What Is Welfare For?

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

Related Post Roulette

184 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    If we have a system in place where children can learn from ages, oh, 6-18 how to become “employable”, for lack of a better word, and it’s failing, perhaps we could look into how and why this system is failing.

    I mean, unless it would threaten union jobs.Report

    • Henry Hazlitt in reply to Jaybird says:

      I read over at Slate that that was an anti-social question.

      What, were you raised in a home school?Report

    • Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

      Is the primary purpose of school making a person “employable”?  That’s a rather major assumption.

      I thought the main purposes of school were to 1) teach people basic skills needed for functioning in daily life (the three Rs; things like “budgeting” and home ec may also fit here); 2) teach children to think, and to analyze and critique ideas (both their own and others’) – an area where its work could certainly be improved; 3) provide people with a basic understanding of the world around them, both for knowledges’ own sake and to assist their interactions with society (history, science, civics); and 4) introduce people to other sources of learning and enjoyment that can improve their future quality of life (e.g., literature).

      A lot of the skills people learn in school may certainly be useful for finding work as well, but that’s not generally been regarded as the primary purpose of education.  Originally, the purpose of education in a democratic state was seen as enabling people to be good citizens – meaning enabling them to read, write, think, enjoy learning, and be familiar with common ideas and concepts.  A person familiar with the concept of “liberty” and its meaning is a person less likely to tolerate government reversion to dictatorship or disregard for the rule of law.  Education, even for the working class, was valued in theory (at least in America) long before it was actually needed to achieve employment.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

        What does “employable” mean if not the three Rs, an ability to analyze, understanding of the world in general, and ability to learn outside of a classroom environment?

        This is a very, very important question.Report

      • Murali in reply to Katherine says:

        thought the main purposes of school were to 1) teach people basic skills needed for functioning in daily life (the three Rs; things like “budgeting” and home ec may also fit here); 2) teach children to think, and to analyze and critique ideas (both their own and others’) – an area where its work could certainly be improved; 3) provide people with a basic understanding of the world around them, both for knowledges’ own sake and to assist their interactions with society (history, science, civics); and 4) introduce people to other sources of learning and enjoyment that can improve their future quality of life (e.g., literature).

        Improving the employability of citizens vis a vis the modern economy has been one of the core goals of education systems in places like Singapore, China and South Korea. Also, the criticism of the current american education system as failing to provide people with useful skills and the proposed remedies (trade schools) are not particularly new arguments.Report

    • wardsmith in reply to Jaybird says:

      Jaybird, this is EXACTLY why we support doing it elsewhere but not here.Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

      I’m reporting you to the SEIU, you capitalist!Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      If we have a system in place where children can learn from ages, oh, 6-18 how to become “employable”, for lack of a better word, and it’s failing, perhaps we could look into how and why this system is failing.

      As valid a point as this is, it doesn’t answer the question that is put, and these two questions can and should  considered simultaneously.  An answer to, “What is Welfare For?” is not, We Should Reform Schools So That Fewer People Have To Go On Welfare.  That can be your response, but no one must pretend it is an answer to the question.  Fact is, we have welfare aid programs in this country (because we have a population we think is in need of such aid); it’s a damn good thing to ask ourselves what they’re for so as to structure them to that end.  “We shouldn’t have welfare” is  an answer to “What Is Welfare For?”, though, and if that’s your view, you should give it.  But if that isn’t your view, then we should be willing to discuss what welfare should be for while agreeing to agree or disagree about reforming schools, but in any case not to pretend that it answers our questions about what welfare should be for.  By all means, one can say (although you don’t) that one’s view of what welfare should be (for) is shaped around a core view that welfare must be structured around an assumption that schools are doing their job, and the resulting welfare gap must be endured until society is incented into reforming schools.  But that still does not answer the question What Is Welfare For?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        It seems to me that the primary purpose of Welfare ought to be for helping people get back on their feet (or, in rare cases, get on their feet).

        If we have a case where there are people who are on Welfare who have no real possibility of getting off of it, like ever, we pretty much need to look at why. If it turns out that they are on welfare and will never get off of it because they have Lou Gherig’s disease, well, I think that that is something that we, as a society, can easily deal with.

        If it turns out that they are on welfare because they are unemployed and unemployable and, if we, as a society, suddenly stopped giving them checks then they would more or less be unable to sustain themselves then we, as a society, have a huge problem.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

          Okay, so homeless vets — huge problem. People with mental issues — huge problem.

          Then there’s the category of “has kids, can’t travel” (the catch22 of many a woman’s life. can’t make enough to afford the childcare. doesn’t have the skills/etc… nor the time to learn.)Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Kimmi says:

            Homeless vets can probably go in the “we, as a society, have a responsibility to care for this person if we are to maintain any semblance of civilization” category.

            When it comes to the “Then there’s the category of “has kids, can’t travel” (the catch22 of many a woman’s life. can’t make enough to afford the childcare. doesn’t have the skills/etc… nor the time to learn.)” category, we need to look at whether the kids will grow up to be employed/employable.

            If they aren’t then we have a societal problem. (Well, assuming it’s over a certain level, anyway.)Report

          • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kimmi says:

            Nowadays we have the problem of “has underwater mortgage, can’t move” keeping a large number geographically stuck & damned.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          Rockin’.  I can work with that.Report

  2. Katherine says:

    Excellent post, Elias, and I agree.  But another part of the problem is, I think, that there’s a limited number of jobs that aren’t low-level service industry jobs.  It’s the problem of trying to transition to the quaternary “knowledge economy” – the primary and secondary sectors are shrinking, and basic tertiary-sector jobs are unfulfilling, low-wage, and low-benefit (and employer willingness to wage raises and benefits rather than finding alternatives to employees is limited – I’m seeing a lot of supermarkets adding self-serve checkout lines, for example).

    Work in the tech sector isn’t for everyone.  So what kind of jobs should we be focused on expanding?Report

    • BSK in reply to Katherine says:

      I know this may seem blasphemous, but there are a great many public sectors that are understaffed (which is not to say they are underfinanced) and that do not have private competition.  What if, instead of paying them welfare benefits, these folks were paid to, ya know, do these jobs.  I don’t know what the average welfare recipient receives in benefits and what one of these jobs would cost to fund (I’m sure the latter would dwarf the former), but considering these people would be employed, productive members of a society, providing a needed service, allowing them to be full participants in the economy, and moving them onto the tax rolls (this last case will not necessarily be true for everyone, based on income and dependents/exceptions; however, it would help PR with the whole “Half the nation pays no taxes on anything” crowd).  This wouldn’t work for everyone, but wouldn’t it be better to pay someone $18K to be a teacher’s aide in an overcrowded classroom than $6K in welfare benefits while he/she remain un- or severely under-employed?Report

      • Katherine in reply to BSK says:

        There’s certainly some potential for that, for qualified (in the case of teachers’ aides, “qualified” could mean as little as “experience working with children, and demonstrated patience, responsibility and ability to get along with people, and no criminal record”).  There are certainly places in government where a simple increase in manpower could make life easier for civil servants, and even help them to be more productive.

