Overweening Generalist

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nixon's FAP: Near-Hit or Near-Miss?

Basically, a Negative Income Tax scheme with a lot of moving parts but certainly simpler than the bloated welfare bureaucracy, President Richard Nixon floated a Family Assistance Plan to the Unistatians on TV, August 8th, 1969, 49 weeks after the police riot in Czechago.

Nixon had been poor as a kid. He understood poverty. Also, anyone who's studied him knows he was a very complex man, and probably qualified as a sociopath of some sort. He believed black people were genetically inferior to whites. (In 1982, Nixon told Ehrlichman he thought "yellow" Asians were genetically superior to caucasians, at least in terms of intellect.)

"Talking about welfare reform with Moynihan out of the room, Nixon told Haldemann and Ehrlichman: 'You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to...' In private he would assert that there had never in history been a successful or adequate black nation. 'African is hopeless,' he told Ehrlichman. 'The worst is Liberia, which we built...'" -p.110, President Nixon: Alone In The White House, Richard Reeves.

Reeves thinks Nixon thought it didn't matter what he personally thought about poverty; in a bit that feels ultra-Machiavellian to me, Reeves writes that for Nixon it was important for a President like himself to appear to care about equality: "The appearance of public equality, he had concluded, was essential to the public order - particularly in maintaining peace in urban black ghettoes - and the appearance of domestic calm and concern was essential to his own political standing." (Reeves, 110)

(Historical context: lots of urban riots in Unistat, 1965-69.)

Most of his cabinet was against this new Family Assistance Plan. Nixon lobbied hard to get it before giving up during his run for re-election in 1972.

Basically, this is what it was: a welfare family of four would receive $1600 from the federal government. States could supplement as they wished. The Aid for Families of Dependent Children program would be cut, as would Food Stamps and Medicaid. Welfare was seen as an inefficient bureaucracy. Under the FAP, if you worked, you could keep up to $60 a month that you earned, and 50% above that. There were other ideas about families of five or seven, and as Reeves writes, "Working poor families would also receive direct federal payments calculated on a complicated scale."(This complexity is one of the main reasons I prefer the Universal Basic Income ideas as advocated by Philippe van Parijs or Guy Standing: everyone gets a certain equal amount, period.)

Let's look at the $1600 in 1969 terms and 2013 terms. If I go HERE and plug in 1600 and convert it to what it's worth in 2013, we get $10,348.

Nixon told the nation on TV, "A third of a century of centralizing power and responsibility in Washington has produced a bureaucratic monstrosity, cumbersome, unresponsive, ineffective...a colossal failure."

Everyone who would receive benefits would have to accept work or training.

Nixon actually worked hard to do something like give a family of four $10,300 in cash for a year. He loved the drama of working for this idea. As Reeves writes, "Nixon had long ago decided to propose dramatic welfare reform - and the drama was more important than the specifics of reform or the possibility of enactment." (Reeves, 111) With Nixon's mindset in my mind, I find it interesting that there's a slang term that's arisen relatively recently: fap.

There were moments when it looked like it could pass, but it never did, obviously. The FAP (which was called the FSS or "Family Security System" before the name change) was unpopular with many middle-class workers, who perceived that they would be working to subsidize loafers. Social workers of course hated it because they were afraid it would put them out of their jobs. Organized labor - and yes, kiddies, there was such a thing - didn't like it because they saw it as a threat to the minimum wage. (!) Welfare advocates and other leftists thought it wasn't enough money. And of course conservative objected to it because it was giving money to people who weren't working. It seems the Welfare advocates and leftists were the group I most agree with here...

The background to Nixon's idea came from some Negative Income Tax ideas from the economist Milton Friedman, who had written about it in the early-mid 1960s, as an alternative to Welfare. One of Friedman's ideas, extrapolated to 2013 would have given a family of four $24,000 to $30,000. Daniel Patrick Moynihan had read of Friedman's novel ideas and had floated them to Nixon, urging Tricky Dick that if he could get it passed, he would be seen as some sort of American hero. (Moynihan...a bit of a trickster himself?)

