War on poor people

Posted: 9 October 2013 in Uncategorized
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Daniel Little has a useful piece on the Right’s general antipathy toward and current war on poor people.

He offers three explanations for “this persistent and unblinking hostility towards poor people”:

One piece of the puzzle seems to come down to ideology and a passionate and unquestioning faith in “the market”. If you are poor in a market system, this ideology implies you’ve done something wrong; you aren’t productive; you don’t deserve a better quality of life. You are probably a drug addict, a welfare queen, a slacker. . .

Another element here seems to have something to do with social distance. Segments of society with whom one has not contact may be easier to treat impersonally and cruelly. . .

A crucial thread here seems to be a familiar American narrative around race. The language of welfare reform, abuse of food stamps, and the inner city is interwoven with racial assumptions and stereotypes. . .

Finally, it seems unavoidable that some of this hostility derives from a fairly straightforward conflict of group interests. In order to create programs and economic opportunities that would significantly reduce poverty, it takes government spending — on income and food support, on education, on housing allowances, and on public amenities for low-income people. Government spending requires taxation; and taxation reduces the income and wealth of households at the top of the ladder. So there is a fairly obvious connection between an anti-poverty legislative agenda and the material interests of the privileged in our economy.

The only other piece of the puzzle I’d add is the doctrine, promulgated by neoclassical economists like Casey Mulligan (and disseminated by economists such as Greg Mankiw), according to which any and all government programs to aid the poor—from unemployment compensation and food stamps to the Affordable Care Act—represent forms of redistribution that represent “a reduction in the reward for working.”

Put them together and we have a full-scale war on poor people from the Right, which liberals—who rarely even mention the poor and the homeless in their political discourse—have failed to challenge much less turn back.

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