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Repeating Old Mistakes

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Repeating Old Mistakes

10 Blocks podcast August 17, 2022
The Social Order
Politics and law

City Journal contributing editor Judge Glock joins Brian Anderson to discuss public policies that encourage drug addiction, the relationship of drug abuse to homelessness and crime, and the wisdom of government intervention in the economy.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on the show today is Judge Glock. He's a contributing editor of City Journal and the senior director of policy research at the Cicero Institute.

Judge lives in Austin, Texas and he researches budgetary reform, housing, homelessness and other issues. His writing has been featured in Politico, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, in addition to the great work he's been doing for City Journal. His latest essay for the magazine, “Subsidizing Addiction,” appears in our summer issue. It's about how publicly funded welfare programs have incentivized drug use and other antisocial forms of behavior. On another note, Judge has been critical of the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act, having earlier criticized the legislation in a City Journal article which we published in the spring.

Anyway, Judge, thanks very much for joining us.

Judge Glock: Thanks so much for having me on, Brian.

Brian Anderson: In the '90s, as you recount in your essay in the issue, Congress ended a federal program that classified drug and alcohol dependence as a disability. This qualified addicts to receive welfare payments. Addiction specialists, and Americans generally, observed that the program really did incentivize addiction, yet bureaucrats and welfare advocates have since worked to restore substance abuse as a condition for receiving welfare payments, so today benefits programs continue to reward drug use.

I wonder if you can describe the origins of this phenomenon, this subsidizing of addiction, and some of the current taxpayer funded programs that are doing this? What's the danger in classifying drug abuse as a kind of disability?

Judge Glock: Yeah. Back in 1972 under the Nixon administration they created a new program called SSI, Supplemental Security Income. It was supposed to sort of combine a bunch of the disability programs for the poor and the impoverished into one central place. As part of that debate Representative Hugh Carey, later of course governor of New York, wanted to include addiction as a type of disability, just like if you had injured your arm or if you had a spinal problem, or whatever it was.

He wanted to classify addiction to drugs and alcohol as a disability like any other, largely because New York state had a then unique program, giving some of its own addicts disability, and he wanted to get them off the local or state roles onto these federal roles, and he succeeded. In 1972 they included addiction to drugs and alcohol as a disability under the assumption this is an illness like any other.

But what they ignored is that addiction, even though of course it has psychological and even neurological roots, has to involve people making choices about whether or not to do drugs and alcohol, and providing people funds for abusing drugs and alcohol will of course incentivize more on that. It was the worst possible incentive you could imagine, that telling somebody as long as you're addicted to drugs we'll give you a disability payment every two weeks or every month, and if you get clean, you get yourself together, well then you're no longer disabled. We cut off your checks.

There was lots of good evidence leading up to the repeal of this program in 1996 because that's exactly what it was doing. It was encouraging many people to abuse more drugs and alcohol in order to continue to stay on this disability program. When the sort of nature of this program came to light, sort of bi-partisan coalition Congress finally ended it in 1996, as I said.

Since then a lot of advocates, a lot of people in the bureaucracy and elsewhere, have tried to restore addiction as another way to create new benefits or get welfare payments, and, as I point out in the piece, they largely succeeded.

Brian Anderson: How is that working? How are they doing, the kind of end run around the fact that there isn't a federal law?

Judge Glock: Well, a bunch of the federal programs, they have what they call now outreach sections to them, so places like SAMHSA, which deals with mental health and substance abuse, they have a special SSI, SSDI outreach program that tries to encourage people, specifically with what they call substance use disorders, to get on welfare or disability.

They say while we can't technically claim that you are getting disability purely because of your addiction, you can because of your addiction get access to these outreach programs, and we'll then try to get you under another addiction program, most often mental health.

There's some places, such as like I mentioned in the article, the Veterans Administration, which also once had an addiction disability program, but which Congress repealed, again in the 1990s, which now declares if you say you have a primary disability of, say, nerve pain, and that nerve pain then causes you to drink or to abuse drugs, then you should get disability payments for what they call secondary disability.

As I also point out, probably the biggest source of these programs is in temporary homelessness policy, where even some of the laws, kind of apparently snuck in sub rosa without Congress being aware, have included addiction explicitly as a route to benefits, and especially to housing.