What did happen: the Earned Income Tax Credit, which only applied to those who had jobs.

I ask The Reader to ponder the political landscape of ideas in 2014 Unistat (or idea-lack thereof) and try to decide, if an idea to give $10K and change to families of four arose from some congressentity today, where would they be seen along the political spectrum? Almost every Sixties and early Seventies radical saw Nixon as an absolute monster, and with good reason.

"You can't be neutral on a moving train." - Howard Zinn

"It only takes twenty years for a liberal to become a conservative without changing a single idea." - Robert Anton Wilson, Illuminati Papers, p.111


Eric Wagner said...

Interesting piece. Karl Popper's idea that free exchange of ideas could lead to increased wealth for the society makes me glad for the existence of internet and wonderful blogs like yours. Perhaps the unexpected consequences of thinking and communicating will help transform our culture in positive ways.

michael said...

Danke schoen!

Every few posts seem to get picked up by some other website and linked because it deals with their interests. That last one (NNT and RAW and atheology) I found linked to a NNT website that I hadn't known existed.

The stuff about robots and unemployment and economics and rising inequality seem to get picked up about a week after they appear, by Redditt or groups that seem allied with Occupy.

When I do something about books and reading it's never a thing that surges right away, but clearly, by looking at stats, there are people who want to read about reading and books, and those blogspews are always getting hits. I wish more different people would chime in with comments on those, though.

Both you and I did something a blogger is NOT supposed to do: my "subject" is far too broad and your Zukofsky is too rarified. I can't even chime in to Zukofsky, etc because I haven't read him...and hardly anyone else has, either: the people who want to read and talk about Zukofsky seem to be the LANGUAGE poets, and they have their little fiefdoms online, and it doesn't look like they search for new blogs. Or that's the feeling I get from them.

Also: I write far too much. I think that's a major problem with my writing: prolixity. Noise. And I refuse to reign in my digressive parentheticals.

Supposedly EM Forster said, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" Other modern essayists have given variations on this, and that's the main reason I do this blog: I'm really surprised at what comes up when I start writing; in reading and thinking and note-taking I'm one person; in writing I seem to "be" another. This is the main reason I've referred to "that guy" who writes this blog: he seems to be a separate entity from the guy I spend most of my time with.

The totality of rhetoric here about the value of approaching "knowledge" as a generalist has seemed almost completely peripheral after 310 posts or whatever; very rarely have I taken the assertion head-on...and it turns out it's largely because I'm not sure I'm a very good generalist. I keep reading and reading and I feel ignorant and more ignorant. I become evermore interested in new areas of thinking and writing as I get older, which makes me some sort of freak. This is contrary to what is "normal" and at times I fear I might have some bizarre slow-growing tumor that's doing this to me.

I don't seem to "be" like the generalists I most admired when I was 20.

michael said...

And too: this is an age of "specialize or get out." Truly, the smarter way would have been for me to have specialized in such a way as to be paid a hefty salary for my (supposed) "expertise" and then been a generalist in my free time. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the dumber one, not knowing it was the dumber one.

Add to all that: the proliferation of information seems to have balkanized approaches to knowledge, and I confess I'm overwhelmed by what there is to know. Hell: if I were paid to do this blog I'd easily write 3000 word essays on different topics five to seven days a week; the lack of remunerative pressure has me mostly luxuriating inside texts while not mentioning anything about them at all, usually. And no one needs to explain to me why there's no interest in such a welter of words. I get the message.

The OG - Goddess Bless those of you who do read it! - must be quite the obscurity, though, despite other interest groups taking magpieishly from it what they will: as you know, Blogger allows us to easily control our comments. Whenever the wonderful "Anonymous" comments here, I have to go to "spam" and unmark his stuff so it shows up here. And in May it will be three years of doing this particular blog, and I have NEVER received a troll's comment. Nothing gratuitously nasty. Not one ad hominem attack on me. (There have been ham-fisted ads, which I have removed.) Nothing from an expert excoriating me for having the audacity to write in their bailiwick. Not once has some guy left a comment like, "U R f'n lame!" (If someone did do that I'd be tempted to leave it stand.)

