Jeb and the Nation of Takers
Maybe we were unfair to Mitt Romney; Jeb “people should work longer hours” Bush is making him look like a model of empathy for the less fortunate. All the obvious points apply: longer hours would mean more GDP (if and when the economy ever gets back to full employment), but not necessarily better lives, especially if the increase in GDP doesn’t trickle down.
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But I think it’s also important to understand where this is coming from. Partly it’s Bush trying to defend his foolish 4 percent growth claim; but it’s also, I’m almost certain, coming out of the “nation of takers” dogma that completely dominates America’s right wing.
At my adventure in Las Vegas, one of the questions posed by the moderator was, if I remember it correctly, “What would you do about America’s growing underclass living off welfare?” When I said that the premise was wrong, that this isn’t actually happening, there was general incredulity — this is part of what the right knows is happening. When Jeb Bush — who is a known admirer of Charles Murray — talks about more hours, he’s probably thinking largely about getting the bums on welfare out there working.
As I asked a few months ago, where are these welfare programs people are supposedly living off? TANF is tiny; what’s left are EITC, food stamps, and unemployment benefits. Spending on food stamps and UI soared during the slump, but came down quickly; overall spending on “income security” has shown no trend at all as a share of GDP, with all the supposed growth in means-tested programs coming from Medicaid:
But isn’t there an epidemic of people declaring themselves disabled? Actually, no. You have to bear in mind the reality that people don’t stay perfectly healthy until they reach 65, or 70, or whatever age plutocrats think they should work until. As all of us pre-seniors can attest, things start to go wrong with increasing frequency all along the life cycle; sometimes they can be managed, but often they can’t, especially for manual workers. And if you look at age-adjusted disability rates, they have been flat or even declining:
But none of this will, of course, make any dent in the right-wing narrative: they just know that the rising number of bums on welfare is a problem, even though there basically isn’t any welfare and there are no more bums than there ever were.