Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pulling my hair out over a few things...

I got an email from Evan that I chuckled at but then nodded in understanding over. He wrote: "Dude, I need to stop reading budget/debt related stuff on facebook or I'm going to write a helluva rant on your blog. If I read one more complaint about supposed welfare queens from someone I think I'm going to break my computer."

Indeed. Most people that complain vocally about welfare don't know the first thing about it. Of course there are incentives to consider and things to debate and even disagree on. But the mythical welfare queen never really was true, and what a lot of people don't realize is that to the [limited] extent that it was true on rare occasions at one point in time, it has not been true since welfare reform in 1996. And it's so infuriating to hear idiots dump on low income families - often with kids that didn't do a damned thing to deserve the tough position they're growing up in - that I'm usually disinclined to even engage...

...then right after reading that from Evan I come across Don Boudreaux - not an ignorant man - asserting that people should be "ashamed" to take welfare and that they lack the "values" of his parents for doing it. I bit my tongue when a couple eye-roll-worthy posts on Keynes came out of Don and Russ recently, but this one is really infuriating.

Some people seem to think our safety net - which we are blessed as a country to have the resources to provide - is a vacation hammock. And what's worse - reasonable people are happy to concede the disincentive effects associated with certain programs to support low income families. This isn't a controversial point - it's a quite reasonable point. But often, ill-mannered or outright ignorant people could care less about the work and reform that people have put into addressing these problems over the last two decades. To them it's still about welfare queens.

UPDATE: Share thoughts, but if you bad mouth low income people or welfare recipients in the comments I'm going to delete it.


  1. To the extent the safety net becomes bigger, it becomes more and more of a vacation hammock. There's no way to create a safety net without having vacation hammock problems.

    My two cents.

  2. I wrote the following in response to someone this morning, for what it's worth:

    What makes you think that programs like WIC or SNAP are being heavily abused, [Person A]? For my money, I'd say that the real welfare queens are the heavily subsidized industries that don't at all need the money to encourage innovation or growth. Perhaps of interest to [Person B], I remember reading last fall of the hefty tax breaks that Illinois is now giving to filmmakers to try to attract movie makers to the state. Now, I realize that the entertainment industry actually ends up bringing more business and tax flow into IL when there's a 30% tax break than when there isn't, but the situation illustrates the fact that the money grubbing, unpatriotic leeches on our system are not the single teenage mothers or the low income working families, but rather the companies that will pick up their operations and move to China because labor is cheaper there, or drive Mexican farmers to ruin by flooding their markets with cheap food only to employ them as illegal labor here in the U.S., or those, like, who just brazenly defy the idea that they need to pay taxes in the first place and drop their affiliates in the various states that do press them for sales tax. Why on earth would one even think to bother begrudging a single mother her dozen eggs and gallon of milk when all of this is going on? Even if someone tried to abuse the welfare system, I don't see how they could in any substantial way. A few hundred dollars a month for grocery bills? Some free vaccines for their kid? That's hardly living large.

    This, for me, is a very frustrating aspect of the whole thing. We treat receipt of government aid as if it is shameful, but when business receives "aid" of its own, we talk about incentives and how we need to convince corporations to put their headquarters in our state by lowering certain taxes. Why should someone who doesn't give a damn about contributing to a local community be able to sleep at night while the family struggling to make ends meet and keep their kids healthy for school should feel "ashamed" to take welfare? Shouldn't the employer who pays mom and dad minimum wage with no benefits be the one who feels ashamed of how that affects their employees' kids? Or of what values it teaches them about getting one's own and forgetting one's neighbor?

  3. 1/7th of Americans should be ashamed?

  4. Lowering tax rates is not the same thing as taking money.

    Now, as for corporations moving to China, Evan, are you aware of how much US manufacturing actually gets sent to China?

    Less than one-third of what goes to Canada and less than even what goes to tiny Netherlands. None of the labour in Canada or Netherlands is cheaper than China's! That's because "cheap" labour is not any determining factor in business. Productivity is. Productivity, which is still higher in US, Canada, or Netherlands.

    You just decided a priori that there is a trend of shifting to China, without even looking at the statistics. US manufacturing outsourced to China is a measly $30 billion of capital - from a $14 trillion economy.

    It is expensive to do business in the Third World, because of high training costs, high relocation costs, low productivity, and high political instability typical of Third World countries. That's precisely why US investment has NOT gone to China.

  5. Evan,

    Who is this "we" you are talking about?

    Anyway, your entire comment is running over with a bunch of normative claims neither I nor anyone else must share (that's the nice thing about living in a free society) and which I find rather silly.


    "...then right after reading that from Evan I come across Don Boudreaux - not an ignorant man - asserting that people should be 'ashamed' to take welfare and that they lack the 'values' of his parents for doing it."