When I began the OG, I expected trolls with every new post, and they never appeared. That's probably mostly because of the obscurity and density of the Damned Thing?

Anonymous said...

Brandon Smith Quote

I cannot imagine a torture more vicious and terrifying than to realize in the face of one’s final days that one wasted his entire life trying to please the plethora of idiots around him, instead of educating them and himself and molding tomorrow for the better. I cannot imagine a punishment more severe than to spend the majority of one’s years as a slave without even knowing it. I cannot imagine an existence more deserving of pity and remorse than that of the sheeple.

One of my more fun things to do
was to answer the How are you ?
used for meaningless interactions
with strangers by answering that
I am wonderful!.

The unexpected answer can disturb
the facade of normality just a bit
and cause others to see things a
little differently if only for a

When Adam delved and Eve span
who was then the gentleman

There are lot of people born into
the modern world without any claim
to anything as property of their
own, this condition caused Proudhon
to define property as theft. The
reason to share the wealth is to
acknowledge that everyone has an
inherent right to a share of what
was stolen under this set of legal
fictions. The 1 % can keep their
pile of tokens and worry all day
about them, but not by stripping
ownership away from the 99 % who
aren't privileged enough to have
a decent meal or place to sleep.

Nobody should care who is rich as
long as they are not a vampiric
plague on the rest of us. Trying
to demonize those who they will
not hire as moral defectives as
they grind the working people down
until they can replace them with
robotics is bullshit.

On a lighter note I see that Colorado has run out of legal
marijuana causing the price to
go up. However it hasn't caused
tits on statues yet. I also saw
the mainland Chinese called out
as communists because of their
Cannabis drug patents, I thought
patents were a capitalist invented
method of limited monopolism.

I used to hang out with KIBO and
have a sacred scroll of kibology
plus a picture of KIBO with not a
stitch of clothing in sight, so
you may not be as troll free as
you imagine here.

I do miss "Shickel" Grubor and
alt.usenet.kooks though.

Bob Heinlein said specialization
is for insects, the attraction of
Plato for a simpleminded society
of dimwits ruled by a marginal
bunch of elites may appeal to those
who enjoy epistemological cartoons
but has no appeal for the curious.

The curious have never been bored
or boring. What are you looking
for and what do you expect to find
are meaningless questions ? If you
knew all the answers you wouldn't
need to investigate anything. As
for utility it like beauty is in
the eye of the beholder I'd feel a
lot poorer if you had a regular
job lots of money and spent your
time off as a couch potato sport
fan of Platos Republic.

Is there an answer to find, don't
know haven't finished looking yet.

I do know that we are not going to
assume that this is the best of
all possible worlds just because
those with no imagination assume
it is.

Sue Howard said...

This post, and the one before it (on Nassim Taleb & RAW) I found particularly good (& interesting to me). I've always wondered about Nixon's Negative Income Tax type scheme, but never looked into it closely, although I do remember reading that over 1,000 economists (J. K. Galbraith among them) at one point called on Congress to introduce such a system.

Also (as you're probably aware) Moynihan wrote a book about FAP: 'The Politics of a Guaranteed Income: The Nixon Administration and the Family Assistance Plan' (1973)

Your previous post on Taleb, RAW, etc, seemed a brilliant piece of writing to me - I don't think anyone else has managed (or even attempted) to write about that aspect of RAW's work - possibly because of the difficulties of putting it into words, or even thoughts. But I think bringing Taleb into it, and under the topic of "atheology", seemed like a genius way to approach it.

Btw, I laughed OL when I read your comment, "I write far too much." I'll have to disagree with you on that. Now, Nassim Taleb - there's someone who could benefit from some editing (I say this after reading his 'Fooled by Randomness' for most of today). Not that it makes his books any less enjoyable - and it's probably how he got published in the first place (I mean, a condensed essay of the ideas wouldn't have been a book).

