[Posted by Karl]
Today’s big New York Times story is about the alleged expansion of the the “government safety net” and the implied hypocrisy of anyone right of center relying on it:
Older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare, but aid for the rest of the population has increased about as quickly through programs for the disabled, the unemployed, veterans and children.
The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.
And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.
The NYT never paints wealthy liberals who don’t volunteer extra money to the state as hypocritical and guilty, but that’s no surprise. Moreover, as Tom Maguire notes (and I’m sure he’s not alone), the NYT is continuing the progressive bait-and-switch here: Social Security and Medicare were sold to America as earned benefit programs, not welfare. It’s the “secondary mission” of middle-class vote-buying — and the Boomers heading into retirement — that accounts for most of this story.
The NYT overlooks that the US welfare state contributes to the supposed income inequality problem progressives have been decrying for the past few years. Moreover, compared to other developed countries, the US system is unique only in terms of low upward mobility from the bottom among men (although cross-country comparisons of mobility can be tricky). The left would no doubt argue this means we must have ever-higher taxes and more redistribution, while the right would argue we need lower taxes and less redistribution. However, what seems clear is that the Democrats’ version of the welfare state has been a political boon to Democrats and less beneficial to the poor they claim to champion. Moreover, if the NYT is at least correct that the increase in the safety net is fueling anger at the government, it may be that the political value of the welfare state to Democrats is diminishing as well.
P.S. – Mitt Romney needs to learn these concerns are why conservatives recoil when he says he does not care much about the very poor because they have a safety net.