December 30, 2013
For Nixon, everything was black and white. (AP Photo)
Turns out Nixon favored a guaranteed income, too.  (Associated Press)

Rutger Bregman writes for the op-ed page on an innovative experiment done in London four years ago, wherein 13 homeless men were given about $4,500 to do with as they pleased (though they were asked, at giving time, what would be good for them, which seems significant to PostScript.) A year later, 11 of them weren’t homeless anymore.
Well, that’s just weird, isn’t it? Yes. Yes, it is. But very interesting, too. Counterintuitive, so commenters wanted to explain it without challenging their intuitions that rich people are not just like poor people but with more money. And it worked!

Segesta77 says well, maybe that works in Europe, but the United States is different.
Nothing against the British, but if you give $4,500 to the homeless guys I see here in Chicago, you’d see $4,500 in the pocket of the nearest meth dealer in about two hours.

Look at the longer piece in De Correspondant, though: This has been tried in the novel “Great Expectations,” as well as in Canada and the United States (and is arguably still happening in Alaska). All with good results, but they were later quashed by political concerns. Lots of different good results, too, involving effects on children staying in school, mental health and even birth weight. Crazy!

ECON1011 says, well, what about the Hawthorne Effect?

I wonder about the Hawthorne Effect on a study this small.

PostScript says, what?

the truth will set you free helpfully defines the Hawthorne Effect for PostScript:

The Hawthorne effect (a 1920s-1930s study) is a term referring to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment. Individuals may change their behavior due to the attention they are receiving from researchers rather than because of any manipulation of independent variables.

Aha. So perhaps the men in the London study, as well as the thousands in related international studies, knew the teacher was watching and also the teacher paid them sometimes. And surmised a successful experiment would mean money next year, too.

George_S, conversely, has a sample size of one he or she finds more convincing:

Have you even heard of the documentary “Reversal of Fortune”? Just use Google, for goodness sake. Homeless man given one hundred grand. Six months later… gone. You see, earning money is different than spending it. Anyone can spend free money. Utter fool. You.

PostScript is pretty sure George_S is talking just to PostScript there, so don’t feel insulted.

DOps thinks it is also significant that the traditional safety net was removed for these men. Bregman alludes to that but PostScript can’t yet find more detail:

The innovative idea here is not that you give people money to get by. We’re up to our ears in those programs. What is innovative is that all the other safety nets were removed. The message was “this is it, use it or lose it. No seconds.” Too many of our programs, although well-intended, lack the program elements and commitment to measures of success to get people off the dole, so to speak. We “handle” the needy by too often treating their symptoms in perpetuity.

4uDoc is upset that the op-ed did not address his or her favorite subject:

Where did this nut get the notion there is something like “free money”? Oh, Obama.

TXKafir worries that people will quit their jobs in order to qualify for the free money program:

The biggest complaint is not that people would spend the money on fast food and intoxicants, it is that once you publicize this kind of thing, you go from having 13 people eligible to participate to 130, then 1300, etc. When will progressives learn this simple rule: If you subsidize something, you get more of it; if you tax something, you get less of it.

CalypsoSummer responds that we are already paying for homeless people, just not directly to them:

So, you think it’s a better idea to keep them living in shelters and on the streets, sick, and a drain on society, than to give them money and let them decide how to save themselves. Getting them off the streets causes more problems down the road?

Plus, just giving them the money is cheaper. But you don’t want to do that, because you think it rewards them for being homeless. Rewards them for being homeless. I’m sorry but that makes no sense.

And morganfrost thinks that might be why these programs haven’t caught on hugely. Nobody would be getting rich off of it:

Interesting. One reason that it will never catch on is that there are too many people (and organizations) with vested interests in being the ones who allocate the funds to the poor (for a substantial cut, of course). I’m not convinced that this plan will work, but I must admit that it sure cuts out some very expensive middle men.

That might be the problem! If this were some way for someone to get rich, rather than for society as a whole to benefit modestly, PostScript thinks overturning our intuitions would be a much easier sell.