Sue Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue Howard said...

(Sorry, that deleted one was a duplicate of the previous).

Just wanted to add also that I found a copy of the book 'Our Lady of Darkness' by Fritz Leiber, that's been mentioned here a few times (& recommended by Eric W.) - what a great find. Wonderfully atmospheric & would have made a great occult Hitchcock film.

BrentQ said...

Along with the Illuminati Papers this blog has been pretty educational for me regarding the subjects of Guaranteed/Universal Basic Income. The idea seems to be extremely rational and humane and I often find myself promoting it in conversations with friends. If only the concept of a UBI caught on in the mainstream.

But I've been recommending this blog to quite a few people lately.

Keep up the great work!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


I read somewhere that Milton Friedman supported Nixon's efforts until he realized that other social programs would not be replaced but supplemented. This is generally the feeling among libertarians who support a guaranteed income -- many of the advantages of it will be eliminated if you keep the same old bureaucracy.

This was supposed to be a comment about your post , but i was stopped dead by your observation that you've never been trolled in the comments. When i thought about, I realized I have had the same experience in my blog. I've gotten ads, too, and some criticism, but never anything that was deliberately nasty.

What does that say about the blog?

michael said...


That Brandon Smith quote pinballs around in my brain, hitting some sweet spots; it serves as a paraphrase for a lot of what the OG and others like him...want.

The fascist Right keeps repeating the same phrase, how the non-Rich and Inferior want to take from their Betters and make everyone Equal. This seems so childish I can't believe anyone takes it seriously, but apparently there are enough non-rich who are so at sea with how power politics and language actually works, that they think raising taxes to the level they were under Clinton is "communism." Meanwhile, they themselves are perpetually flooded with adrenaline from stress because if they get sick and miss three paychecks, the Landlord will happily turf their asses into the street.

Meanwhile, we had to dig to see that the High Court if France agreed to uphold 75% income tax on the wealthiest French.

I particularly enjoy the phrase "epistemological cartoons."

Re: boredom: I don't know if I'm such a simpleton I don't even know it, but I am never bored. Never. Long ago I decided that, if formal school wasn't going to do it, I would do it myself: teach myself to never be bored. It worked. It doesn't pay anything (not much), but I wouldn't trade it for a Lamborghini.

When I read Candide I started to pay attention to not only the latest Bad News, but what had been ugly and wrong and stupid and unjust before, and now it had been rectified. What I think, as of today, is that we live in merely One Possible World, and that it's far more fluid than a lot of us realize. It can be made Better.

I guess I save Best for poetic imagery and unattainable goals-to-be-striven-for, which I think was the function of anyone's Utopian vision in the first place.

Moral support much obliged!

michael said...


I don't know what not getting trolls means. I would guess that the more visible the website the more trolls would gravitate to it; perhaps it's a sheer numbers thing?

I don't even get the Guy Who Knows Everything comments. Not yet. Could it be that I inject enough awareness of my own Cosmic Schmuckiness that it clips the wings of the literate yet Frustrated and Angry? I don't know!

Coincidentally, an hour after writing that rambled response to Eric in the comments, I read Amanda Hess's article at Pacific-Standard, about the vicious, seemingly psychopathic trolls that dog her and other female writers/bloggers/journalists on Twitter, threatening to rape, murder and decapitate them...for saying something about gender or sex or some movie that the trolls took exception with. I knew this sort of stuff existed, but reading her piece really made me think.

Despite my somewhat provocative stance, I LOVE Internet. And every now and then I read certain people's Tweets. I don't text, but I understand why other people love to, und so weiter: All this digital power seems to amplify the truly miserable though. And will it take the murder of some female blogger/journalist by one of the ambulatory Unhinged to stop the quality of Tweets Hess and others endure?