Brian Anderson: I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on that area. You write in the essay that there's these two prevailing public assistance models, Housing First and “harm reduction,” which are worsening the government's encouragement of drug use and are contributing to what you describe as the government basically helping homeless people to “kill themselves on the public dime.”

Both models are currently endorsed by the national government. They have become standard procedure for many agencies and organizations that are providing homelessness services across the country. How exactly do these policies contribute to this elevated drug use and overdose rates among the homeless?

Judge Glock: When the federal government began reorganizing their homeless programs in 2009, under what was called the Hearth Act, they said homeless programs should focus on this new Housing First model, which Housing First means giving permanent homes, either free or very heavily subsidized, to chronically homeless individuals, those on the streets, for at least a year, and with a disability.

Unlike the laws about Social Security or disability or other programs, this one included explicit substance abuse disorder as a disability, and that's sort of dangerous enough, when you're telling people if you have a drug abuse problem and you're homeless, then you will get priority for permanent housing.

Now that's exacerbated, because the bureaucracy said that every sort of local homelessness group, these things called COCs, continuance of care, should focus on a sort of scoring system for anybody who's going to get housing. You should score who has the most problems, and therefore is most likely to get the permanent or free housing.

And their scoring system, both recommended by the federal government and adopted by a bunch of these local groups, explicitly says if you're abusing drugs, if you're selling drugs, if you've had an overdose, you get extra what they call points towards this permanent housing.

One I mentioned, I believe Massachusetts said you get four points towards free housing if you're currently abusing drugs, but only one point if you're in recovery from drug abuse or if you're getting some sort of treatment, but you get a bonus two points if you've had an overdose in the past 12 months.

So, again, this is just the most insane sort of incentive program you could imagine, where you're explicitly telling people that the way to get into permanent housing is to have overdoses, to continually abuse drugs, to sell drugs, and as I also point out sometimes just to commit crimes of violence. Some of these scoring systems give extra points for harming someone, for being arrested, for going to jail, committing a felony, all of these sorts of things.

So you're literally telling homeless people and rewarding explicitly violence, drug abuse, criminal behavior, child abuse. Sometimes if you're a homeless mother and you lost a kid to child services, that actually gets you bonus points in some places for free housing.

All of this is rewarding and encouraging the very worse sort of behavior, and I can't imagine anything more disheartening and discouraging for homeless individuals than to tell them the way to get your life moving ahead again is to start abusing drugs, committing crimes and neglecting your children, but this is exactly what the federal government is doing right now.

Brian Anderson: And the philosophy of harm reduction sort of works in tandem with this, correct?

Judge Glock: Exactly. One, the Housing First model, if I didn't make it clear, the idea behind it also kind of create a form of what's called permanent supportive housing, PSH, in that you don't want to push anybody in housing programs. The idea is you need what they call low barriers to entry. That means no requirements for treatment, no requirements for mental health checkups, no sobriety, no anything. The federal government even says no goal setting of any sort.

The idea with this is well, we know a lot of people on the streets, those unsheltered, according to some measures about 75 percent have a severe substance abuse issue, have these problems, but we want to get them in housing first and then help them engage with these harm reduction programs, and hopefully that will reduce the negative effects of drug abuse over time.

One, beyond the obvious problems of finding the most, according to their own scoring systems, drug-addicted and violent individuals and giving them free or heavily subsidized housing and then not requiring any treatment whatsoever for that, some of the harm-reduction programs go even further, which this is needle-exchange programs, programs that give out glass pipes for methamphetamine smoking, foil and cookers for heroin and so forth, a lot of these programs originally funded mainly by city government, but recently in the stimulus act funded by new federal funds, are providing all of these things to homeless individuals.

As I point out in the piece, this $30 million in the stimulus act for harm reduction, which promises smoking kits and supplies for methamphetamine, crack and heroin abusers, and which is explicitly directed at minority communities, for some reason seems to actually kind of instantiate that old conspiracy theory about the government encouraging crack or drug use among intercity communities.

Right now, the stated policy and the stated law is that we need to hand out crack pipes, methamphetamine pipes, and so forth to, “disadvantaged communities” in the inner city, which, again, is just the most discouraging thing one can imagine for people trying to get their lives together and move off drugs.

