Politics is a field of contentious issues. In a field of contentious issues there is probably no subject more contentious than one. The one word that can transform a dinner party or Thanksgiving together from a quaint affair to an all out physical brawl. From politicians, journalists, and professional debaters who argue politics for a living, all the way through and down to your Uncle Ralph, your buddy’s girlfriend who just read one article, or a high schooler whose sum total knowledge of politics amounts to a few minutes of commentary they’ve heard from their parents, everyone has a fiery opinion and is a self proclaimed expert, on this subject. The word that can turn a friend into an opponent in a fist fight is “Welfare.”
No developed country in the world leaves its poorest citizens entirely at the mercy of the market system. To complain about the fact that we have a system of social insurance at all is a philosophical objection, not a pragmatic one. There is no way any major developed country is going to eliminate all forms of public assistance. To complain that it exists is to complain that we sometimes have cloudy days. It’s not going to stop.
The US is one of the most frugal of all OECD countries in social welfare. Yet, to Conservatives who view a market system as a perfect arrangement devoid of market failure, corruption, or missing markets, lack of money can mean only laziness and undeservedness. This foolish, and short sited view – par for the course for Conservatives – ignores the realities of life in a Capitalist system. Here are many facts, myths debunked, and patters of argument to help Conservatives understand the importance of Social Insurance.
Basic Income Security
Public Assistance and the war on Poverty – It works
A new study that traces the effect of government programs on poverty all the way back to 1967 finds unequivocally that the money the government spends to help the poor does, in fact, reduce poverty. Suck it, Republicans.
The study, by researchers at Columbia University, uses a measure of poverty that is more accurate than the government’s standard official poverty rate measure (details here), and takes into account how poverty is affected by government transfer programs including food stamps, welfare, tax credits, social security, and unemployment payments. The conclusion: the “War on Poverty” launched by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 has had success. And welfare, at least to some extent, works.
Specifically: “without taxes and other government programs, poverty would have been roughly flat at 27 – 29% , while with government benefits poverty has fallen from 26% to 16% — a 40% reduction. Government programs today are cutting poverty nearly in half (from 29% to 16%) while in 1967 they only cut poverty by about a one percentage point.”
None of this is to say that the war on poverty has been won, or that the war on poverty could not be waged more fiercely; it just goes to show that without all of our anti-poverty programs, poverty would be much worse than it already is.
So, despite what various organs of establishment conservatism may claim, it turns out that giving money to people who are poor tends to help those people be less poor. Surprise.
Typical Argument Patterns
The Poor in the US are better off the the rich in many countries and should be happy on these grounds alone.
This is of little help to developing children who suffer cognitive development and lag behind for a lifetime due to food insecurity
Relative vs Absolute positioning from Cost of Affluence, and societal cruelty in a market system.
The Poor are Lazy and that’s why they are poor
Most people on assistance have jobs. In fact, it may be required.
The sick and disabled simply cannot work.
I’m just tired of my money taken for welfare.
Good Guy: Well, actually a lot more money goes to subsidies to large corpoerations, which amounts to welfare for the Rich in the form of tax breaks, subsidies and bailouts. The Financial Crisis bailout cost more than the prior 50 years of food stamps.
Bad Guy: Well, well that’s okay because they create jobs. They hire people.
Good Guy: Okay. Helping low-income people allows them to buy the things they need, creates demand in the economy which causes an increase in production from companies, and more hiring. Consumers create all jobs in effect, by spending. If you are concerned about creating jobs, you want your money to go to those who will spend, instead of those who will hide the money offshore, buy back their own stock, or just throw it in the bank.
Bad Guy: Well….err..dag nabbit they are lazy mooches who won’t work.
Good Guy: Yeah, I know Conservative idiot. I know.
Free money just kills the motivation to work. Why would anyone get off their ass if they are handed free money?
Without Welfare people have to be super creative to find ways to make money. They become motivated.
I saw so and so game the system. They are fine and just collect free money. Or Shanaynay down the street just shits out 20 kids for the free government money.
There is no conservative who isn’t rife with anecdotal “evidence” and a whole army of examples of “all these people” who are perfect examples of why “Welfare” doesn’t work. They are going to tell you about the women they know who has several kids with several fathers and just keeps doing it for the “handouts.” Or the guy who is perfectly fine but lied well enough to get the free money.
What would happen if the US simply cancelled all Welfare, TANF, Food Stamps, and Social Assistance Programs tomorrow?
Lots of people would die, more would be homeless, misery would escalate . There may be riots, because hunger is a good motivator. There would be even more stealing, crimes, more people would be in jail (You’d have to pay for this too despite complaining about your taxes going to welfare before anyway), and the government would have to pay. More than likely, protesters under elite power, might be killed. With no other choices, as is the case now, young people would have no other choice but to join the armed forces. Then, like now, we would see more homeless veterans. Only this time the churches may help them, which wouldn’t be much help, but some. The churches would be more overwhelmed .
We’d see a significant economic downturn. Stores would have less business. Therefore they would lay people off. Those people would buy far fewer cars, travel less, and just generally spend less money. Oil companies would see a reduction in fuel sales. In other words, it would be pretty damaging to the economy.
It is worth noting that many of the “social assistance” programs we have in this country are NOT handouts. They are NOT entitlements. They are insurance programs paid for by most of the working population. We call it unemployment INSURANCE because when you are working, you and your employer are paying into a fund to pay for this program. Social security works the same way: you pay into social security during your working years so that you have a guarantee of some, albeit probably insufficient income in your later years.
The net of these programs has meant that the severity of our economic issues in the last half-century has been far less dramatic than prior. They do a lot to smooth out the rough patches such as the depression of the 1930s.
Research – Books with Best Information on Welfare
We Are Better Than This – Information regarding childhood development and budget and spending data
Under the Affluence – Debunks many myths regarding Social Assistance and articulates beautifully a moral imperative for social assistance
Freedom Reclaimed – Education, Social Security, and Welfare Assistance
Reasons for Welfare