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To alleviate income inequality in the United States, increased spending on public infrastructure sho

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/26/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 6 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,002 times Debate No: 88803
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We affirm Resolved: To alleviate income inequality in the United States, increased spending on public infrastructure should be prioritized over increased spending on means-tested welfare programs.

Contention 1 - Means-testing hurts welfare

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute notes in April 2012 that welfare does not have a particularly remarkable record,

Michael Tanner [Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute], "The American Welfare State How We Spend Nearly $1 Trillion a Year Fighting Poverty"and Fail," The Cato Institute, April 11, 2012. Available at:

"Welfare spending increased significantly under President George W. Bush and has exploded under President Barack Obama. In fact, since President Obama took office, federal welfare spending has increased by 41 percent, more than $193 billion per year. Despite this government largess, more than 46 million Americans continue to live in poverty. Despite nearly $15 trillion in total welfare spending since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, the poverty rate is perilously close to where we began more than 40 years ago."

Even if the welfare programs are effective at reducing income inequality, means-testing should be rejected because it reduces public support for the programs in the long-run. Conservatives tend to support means-testing to cut costs, but history indicates that this support is a strategy to reduce the amount of voting people who directly benefit from welfare, leading to its demise.

Jared Bernstein, Chief Economist for Vice President Biden, wrote in July 2011,

Jared Bernstein [Chief Economist for Vice President Joe Biden], "Medicaid IS Means Tested," On the Economy: Jared Berstein"s Blog, July 7, 2011. Available at:

"Also, this idea isn"t the slam dunk everyone seems to think it is. I understand the appeal and it certainly makes sense to ask for more for a program facing a tight budget from those who can afford it. But the history of social policy leads me to worry about this: once you shift a program from universal coverage to means testing, it"s increasingly vulnerable to deeper means testing until it eventually becomes a poverty program which everyone wants to get rid of."

Contention 2 - Decrepit infrastructure perpetuates the cycle of poverty

Underinvesting in public infrastructure results in restricted income mobility. We will provide two examples of this effect.

First, the lack of investment in public transportation saps personal budgets and prevents literal mobility, which reduces people"s chances of climbing the social ladder.

Gillian White writes for the Atlantic in May 2015,

Gillian White [Senior Associate Editor at the Atlantic], "Stranded: How America's Failing Public Transportation Increases Inequality," The Atlantic, May 16, 2015. Available at:

"Transportation is about more than just moving people from point A to point B. It"s also a system that can either limit or expand the opportunities available to people based on where they live. In many cities, the areas with the shoddiest access to public transit are the most impoverished"and the lack of investment leaves many Americans without easy access to jobs, goods, and services. To be certain, the aging and inadequate transportation infrastructure is an issue for Americans up and down the economic ladder. Throughout the country highways are crumbling, bridges are in need of repair, and railways remain inadequate. Improvement to public transportation"buses, trains, and safer routes for bicycles"is something that just about everyone who lives in a major metropolitan area has on their wish list. But there"s a difference between preference and necessity: "Public transportation is desired by many but is even more important for lower-income people who can't afford cars," says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard University and author of a new book Move: Putting America"s Infrastructure Back in the Lead. "Without really good public transportation, it's very difficult to deal with inequality," Kanter said. Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress"jobs, quality food, and goods (at reasonable prices), healthcare, and schooling" relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price. A recent study from Harvard found that geographic mobility was indeed linked to economic mobility, and a 2014 study from NYU found a link between poor public-transit access and higher rates of unemployment and decreased income in New York City."

This is corroborated by the Surface Transportation Board in April 2014, which found,

"Transportation and Poverty Alleviation," Surface Transportation Policy Project, April 2014. Available at:

"The poorest fifth of Americans spend 42% of their annual household budget on the purchase, operation, and maintenance of automobiles, more than twice as much as the national average. "

Investing in public infrastructure will undoubtedly reduce the cost of living for poor Americans. In a 2009 report for the American Public Transportation Association, Weisbrod and Reno find,

Glen Weisbrod [Economic Development Research Group] and Arlee Reno [Cambridge Systematics, Inc.], "Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment," report prepared for the American Public Transportation Association, October 2009. Available at:

"Increases in public transportation ridership brought on by incremental increases in public transportation investment and services do not necessarily lead to reductions in automobile ownership. However, the availability of quality public transportation services on a widespread scale lead to 10-20% lower rates of automobile ownership in cities where such services are provided and used. The cost savings associated with lower automobile ownership rates are substantial and are in addition to the automobile operating cost savings that were previously noted. Exhibit 4-8 shows estimates of those savings in terms of annual cost per vehicle, which varies from $4,232 to $6,901/year depending on the type of vehicle."

Similarly, health outcomes depend on the quantity and quality of public health infrastructure But for poor people, this infrastructure is in short supply in the status quo. According to a June 2014 report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,

"The Post-Gazette/Journal Sentinel analysis shows that nearly two-thirds of the roughly 230 hospitals opened since 2000 are in wealthier, mostly suburban areas. As health systems open those facilities, they have been closing their urban counterparts. The number of hospitals in 52 major cities in the United States has fallen from its peak of 781 in 1970 to 426 in 2010, a drop of 46 percent. Most of the facilities closed were small to mid-size community hospitals in poor urban neighborhoods and public hospitals, leaving many low-income neighborhoods with no safety-net hospital."

