Posted by 10 July 2013, 1:58 pmon
So here’s the thing: the state in which I grew up, North Carolina, has now slashed so much money out of its unemployment insurance program it’s no longer eligible for federal matching funds to pay for unemployment benefits.
As a consequence, North Carolina is at or near the bottom of support for the unemployed in the US, both in size of benefits and length benefits accrue.
Okay, you say: so what? Conservatives don’t like welfare, so they’re slashing it. What do you expect?
Bear with me. I think there’s something more going on here, whether you look at North Carolina’s specific benefit cuts (which are numerous and deep), or the programs conservatives in general aim to slash: housing benefits, food benefits, education and daycare support, even Medicaid and Medicare cuts (although mostly Medicaid — healthcare for the poor).
The logic that seems to drive these cuts was recently summarized — probably accidentally — by well known but intellectually vacuous conservative commentator Tucker Carlson.
Carlson was defending Congress’ recent inaction on a bill that would have kept the rate for college loans low — in effect, he was agreeing that the doubling of such rates was a good thing. Why? His take: ”Cheap student loans keep people out of the labor market. This is a dangerous spiral.”
In other words, anything that serves as an economic disincentive to work is, ipso facto, bad. They make you lazy. Never mind that students (hopefully) translate a college degree into greater success in life … and greater taxes paid to society. Nope: push ‘em along. Get in the workforce. Go!
Now I wouldn’t pay much mind to Tucker himself: he’s a child of privilege and if he wasn’t, believe me, you’d have never heard of him. Talent does not ooze from his pores like it does for, say, Michael Jordan or LeBron James. (Or Barack Obama, for that matter.) But Tucker C isn’t the only conservative one hears say such things.
Think about the whole conservative assault on the very notion of payments to families for food and housing (what most people think of as welfare). The whole critique insists that such payments create cycles of dependency and thus entrap generations of persons in poverty and, well, laziness. Again, never mind that actual fact that the vast majority of people who go on benefits at some point in their lives stay on them only temporarily. Never mind that the typical recipient of benefits is a recently divorced white woman with children.
Nope: it’s laziness and dependency, and programs like workfare are, we are told, needed to cut the vicious circle of welfare and dependency. (By the way, do we provide transportation to these jobs the poor are to take? No? Daycare? No.)
What strikes me about all this is the tie-in to another conservative bugaboo: the so-called marriage penalty. As it happens, some number of married couples end up paying more taxes than they would if they lived together but were not married. (This is a problem for highly paid two-income couples in particular.) Hence some conservatives insist that the marriage penalty must be repealed if we as a society are to truly support marriage. Otherwise, they fear, people won’t want to get married! Because … taxes! (I think it’s an argument FOR gay marriage: talk about double income families to tax!)
The unifying strand in all these arguments is: money. Economics is seen to drive behavior. Accordingly, incentives must be structured to induce the social behavior conservatives prefer. “Handouts” induce laziness and must be stopped. Then those leeches will become productive members of society.
Do you know who else argued that social and cultural behaviors were mere reflections of the economic underlaiment of society? Of course you do.
(Politicalprof has indeed been to Marx’s tomb, which is in Highgate Cemetery in London.)
North Carolina is now ground zero. It’s turned itself into a natural experiment to answer the question of whether aid = support that leads people back to independent lives, or whether aid promotes dependency and so cutting aid will promote greater autonomy and engagement.
My guess is: it’s going to blow up in their faces. But we shall see one way or the other.
I’m just glad I don’t live there any more.