        However, there might well be union issues.  To take your example, teacher’s unions would be opposed to someone with no education training being hired as a teachers’ aide at a low wage and with few benefits ($18,000/yr full-time comes to $8.65/hr), since it would be an alternative to hiring more teachers.  Same goes for pretty much any public employees’ union.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to BSK says:

        Not blasphemous to me.

        But consider what NJ and Germany do — they pay unemployed people to start their own businesses (give ’em training, and a bit of seed money).Report

        • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Kimmi says:

          That is really snazzy. I would like to see more movement towards reduction and reform of licensing laws for most industries. See Matt Ygleias for more details.

          I would also like to stop giving people prison terms and criminal records for drug violations.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Katherine says:

      So what kind of jobs should we be focused on expanding?

      That’s socialist thinking, in the most literal sense of the word. There have been countries that have tried letting the government decide which sectors of the economy to expand, and it always ends badly for everyone but the undertakers.

      “We” shouldn’t be making a conscious effort to expand the pool of any particular kind of job. The best the government can do is get out of the way, or, if you’re into the aggregate demand thing, push on that and let the market channel it where it will. But micromanagement of the economy is a really bad idea.Report

      • James K in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        TO be fair it doesn’t always end in mass killings.  Sometimes the government just goes broke, causing the whole system to collapse.Report

      • Katherine in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        There have been countries that have tried letting the government decide which sectors of the economy to expand, and it always ends badly for everyone but the undertakers.

        Actually, it’s worked pretty darn good for Japan, South, Korea and Taiwan, to name a few.  And if you think the US government had nothing to do with the rise of the US manufacturing sector, you’re dreaming.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Katherine says:

          Rural electrification, which I was just ragging on as being insanely expensive (which it is), created a lot of market for our manufacturing sector.Report

          • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Kimmi says:

            Expensive but it sure is awesome to have everyone who wants it to be a part of the modern world.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

              I’m a liberal. I rather like supporting folks who need it.

              And I have confidence that Americans aren’t lazy fools. (which isn’t to say that some won’t want to be on welfare permanently. just that they’ll be doing Something with their time. something worthwhile. after a while, just being lazy gets Bloody Boring)Report

      • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        So what kind of jobs should we be focused on expanding?

        That’s socialist thinking, in the most literal sense of the word. There have been countries that have tried letting the government decide which sectors of the economy to expand, and it always ends badly for everyone but the undertakers.

        Um, no.

        Maybe that “tea party socialist thinking,” which apparently means any slight deviation from absolute laizzez faire capitalism, but for people that need to communicate to people outside their ideological bubble, it’s something different.    Socialism means something specific, much more than a simple “boogie word.”  Maybe you mean “industrial policy.” instead.

        The US has, from the moment of its inception, subsidized and encouraged the growth of some economic sectors in preference to others.   The railroads would not have existed except for a giant program of land grant and subsidy.   Industrialization would not have happened at the rate it did without specific policies and subsidies designed to protect nacent industry and to help it grow (e.g. college grants, import tariffs, patent law, the persistent limited liability corporation, etc.)

        In fact, this kind of “perfect capitalism” exists in only one place:  books.

        The idea that history demonstrates the intellectual bankruptcy of industrial policy is just. plain. wrong.    Japan made a conscious and sustained effort to nurture and grow an export car industry after WWII.   How do you think they did?    China is now following similar model, and is concentrating on light and heavy manufacturing.   How do you think they are doing?

        Only in the mind of ideologues does history demonstrate what you claim for it.   Granted, any such efforts to direct resources towards a single industry or sector are not guaranteed success.   But if you look at the economic success stories of the world (the U.S., China, Taiwan, Singapore, Germany, France), you’ll find that the shape of their economy today is largely a result of explicit actions by policy makers in the preceding fifty years.Report

      • Uh…

        Perhaps you might want to read a biography of Alexander Hamilton sometime.

        Turns out the early US economy was very much a protected, industrial policy oriented developmental state…Report

  3. Kolohe says:

    “they would help those using them work their way to true jobs rather than today’s McJobs”

    McJobs, are those the ones where Irish *must* apply?

    Snark off, would you care to do a post of what separates a ‘McJob’ from a ‘Job’, given for the sake of argument, that the latter is desirable and the former is not?  In the context of this article, perhaps?Report

    • BSK in reply to Kolohe says:

      I don’t know that jobs at McDonalds (if that is what McJobs is supposed to mean) are really the target of the initial article.  If a person sticks with it, a job at McDonalds is better than many alternatives and isn’t seasonal or temporary.  I think the original quoted article was talking more about jobs that might last a month or two, with zero chance for benefits, and with no expectation of promotion.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to BSK says:

        A McJob is a low-prestige, low-skilled job in the service sector that offers few-to-no opportunities for advancement. Its hallmarks are high employee turnover, repetitive work frequently requiring some act of sucking up or other ego subordination to another person (often but not necessarily the customer), and intense, soul-crushing micromanagement from supervisors who are rarely appreciably happier than their charges. Term popularized in Douglas Coupland’s bleak anthem novel Generation X.

        A job at McDonald’s is debatably not a McJob, if one is able to rise up to be a full manager and start making reasonably good money.Report

  4. Peter says:

    By the way, McClanahan responded to the accusations in the comments section of the original piece:

    “… Where did I bring race into the argument?  Anyone with half a brain knows that most people on welfare/food stamps are white.  So, I guess I hate white people.  Calling me racist is the simple knee-jerk reaction from every leftist who can’t argue a position.  I am glad political correctness has forced the regression of discourse to the point that using the word “slave” is considered racist.  Ridiculous.  … Contrary to what a leftist law professor wrote in response to my piece, welfare is blatantly unconstitutional according to the Constitution as ratified in 1787 and 1788, the only Constitution we should follow.  And, according to that Constitution, my proposals in the piece are also unconstitutional.  That was the point.  “Loosely” interpreting the Constitution opens a Pandora’s Box that cannot be closed.  A case could be made under a “loose” interpretation of the Constitution that anything I proposed could be legally enforced. You cannot selectively choose when to adhere to the Constitution.  Once you accept State power, it can be wielded in ways that have dreadful consequences to liberty and independence.  By definition, those on public assistance are “wards” to the State.  For some unfathomable reason Americans in the modern age do not see it that way.  Perhaps if they did, we would have fewer people milking the system.”Report

    • Liberty60 in reply to Peter says:

      By his logic, the entire executive staff of every major Wall Street bank is a welfare recipient and therefore a slave to the state.

      They therefore can be given unlimited levels of cruelty and humiliation.

      I’m kinda warming to this idea.Report

    • Simon K in reply to Peter says:

      I’d be really intrigued to know on what basis welfare is unconsistutional. I don’t remember the amendment about not giving money away.Report

      • Liberty60 in reply to Simon K says:

        But I think it is pretty remarkable and under-discussed, how McClanahan puts 1788 as his cutoff for which Constitution we should follow.