Since access to health facilities improves health outcomes, the result of hospital shortages is worse health, which increases poverty.

Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University wrote in 2002,

Xavier Sala-i-Martin [Professor of Economics at Columbia University], "Unhealthy People are Poor People ...and vice versa," ) Keynote address at the European Conference on Health Economics of the International Health Economics Organization, Paris, July 7th, 2002. Available at:

"The obvious relation is that unhealthy citizens are less productive "bodies" so the same amount hours of work deliver less product. In other words, health has a direct effect on the quality of labor factor h: sick kids weigh less, are shorter, have lower brain capacity. Deficits in iron and vitamin A are found to be associated with deficits in brainpower, and all of this tends to lower future productivity and wages. An immediate implication of this is that unhealthy individuals are more likely to be poor and their incomes are more likely to experience low growth rates. This effect is compounded by shorter life expectancy: poor individuals work fewer years and, 6 therefore, are likely to earn even lower lifetime wages. This magnifies the existing flow differences in earnings. This direct mechanism is important, but it is not the only one. Another channel through which health affects the productivity and growth of a family's, a society's or a nation's income is through its effects on education, which is another component of h, human capital. Here, too, there are various operating channels. First, sick kids tend to miss school more often so they get less education, which again, tends to make them poorer in the future. Edward Miguel and Michael Kremer's3 recent studies of schools in Kenya report interesting effects. He randomly selected schools for treatment with deworming drugs -drugs against hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and schistosomiasis. The results show that kids in treated schools reduced absenteeism by one quarter (with gains being especially large among the youngest children). The paper also shows untreated kids in treated schools tended to show lower absenteeism, which as thought to be an externality through social norms: absenteeism is seen as socially bad if few people miss class. To be honest, however, we have to mention that the Miguel-Kremer study fails to find any relation between deworming and academic test scores, which might be more a sign of the poor quality of education than of the small effects of health improvements on human capital."

Thus, we affirm.


We negate Resolved: To alleviate income inequality in the United States, increased spending on public infrastructure should be prioritized over increased spending on means-tested welfare programs.

Contention 1 - Means tested welfare combats poverty

Since the return to wealth is exponential not linear, unregulated economic growth results in more serious income inequality. Means tested welfare regulates the economy in the name of fairness. In practice, the safety net reduces personal stress, frees income, and prevents the sale of assets that would otherwise be used to acquire the bare essentials. It keeps people on their feet during tough times, and it has contributed to remarkable reductions in poverty. Sherman, Trisi, and Parrot write for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in 2013,

Arloc Sharman, Danilo Trisi, Sharon Parrott [In order: Senior Fellow, Senior Research Analyst and Vice President for Budget Policy and Economic Opportunity at the CBPP], "Various Supports for Low-Income Families Reduce Poverty and Have Long-Term Positive Effects On Families and Children," Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, July 30 2013. Available at:

"The EITC and SNAP are examples of "means-tested" programs, that is, programs that limit assistance to people with low or modest incomes. Other means-tested programs include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for low-income seniors and people with disabilities; cash assistance programs funded by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, and programs that provide non-cash benefits like housing assistance. In 2011, means-tested benefits lifted 19.7 million people above the poverty line, including 8.5 million children.[5] (See Appendix Table 2 for state-by-state figures.) Medicaid and CHIP provided health insurance to 66 million Americans during 2010 " roughly 32 million children, 18 million parents, 10 million people with disabilities, and 6 million seniors. Medicaid and CHIP have greatly reduced the numbers of uninsured children and now provide coverage to most low-income children. Due to Medicaid and CHIP, children are much less likely than non-elderly adults to be uninsured. Some 9.4 percent of children were uninsured in 2011, compared to 21.2 percent of non-elderly adults.[6] To be sure, some critics question the effects of safety net programs on individual behavior, such as work effort, and how that affects poverty. Several of the leading researchers in the field have conducted a comprehensive review of the available research and data on how safety net programs affect poverty, and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has published their results. They found that, after accounting for what the research finds to be modest overall behavioral effects, the safety net lowers the poverty rate by about 14 percentage points. In other words, one of every seven Americans would be poor without the safety net but is above the poverty line because of it. That translates into more than 40 million people.[7]

Analysis of specific policies confirms these effects. Hilary Hoynes of UC Berkeley and Ankur Patel of the US Treasury found the following in a 2015 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research,

Hilary Hoynes [Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the University of California at Berkeley] and Ankur Patel [United States Treasury Department], "Effective Policy for Reducing Inequality? The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Distribution of Income," National Bureau of Economic Research, working paper no. 21340, April 2015. Available at:

