Okay, as I always note when discussing anything remotely related to economics, I am not an economist. I rely on my trained economist readers to provide expertise about the strictly economic aspects of what I am about to comment on. I am going to talk about what I perceive as the philosophical problems with what Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich have to say in the clip above.
First of all, pleased as I am to see Romney get into so much trouble for saying he doesn’t care about the poor as long as they have their safety net, I think his slip was just to say explicitly what politicians always say implicitly. All that matters is the middle class. Because those are the majority of the voters. And when it comes to legislating, of course, even the middle class doesn’t matter, but only the corporations since they fund the campaigns. This is the fundamental reality and everyone can see through all the bullshit on both sides.
But what irks me about Romney and Gingrich’s remarks is the flat out denial of reality that ignores the permanence of poverty. There will always be poor people. Capitalism is set up that way. Gingrich’s proposal for a trampoline to get out of poverty is just empty. There are not enough middle class income jobs in the economy for everyone to have one. For cripe’s sake, our median income is only a meager $26,000! How many single parents must be trying to raise several kids on that (or less)? How many dual income families are raising multiple kids on $52,000? And that’s the median! How many millions scrape by on less?
Trampoline individual poor people out of poverty all you like and then the more mediocre who were just above poverty will fall down into the safety net and not bounce out. The system is structured that someone will wind up poor. The repulsive Republican moralistic judgmentalism towards those who wind up poor (or stuck there) is so simultaneously logically fallacious and self-righteous it turns my stomach. The implicit assumption is that our economic system is unquestionably just, that it adequately rewards hard work, that it intrinsically values labor appropriately, that laissez-faire markets provide every morally valuable economic outcome by an inherently just nature.
The fact that wages can be bid down to levels where working hard does not earn people even enough money to afford health care just means that not everyone deserves health care morally, on this logic. If these people want health care they should just work harder—even though they may be working 50-60 hours a week at two jobs where the market values their labor at the “you should just die if you get sick” level of assessment.
Or maybe they should work smarter and get a better education. And it’s their fault if they can’t afford to go to school because their parents aren’t rich enough? And it’s reasonable to burden these kids with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to get a competitive education necessary to climb the economic ladder? And it’s reasonable to have the poor kids needing to work part or (even) full time to bootstrap through college at an inherent disadvantage against kids who can give their studies the full time attention they require to be done adequately?
I guess it’s purely moral fairness if the young poor don’t use these trampolines available—working jobs that bid you down to a dehumanizing wage that does not allow you even to afford to say alive if you get sick, while being handicapped competing for grades against more affluent kids who don’t have to work, and then coming out of school crushed by a debt that could severely limits your career flexibility as they have to pay onerous debts right out of school and can hardly aspire to “savings” or plan for home ownership or think about retirement.
And not to mention that this poor kid who started out with the luxury of the “safety net” grew up in a poor school district with underpaid teachers and ridiculously limited resources that put her at a further disadvantage starting college.
Whichever of these kids does not trampoline out of poverty morally deserves to be poor for their moral failure, their laziness, in not adequately availing themselves of all the opportunities available—regardless of how systemically inequitably they are made available.
And even those who do work hard—let’s say we all work hard and we all get advanced degrees, do we all get rewarded morally for our hard work and determination? Do we all now get to make more than that meager median $26,000? We all get to be executives and lawyers and doctors and politicians and finance people and tenured professors? Hardly. There is not room at the top for all of us. The current rates of underemployment in the country indicate a failure of the system to morally reward all that aspiration and determination with jobs befitting people’s educations and qualifications. If those people work at wages that don’t afford health care I guess they just deserve to die younger too?
What are the programs Romney or Gingrich have proposed to raise the median wage in America so that even unskilled laborers make good money? What are the programs Romney or Gingrich have proposed to reward all of us underemployed people who have the skills and education to do jobs that pay upper middle class salaries so that we get what we morally deserve by playing by the system’s rules so obediently? What are their programs to wipe out the need for lousy paying menial labor and replace all those jobs with at least middle class incomes so that Romney’s promise of bringing the poor up to the middle can be fulfilled. We won’t quibble with the irrationality of his saying no one needs to be below the middle. We’ll just assume he means the poor can live like the middle presently does and that will be the new poverty. That, admittedly, would very much be progress at least. What’s the plan for this to actually happen? What’s the plan to increase these wages? Are “more tax cuts for the job creators” magically going to pull this off? Somehow less regulations on business do it? Somehow state Republicans’ dismantling of union rights and cutting public school teachers’ salaries is going to make it happen?
And to bring the poor up from the safety net to the middle we need to get unemployment not only down from 8.3% to a normal 5% but all the way down to 0%. And we need everyone able bodied and between 22-65 to pursue a job for that to be a true 0%. Or at least make sure that the 5% unemployed at any given time are not the permanently unemployed. We have a crisis high level people unemployed long enough that they risk being unemployable. What are Gingrich and Romney’s plans to salvage their careers? What’s Gingrich’s trampoline for them? Is it that all people out of work for more than 6 months start working as janitors in elementary schools at a fraction the pay of professional janitors so that they learn how to work again?
I am really really interested in what ways Gingrich and Romney propose to magically elevate the median wage, obliterate unemployment and underemployment, make it so that the competitiveness of capitalism does not require any one getting the short end of the stick, make it so that all employers with no government assistance pay everyone enough to be fully insured with no government intrusions (or fully insure them of their own with no government mandates).
How is this utopia in which we all get what we morally deserve for working hard going to be achieved? How is it all going to happen with less government regulations, lower taxes, gutted education funding, disbanded unions, an abolished minimum wage, and the rolling back of entitlement programs for those deficit creating poor people?
How is everyone who works hard going to get health care? Or is that not something people deserve if they do shitty enough labor that anyone could theoretically do? I’m not a Christian or a “person of faith” at all so I’m not sure how our American values (being so based on Christianity or at least “faith”) judge that issue. Does Christianity say anything about whether menial labor morally entitles one to enough money to pay for a doctor and also pay for groceries and raise children?
Gingrich tells us Obama just hates work and loves having people on food stamps. Apparently hard work can elevate not just some of the poor but obliterate the very dynamic of capitalism by which there are inevitably some poor people. Apparently Gingrich has a way to make this happen so that no one ever needs food stamps again. Is it just his infectious love of work that is going to overcome Obama’s three unconscionable years of teaching the poor to hate work?
Or is it just that capitalism, which pays by the morally unquestionable market value, will always make sure the poor are those who deserve to suffer with no mercy for their moral failures of being born poor, with either few exceptional talents or reduced opportunities to develop them if they did have them?
I’m not an economist. I admit it. But I’m curious how this morally just world where we can blame the poor for being the poor is going to be justified or alternatively how we’re going to create a capitalism where no one is going to wind up poor by our current standards, or how we are going to do this with minimal government regulations of the laissez-faire market as possible? (And copious corporate welfare, of course.)