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President Obama Makes Poverty Permanent

WIth a simple abuse of mathematics, Obama just gave birth to eternal grievance.

by
William M. Briggs

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March 12, 2010 - 12:00 am
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There’s an old story — not apocryphal, unfortunately — in which a politician is heard to moan:

50% earn less than the median income. Something needs to be done!

Oh, how I weep for those unfortunate people! No, not those with less money, but those who find such cris du coeur convincing.

I maintain a small collection of these appeals, because I find them useful in showing how often our progressive pals — who remind us constantly of their intelligence and caring — are apt to say something stupid.

The median income is the point at which 50% of people earn less, 50% more. The median household income in the United States is roughly $50,000. Half of all households make more than this, half less. Suppose, in their enlightened beneficence, our leaders decide to award every household an extra $1,000 a year that will be counted toward their income. (In the spirit of these times, never mind where the money comes from.)

The median income would then be $51,000. So how many households would have incomes below this number? You guessed it! Half, it would still be 50%. The proportion less than the median does not change with the addition or subtraction of any constant amount.

Therefore, although it should be as obvious as the sky is blue, a politician should know that it is impossible — not unlikely, but impossible — to eliminate poverty, if by “poverty” he means income less than the median.

This is just as true if we change the percentile from the 50th (which is the median) to the, say, 25th — sometimes called the first quartile. The 25th percentile is the point at which 25% of the people earn less and 75% earn more.

If “poverty” is defined as earning less than 75% of other people (or 60%, or whatever number you like) then the poor will always be with us and there is nothing anybody can do to change this. Omnipotence itself cannot change this.

Yet President Obama thinks he can.

This will not be the first time The One has mistaken his calling on Earth and tried to do what even God cannot. How? His administration will create a new index of poverty, one which slides upwards as all income increases. This guarantees “poverty” will always be with us. This act of will creates an eternal class of the “poor” from which there can be no relief.

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