Mayor Bloomberg has just unveiled a unique new social program: The city will be paying poor families for, well, good behavior. For instance, if your household income is $20,000 or less, providing regular medical checkups for your child while holding down a job may raise it to $25,000. Plus there’s more, and here’s where it gets weird. Instead of simply evaluating the big picture — is the child healthy? — the program goes into jaw-dropping detail, breaking the lump sum down to micro-rewards for micro-achievements. In essence, it’s going to itemize instances of good behavior, price them out accordingly, and tabulate the winnings every two months. A kid’s exemplary attendance in elementary school may net the parent $25. Should she ace a test, there’s $300 in it for mom and dad. Presumably, the city dispatches a trained social worker to pat you on the head if you say “please” and “thank you.”
The program is in its testing stage; 2,500 families will go on it this September. We can only applaud any attempt to strengthen the slacking social-safety net in this brutally elitist city. But you don’t have to be a let-them-eat-cake Republican to get a sour taste from the dainty, à la carte nature of these “conditional cash transfers.” Hell, if anything, it almost breathes life into the old GOP canard about “infantilizing” handouts. There must be a way of aiding the poor without re-creating Henry Ford’s notorious Sociological Department. Because we can’t say we’re looking forward to the rebirth of Bloomberg News as the Dearborn Independent.