    Intergenerationally this has been the attitude of a lot of people and it is in part that attitude which kept them off welfare. Here you have your brother talking about the "shame of corporations" basically not being involved in their localities, etc., but then when you start talking about the shame of the individual taking welfare you get quite troubled. I come from a working class background as far as my family is concerned (fishermen basically) and I can say that when people in my family were on welfare for the most part they felt shame with regards to it and they were quickly off of it. And I can tell you - and be rather blunt about this - that this is the attitude of a lot of working class people - that taking welfare is something to be ashamed about and says something about your own choices and character.

  6. Prateek,

    More to the point, most of the supposed losses of manufacturing jobs are due to changes in technology - steel mills are more automated, etc. Of course someone has to design, prototype, etc. those machines.

  7. Prateek -
    I'm not sure your link is right - that looks like it's about direct investment. Imports from China are much more substantial than you let on. This isn't a bad thing in my mind, but Evan isn't just making things up.

    Gary -
    You're making precisely the mistake that I point out in the post. Of course welfare shouldn't be a vacation hammock. Most people agree with that. When you react to people on welfare as if that's their intention, though, that's what's infuriating. Remember also that Evan is talking about this in the context of the budget debate. In light of all the corporate welfare, people who point to income support programs have very strange priorities indeed.

  8. Daniel,

    "When you react to people on welfare as if that's their intention, though, that's what's infuriating."

    I'm sorry, but that's how many working class people in my experience react to welfare - and for a number of good reasons, not merely prejudice in other words. Your argument is after all based in large part on this premise ...

    "Most people that complain vocally about welfare don't know the first thing about it."

    And it isn't a mistake. People ought to feel a certain amount of shame for taking welfare; end of story. Just like you ought to feel a bit of shame for ending up on your aunt's couch and unemployed. To be blunt, that's part of what gets your ass off the couch.

  9. Well, forget China... the point is that they move out. As it happens, the example I was thinking about when I wrote that was a move to Canada... or I could have talked about credit card companies moving to Delaware. The same point would have been made. I didn't make any claims about the volume of business moving to China.

  10. Gary -
    You're not understanding me. I can't comment on people's own perspective toward their own use of welfare. That's why I didn't really comment on your own family experience. We all know you have a working class background. Fine.

  11. Evan,

    Dude, it is a global economy; of course they move. There is no such thing as an "American job" or a "Dutch job" or a "Canadian job" or a "California job" or a "Manitoban job" or whatever unless you're trying to throw some sort of moral schema on worldwide employment.


    We're basically dealing with a clash of worldviews; something like what E.P. Thompson* called the "moral economy" (which was anything but moral IMO) vs. a capitalist economy.

    *I always recommend his _The Making of the English Working Class_.

  12. Daniel,

    No, I scan you well. As you said:

    "When you react to people on welfare as if that's their intention, though, that's what's infuriating."

    I don't find it infuriating, I find it appropriate.

  13. Evan,

    This is totally unrelated to this discussion, but I thought you might find it of interest given our previous discussions:

    Feel free to delete this post.

  14. re: "Feel free to delete this post"

    Yes - we're committed enemies of raw milk here at Facts and Other Stubborn Things.

  15. Daniel,

    That's wasn't my point. My point was that it was totally unrelated to the discussion; I wasn't trying to derail it in other words.

  16. Dude, it is a global economy; of course they move. There is no such thing as an "American job" or a "Dutch job" or a "Canadian job" or a "California job" or a "Manitoban job" or whatever unless you're trying to throw some sort of moral schema on worldwide employment.

    Of course we're trading in moral schemata. "Shame" isn't an economic term, after all. My objection to following the cheapest offer across borders isn't its globalized nature or even its economic sense. I recognize that business is business. But leaving a community is also leaving a community, and there are moral implications for that that aren't nullified by the fact that the community member moving away is a business.

    On your logic, why should welfare recipients feel shame in the first place? Aren't they just capitalizing on the best deal out there? There's no "private sector income" and "public dime" unless you're trying to throw some moral schema on making one's ends meet.

  17. Evan,

    I never suggested that we weren't; the point being that my moral schema - one that doesn't recognize some particularist claims regarding "American jobs" - is different and, well, better than yours.

    "But leaving a community is also leaving a community..."

    No kidding; and there is nothing immoral regarding that.

    "On your logic, why should welfare recipients feel shame in the first place?"

    Because human beings prefer to be liked obviously; they want their decisions given sanction. See _Theory of Moral Sentiments_.

  18. I'll do a Gary and post a link that folks might be interested in... this is related, though. It's not a big budget documentary or anything, but it's well worth watching. I think everyone should have access to it through normal Hulu (don't know how that works for overseas readers, though).

    Independent America discusses the return of the commercial sector to post-Katrina New Orleans, focusing on the contrast between local independent outfits and chain stores. For the most part, the locals came back first and got the economy running again, while the chains stayed away until the situation looked more profitable. The local government then tried to give the chains all sorts of incentive to return, which meant that after all of the difficult and unprofitable work of reviving a community, local business were faced with chain competitors enjoying sweet deals from the government, and often can't now keep up with the challenge.

