Advances

I recently read the article “The Vaccine Trenches” [May|Jun 2021]. Initially, I was quite proud and reminded myself that this is another instance where Penn did amazing innovative work only to lose the credit for work done. One example that comes to mind is the ENIAC developed at Penn.

However, as I read the article, I realized that Dr. Katalin Kariko worked on the mRNA technology despite the lack of support by Penn bureaucracy. Her lonely quest for advancement of science, supported by Dr. Drew Weissman, is not something that Penn can take credit for. This article really whitewashes the sordid behavior by Penn and its staff, as I later learned through a quick search on the internet. Penn should be ashamed and should publish a mea culpa and profusely thank Dr. Kariko.

Young S. Nam EE’85 WG’89, Vienna, VA

No, This One Was Better

I know the Mar|Apr issue received kudos [“Letters,” May|Jun 2021], yet think the May|Jun issue is the best I have read (starting in the late 1960s). I especially liked the articles on guaranteed income (“Fighting Poverty with Cash”) and telemedicine (“Webside Manner”).

It’s high time that telemedicine has caught on. The first video connection between hospitals was in Nebraska in 1968. I remember visiting the Omaha Medical Center to check it out. The technology, though black and white, worked fine. Getting doctors, insurance companies, and others to buy in has taken a bit longer.

Keep up the great writing and editing!

Kas Kalba ASC‘67 Gr’75, New Haven, CT

Credit Where (Not) Due

The Student Federal Credit Union’s program detailed in the article “Extra Credit” [“Gazetteer,” May|Jun 2021] is both fraudulent and immoral.

The program allowed participants to take out a $1,000 shared secured loan in a frozen account they couldn’t access. Then, the SFCU made monthly payments to repay the loan and any accumulating interest on the customer’s behalf, reporting these to credit agencies to allow the customer to increase their credit score.

The “borrowed” money never leaves the SFCU’s custody. The interest is never really charged or paid by the “borrowers” either. The whole process is a sham meant to deceive while unjustifiably giving students a “perfect” credit history.

Credit scores need to be earned through actual behavior over time, not awarded arbitrarily simply to accomplish a social justice goal.

Paul Price D’77, Chadds Ford, PA

Picture Perfect

Thanks to the editors for carrying the extraordinary aerial photograph of Penn’s not-so-little corner of West Philly by Greg Benson [“Gazetteer,” May|Jun 2021].  It brought back many memories. And not just of the campus. The photo put Penn in the context of the city across the Schuylkill. I could even spot my area of Panama Street, where I lived as a senior, and Taney Park, where my son played Little League, in the 1990s. 

Noel Hynd C’70, Culver City, CA

More Fillmore First Lady Firsts

I was delighted to read the article “Framing First Ladies” [“Arts,” May|Jun 2021], especially the first paragraph about Abigail Powers. The Upstate New York community in question is my home town of Moravia. The house where Abigail and Millard Fillmore were married bears a plaque noting the event, and the local elementary school is named for him.

Not only did Abigail Powers Fillmore install the first library in the White House, she is also credited with installing the first bathtub there. For years, Moravia would commemorate this by having bathtub races, with participants even coming from other states, some far away. It was quite a spectacle to see teams of bathtub racers charging up Main Street.

David B. Zwirn C’64 L’67, New Paltz, NY

Get Past the “Struggles” in Coverage of Black Alumni

The Mar|Apr 2021 Pennsylvania Gazette delved into many facets of African American history, from the “Breaking Barriers” of Marty Vaughn as “Penn’s first Black starting quarterback” [“Sports”] to the creation of a new center to “understand the African American struggle” [“Gazetteer”] to the Rosenwald schools’ contribution to African American education [“Black Education Before Brown”]. The compilation of stories about African Americans in this and most Gazettes continue to patronize Black alumni by not taking opportunities to expand upon outcomes. The Gazette must get past the “struggles” of African Americans to describe the many positive outcomes of a Penn education.

Why is this important? Unless the Gazette broadens its delivery of the outcomes and accomplishments of its graduates, it perpetuates stereotypes and perspectives that narrow the true breadth of the contributions of its Black graduates.

Penn’s Black alumni are representing their alma mater and country well. We deserve to be portrayed in our totality with pride and not simply by our “struggle.” Do Better. Do more.

Helen F. Giles-Gee CW’72 GEd’73 Gr’83, Philadelphia

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