        Hmm, what changes came after that? I can’t quite put my finger on it!Report

        • Peter in reply to Liberty60 says:

          When he says “1788,” he’s talking about the body of the Constitution. Originalists believe that each part of the Constitution should be read as it was understood at the time that part of the Constitution became law. The body was ratified in the 1780s, but most of the amendments were ratified later. He believes the body should be interpreted as it was in 1788, but the, say, 15th Amendment should be interpreted as it was in 1868, when it was ratified.Report

          • Simon K in reply to Peter says:

            But that’s not what he says – he says than the constitution as in 1788 is the only constitution we should follow. ie. That almost all the amendments should not be followed. That’s a level of crazy I’ve not encountered beforeReport

            • Brandon Berg in reply to Simon K says:

              I’m pretty sure that he means the Constitution as ratified in 1787-88 as opposed to a “living constitution” whose meaning evolves in vague, unwritten ways according to changing social norms, rather than the unamended Constitution as opposed to the amended Constitution. I guarantee you that he does not think that all Amendments to the Constitution should be regarded as null and void.

              And really, as far as the constitutionality of federal welfare programs goes, what he meant is a moot point, because I don’t think there are any amendments that are relevant to that particular question.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Alternatively, he may not know what he’s talking about and just gassing about the constitution because that’s what a certain kind of person does when challenged on having advocated something obviously dehumanizing. That’s my working theory. I grant yours is more charitable.Report

              • Liberty60 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Having never met Mr. McClanahan, I will use my amazing powers of psychic ability to surmise that Mr “Constitutional Originalist” is a white male property owner.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Liberty60 says:

          There have been a number of amendments since then. Which one do you believe authorized the federal government to run a welfare program?Report

      • Peter in reply to Simon K says:

        The Constitution created a government of enumerated powers. His argument is that welfare spending isn’t one of those powers and therefore the federal government doesn’t have the power to distribute welfare (although state governments do). There would have to be an amendment authorizing welfare for it to be constitutional under his strictly originalist interpretation of the Constitution; not the other way around.Report

        • Simon K in reply to Peter says:

          But nothing in the constitution specifies how congress may spend tax revenues – it says it has the  right to raise them, and the right to dispose of the property of the united states. Doesn’t that cover it? I mean, nothing in the constitution specifically says congress had the power to buy half a continent from France either, but no-one I know of claims the Louisiana purchase was unconstitutional.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Simon K says:

            The constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase was in fact hotly debated at the time.

            And the Constitution does say how Congress may spend tax revenues. It has an extensive list of items on which it may spend money.

            The part about disposing of property seems pretty clearly to me to refer to real property, not to money, as Article IV Section 3 otherwise deals exclusively with territorial issues. The brief discussion of this section in Federalist 43 seems to confirm this.

            See also Federalist 41, in which Madison assured constitutional skeptics that the general welfare clause was not in fact intended to grant carte-blanche spending power to Congress.Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              Or, proof by contradiction: If Article IV, Section 3 had really granted carte-blanche spending powers, then that would include the power to spend money for the purpose of raising armies, and thus it wouldn’t be necessary to enumerate the power to raise armies explicitly in Article I, Section 8. And yet there it is, along with the power to establish and maintain a navy, and to establish post offices and post roads. Therefore Article IV, Section 3 does not actually grant carte-blanche spending power to Congress.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Simon K says:

            Also, a bit of historical context: At the time there was some concern that some states would gang up on others and use the power of the federal government to extract resources from those states. This is one reason we give each state two votes in the Senate without respect to population. It’s also why, prior to the sixteenth amendment, there was a constitutional prohibition on levying direct taxes other than in proportion to each state’s population.

            Giving Congress the power to run a welfare program would have provided a loophole in this prohibition (tax each state in proportion to population and then distribute funds unevenly), so there’s no way the Constitution would have been ratified if it had been understood as giving Congress the power to hand out cash like that.Report

    • BSK in reply to Peter says:

      So this was REALLY all just a commentary on Constitutuional interpretation? Sophistry at its worst.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Peter says:

      I’m occasionally tempted to say, purely as snark, that crying “racism” is just a leftist’s reflexive response to any critique of the welfare state.

      I’m usually able to resist the temptation, but it’s really hard when they keep baiting me like this.Report

  5. BlaiseP says:

    Instead of asking what’s welfare for, shouldn’t we be asking, as does the worthy Jaybird above, why we can’t create more qualified people for the jobs we do have?


    • wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Yup, we could pull an Obama and spend billions “training” folks for all those “green” jobs out there. NPV of this largesse? At a cost of $5.4M per job we can hire a few thousand people, before the money runs out that is.

      But the actual results in this case are much worse. With $19.3 billion spent on these programs, the cost per actual job created comes to $5.44 million. That kind of capital could launch entire new businesses, let alone multiple jobs. Any company that ate through $5.44 million to create a job would shortly become a former company … kind of like Solyndra, where $535 million disappeared and took 1,000 jobs along with it.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to wardsmith says:

        Erm, let’s try this again.   Without the gibbering about 5 zillion simoleons per job, this time, eh?

        There are plenty of jobs out there for qualified people.   These jobs will not involve threading a nut onto a bolt or dropping frozen french fries into grease.   Now for all this howling and shit flinging about the sorts of things which won’t work, how about some ideas on what might?Report

  6. Jason Kuznicki says:

    It does seem a chicken-and-egg problem though — which came first, the seasonal employment of adults, or the welfare program revolving door?

    Also, I’d suggest that even taking two or three seasonal jobs on rotation might have better effects all around than the current setup — including for the recipients.  Many long periods of unemployment look terrible on a resume.Report

  7. Mike Dwyer says:

    Am I the only one that remembers government cheese? My dad somehow s ored a block of it from a recipient when i was a kid. It made the best grilled cheese sandwiches i can remember.Report

  8. wardsmith says:

    Wanted to post this link back during the school lunch debacle, but took too long to remember what it was named in the WSJ (the problem of a root memory is knowing you read something but not always knowing precisely where). The whole purpose of Welfare is ostensibly to make sure we don’t have hungry people. But as the article attests, 96% of the “poor” weren’t hungry in the previous year. We spend $1 Trillion per year on welfare, so how are we doing? Blaise can find people dumpster diving but why aren’t they getting their free food allotment? I’m guessing they don’t want to go through the hoops. That $1Trillion is further subsidized by at least half again that amount coming from Churches and other philanthropic organizations. $1.5T undoubtedly exceeds the GDP of about 170 of the 193 countries I can think of on this planet.

    Re: School lunches note the following:

    Perhaps of greater consequence is the belief of many that food should now be free. In a recent report in the magazine Wisconsin Interest, reporter Mike Nichols discovered that in the 2010-11 school year, approximately 373,000 children received free school lunches in Wisconsin. But there are nowhere near 373,000 kids in the state who come from families falling anywhere near the poverty line. The obvious explanation: A lot of middle-class and upper-middle-class kids are eating lunch at taxpayer expense.


    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to wardsmith says:

      If welfare is a [positive] right, the only question is “What are taxpayers for?”Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        You’ve got this precisely backwards, Tom.  Like women, taxpayers (and citizens) aren’t for anything.  They’re the constituency here.

        Programs and other structures developed in their names are what are for things.  If something is for something but it isn’t serving that purpose, the only route to reforming or eliminating it is identifying that fact.  And that requires first identifying what we think it’s for.  Asking what welfare is for is not a threat to taxpayers; not asking that is.  Elias’ question could lead to improvement/refinement of welfare, but it could also lead to its elimination.  It’s a fundamentally government-skeptical question; in its general sense (What Is X For?), it is the fundamental government-skeptical question. It’s the basic question that animated the movement to reform welfare, for example.  It’s the only question that has a prayer of undoing the War on Drugs. What Is Welfare For is exactly the question you want to ask by way of doing right by taxpayers vis-a-vis welfare.