  19. Anyway, apparently we all ought to be re-reading "Hard Times" to get our moral compass in order. ;)

  20. there is nothing immoral regarding [leaving a community].

    To say that something has moral implications is not to establish an either/or about whether something is immoral or not.

  21. Evan,

    What are the "moral implications" exactly? From your POV?

    The lovely thing about impersonal exchanges in the marketplace is that I really don't need to care about your personal life, etc.

    So the moral implication of such largely revolves around individual autonomy, privacy, etc.

    "The local government then tried to give the chains all sorts of incentive to return..."

    Dumb move. Large corporate entities make their decisions based on other factors - so those sorts of incentives are merely giveaways that do not effect decision making for the most part.

    As for New Orleans post-Katrina, that's a complicated issue and much of it related to federal and state governments doing dumb things like creating levies for neighborhoods that are difficult to defend from floods when large hurricanes hit. That and keeping the Mississippi from doing what it naturally does - change its location from time to time (which has made New Orleans prone to greater levels of danger when hurricanes do hit). Areas which didn't flood - meaning those areas settled prior to major flood control efforts - are back to 100%.

  22. Okay, first of all:

    I agree with Evan about the moral implications of leaving communities behind.

    If I were doing business in an area, made friends with the people there over many years, got customers who regularly chatted informally with me,.etc - and then one day, I tell the employees, neighbours, and regular customers that I am ditching them and going elsewhere with my money...

    Then **I** SHOULD feel bad about it. I would have shown myself as an unnatural creature, one who does not define himself by the only close relationships he has but instead severs them the first chance he gets. It's unnatural, because it's a sign that I seem to regard all those people as nothing to me. What can be more contemptible than that? I wouldn't do it myself.

    On the other hand, I sympathise with managers of major businesses not wanting to do business in depressed areas. It involves dealing with too uncertain an environment.

  23. Prateek Sanjay,

    Unnatural in what way? You know, in conversations like this, I always feel like Aristotle is just a bit off-stage, coaching some of the participants.

  24. Unnatural in that there is no such thing as an individual.

    Have we ever known a single human being who raised himself on his own from the day he came out of the womb, and managed all by himself without the help of other people?

    If not, a person who breaks off his attachments from other people is like an aberration going against his own nature. Like the monsters in the Thing, such a person is like a hand that falls off from the body, becomes a spider-esque creature, and takes a life of its own. Indeed, going against your own nature is a very self-defeating thing, akin to a bright child destroying his college future by dropping out and becoming a gigolo.

    Ultimately, isn't this what capitalism about? The idea that cooperation is superior to all forms of autarky and that working with people proves much better than might makes right.

  25. Prateek Sanjay,

    Given your line of reasoning something like divorce ought to be outlawed, even though of course it is highly beneficial to women.

    The fact is that people (and conglomerations of people - firms) enter and exit all manner of relationships all the time; why one ought to privilege one set of relationships over the issue here, not whether one should be involved in relationships in some abstract sense. Yeah, humans are social animals - to which my response is, so what - that really doesn't tell me much at all.

  26. Have you not wondered that divorce has been looked down upon badly by many cultures across antiquity? Even until quite recently, divorce has been a taboo topic in Eastern Orthodox cultural regions.

    Both of us can go as far as what the law says, regard marriage as a contract, and end there.

    But how do families often feel about divorce? It's an emotionally unsettling period for many people - the children, the grandparents, and other dependents.

    It's not unreasonable to say that severance of one's communal ties and even divorce are acts to be undertaken with great care and thought, if done at all.

  27. Prateek,

    It isn't a wonder; prohibiting divorce was a means of exercising social control over the reproductive, etc. capabilities of women.

    Divorce is a good thing for men and women; it allows them to exit relationships which are having significant negative effects on them.

    It isn't surprising that the freest, most productive societies that currently exist also allow for relatively easy divorce or that those societies are bastions for gender equality and freedom for women in particular.

    Oh, and I am in the middle of a divorce; I'm well aware of how difficult a divorce is emotionally, but my future ex-wife isn't my vassal nor is she subordinate to me and in a free society she gets to choose (just like I do) who she wants to be with.

  28. Is Don Boudreaux actually an economist? It seems to me that he is just a drunken and crankly old man who has only the most rudimentary understanding of how the economy works mixed with a very very strong moral stance on government intervention.

  29. Daniel, just FYI, there really isn't anything you put in this post for one to grapple with. It's not even worthwhile for me to go read Boudreaux's post; all you are saying here is, "He is ignorant and has stated a value judgment with which I disagree."

    Seriously, re-read your post. How would anybody argue with you? You're not making any claim, besides a normative one.

  30. Bob -
    Just pulling my hair out, yep :)

    Sometimes claims are simply normative. You can't tie everything down to something firmer. As for "how would anybody argue with you" - you might ask Gary. He always seems to find a way :)

  31. Daniel Kuehn,

    You almost quoted the original Jurassic Park movie. ;)


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