Welfare Isn’t “Nice”

Depending on where your political views fall on the spectrum, you might describe my politics as being somewhere between “liberal” and “just shy of Karl Marx”. But, I was raised in an affluent, predominantly white, Midwestern community, and there was no shortage of conservative politics. So much so, that I once identified as a Libertarian *shudders*.

Having been exposed to an array of political ideologies, I find that there really isn’t all that much light between the American Right and Left. (Or, there didn’t used to be. I’m talking 2008 America, when neither presidential candidate was a raving lunatic. Moving on.)

That being said, it has been my experience that, for many people, the almighty, immovable, I-cannot-see-your-side, dividing line is Welfare — a lovely, amorphous word used to encompass the whole of government assistance programs.

And guess what. I hate Welfare, too. And, I hate the way we liberals talk about it.

I’m sure somewhere along the line, you’ve heard an appeal to morality, regarding government aid programs. The trouble with lines like “We can’t allow the poor to just starve,” is that the easy response is, “Yes, we can.”

And it’s true. We could just let the poor starve, wipe our hands of our complicity, and move forward as a vastly smaller country. Problem solved.

Now, to clarify, I hold totally-unheard-of anti-starvation views. But, I also believe that government aid programs are not just “nice,” they are economically sound.

If you have Facebook, you’ve probably seen an article or two about millennials destroying big box stores, or chain restaurants, or the American economy in general. If you don’t have Facebook, then greetings time traveler from 1990. Sorry about the country. Rather, economists recognize that the consumption habits of millennials have the power to shape the economy dramatically.

Now, there are about 83.1 million millennials in America. By comparison, 52.2 million Americans participated in government assistance programs in 2012.

Look me in the eye, and tell me that a fraction of millennials eating avocado toast is killing retail, but removing the income used to purchase necessities from 52.2 million people is a good idea. Any capitalist who knows anything about anything can tell you that removing 52.2 million consumers from the economy is not good for business.

Which is why I don’t understand liberals who continue to market government aid programs as a kindness to the poor, rather than speaking the language of Republicans, and describing it as a means for keeping a capitalistic economy afloat.

Long story short (too late): Job insecurity helps keep wages low, which is a big win for the beneficiaries of capitalism. (Don’t believe me? Ask Alan Greenspan.) But, job insecurity, and consequential unemployment, removes consumers from the economy, altogether. Enter government aid, to bridge the divide, and prop up the capitalist house of cards.

So, the Right can admit that government aid is a necessity in our economy, or recognize the inability of unregulated capitalism to employ the number of consumers it needs to stay alive.

But, more importantly, it’s time for the Left to start talking about social welfare programs in these economic terms. Because, they are far less easily dismissed, and really, Welfare isn’t intended as a kindness.