        Taxpayers aren’t for anything – no sense in asking that.  They are fundamentally in the position to receive that which is best for them (as a group), and need brook no further questioning as to the basis of that status.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

          …Because welfare is not a right, and I don’t think anyone argues it is.  Welfare is a choice we make as a polity about whether/how to help the poor that we could not make without violating their rights. Does anyone of consequence make a serious argument about a ‘right to welfare’ anymore?Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Michael Drew says:

            I’ve been hearing a lot about a supposed right to health care lately. That’s a form of welfare. And if you took a poll of a random sample of the population, I’m pretty sure you’d find a sizeable minority, or perhaps even a majority, who say that people have a right to food and shelter, even if they can’t afford it. The specific phrase “right to welfare” may be out of vogue, but I think you’ll find a lot of people still agree with the concept.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Brandon Berg says:


              In any case, welfare or health care assistance can not be rights while a polity chooses to make provisions for them publicly.  So I guess my only question is whether it’s really just if it’s the former that the only question is What is the taxpayer for?  Because if that’s still the question even if a polity chooses to do some spending that some portion of the taxpaying base doesn’t approve of, regardless of whether anyone claims someone has a right to be the recipient of such spending, then we can just skip to the discussion of whether taxpayers are being used as mere means – slaves – to an illegitimate government end whenever any government spending happens that isn’t strictly necessary (by someone’s accounting).  Positive rights claims to such spending don’t have to be part of the discussion, since, after all, surely enough people feel this way about various appropriations (that they aren’t strictly necessary and they wish their taxes wouldn’t be used for such purposes) to have their concerns taken seriously.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

            Certainly when it comes to The Children, this argument is still being made.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              Well, the more basic argument is still being made.  (I’m going to go with the modified version I gave – is anyone of consequence still making it seriously?)

              But wrt to children’s welfare, I again think the impulse is not so much sense of their rights, but rather of parents’ projecting their protective instincts outward to all children through the government.  I rarely see arguments about child welfare framed in terms of their rights to that welfare, but rather out of society’s concern for their well-being (by all means perhaps voiced presumptuously on your behalf).  But you are right that i overstated my very first claim: indeed, nearly every conceivable thing is being argued by someone somewhere, it’s true.Report

        • I got it backwards, Michael? OK.  “Taxpayers are what for?”  You’re not making any sense.

          Seriously, as one fellow put it, “the individual would more than ever become a mere means, to be used by the authority in the service of such abstractions as the ‘social welfare’ or the ‘good of the community’.”

          Smart fellow.  Now you know what the taxpayer is for.  Yes, I was being glib, but I was not being unserious.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            I didn’t quite catch your meaning at first, Tom.  I took you to be saying we shouldn’t be asking Elias’ question, but rather yours.  Not many people argue welfare is a right.  This is pretty much a red herring.  We institute welfare programs out of charity – voters including taxpayers.  It’s an act, not a use.  The important thing is that we ask what welfare is for, and structure it in a way people can agree to at an aggregate level, even if a minority would prefer there be none.  If the choice was made to end welfare, the objection would be that we were choosing to become a less charitable society and that overall welfare would decline, not that we were violating the rights of the poor.  But taxpayers could make that choice if it was their preference.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Tom, did you mean to say that your view is that if a polity chooses to enact any welfare-aid-to–the-poor program on anything less than literal unanimous support among taxpayers, then the only question is, “What is the taxpayer for?”

            I like to think of taxpayers in a larger sense, as people and citizens as well, but if you insist on seeing taxpayers only in their dimension as taxpayers, then, yes, unfortunately, on that dimmer view, taxpayers are “for something”: providing the means for a government to do the things for the people it ought to do, such as, in our tradition, promoting the general Welfare.Report

  9. Mike Dwyer says:

    I have to also point out (as Peter did) that most welfare recipients are white – therefore it seems hard to characterize the proposals as racist. Prejudice maybe, but not racist. It’s an important distinction.Report

    • This is pay-walled but for those of you w/ access to JSTOR: http://www.jstor.org/pss/2082611


      Crime and welfare are now widely viewed as “coded” issues that activate white Americans’ negative views of blacks without explicitly raising the “race card.” But does the desire of whites to combat crime or curtail welfare really stem from their dislike of blacks? Are these not pressing problems about which Americans rightly should be concerned–apart from any associations these issues may have with race? In this paper I assess the extent to which white Americans’ opposition to welfare is rooted in their attitudes toward blacks. Using conventional survey modeling techniques and a randomized survey-based experiment from a national telephone survey, I find that racial attitudes are the single most important influence on whites’ welfare views. I also show that whites hold similar views of comparably described black and white welfare mothers, but that negative views of black welfare mothers are more politically potent, generating greater opposition to welfare than comparable views of white welfare mothers.

      Of course, this is a bit of a “duh” for most of us — but if anyone wants to argue that things are dramatically different today than they were 15 years ago, I suppose that could be done. I recall a recent Presidential candidate boasting he’ll tell the NAACP to give up food stamps — and another one claiming he doesn’t want to give money to black/”blah” people — and wonder how it is that these kind of racist-sounding ideas managed to hold so steady in the right-wing leadership while becoming entirely absent from the more anonymous corners of the far-right blogosphere… but maybe I’m not being imaginative enough.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Elias Isquith says:

        I’m well-aware that some people believe in dog-whistle and code-word theories of modern discourse (I mostly don’t) but that seems irrelevant. The person is making a policy suggestion. Assuming they know who the recipients of welfare are then they know who their proposal will affect. The only way the racism claim works is if the author thinks that mostly blacks use welfare and wants to cause them embarrassment / pain / etc by making them suffer the perceived indignitiy of having to go to a specific place to get govt-produced food.

        On that last point – did I understand right that you believe a govt-run grocery store is humiliating? Have you ever worked in a grocery store on WIC day? Believe me, no one seems that embarrassed.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          Pardon, but why are we bloody taking programs that Work, and destroying them, only to fund “specific outlays” of a “temporary nature” to those “we consider ‘worthy'”?

          Oh, right. Because then the poor whites get fed, and the blacks don’t.

          When you can cite the same amount of outrage after XYZ Flood/Drought gets “temporary relief” from the government…. Well, then maybe we can talk.

          A government run grocery store is inefficient, and stupid. Costco accepts EBT, as does Trader Joe’s. Plenty of WASPy snobs use ’em — food stamps at those stores.


          OTOH, if Mr. High Horse had actually bothered to talk about food deserts, and put it like this “We Need Places to Give People Food” — then he might not have gotten blistered. It’s because he’s not in the community that he says this, of course…Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith says:


        You’ve committed the ecological fallacy, inferring from a statistical aggregate to an individual.  Taking at face value the article you linked to, the fact that “racial attitudes are the single most important influence on whites’ welfare views” does not tell us that it is similarly important for every single white person.

        If that fallacy is all you have–if you can’t cite anything more solid from the article itself–calling this “the most racist thing I’ve read in an ostensibly mainstream publication all year” reveals more about your assumptions than about the author.

