Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheap Moralizing (UPDATED)

I suppose it is a sign of the times, but I really dislike things like the following on the normally reliable American Future: Shame on the House Republicans

A few days ago, the Economist reported on the rapid growth in the number of Americans on food stamps. Participation in the food stamp program has soared since the recession began. By this April, 45 million Americans were dependent on the government for their daily bread. The program’s cost almost doubled between 2008 ($35 billion) and 2010 ($65 billion). Last year, then, each American contributed about $200 to the program. That’s right — $200, or about 55 cents per day.

This trivial amount is too much for Republicans....

More and more people are or will soon be receiving their last unemployment checks. More and more people will need food stamps. How, in the name of our common humanity, can the House Republicans propose gutting the program? Are they the descendents of those who, during the Great Depression, believed that the poor had only themselves to blame for their plight, and that the provision of government assistance would undermine their morals and their willingness to work?

Appalling. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. Send them to the poor house. Let them eat cake.

Baloney. In 2008 we were spending roughly $6.03bn per percentage point of unemployment on food stamps programs. In 2010 we spent roughly $6.77bn per percentage point. Assuming an unemployment rate around 8% (which is EXACTLY the type of thing budget projections do), this would mean Republicans are suggesting spending $6.4bn per percentage point on food stamp programs. How this is an example of "gutting" a program or how this makes Republicans moral degenerates is beyond me, particularly since the 2015 budget will affect those currently running short on unemployment benefits not at all.

Of course, if unemployment is still close to 10% three or four years from now this could be inadequate. But guess what? It could be adjusted. (Congress voting to spend more money in the face of actual conditions? That must be crazy talk!)

Enough of the bogeymen, please.


I want to emphasize something here. Yes, I've taken this post to task, but American Future should be on everyone's reading list. Marc is an old friend of this blog from its earliest days, and I couldn't be happier that American Future is back after a couple years away.


Marc Schulman said...

I have my answer to one of the questions in the email I sent to you this morning.

Except for one point, your criticism is fair. You say that if unemployment is still close to 10% in 3 or 4 years, the budget could be adjusted. "Could" is not the same as "would." Considering the fairly recent Republican opposition to extending unemployment benefits to 99 weeks,I'm less than confident that the operable word is "would."

Budget plans send signals about intentions. The Republican plan could have used a larger number and reduced the allocation if and when the unemployment so warranted.

Rich Horton said...

Marc, you also know the way bureaucracies react to increases in their budget; they treat them as permanent. Except these days it is often worse, as they treat the rate of increase as permanent as well. So I agree with you there is singaling of intention going on, but the signal may be more "Hey, there is no way were are letting this program reach $100bn in spending by 2015."

As for what they could or would do in the future, I'm not convinced that many Republicans really adhere to a social Darwinian belief system. If in the face of real need they were to out and out neglect people there would be a political consequence for them.

If the choice became clinging to ideology or clinging to office, they will choose clinging to office every time.