Paul Krugman has responded to an article by National Review's Kevin Williamson about poverty in Appalachia:
... the piece ... has a moral: the big problem, it argues, is the way government aid creates dependency. It's the Paul Ryan notion of the safety net as a "hammock" that makes life too easy for the poor.Williamson thinks the proper response to that is self-righteous smugness, with a dose of class warfare (which is acceptable, by the way, when it comes from Republicans):
... The underlying story of Appalachia is in fact one of declining opportunity. Here's the unemployment rate for Owsley county:
... Williamson ... implicitly argues that the "dole" fosters dependency by allowing people to stay in their home counties rather than going someplace else. Maybe -- but as he also notes, many people are leaving. Indeed, they've been leaving in droves....
... Mainly this looks like a story of what happens when a region faces a drastic loss of economic opportunity....
The problem isn't that we're becoming a nation of takers; it's the fact that we're becoming a nation that doesn't offer enough economic opportunity to the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 80 percent, of its citizens.
Professor Krugman and those who share his orientation see the bottom half, and maybe even the bottom 80 percent, of citizens as passive participants in economic life, not people who do things but people to whom things are done, the direct object in Lenin's summary of politics: "Who? Whom?" And from the point of view of the policymaking class -- not just the progressive perches at Princeton but the policymaking class in general -- it is easy to see the great majority of the American public as something like dogs exhibiting various degrees of ruliness while waiting for table scraps. People cannot be expected to live. It is up to "the nation" to "offer" them life.Well, yes, actually. Or if it's not up to "the nation" to "offer" them life, it's up to other people -- the technical term for them is, I believe, "employers" -- to offer them what are known in the economics literature as "jobs."
Or what, Kevin? What are people in coal country supposed to do if their job searches don't result in other people giving them jobs, despite (perhaps) years of work experience and (perhaps) reschooling and retraining after the old jobs dried up, not to mention a hell of a lot of pavement-pounding? We see that plenty are voting with their feet by getting the hell out of Kentucky coal country (or dying), and yet the unemployment rate is still disturbingly high. As for the rest, many of whom might not be able to afford to leave (no cash, underwater homes) -- what are they supposed to do? Become new-media entrepreneurs? Load up the truck and head to Silicon Valley for some venture capital?
This is the sort of right-wing arrogance that led Michelle Malkin, back in 2012, to say with a sneer, "Romney types, of course, are the ones who sign the front of the paycheck, and the Obama types are the one who have spent their entire lives signing the back of them": the right simply believes that it's disgraceful to be an ordinary worker in the job market, subject to its ups and downs. If you're not a capitalist, you're scum.
The problem is, Kevin, if you're not a capitalist -- and most people aren't -- then yes, you absolutely are, to at least some extent, at the mercy of others if you want to find employment. Some people who haven't been entrepreneurs have the wherewithal -- the cash in reserve, the education, the salable idea, the profit-oriented mindset -- to exit the employment market and create jobs for themselves. But even then, the vast majority of new businesses fail. And you simply can't have an economy in which every single person is a sole proprietor. It's a sign of right-wingers' insane devotion to the cult of capitalism that they can't grasp this, can't grasp that we are not all absolute masters of our own fate.
And if the safety net is the sole reason for dependency, then why the hell was unemployment lower before the 2008 crash than it is now? If you're arguing that there's effectively no connection between the employment rate and employers' willingness to hire -- if you're arguing, that is, that benefits are the only reason people don't have jobs -- then that should have been just as true in 2006, say, as it is now, becuse just as many lazy takers should have been getting all those horrible benefits, just 'cause they like living that way.
Is the decrease in labor-force participation since Wall Street crashed the economy really just a coincidence? Scummy liberal elitist minds want to know.