        There was plenty to criticize in that piece without taking this angle.



        • Obviously I can’t get my hands on the guy’s journal and find some line that says, “I am a racist.” It’s a very silly and willfully obtuse standard of evidence, however, which most people without a vested interest in denying the existence of racism in American politics can easily acknowledge.

          It’s curious, the degree that many right-libertarians or orthodox conservatives believe a person can only be a bigot if she lacks the bare minimum of social awareness to code their prejudices in such a manner that they can skirt by in polite society, at least up to a point. It’s quite possible to be smart enough to know what phrases are red flags even to the least perceptive among us and to at the same time be a bigot.

          What also puzzles me is why it is that a not insignificant number of right-libertarians strain so mightily in their attempts to banish what is likely the defining fault line of American politics since time immemorial, racial animus, to the sidelines. An unsympathetic person could hypothesize that it’s because they know that, otherwise, they won’t particularly like many of the people with whom on policy they disagree. It’s very possible, though, to agree with a bigot without being one yourself.  It doesn’t require one defend the other against charges of prejudice as kind of proxy for oneself.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            The simple answer Elias is that he is suggesting a policy which will affect more whites than blacks and you’re calling him a racist. It seems you are ignoring the obvious contradiction there.

            Or are you suggesting that it will affect a higher % of blacks proportional to the overall black population?Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              If he had coded this in an urban fashion, nobody would be bitching. Let’s have that out.

              As I said below, talkng about urban food deserts is a GRAND way to start talking about why you have government run stores.

              Isn’t it rather telling, on how much he wants to remove dignity of the impoverished? Oh, yes, and only of the “permanently impoverished”. his type never seem to complain about hurricane relief.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kimmi says:


                If Elias wanted to critique the POLICY he missed an opportunity by playing the race card.

                And when we let the dignity of the poor stop policy proposals we’re missing the mark. I don’t care so much about having govt-run stores but I do like the idea of govt-provided food. It’s a potential money saver. They can pick it up at the unemployment office for all I care.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Oh, you really think that?

                …. how much of an idiot are you?

                I don’t know you from Adam, but I do know that Costco is not a potential moneysaver, but a REAL LIVE one. Which Accepts Food Stamps.

                Now if you wanna run buses out to costco, which will also encourage people to Learn to Cook… I’m all for it.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kimmi says:

                Name-calling? Really? C’mon Kimmi – you aren’t another one of Mike’s aliases, are you?

                When you can behave like an adult we’ll discuss.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            It’s curious, the degree that many right-libertarians or orthodox conservatives believe a person can only be a bigot if she lacks the bare minimum of social awareness to code their prejudices

            Whoa, there, there’s a mighty big gap between “you have no real evidence for this particular case” and “it couldn’t possibly be the case,” and you leaped all the way over that gap.


            Obviously I can’t get my hands on the guy’s journal and find some line that says, “I am a racist.” It’s a very silly and willfully obtuse standard of evidence

            Yes, so silly and obtuse that I didn’t demand it. Again, there’s a huge gap between “logical fallacies aren’t good evidence” and “you must quote the person directly claiming to be a racist.”

            If the only code word you can produce is “welfare,” then you’ve essentially claimed that no conservative can ever talk about welfare without it being racist.  And that’s just team-red/team-blue BS.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

              I don’t want to call him racist 0– at least not yet.

              What I do want to call him is lacking standing — or being stupid enough not to show it.

              Because there are damn better fucking arguments than the ones he’s giving!Report

            • He called these people slaves, he sneeringly begins with a video of African-Americans (that he fails to see is obviously satire) and the only public figure he mentions otherwise is Jesse Jackson, he later refers to these two figures as proof that “Americans are fine with taking handouts,” etc.

              As Gob Bluth would say, c’mon.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                okay.  Elias makes good points.Report

              • Peter in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                “Slave” isn’t an inherently racist word; libertarians especially use it all the time in their political philosophy. The Jesse Jackson comments were made Monday, and were probably the impetus for the article. It’s sad that you assume the worst in people (or at least in people you disagree with).Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                No, unless he started off the article claiming, “I’m a massive racist who hates black people,” you’re a bad person for using actual evidence to show that he was using racially-charged language. As we all know, conservatives have never used dog whistles to attack minorities and as a result, you’re the real racist for connecting black people and welfare.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                “He called these people slaves”

                You’re aware that the root word of “slave” was referring to Eastern Europeans, right?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                Maybe there is a lot more dogwhistle in the article–perhaps enough that if you had actually presented it in your post you wouldn’t have looked like you were just making cheap ideological assumptions.Report

              • BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

                He is a question that is probably unanswerable but the consideration of which might shed some light on the racial animus in the article…

                Would the author have written this article if the face of welfare in this country was a white person?  Even though the facts point elsewhere, when most people here “welfare” or “poor” in this country, they think largely of urban environments filled with black and brown people, which unfortunately ignores the very real plights that are white poverty and rural poverty (for all races).  I don’t know that we’d see this author right this article if our image of welfare and poverty was more “Grapes of Wrath” and less “The Wire”.


              • Stillwater in reply to BSK says:

                I dunno, of course. But I do think that if he wrote the article in such a way that it was clear he was referring to poor whites as slaves of the state who should be deprived of their voting rights (oh, and blacks too, of course, because everyone knows that some black people receive assistance as well), the target audience would have been radically different.

                In fact, if he’d done so, it’s not at all clear who his target audience would have been.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater says:

                “I do think that if he wrote the article in such a way that it was clear he was referring to poor whites…”

                …then he’d have been “called out” for “trying to hide his obvious racism” by studiously avoiding any mention of black people, which perversely means that he’s even more emphasizing black people, as a sort of reverse “some of my best friends are black” thing.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Maybe. There’s no telling what people will accuse others of. But there is a difference between what someone can rationally, or justifiably, accuse someone of and what they might get accused of willy nilly.

                I”m not sure what you’re arguing here, just like I wasn’t sure what you were arguing in the Racism post a while back. It seems to me you’re collapsing the distinction between a justified and an unjustified accusation of racism; and between a justified vs an unjustified defense of the accusation. In either case, evidence and argument ought to decide the matter. But it seems to me like you want to discount those things and simply assert that either racism in political discourse doesn’t exist, or that demonstrating racism in politics and policy is impossible. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but I haven’t seen an argument for the view you do hold on the subject.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

                There are many, many things most people would rather be doing on a Thursday afternoon than finding evidence that they are not racist. Whether the original speaker is racist or not is very much a conversation that his opponent wants to have. Especially if it’s a multifaceted issue prone to get bogged down in complexity. I don’t blame the original speaker for opting out.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                I don’t blame the original speaker for opting out.

                See, that’s where we differ. It seems to me that if he wants his argument to be heard, then he has to answer the mistaken view that his thesis appeals to or is motivated by racism. He doesn’t have to change anyone’s mind, of course, since that’s outside of his control. But he has to effectively respond to the reasonable misinterpretations some people might make. (Better yet, he’s written the piece with an eye towards staving off the criticism before they even arise.) Otherwise he’s not being consistent with his initial purpose in writing the essay, which is to get people to think about solutions to the welfare problem independently of racial considerations.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:


                I’m a fan of watching what you say to the extent that you avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. And you’ll notice that I have not really defended the original essay. That being said, one can be careful and still have the accusation flung about. In this case…

                1) Focus on black iconography and you’re talking about black people. Let’s discuss your fixation on black people.

