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President Obama Makes Poverty Permanent

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.

Take a man who is not lacking in material goods, money, or property. He can own a home and cars, have a job and insurance, and be fat and happy. But if this man sees his neighbor buy a Lexus with all the trimmings, yet he cannot afford one, he will be able to claim poverty. And once he can afford his luxury car, yet his neighbor acquires a fusion-powered hovermobile which would break our man's budget, he can again claim "poverty."

No matter what any man has, as long as somebody else has more, then whatever the first man has isn't enough. It isn't fair. And since it's "unfair," the government will feel justified to step up its confiscation of property from those who have "too much," give some of what it has taken to those that are "poor," and keep the rest for themselves.

The news is not entirely bleak. Mr. Obama will go down in history as succeeding where other progressives or socialists before him have failed. He will have pioneered a perpetual source of grief and grieving. Further, he will have discovered the lost Fountain of Youth from which any bureaucracy tasked with "battling" poverty can drink. One sip, and the agency lives forever, growing only stronger as it ages.

Journalists and minor politicians have tried before, but nobody has managed to accomplish as much as Mr. Obama has by doing nothing more than misusing one simple mathematical concept.

For example, it's common to read headlines like this: "Heating Oil Price Increases: Poor Hit Hardest." This is a journalist's attempt at creating a grievance, and one that does well enough, but its influence is temporary: once spring comes, it's forgotten.

The editorial addition to the headline is, of course, logically equivalent to "Poor Have Less Money." This is so because all, rich and poor, must have heating oil (or some other source of heat). If the price for heat rises, the rich and poor both pay more. But the poor pay proportionally more because they have less money, which we already knew.

Thus, the editorial attached to the headline gives no new information about the poor. Indeed, there is no reason to include the editorial with the headline except as an attempt to create a grievance, and a sense that something "must be done."

While we'll still see reporting like this -- journalists can't help themselves -- Mr. Obama will have made all such implicit advocacy superfluous. Instead, look for endless headlines like: "Despite Efforts, More Work To Alleviate Poverty Necessary, Government Spokesperson."