November 09, 2012

More Post-Election Thoughts

A central theme among the "America is doomed" crowd is that we've become a nation of slackers. A number of my conservative Facebook friends (and the FB/Twitter people cited on the White People Mourning Romney Tumblr have griped about Americans becoming too dependent on the government. The figure of 49% of Americans receiving assistance from government programs was thrown around, a variation on Romney's now famous "47 percent." That made me curious, so I asked around and discovered that the 49% figure is actually pretty accurate.

Let's look at it a little more deeply, specifically Ezra's point #3.

  • A huge chunk of that is Social Security and Medicare. By virtue of our demographics and improved life expectancy, we have more old people than ever. Most of those people worked their whole lives and paid into the system, and I don't think it's unreasonable of them to expect to get their due now. (Of course a fair number of elderly people vote Tea Party/Republican even as they get these benefits. "Keep your government hands off my Medicare," as the saying goes.)

  • It also includes people on disability. There are no doubt people who game the system and stay on disability when they could actually work (I knew a guy like that way back when I tended bar in Lancaster), but I assume that the vast majority of people drawing disability do so because they can't work. So between the elderly and the disabled we're up to three-fourths of the entitlement benefits.

  • A lot of what's left actually goes to working households. These are people who are working, but their jobs provide inadequate pay and benefits such that they still need food stamps, Medicaid, WIC, what have you, to get by. And whose fault is that? The workers, or the employers who won't pay a living wage? It's easy to say "They should just get better jobs," but let's face it, our economy is BUILT on shit jobs. If everyone with a crappy-paying job walked off tomorrow in search of a better gig, the rest of us would be wandering the streets in confusion, wondering why we can't get a cup of coffee or a burrito. (And spare me any talk of economic uncertainty or overbearing regulations preventing business owners from being able to pay people; corporations have been doing quite well under this administration, thanks. There's the concentration of wealth at the top to think about, too, and our grossly inefficient health-care system.)

  • Don't forget veterans' benefits. Support our troops! Many of said veterans: also working.

My takeaways from this:

  • The challenge, as with so many political things these days, is to be specific. It's easy to rail about big-picture government spending, or too many Americans getting handouts. So who exactly is undeserving, and what exactly are you going to cut? Does your grandma get Social Security? Do you want to slash it and risk alienating that huge block of voters? Do you want to cut veterans' benefits? Haven't they earned it, wasn't that part of the deal when they signed up? If there was anything to be admired about the Ryan budget plan, at least he was up front about what he wanted to cut. If you can actually articulate "We should dismantle these specific programs," then more power to you; I'm much more willing to listen to that than generic, Ted Nugent-style rants about Obama's re-election proving we're a nation of mewling whelps suckling at the government teat.

  • The portrait that conservatives want to paint with the 49% statistic is of masses of people who could work but refuse to, because it's easier to get money from the government. And I don't doubt there are a few people like that out there. I think they are much fewer and farther between than conservatives would have you believe; poor people have a lot more dignity than conservatives give them credit for, and life on welfare and food stamps isn't exactly a non-stop party--it's often humiliating and exhausting. In reality, most of the people getting benefits are either already working, used to work and have retired, or flat-out can't work.

Ultimately, it comes down to what kind of country you want to live in. I read an analogy somewhere (I wish I could provide credit for it, but for the life of me I can't find it now; if this sounds familiar and you know the source, please send me a link) about the gazelles and the wildebeests. Gazelles' evolutionary strategy for dealing with lion attacks is to run like hell; someone gets caught (usually the very old, the very young, or the sick), but the bulk of the herd gets away. Wildebeests, on the other hand, collect in a circle, put the weakest members in the middle, and the stronger ones on the outside. The strong protect the weak, and in effect, they ask the lions, "You sure you wanna do this?" Maybe the lions attack and there's total chaos, but most of the time, the lions slink away (no doubt to look for gazelles).

Personally, I'd rather put up with a few free-loaders, in order to make sure we get help to people who really need it. I'd rather not live in a country that's willing to throw its weakest members to the lions because the strongest want to keep their taxes low, or because they can't stand the thought that someone, somewhere, might be getting something for nothing. But, you know, that's just my opinion.

Posted by Carl at 03:13 PM | Comments (0)