                2) Focus on white iconography and you’re ignoring black people. Let’s discuss you ignoring black people.

                3) Mention both, and people know which ones you’re talking about. And besides, does intent really matter? Let’s discuss the degree of racism that is inherent when people support policies that disproportionately affect minority populations.

                And beyond which, who is going to have their mind changed – or opened – by (someone they see as) a racist or to a point of view that they consider such? If nothing else, it represents an impenetrability of the person you’re talking to. Not that impenetrability is always a bad thing, but if you’re on the outside of it, it ceases to be productive.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


                I agree that all accusations of racism cannot be preempted by speaking or writing more clearly. But the point isn’t to eliminate the charge. It’s to leave less room for accusations to have merit. I mean, if I wrote a piece and readers misconstrued my message as being racist when it in fact wasn’t, I would feel like I didn’t write clearly enough, or didn’t anticipate valid criticisms and answer them in the body of the essay. I’d view it as a failure to effectively communicate on my part. Now, of course – as you say – there will always be people likely to accuse me in this case or racism. And often those accusations cannot be answered because they come from an irrational place.

                Mention both, and people know which ones you’re talking about. And besides, does intent really matter? Let’s discuss the degree of racism that is inherent when people support policies that disproportionately affect minority populations.

                I’m not sure if you mean that snarkily or not, but either way, I think that’s precisely what we should be focusing on when it comes to the racial aspect of specific policy proposals. There are two ways racism, and the accusation of racism arise. One is at the purely rhetorical level – pandering and whatnot. The other is racism at the level of policy which disproportionate harms minorities. In this second case, the intent of the policy advocate becomes secondary since the policy clearly (or at least arguably) favors whites (say) over blacks. I think at that point, the advocate needs to provide an account of how that disproportionate harm is justified, or why it ought to be tolerated, or if there are other ways to achieve the same ends without causing the unequal harm. I’m not going to prejudge the case and say this couldn’t happen. But it all too frequently doesn’t happen.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BSK says:

                But you also don’t know that you wouldn’t.  Government programs for the poor have never been hugely popular in the U.S., even when they primarily benefited whites.  FDR purposely planned Social Security to be available to everyone so he could avoid the charge that it was a welfare program, and thereby make it politically more palatable.

                I was at a store just last night, experiencing a long wait as the person in front of me (wearing an expensive leather jacket) used multiple forms of welfare to pay for their purchases, after which they left the store and got into a nice-looking limited edition PT Cruiser. The person with me, while admitting he was being unfair (the welfare recipient could have lost her job, for example, after buying the coat and car), noted that he found it very irritating to see a welfare recipient nicely dressed and with a nice car.  The person using welfare was white, as is the person who was with me.Report

              • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

                According to Megan McCardle, the person you witnessed could have been a recently downsized Wall Street banker.

                Are the rich completely undeserving of sympathy?

                Its one thing for you to look down your nose at an unemployed plumber or window washer, who foolishly squandered their welfare on nice leather jackets; We all agree that is only fitting and proper.

                But it is another thing entirely, to fail to have human sympathy for a banker who had to trade in their new SUV or Volvo for a PT Cruiser!

                Your lack of empathy is troubling to Megan. Have you no sense of pity, Sir, at long last?


              • Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

                When you have to resort to making a strawman of Megan McArdle, you just might be doing it wrong.Report

              • greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

                What are “multiple forms of welfare”?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Liberty, if I was to misrepresent your comment as badly as you misrepresented McArdle’s argument, I’d claim that you take cold blooded joy in the prospect of a 9 year old being yanked out of her school in the middle of the year, losing all her friends, and losing the only home she’d ever known.  I’m sure you’re just as much like that as McArdle is asking for more sympathy for the rich than the poor.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                I wasn’t actually paying much attention, but the person with me said there was some federal stuff (food stamps? WIC? ) and then our state’s “Bridge” card.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

                What are “multiple forms of welfare”?

                Roads, sidewalks, telephone lines…Report

              • BSK in reply to James Hanley says:


                I’m not saying that the piece would have been definitively different if we thought “GoW” instead of “The Wire”.  IF it would be, then we can start to think about how race impacted the tone of the piece.  Only then can we begin to explore whether it qualifies as “racist”… whatever that word means at this point.

                I don’t think that frustration over the welfare system, particularly the notion that people are abusing it, is necessarily and always grounded in race.  I think it often is and, more often than not when it is, it is un- or subconsciously done.

                There is enough social science out there documenting that people tend to react differently to an action done by someone “like them” than an action done by someone “not like them” and a whole host of theories as to why this is.  But I’m pretty confident, based on my understanding of it, saying that the phenomenon exists.  The real problem is when we shy away from acknowledging this tendency and thinking that consciousness of it means deliberateness.  I’ve noticed I react differently to an Asian person driving than a white person driving.  I don’t like this.  But I do it.  I can insist I’m not racist and that I don’t do it and probably never address the situation.  Or I can attempt to better understand what is influencing my reactions (which sometimes are legitimate or at least legitimately grounded) and, if I judge them to be unfair, take steps to deliberately and unconsciously resisting them.

                Which is why simply calling someone or something “racist” doesn’t really get us anywhere.  It also doesn’t help that people equate, “Hey, that thing you did/said might have been racially tinged or offensive or you might have acted differently if you were talking or interacting with a different type of person,” with “YOU ARE AN EVIL NAZI RACIST!”

                Really, everyone needs to CTFO.Report

              • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

                Oh James, don’t get me wrong.

                I take no joyy in yanking 9 year olds out of private schools and forcing them into public schools.

                But I think we can agree that this would be a bracing pickme up by the bootstraps form of tough love amirite?

                I mean, this wouldn’t be happening if their banker parents had been more farsighted and responsible and had saved their money instead of blowing it irresponsibly on SUVs and Volvos.

                Fact is, we should be investigating said parents for fitness; if they were so irresponsible as all that, who knows what else they might be guilty of?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                Sigh. Just show me where your foil makes such claims.  Just show me where she advocates deep concern for the wealthy and no concern at all for the poor.

                I’m not asking you to like McArdle; I’m just asking you to get out of the spin zone.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                I’m pretty confident, based on my understanding of it, saying that the phenomenon exists.

                I already stipulated to that. I’m just expressing caution about making any kind of assumptions at all about what this person might or might not have written in any hypothetical case.  Unless, perhaps, the person making the suggestions actually knows an awful lot more about this person than I do.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                By the way, if you think I possibly saw a Wall Street Banker in my town, you need a better understanding of where I live! 😉Report

              • BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

                ” I’m just expressing caution about making any kind of assumptions at all about what this person might or might not have written in any hypothetical case.”


                I’m not, or I’m not trying to at least, make any assumption.  My question was a genuine one.  And the near impossibility of asking it was acknowledged at the onset.  I don’t know this author, either personally or as an author (this is the first of his I read).  So I wouldn’t dare to assume I know what is in his head or heart.  I do think the question I posed, among others, are the types we need to seek answers to before we can label a position as inherently racist or race tinged.