Here's her piece:

Jeez: I've had a real life stalker and that was very unnerving, but there were no death threats. And we all have local police, corporations and the NSA surveilling our every move. But Tweets like the ones in Hess's article? If someone finally comments here "U R a fag die" I'll almost feel FORTUNATE. (Of course they will have to first prove they're not a robot.)

michael said...

@Brent Q-

I really really RILLY appreciate your kind words and support...and the promulgation of the UBI meme!

Thanks, man.

michael said...

@ Sue Howard-

Thanks for the endorsement on RAW and atheology; indeed: I wanted to write about RAW's view of "gods" again, and Nassim's views seemed like good ones to play off of there. I thought the "vacuum" idea was interesting.

The more I look at it, "religion" seems like a very robust idea that serves to give structure to the blizzard of unknowns; it structures meaning. The downsides of it are glaring, obviously. But we don't pay attention to the million everyday pro-social kindnesses and "I'm acting in a way that I would have others do unto me" sorta things. We barely notice this stuff.

Still: I see some big problems with religion...and fanaticism over sports too. Now THERE'S a secular religion if there ever was one, and pretty fucking stupid, too. I engage in it ironically, which is rough, because, if you see football or the NBA or baseball or whatever as a religion, you want to celebrate with others. But for me it's difficult to find others who love watching the games with a similar level of irony, getting worked up over the games, all the while knowing how utterly meaningless most of it is. "The guys who represent the general geography that I live in are going to KILL your guys, with their lame uniforms!" And then "your" guy becomes a free agent, signs for $10million to play with that team you "hated." It's really insane...and unbelievably popular. Privately, I watch for kinesthetic freaky intelligence, the odd little dramas, the "ballet" aspects, and what Mailer called "grace under pressure," which he thought had a lot to do with identifying a basic aspect of masculinity. There's really just a lot for the student of what RAW and Leary called "primate status games." It's glaring, really. [Yes: organized team sports as religion. I just made that argument.]

I really like NNT (and I do think he's funny and has a snide, mordant sense of humor), but I confess that I suspect I'm falling for something, but I'm never quite sure what it is, or when it is. His basic Humean/Popperian-plus-math "master of those who do not know" stance attracts me. I think he likes to think in brief chunks - he has an aphoristic style - and I would think his editors find him "difficult." (But maybe not?)

I didn't cite my sources for the short Nixon FAP piece, but none of them were Moynihan's 573 page book on the topic. My library didn't have it, and I just wanted to write a precis on that period in Unistat history and mildly and obliquely suggest how odd it was that a Republican pushed for such a plan (and he apparently had little appreciation for how stingy it was), and few people seem to remember or know about this.

Moynihan suggested to Nixon that Brit Tories in the 19th century were the best ones to hammer through "liberal" policies, and Nixon thought he was being Disraeli or something.

I also wanted to briefly suggest one reason why I thought some set of algorithms about who gets what according to how poor they seem pales next to the elegance of the UBI schemes. You're right: a huge number of social scientists and other policy types were for the FAP; it passed in the House, and the Senate Republicans killed it.

michael said...

(continued from previous)

I think you're being kind when you disagree with me "writing too much." I know I don't write as often as I used to - not even close - but I more meant it in the sense that the posts, when they appear, are probably prolix. (Hell: my comments too!)

I read a startling piece linked from Boing Boing today about how the UK "justice" system is shot-through with gangsters and corruption on every level. I knew it was bad, but I had no idea.

For anyone who's innarested in this: read this closely...


...and try to comprehend. I somehow suspect - esp with no one from Wall St or Geneva Convention-violators even being brought up on charges, that the Absolute Rot is fairly commensurate in Unistat. Concentrated money kills everything, eventually.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Well, this is interesting. I just read a couple of pieces on the amount of abuse women get on the Internet, and I though, "I should do a blog post on that." And then I came back to view the additional comments on your post, and I see you saw some of the same stuff.

Eric Wagner said...

Interestingly, Jerry Pournelle and Bob Heinlein seemed like model generalists to me in high school and college. I read that Pournelle wanted to be Hari Seldon, Asimov's fictitious creator of psychohistory.