"In this paper, we examine the effect of the EITC on the employment and income of single mothers with children. We provide the first comprehensive estimates of this central safety net policy on the full distribution of after-tax and transfer income. We use a quasi-experiment approach, using variation in generosity due to policy expansions across tax years and family sizes. Our results show that a policy-induced $1000 increase in the EITC leads to a 5.6 to 7.8 percentage point increase in employment and a 5.4 to 9.4 percentage point reduction in the share of families with after-tax and transfer income below 100% poverty. These results are robust to a rich set of controls and to whether we limit our analysis to the sharp increase in EITC due to the 1993 expansion or use the full period of policy expansion, back to the 1986 Tax Reform Act"

Chester and Alker further for the Georgetown United Health Policy Institute,

Alisa Chester and Joan Alker [In order: Research Associate and Executive Director at the Center for Children and Families], "Medicaid at 50: A Look at the Long-Term Benefits of Childhood Medicaid," Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, July 2015. Available at:

"Children who benefited from the Medicaid eligibility expansions were less likely to drop out of high school (9.7 percent decline) and more likely to graduate from college (5.5 percent increase). "

Contention 2 - Infrastructure spending will be poorly targeted

While infrastructure improvement may help the poor, infrastructure spending often does not accomplish the type of improvement that does so.

According to Chris Edwards writing for the Washington Post in 2011,

Chris Edwards [director of tax policy studies at Cato], "Infrastructure projects to fix the economy? Don"t bank on it," Washington Post, October 21, 2011. Available at:

"Increased infrastructure spending has significant support in Washington these days. President Obama wants a new federal infrastructure bank, and some members of both parties want to pass big highway and air-traffic-control funding bills. The politicians think these bills will create desperately needed jobs, but the cost of that perceived benefit is too high: Federal infrastructure spending has a long and painful history of pork-barrel politics and bureaucratic bungling, with money often going to wasteful and environmentally damaging projects. For plenty of examples of the downside of federal infrastructure, look at the two oldest infrastructure agencies " the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Their histories show that the federal government shouldn"t be in the infrastructure business. Rather, state governments and the private sector are best equipped to provide it. The Corps of Engineers has been building levees, canals and other civilian water infrastructure for more than 200 years " and it has made missteps the entire time. In the post-Civil War era, for example, there were widespread complaints about the Corps" wastefulness and mismanagement. A 1971 book by Arthur Morgan, a distinguished engineer and former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, concluded: "There have been over the past 100 years consistent and disastrous failures by the Corps in public works areas . . . resulting in enormous and unnecessary costs to ecology [and] the taxpayer."

He furthers,

Previously cited.

Taxpayers are double losers from all this infrastructure. They paid to build it, and now they are paying to clean up the environmental damage. In Florida, for example, the Corps" projects, along with federal sugar subsidies, have harmed the Everglades. So the government is helping to fund a multibillion-dollar restoration plan. In the West, federal irrigation has increased salinity levels in rivers, necessitating desalination efforts such as a $245 millionplant in Yuma, Ariz. And in a large area of California"s San Joaquin Valley, federal irrigation has created such toxic runoff that the government is considering spending up to $2 billion to fix the damage, according to some estimates. When the federal government "thinks big," it often makes big mistakes. And when Washington follows bad policies, such as destroying wetlands or overbuilding dams, it replicates the mistakes nationwide. Today, for instance, Reclamation"s huge underpricing of irrigation water is contributing to a water crisis across much of the West. Similar distortions occur in other areas of infrastructure, such as transportation. The federal government subsidizes the construction of urban light-rail systems, for example, which has caused these systems to spring up across the country. But urban rail systems are generally less efficient and flexible than bus systems, and they saddle cities with higher operating and maintenance costs down the road. Similar misallocation of investment occurs with Amtrak; lawmakers make demands for their districts, and funding is sprinkled across the country, even to rural areas where passenger rail makes no economic sense because of low population densities.

Part of the reason these projects fail is that special interests influence public infrastructure spending decisions.

Robert Krol writes for the Mercatus Center at GMU in July 2015,

Robert Krol [Professor of Economics at California State University, Northridge], "Political Incentives and Transportation Funding." Mercatus Research, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Arlington, VA, July 2015. Available at:

"All governments face competing demand for tax revenues. Given this constraint, government officials should determine spending priorities to fund the transportation projects that have the highest value to society, as determined by objective benefit-cost analysis. However, in the political world, elected officials face and respond to pressures from special interest groups. These lobbying pressures, combined with politicians" interests in being reelected, greatly politici
Debate Round No. 1


Honestly, I would like to think of it this way. Imagine you are walking into a forest and you accidentally run into a thorn bush. Obviously you get thorns stuck in your hand and other parts. Instead of trying to take the thorn, the opposite team is just stopping the blood. Infrastructure is clearly why Income inequality, According to Sumedha Bajar, who wrote a paper titled " The impact of Infrastructure: Provisioning on Inequality". When looking up the definition of Provisioning, it means supplying.

Basically, what I am saying is the fact that Infrastructure is clearly the problem right now, and it must be clearly be dealt first. While welfare programs may be a potential solutions, it is just a temporary solution. We need to actually solve the real problem instead of just placing a solution that only solves the problem temporarily.


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Debate Round No. 2


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Debate Round No. 3
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