                And sometimes the only difference in people’s responses w/r/t us versus them is one of intensity.  This guy might register as a 95 out of 100 thinking about black welfare recipients and a 92 out of 100 thinking about whites.  If that is the case, we could reasonably conclude that his position is grounded much more in his feelings about welfare in the abstract than in his feelings of the different races.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to BSK says:

                Would the author have written this article if the face of welfare in this country was a white person?

                The question is, at least in part, what kind of person welfare became associated with? Chances are, he wouldn’t have written the article in precisely this way, with precisely this imagery, but a lot more would change than that. If it was associated with people who believe in Creationism, or people who live in rural areas (and likely believe in Creationism), or people who hold social views considered unpopular in major urban areas, you might have a different author expressing himself in a slightly different manner, but getting to the same destination (damn freeloaders).Report

              • BSK in reply to Will Truman says:


                That is sort of my point.  Perception is a huge issue on multiple levels.  This writer might be less bothered by welfare if we immediately thought of poor farmers when it was mentioned.  Another writer might be more bothered by it and might write an equally concerning article with a different spin.

                It is hard to sort through what portion of a person’s position is visceral reaction and what portion is a more calculated, deliberate idea.  And it is harder still to know when each type of formulation is appropriate.Report

              • Elias Isquith in reply to BSK says:

                The idea that he’d be called a racist for ignoring black people if he made the article explicitly about white welfare users is absurd, paranoid, and profoundly self-serving.Report

              • It was expressly mentioned, more than once, that Charles Murray’s focus on the white poor was questionable in nature (some of that, but I don’t think all of it, is because it was Charles Murray). When I said that I preferred to focus on whites in part because it removed racism from the equation, I was told by Michael Drew that was a dodge and that you can’t ignore minorities when talking about poverty.

                I don’t find it as absurd, paranoid, or self-serving as you do.Report

              • 1. Charles Murray is Charles freakin’ Murray.

                2. Michael did not call you a racist. I also believe you were talking about other people’s perceptions, which is a much different context.

                You’re never going to convince me that white people are the victims here — but to even come close I’d need better evidence than the above.Report

              • 1. It’s not uncommon to believe that all conservatives are such or are aligned with such, and therefore are suspect.

                2. No, he didn’t call me a racist – or suggest it. But he did say that focusing on whites is not a good way to avoid the racial implications. If it wasn’t there, then it arguably isn’t here, either.

                3. I absolutely agree that whites aren’t “the victim” here. Don’t mistake what I am saying for that. Rather, I am not convinced that there is a way of approaching this that won’t be viewed under a racial context. Either by what is said, or left unsaid.

                #3 should not be construed as to say that the author of the original piece even tried. Merely that trying only sometimes helps. Remember when Costas was criticized specifically for showing white players goofing off in addition to black ones doing so?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                You’re never going to convince me that white people are the victims here

                It’d be a pretty good trick if he did, since that’s not at all what he’s been arguing.Report

              • I misunderstood what you were arguing, mea culpa. I’ll take your word about those Costas criticisms (utterly absurd!); and I’ll agree that inevitably this gets touchy. I just don’t think you’re doomed to be call a racist no matter what. BSK said what I’d say otherwise, better than I could, probably.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                Just want to clarify. What I was trying to say (and i’m sure I expressed myself poorly), is that excising race from the conversation about poverty because one is nervous about how race will affect the conversation simply produces an oversimplified, incomplete, bordering on dishonest conversation about poverty.  You have to deal with race if you want to talk about poverty, or at least be willing to, otherwise you’re not dealing with poverty, you’re just dealing with white poverty (and why are you doing that?  Just so you don’t have to deal with the issue of race/racism in the poverty conversation, even though it’s actually part of the issue!).

                That probably wasn’t any better. Oh well.Report

            • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to James Hanley says:

              I have a proposal:

              Liberals don’t get to call anybody “racist.”

              Conservatives don’t get to call anybody “socialist..”Report

              • I don’t think Elias called the writer a racist, really…he was just calling the piece of WRITING racist.

                As for the trade….

                Unbalanced, the Commish would probably veto it.Report

              • sonmi451 in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                You mean here, or in general? Because I don’t think we are living in a post-racial fantasy heaven yet where racism doesn’t exist so that we can tell people that they “don’t get to do” anything.Report

              • Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to sonmi451 says:

                I meant here on LoOG, but could just have easily meant “everywhere.”    I just think it’s counterproductive.

                I got the opportunity to screed on this theme more several posts down…Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

              I think what Elias lists is not not evidence for there being some racial dimension to his  motivation, but I honestly don’t get the sense that in his mind he’s thinking strongly more of blacks or Latinos than whites here, nor particularly interested in activating any sympathetic racial vibrations in his audience’s mind (though neither do I think he would be unhappy to whatever extent he does).  I think the context is lacking here the way it was present for Gingrich – this guy didn’t (to my knowledge) trumpet that he’d love to go to an NAACP meeting and say these words. He really just seems to me to be driven by a searing hatred of people who receive public aid without enough shame.

              What this crude piece does is callously peddle pointless cruelty and meanness.  That’s not a lot better than racism, and as James says, there certainly isn’t evidence of absence here. But there’s not clear evidence of racism or an intent to dog whistle, either.  (For better or worse, I hold politicians, especially white Southern politicians, to a higher standard for dog whistling than I do ideological authors – the pols have more to gain and therefore there is much more reason to be suspicious of them). I actually think talking about the debatable racial dimension (there is always a racial dimension to poverty) just distracts focus from the fundamental ugliness of the piece straightforwardly on its own terms.Report

              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Michael Drew says:


              • I’m curious as to what you guys would consider clear evidence of a dog-whistle. Isn’t a dog-whistle rather axiomatically incapable of being clearly evident?Report

              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                Isn’t a dog-whistle rather axiomatically incapable of being clearly evident?


                But I think it’s a fool’s game to call out every instance of such (maybe) dog whistles.   The speaker will deny it, and idealogical comrades of the speak will close their ears and feel victimized and assaulted.

                In other words,  accusations of latent or coded “racism”  is a conversation ender.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                In other words,  accusations of latent or coded “racism”  is a conversation ender.

                I’ve never understood this view. If racially charged language is a conversation stopper, then the speaker ought to be careful to pre-emptively exclude that accusation from becoming a distraction by being more careful in the words and concepts he/she invokes. Loose speech, especially from conservatives, is often viewed by liberals as racist because loose speech often is racist.

                If the conservative – or anyone, of course – doesn’t want their substantive point to get lost in the racist noise, then the burden is on them to speak in such a way that the accusation of racism is clearly without merit. And this isn’t a hard to do, nor unreasonable to expect.

                But given that racism is a fact of life in America (who would really deny this?), it follows that at least some political language will express or pander to racism. Why can’t people call it out? If doing so is a conversation stopper, it’s because from some people’s pov the initial argument was a conversational non-starter.


              • DensityDuck in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                Stillwater, why do you have to be such a racist?

