In his Monday column, Krugman tells us it is difficult for Republican with national ambitions are having a difficult time talking about the poor because of their well-earned
reputation for reverse Robin-Hoodism, for being the party that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.Even worse, they are actively hostile to programs that help the poor: he notes that in the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act Republican=controlled states are refusing the federally-funded expansion of Medicare, thereby denying coverage to 5 million Americans, while at the same time
And the reason that reputation is so hard to shake is that it’s justified. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that right now Republicans are doing all they can to hurt the poor, and they would have inflicted vast additional harm if they had won the 2012 election. Moreover, G.O.P. harshness toward the less fortunate isn’t just a matter of spite (although that’s part of it); it’s deeply rooted in the party’s ideology, which is why recent speeches by leading Republicans declaring that they do too care about the poor have been almost completely devoid of policy specifics.
those Republican-controlled states are slashing unemployment benefits, education financing and more. As I said, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the G.O.P. is hurting the poor as much as it can.The hot-link takes you to a piece about North Carolina. IF you want to see real devastation of the funding of public education, one can look at Pennsylvania and Michigan as well, among other states.
Sounds like Krugman is really taking the Republicans apart, right? To a degree that is true..
But let me caution you, there is at least one surprise in this Krugman column
Krugman notes of Republicans that
they’re deeply committed to the view that efforts to aid the poor are actually perpetuating poverty, by reducing incentives to work. And to be fair, this view isn’t completely wrong.While pointing out how wrong this with respect to unemployment compensation - very relevant given Republican refusal to extend benefits without an "offset" someplace else in the budget (rather than appropriately raising taxes on those getting very rich as a result of changes in taxation in the Bush administration and the "carried interest" exemption) - Krugman does grant that
our patchwork, uncoordinated system of antipoverty programs does have the effect of penalizing efforts by lower-income households to improve their position: the more they earn, the fewer benefits they can collect. In effect, these households face very high marginal tax rates. A large fraction, in some cases 80 cents or more, of each additional dollar they earn is clawed back by the government.But note how he phrases it - as very high marginal tax rates - albeit still far lower than the highest marginal tax rates in our history, which were established under a Republican President named Eisenhower who accepted our responsibility to pay for the wars (plural) we had recently fought, World War II and Korea, unlike the most recent Republican administration which fought and left in conflict two expensive wars that were not paid for.
Krugman explores what we should do to remove the disincentives because of those high marginal rates. We could, he notes, simply slash the benefits, but if you did this with, say, nutrition assistance porgrams, it would be counterproductive because
the poor would become less productive as well as more miserable; it’s hard to take advantage of a low marginal tax rate when you’re suffering from poor nutrition and inadequate health care.The alternative is to phase out the benefits as one's financial situation improves, which is exactly what happens with the financial support for insurance under the Affordable Care Act - you know, than demon spawn of the Muslim Socialist Kenyan President that some Republicans are so determined to eliminate (that is MY characterization, somewhat tongue in cheek, of at least SOME of the Republican opposition).
Krugman says of the approach embedded in ACA that
improving incentives this way means spending more, not less, on the safety net, and taxes on the affluent have to rise to pay for that spending. And it’s hard to imagine any leading Republican being willing to go down that road — or surviving the inevitable primary challenge if he did.Why?
The point is that a party committed to small government and low taxes on the rich is, more or less necessarily, a party committed to hurting, not helping, the poor.I would argue that it is part of a considered political approach.
1. The poor tend not to vote, so it does not cost you their votes.
2. You can demonize the poor as being unworthily poor.
3. You attack organizations that might lead to more poor participating politically - and whatever did happen to ACORN?
4. You argue that Biblical mandates to care for the poor should not be done by government, but rather by groups like churches and other charitable organizations, thereby keeping taxes low, even though we have a fairly low rate of charitable giving in this country, especially when compared to countries with high tax rates and strong social safety nets, like those in Scandanavia. And if you back out the "charitable" contributions to things like educational institutions and cultural institutions where one can get things (buildings, scholarships) named for the donor, our rate of charitable giving that results in aid to the poor is abysmal.
5. You impose registration procedures that are heavily discriminatory against the poor, demanding identification they do not have, making it inconvenient to obtain by limiting the location of obtaining, and even if they have it, restricting the hours at which they can vote thereby in some cases forcing them to choose between earning an income or voting, and if the latter, artificially creating long lines to further discourage them. Heck, if you could you'd make them pay directly for the new identification - except even this Supreme Court would find that a violation of the constitutional ban on poll taxes for FEDERAL elections (note that we are now seeing states try to impose such fees for state and local elections).
In the Jim Crow South, it what quite common for those controlling the levers of power to pit poor Whites against Blacks. That the perception of most Americans is incorrect in believing most of those receiving support from the social safety net are people of color helps generate a hostility towards benefits. Once upon a time we knew better, and at least some of us do. Had I any doubt - and I didn't - volunteering in free medical and dental clinics in Appalachian Virginia, which has few people of color, would have persuaded me otherwise. That is a region that should want programs to help the poor. It is also the part of Virginia that voted most heavily for Romney. Keep that in mind.
Don't expect Republicans to change until it costs them elections.
Krugman reminds us that support for programs of the social safety net used to have bipartisan support. Perhaps during the Great Society, and even to some degree in the Nixon administration. If you go back, there was strong Republican hostility to Social Security when it was first proposed. But certainly, even before the rise of the 'Tea Party' strand, something funded by wealthy types like the Koch Brothers to foment hostility to anything that might require them to pay taxes to benefit others, there was Republican hostility - after all, we did live through the Reagan Revolution, with a campaign kickoff in Neshoba County Mississippi designed to give a wink and a nod to racists, with its bloviations about welfare queens, and so on.
There used to be moderate Republicans. Hell, there used to be LIBERAL Republicans - I came of age in New York City, with the likes of Mayor John Vliet Lindsey and Senator Jacob Javits.
As Krugman concludes:
For now, however, Republicans are in a deep sense enemies of America’s poor. And that will remain true no matter how hard the likes of Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio try to convince us otherwise.It is appropriate to be enemies of poverty. We all should be. We all should be dedicated to a society that provides the means for people not to be trapped there for generations, to grow up with little if any hope.
It used to be that all Americans could dream of living better and richer lives than their parents. Now in the Middle Class the fear is of slipping into poverty, and that fear is used to try to generate hostility towards programs for the poor.
Those who so advocate are enemies of the poor, not of poverty.
Those who are enemies of the poor are enemies of the nation, because this nation cannot survive as a liberal democracy with an increasing permanent underclass.
This column from Krugman is a keeper.
My only complaint is that the limitations on length do not allow it to be as blunt as I am.