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New York Times: Critics of Safety Net Depend On It

February 12, 2012

File this under hypocrisy, maybe idiocy, maybe cognitive dissonance, all three of which are an affront to critical thought everywhere.

Before I go back to talking about the above linked NY Times article let me take a moment to veer off into some good PBS programming.  I was watching Rick Steves last night.  I like Rick for some reason, he is mild-mannered, seems kind, is intelligent, and he seeks to learn about the cultures of Europe and to enlighten anyone who watches his shows about those cultures…I mean, what’s not to like?

In this particular episode, (video below) Steves was visiting the land of his ancestors, Norway…he was in the capital, Oslo to be specific.  One of the things you will notice is that (and I recommend you watch the video if for no other reason you might learn something cool about Norway, and the Norwegian way of life) Rick talks about the form of Socialism that exists in Norway.  He mentions it several times in varying degrees of tact which is smart on Rick’s part as he knows that his show will be viewed here in the good old US of A, and if you are going to mention Socialism to an American audience, it better be couched in the blandest way possible.

You see, in Norway they pay higher taxes than we do here, but in return for higher taxes they get so much more with regard to quality of life issues.  They have a true social safety net, they have health care coverage for everyone, they have free tuition to college, and they have one of the most content and happiest populace in the entire world.  Polling has shown this last fact to be true year after year after year.  The citizens of Norway don’t have to worry that if they fall ill, they will lose their homes, they don’t have to worry about trying to start a business but having to pay for their own health care; their taxes (properly run) do that for them.  To me, that just sounds smart.

This brings me to the article in the NY Times, linked above, posted below in which people who are in many cases Republican are denouncing any form of social safety net while at the same time they are relying on it.  Amazing, right?

LINDSTROM, Minn. — Ki Gulbranson owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.

I can just hear Mr. Gulbranson: “Keep your big government to yourself!  I don’t need anything from you.”

He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.

Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.

Well, what do you know…government subsidies for working families, and OH MY GOD!  Free lunch! WTF!!!  You commie bastard!  How dare you have your child eat free lunch that is gouged out of hard-working tax payers?

There is little poverty here in Chisago County, northeast of Minneapolis, where cheap housing for commuters is gradually replacing farmland. But Mr. Gulbranson and many other residents who describe themselves as self-sufficient members of the American middle class and as opponents of government largess are drawing more deeply on that government with each passing year.

Dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in the county in 2009, a 69 percent increase from 2000 after adjusting for inflation. In Chisago, and across the nation, the government now provides almost $1 in benefits for every $4 in other income.

Older people get most of the benefits, primarily throughSocial 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 expansion of government benefits has become an issue in the presidential campaign. Rick Santorum, who won 57 percent of the vote in Chisago County in the Republican presidential caucuses last week, has warned of “the narcotic of government dependency.” Newt Gingrich has compared the safety net to a spider web. Mitt Romney has said the nation must choose between an “entitlement society” and an “opportunity society.” All the candidates, including Ron Paul, have promised to cut spending and further reduce taxes.

The problem by now is familiar to most. Politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues, a primary reason for the government’s annual deficits and mushrooming debt. In 2000, federal and state governments spent about 37 cents on the safety net from every dollar they collected in revenue, according to a New York Times analysis. A decade later, after one Medicare expansion, two recessions and three rounds of tax cuts, spending on the safety net consumed nearly 66 cents of every dollar of revenue.

Read that bold sentence again.  Revenues, taxes is what the author is talking about need to go up in order to facilitate the sponge-like behavior of Mr. Gulbranson.  If he doesn’t want to increase taxes, have him give back his free lunch for his kids and his earned income tax credit and just stop complaining.

The recent recession increased dependence on government, and stronger economic growth would reduce demand for programs like unemployment benefits. But the long-term trend is clear. Over the next 25 years, as the population ages and medical costs climb, the budget office projects that benefits programs will grow faster than any other part of government, driving the federal debt to dangerous heights.

Americans are divided about the way forward. Seventy percent of respondents to a recent New York Times poll said the government should raise taxes. Fifty-six percent supported cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Forty-four percent favored both.

This is just the first page of a multi-page article that I will be reading all of.  Take the link above and enjoy it.


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