Bipartisan agreement: Effectiveness and local solutions matter if you care about fighting poverty

by Ryan Streeter on August 11, 2014. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Arnold Kling recently looked at the anti-poverty plans that Paul Ryan and the Hamilton Project have released, and concludes that they share (bipartisan) common threads:

1. The past 50 years of fighting poverty have been only partially successful. We can learn from what worked and from what did not work. We still have much to learn about dealing with poverty. Experimentation needs to continue.

2. Going forward, programs must be evaluated rigorously for effectiveness. Ryan’s draft says, “there is a tendency to measure success by how much the government spends on programs or how many people it spends money on. That should not be the measure of success.” In the Hamilton Project volume, there is an equal disdain for measuring success based on inputs or intentions rather than on results. Each chapter in that volume includes a section on assessing costs and benefits of its specific proposals. As the Ryan draft puts it, “This proposal calls for a commission to examine the best ways to encourage rigorous analysis of our safety-net programs.”

3.  While the federal government should provide funds, anti-poverty programs are typically best designed and implemented at lower levels. State and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, are better able to identify individual needs and obtain necessary buy-in.

It is interesting that effectiveness and local solutions are the two main areas of agreement, as these were the twin pillars of George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism back in the 2000 election and have been mostly neglected by policymakers since then.