                Oh wait, that’s a conversation-stopper?  Welp.  I guess that you just didn’t have a conversation starter.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                I agree with this entirely.  If you want to maintain a conversation, you need to speak in ways that don’t make people close down out of deep personal defensiveness.  This drives people up the flippin’ wall, but it’s just the way it is.  Whether someone actually calls you out on it or not, once you’ve pushed their buttons to the point where they are trying to restrain themselves from doing so, you’ve effectively ended the conversation with them.

                For the record, I am not really out to maintain conversations with conservatives (or anyone in particular), so sometimes i say things to push their buttons on purpose (in the service of advancing a point I want to make in good faith, of course). [/evilgrin]  But then I don’t make a practice of woundedly bitching when my interlocutor puts the official ‘this conversation is over’ ribbon on the the exchange.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                DD, no one can prevent a person from hurling unjustified or irrational accusations around. What you can do, tho, insofar as the dialogue is important, is to pre-emptively exclude the typical justifications for the accusation by being more careful in the language used to make the point.Report

              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                I grew up in a less polarized time, and my default posture is to let people say what they want to say.    It’s not my job to police another’s language, even if I want it to be.

                I have a 90-year old aunt who was a strong, blue-collar Democrat all her life.  But when Obama became the Democratic candidate in 2008, she–for the first time–became a supporter of the Republican ticket.    I talked with her about it, and she was unable to articulate her discomfort with Obama except in dog-whistle terms (oh, the “welfare people,”  “he seems radical,”  etc.).    Pointing out the racism underlying her attitudes would have changed nothing, except to create interpersonal alienation.

                Now, if she had called him a nigger, I would have called her out for sure.   But I think that for many, the discomfort with Obama has many cultural dimensions, and only some of them are racial.    He is certainly our first hip president, and he’s an intellectual, and he’s a former professor, and there’re a million different ways that he doesn’t conform to the Gregory Peck prototype president that many people my age and older have imprinted on their brain.

                One of the social miracles of the last 40 years in America is that it is now universally accepted that racism is a bad thing.   In the mid-60s, there were semi-mainstream politicians that openly spouted doctrines of white superiority.    Things are, over time, getting better.   And as one generation replaces another, “true racism” (i.e. doctrines of racial difference) are disappearing.   So calling someone a racist is polarizing, especially since they are almost guaranteed to agree with you about the basic incivility of racism.   We all now all know that racism is evil.

                So what does calling someone a racist when they’re expressing some inchoate discomfort with some issue that has a racial dimension?   It makes them resent you.   And stop listening to you.   And–perversely–it makes them redouble in the beliefs that you were criticizing them for in the first place.

                What does a call-out accomplish?   It makes me feel smug, and morally superior, and leaves the other guy feeling resentful, misunderstood, and more polarized that before the interaction.   It never, ever, ever leads the other guy to an insight that, hey, maybe he was right.

                And, since cries of “racism” have become part of the tired old partisan toolkit of liberals, it is so over-applied as to become meaningless.   If someone calls Obama “Barry”, he’s a racist.  What about those that called GW Bush “Chimpie” five years ago?   Are they racist?

                So, I’m just saying that such calls of “racism” do no good;  in fact, they’re usually harmful.    It just makes the other guy stop listening, and double down.Report

              • Snarky,

                I don’t think we need to drag this out longer and I know you and I have a good faith disagreement; and I say this somewhat in jest but…I think I can think of at least one rather specific reason that referring to Obama in a diminutive manner strikes some people as more racially charged than calling Bush “chimpy.”

                FWIW, I don’t think calling him Barry is ipso facto a bigoted act — context is everything in these matters. We’re talking about social phenomena, after all.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                That’s exactly the point I made in the previous discussion.  What I said was that there is not clear evidence that he’s racially motivated in his writing here, and that I don’t get the sense that he’s particularly focused on dog-whistling.  But as you say, that sense is as much about context as text.  Part of the context is that there isn’t much reason that I can see for him to be dog-whistling, because I think the audience he’s aiming at is just generically negatively enough disposed toward welfare and welfare recipients that they’ll be happy to see something like this entirely apart from any racial appeal. To the extent that those attitudes are based in racial assumptions about welfare, then I suppose it is basically impossible to talk to them about welfare without dog whistling.  (And the more I think about it, the more I agree that the the few things you mention do add up to more of a case that this is going in here than I thought at first.) But I see dog-whistling as much about effect, so while I see a potentially great effect in gaining appeal among voters based on racial attitudes for a politician who might say these words and thus reason to suspect him of such intent, I just don’t see much reason that this author benefits by such a mechanism, so I’m not so inclined to see it that way.

                Plus, he just seems to be driven completely batshit by the bottom-line idea of welfare – I just don’t see the softer paternalism that I associate with dog-whistling.  This is the harsh, in-your-face attitude of blind, angry ideologue.

                But I’m not saying you’re wrong, either.  i just don’t see it that way this time.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …Oh you’re right, I did say also that there isn’t clear evidence of dog-whistling as well.  Which is of course true, but as you say, there needn’t be. My mistake to say I didn’t say that. See explanation above.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                Note that in my initial response, the two adjacent “not”s in the first sentence are intentional.Report

              • This all makes a lot of sense and I appreciate the explanation. The request was made out of genuine curiosity, fwiw. I wouldn’t disagree, either, that this takes us into an inevitable dead-end, conversationally, to some degree (but I’m also a bit of a skeptic about how close two people on opposite ends can really come to one another through dialog).

                Anyway, good stuff!Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Good, good. Genuineness understood & assumed, sir, by all means.Report

    • Herb in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      McClanahan also said that welfare is “blatantly unconstitutional,” which is a nice argument that happens to be, well, factually inaccurate.

      (I love the “as ratified in 1787 and 1788, the only Constitution we should follow” bit. Oh, the one without a bill of rights? Yeah….should be following that one for sure.)Report

  10. Liberty60 says:

    This thread is a good eample of why i rarely use the word “racism”; not that it isn’t true, its just that the conversation, which should be about the vicious hatred of the poor exemplified by the article, instead becomes hijacked entirely by the thumb-sucking of  “I’m not a racist and you can’t prove it!”Report

  11. Rufus F. says:

    I had a roommate for about six months who was 50 years old and on SSI and did not work. Pretty much every cliche known to man, positive and negative, about people on welfare applied to him. The experience convinced me that I have no fishing clue about welfare or how to change it.Report

    • BSK in reply to Rufus F. says:

      What did he think of the program?

      Now that I think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard someone on welfare articulate their experiences with it and what they would do to change it.  Sure, I’ve heard people mentioned “… and we grew up on welfare…” but they didn’t really get into the experience of it, practically, emotionally, etc. and what they would do about it.

      Shit.  I just got bubble-checked.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to BSK says:

        Well, if you asked me, who has been on food stamps, I’d say Stop Using Food Stamps as an excuse to shortchange people serving (either in the military or not). Food Stamps shouldn’t be an excuse to pay people less for doing a good job.Report

        • BSK in reply to Kimmi says:

          I don’t follow, Kim.  Can you elaborate?  What ways are people serving other than in the military?  And are their wages actually less because they receive food stamps?Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Rufus F. says:

      I lived in an apartment complex that was mostly full of people on government support of one sort or another. They also lived up to certain stereotypes (though were almost all white). Yeah. No fishing clue. Separating the ones who need it from the ones who are simply using it is a monumental task. Erring too far in either direction is problematic.Report