As I also point out, many of these harm reduction programs such as one that a researcher cataloged in the Bronx for an academic paper give out things like peer support payments. They pay current drug addicts to sort of mentor other drug addicts, although what those drug addicts could tell another addict besides where to score isn't very clear.

They give them metro cards, backpacks, clothing, and so forth to “attract clients” from other programs that are also trying to get people into their harm reduction, because a lot of these programs are awarded government funds based on the number of, quote, clients they serve, so there's a sort of race to the bottom, where how much more money, funds, direct payments in the case of those peer support providers, metro cards, and so forth, can you give to someone abusing drug?

Again, the worse possible incentive you can imagine. All of that I think has a lot to do with just the incredible surge in homeless deaths, especially with overdoses, that we've seen over the past 10 years, but especially since the pandemic.

Brian Anderson: That's very discouraging, and I do turn readers to the great story. It's called “Subsidizing Addiction.” It's in our summer issue and will be available on the web soon. It's disturbing stuff.

I wonder if we could just shift gears a little bit and look at the kind of big picture political economy questions that are being debated on the Right right now? GOP legislators were pretty divided on the CHIPS and Science Act which I mentioned at the outset, and which you've written on earlier in the year for us.

Proponents see it as a kind of means to shore up American manufacturing and withdraw a vital industry from dependence on international supply chains. This reflects a kind of shift on the right, recent advocacy on the right, for a more energetic government role in the economy more broadly. That position, in turn, has generated a pushback on the right from others who see it as a kind of new form of statism.

I wonder, looking at that big picture question, what do you make of the debate about the role of so-called free market fundamentalism in the Republican platform? Is government intervention really the best way for the U.S. to position itself for domestic prosperity and global competitiveness?

Judge Glock: The free market is undoubtedly the best way for the U.S. to continue to gain competitiveness and to continue to best its geopolitical rivals in the economic sphere. It's the reason why we are by most measures the most wealthy and successful economy on earth, obviously.

Now, even the most ardent free market economists would agree that there's a place for government intervention when national security is involved. As I point out, even Adam Smith defended laws like the Navigation Acts, which supported domestic ship manufacturing for England because he thought it was necessary for its rivalry with Europe.

Now does the CHIPS Act fall into more of the category of just sort of falsely attempting to bolster U.S. competitiveness and economic resources by getting the government involved, or is it a true national security investment? I think most people today would agree that semiconductors, specifically for national security purposes and for essential industries, might be something that warrants government intervention or support.

But the strange thing right now with the CHIPS Act, is that it includes a lot of support that doesn't seem to be directed just at those necessary sort of national security industries. It's sort of a broad brush support to any CHIPS you can imagine—automobiles, even gaming chips that hypothetically get subsidies under this act.

The other thing is that if this was such a national security issue you would expect the CHIPS Act wouldn't include things like prevailing wage requirements that basically require the CHIPS manufacturers getting these grants to hire union workers. If we were very worried about increasing our CHIPS manufacturing capacity, we wouldn't want to make it more expensive to manufacture CHIPS, but that's exactly what the CHIPS Act does.

Or they wouldn't require more what they call diversity and inclusion initiatives as part of these grants they give out. Again, if we're in this sort of struggle for existence with Chinese communism, the last thing you'd want is to give out national security grants dependent on outreach to disadvantaged communities as part of your semiconductor construction. But, again, that's exactly what the CHIPS Act does.

So obviously there's room for some amount of national security support for necessary products—semiconductors, all the way up to the most obvious, like tanks and airplanes and so forth. But a lot of what you saw in this bill is exactly the sort of reason why you don't want the government micromanaging the economy, because it tends to lard up a lot unnecessary and politicized requirements into even the most justifiable sort of subsidies, and you definitely see that in the CHIIPS Act.

Brian Anderson: Thank you. Don't forget to check out Judge Glock's work on the City Journal website, www.city-journal.org. We’ll link to his author page in the description. You can also find City Journal on Twitter @City Journal, and on Instagram @City Journal_MI. As always, if you like what you heard on the podcast, give us a five-star rating on iTunes.

Judge Glock, always great to talk with you, and thank you very much for coming on today.

Judge Glock: Thank you so much for having me, Brian.

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Photo by Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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