Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wente comments on poverty-plan failures

Canadians spend billions to help poor people, but are getting little return on their investment.

That's the gist of a column that Margaret Wente writes in the Globe and Mail today.

The same could be said for farm subsidies that are supposed to help family farmers, but with scant evidence that all of the spending makes any difference.

I think the most effective measure for pulling, or keeping, farming families out of poverty is off-farm employment. That revenue comes with no thanks to any government subsidies.

Wente cites a number of United States studies, including several by the Brookings Institute that were unable to find any improvements as a result of billions spent to help "disadvantaged youth".

She says neither Liberal approaches, which favour subsidies, nor Conservative programs, such as Scared Straight, abstinence education, boot camps for young offenders or performance pay for teachers, are working well.

There are initiatives that are working, she says, such as the Montreal Prevention Experiment. It involves family counselling to reduce antisocial behaviour of boys between seven and nine years old.

Wente says we don't really know much about what works and what doesn't because there is hardly any  measuring of outcomes.

We just pour money into programs and subsidies with blind faith that we will achieve desirable results.

As with poverty-reduction programs, so with farm subsidies.

It's about time we started measuring results so we can stop wasting money and direct our resources into programs that work. 

Wente predicts that if and when we do pull the plug on some programs and subsidies, there will be a huge outcry by the people who make their living delivering these services.

I say we should be ready to challenge them to prove that their programs deliver desired results.

And that goes for all types of farm subsidies, too, including supply management for dairy and poultry farmers. What have those marketing boards delivered? Is that what Canadians want or expected - eg. fewer farming families each requiring more than $1 million worth of quota and retail prices curbing purchases by poor people?