Is America's Safety Net Enough?

The answer is no, we don’t have an adequate safety net, just in case it wasn't obvious.

But what's remarkable is that the people who are dead set on keeping our safety net inadequate have the worst excuses for doing so and they almost never have to seriously defend those excuses. 

The most common excuse of course is the idea that people won't go out and get jobs if unemployment insurance and programs like TANF and SNAP exist. Because it's clear that subsistence is the best existence and feeding your kids via charitable donations feels really great. It’s certainly more fun than “working”. And that awful idea has engendered just enough popular support from confused people who think that being on “welfare” is the bee’s knees and anyone getting any public help makes suckers out of those who are employed.


A common refrain during the pandemic was that a lockdown would destroy the economy, so an inordinate amount of frothy energy went towards downplaying the severity of the pandemic. “It’s not so bad, only some people are dying from this, and we need the economy opened up!”, or so the story went. It’s beyond depressing that it didn’t even enter the minds of people that they should have a government that would compensate for the economic consequences of a public safety lockdown. Western Europe and most of the developed world did a fairly simple calculation - economic activity needs to stop for the good of public safety, if we don’t do that things will be worse, and there needs to be public support to compensate and ameliorate the losses from that collective action. 

And the US bailed out the stock market and spent yet another 800 billion on the military.

I could go on about the travesty of the US in response to COVID all day, and plenty of people have. But the missing component is that we don’t really have a fully holistic view of “protecting America” beyond warfighting and childishly defeating bad guys like children mashing action figures together in a sandbox. 

There are other bad guys. And we ignore them because we’re too busy kicking ass.

Not the right movie reference, but we'll go with it.

There is at one turn a toxic masculinity aspect to this (protecting America means KILLING TERRORISTS, not feeding children), and an economic darwinist one (if you can’t pay your water bill, it’s because you’re a weak and bad person). What both ignore - because they have to - is the role of luck that dictates whether or not a person faces hardship. 

That’s another story really, but I’m regularly gobsmacked that we have to explain that seemingly easy to understand concept to people. We are - despite being rugged individualists - subject to forces beyond our control.  The fact that it’s even possible for people to be allowed in polite society to think that because a family member was in a car accident and needed help with medical bills makes the person who helps them weak, foolish, or gullible and not just unlucky is an astounding moral failure. By all of us. Those that think like that and those of us that allow for it to go overlooked.

And we agree to overlook a LOT. When a politician says “we can’t spend on public welfare program x”, what they’re really saying is that “y” is a better priority. And the general public - mostly - shrugs and agrees that said priority is a perfectly acceptable one to have, even if it’s tax cuts for the wealthy or an increase in defense contractor CEO salaries. That their antipathy towards one policy betrays their priorities never, ever comes under much scrutiny.

What I’m getting at is this - a majority of us - depending on how the question is asked of course - are perfectly fine with our tax dollars going to social welfare programs as said programs clearly are in the public interest. What is wrong with those people that don’t want to see that happen?


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