What would help the most vulnerable children in the U.S.? In this week’s discussion of complicated societal issues and policy programs, Russ Roberts and Susan Mayer consider why more transferred money may not markedly improve the lives of children living in  poverty. Mayer shares her empirical research findings through a recent history of anti-poverty spending programs leaving listeners with much to contemplate.

We’d like to hear your thoughts on how best to alleviate childhood poverty, and what you took from this week’s episode. What are your responses to the prompts below?



1- Mayer’s book, What Money Can’t Buy: Family Income and Children’s Life Chances, was published in 1997.  A 2020 book by Jeff Madrick, Invisible Americans: The Tragic Cost of Child Poverty argues that money may matter most to the nearly 1 in 6 American children who are officially poor.  To what extent do you agree with Russ Roberts that it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the human enterprise to assume that all problems can be fixed through money and/or programs?


2- Can or should the Earned Income Tax Credit – a transfer of money to low-income households – address the structural argument for improving poor children’s well-being (bad schools, low-income peers, dangerous neighborhoods)? Explain. 


3- Mayer claims, “American society is based on the idea that more money means you’re a better person. And so we way overemphasize the role of money in practically everything”  She attributes this in part to hyper-capitalism. Is this critique contrary to data supporting income mobility and recognition that the poor often don’t stay poor for long?


4- With what simple, basic, statistical fact does Mayer refute the oft-repeated claim that failing schools have to be a root problem in the complicated issue of child poverty? To what extent are you convinced by this argument?


5- How do you reconcile the claims that “those that do (read) are not the same as the people who don’t” with “it’s just that they don’t”?  Do you agree or disagree with Robert’s claim that this problem is similar to the problem of weight loss?