New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a new idea on combating poverty. The always-interesting Heather Mac Donald says hizzoner has become “half-way radical.”

She writes:

“The insight behind the mayor’s proposal is politically incorrect in the extreme. For decades, the one thing one was never ever allowed to say about intergenerational poverty was that it’s largely caused by the long-term poor themselves.

“A ever-ending procession of welfare-rights, housing and homeless advocates told us again and again that poverty is the result of racism and economic injustice. The poor were helpless victims of a system that was stacked against them.

“Anyone who dared to point out that such self-destructive decisions as having a baby out of wedlock or dropping out of school were the proximate causes of poverty was lambasted for ‘blaming the victim.'”

Bloomberg wants to pay the poor for making responsible decisions such as showing up for school or (free) medical appointments. What’s wrong with that?

“[P]aying them for such decisions is a foolhardy way to produce [a] behavioral change. It will inevitably set up an expectation among the underclass that they have a right to cash for simply conforming to the norms of civil society. The list of responsible behaviors for which bounties will be offered will inevitably grow. Not just attending classes, but refraining from hitting your teacher, not bringing a gun to school, showing up for an exam, taking your child to be vaccinated, bathing your kids and feeding them – all will be candidates for a bribe.”

(If you are interested in this issue, IWF is sponsoring an all-star panel on Hurricane Katrina and the root causes of poverty.)