Friday, April 5, 2019

Brooks on Poverty

Town Square of Waterloo, Ontario, via Hogg Fuel and Supply.

Some really remarkable goings-on in the current David F. Brooks, I mean qualitatively different from the usual dishonesty we like to tax him with over here, presenting a truly original view of, of all things, poverty reduction in his native Canada, which Brooks claims is being handled better up there than down here on the other side of the border, which doesn't sound surprising at all, since they have a much more effective government than we have, but that's not what Brooks is saying: he's claiming that Canada is doing a better job of poverty reduction than the US because they're thinking more like, not to put too fine a point on it, David F. Brooks ("Winning the War on Poverty"):
According to recently released data, between 2015 and 2017, Canada reduced its official poverty rate by at least 20 percent. Roughly 825,000 Canadians were lifted out of poverty in those years, giving the country today its lowest poverty rate in history.
How did it do it?.... They begin by gathering, say, 100 people from a single community. A quarter have lived with poverty; the rest are from business, nonprofits and government.
Well, on the other hand, at first blush the reality doesn't look anything like the way David Brooks thinks, according to the available online information, which I have access to, no thanks to David F. Brooks, who provides no links, but because I own a Google, where they tell how they did it, in the following terms:

Every Canadian deserves a real and fair chance to succeed, no matter where they live or where they come from.
Since 2015, the Government of Canada has made significant investments for children, seniors, lower-wage workers and other vulnerable Canadians that are having immediate impacts on reducing poverty and making a difference in the lives of Canadians.
That is, according to "Opportunity for all—Canada's first poverty reduction strategy", it was achieved by the tax-free Canada Monthly Child Payment lifting 300,000 children out of poverty, the Guaranteed Income Supplement providing greater income security for some 900,000 Canadian seniors, 70% of them women, the $40-billion National Housing Strategy, removing 530,000 Canadians from housing insecurity and reducing chronic homelessness by 50%, public transit infrastructure investments, early learning and childcare investments, labor market transfer agreements,  the Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program, the Canada Workers Benefit employment tax credit raising 70,000 workers out of poverty, and various mental health initiatives. And they met their goal three years ahead of schedule.

But that's not what David F. Brooks says. David F. Brooks says the most important thing is that poverty reduction in Canada does not take the form that it takes, in his opinion, in the United States, although in both countries it has nothing to do with the federal government because everything is handled by private donors:
A common model [in the US] is one-donor-funding-one-program. Different programs compete for funds. They justify their existence using randomized controlled experiments, in which researchers try to pinpoint one input that led to one positive output. The foundation heads, city officials and social entrepreneurs go to a bunch of conferences, but these conferences don’t have much to do with one another....
In Canada it’s not like that. About 15 years ago, a disparate group of Canadians realized that a problem as complex as poverty can be addressed only through a multisector comprehensive approach. They realized that poverty was not going to be reduced by some innovation — some cool, new program nobody thought of before. It was going to be addressed through better systems that were mutually supporting and able to enact change on a population level.
With one key example of this disparate group of Canadians:
The Tamarack Institute, which pioneered a lot of this work, serves as a learning community hub for all the different regional networks.
Paul Born, the head of the institute, emphasizes that the crucial thing these communitywide collective impact structures do is change attitudes. In the beginning it’s as if everybody is swimming in polluted water. People are sluggish, fearful, isolated, looking out only for themselves. But when people start working together across sectors around a common agenda, it’s like cleaning the water.
(Drew, did you quote Brooks using this "polluted water" imagery recently or am I just imagining it?)

And there's something to this, I find, and there's some information online about it, which I have access to, no thanks to David F. Brooks, who provides no links, but because I own a Google, at the website of the Waterloo Region Record of Waterloo, Ontario, which tells me in an article of last December that the Tamarack Institute and its staff of 21 at the Conrad Grebel University College (a Mennonite institution attached to the University of Waterloo) have "found a way to lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty across North America" including
• Helped get 25,000 people in Central Iowa out of poverty in two years.
• Pinpointed the causes and reduced the risk of bladder cancer in Maine.
• Helped the next generation in Northern Ireland to live together more peacefully.
• Dramatically reduced poverty in Waterloo Region, as it was reeling from plant closures in the 1990s.
Which, though certainly laudable-sounding, if it really happened (I'm not sure whether it's the Maine thing or the Northern Ireland thing that sounds most improbable, but the Central Iowa case, which consisted of Born "advising" the president of the local United Way, certainly doesn't represent stuff that's only done in Canada as opposed to the US) does not sound a lot, to my way of thinking, like reducing Canadian poverty by a factor of 20% between 2015 and 2018.

Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe I'm not, but I'm starting to think the Canadian government and its 2015 plan may have had a lot more to do with it than the folks at Conrad Grebel University College, no offense to what I'm sure is a terrific school, and it's possible David Brooks doesn't know what he's talking about, or his unnamed sources may not be wholly reliable. I report, you decide, if you know what I mean.

But I'm guessing somebody has been feeding Brooks a line of seriously idiotic idiocy here, and it would be nice if he had a research assistant to take a look at the nonsense he's writing before they put it in print, and even more before he plunges me into a wickedly sardonic story by Alice Munro, who is usually much kinder than this to her characters.

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