I am Dependent on the Government…


Christopher Carr

Christopher Carr does stuff and writes about stuff.

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103 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    There is a stigma associated with being enrolled in programs like MassHealth and WIC, even if there is not a stigma associated with using I-95, having a driver’s license, or enjoying the benefits of police protection.

    I think this is what Jason was talking about when he said, “The current level of stigma is probably too high”.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      No, it’s not.

      The government provides public goods — like roads — because by definition, public goods are those from which non-payers can’t easily be excluded. Most roads fall into this category. If you want public goods to exist in a society, you will need either to rely on voluntary contributions by well-intentioned philanthropists — or, in the case of most things, like roads and national defense, you’ll need to rely on taxes.


      I mean, it would be nice if we could fund all that good stuff voluntarily, or if we found some new form of social technology that helped collect payments only from those who were capable of paying and had no good excuse not to. But that’s not the world we live in, so it’s ultimately just wishful thinking, along with a caution that we should keep an eye out for opportunities to economize or to privatize in some equitable manner. For the most part, though, public goods stay where they are.

      Income support is not a public good. It doesn’t meet the definition, because it’s actually rather easy to exclude nonpayers from it. We may supply other justifications for this service being performed by the government, but public goods will not do.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        You’re against toll roads? Seems a bit odd of a position for a libertarian.Report

        • Avatar Lyle in reply to Kimmi says:

          But between funding roads with a gas tax and toll roads what is the operational difference before the electric car? One could move to a mileage tax and it would be the same difference. Of course the powers that be have a bad case of best is the enemy of good enough here. They want wizbangs to charge different rates at different times, but I say that you state your mileage when you renew the car license and pay the fee needed. Then its the same as a toll road.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Sorry, I was being unclear, and that came off badly. Thanks for the clarification.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Right, but should people who pay little to no income tax still feel shame for using public roads?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to trizzlor says:

          Because no one’s answered this very easy question, I’ll step in. Those people pay gas taxes for the roads. Good enough by me.

          Also, the point of financing public goods isn’t to squeeze as much money out of as many people as possible. It’s to have public goods. If some people are still free riders on those public goods, it’s often not a terrible loss.Report

          • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Jason, I think I would find your view on social stigma (which I largely agree with) even more compelling if you applied it to free riders of any kind. To me it seems obvious that Mitt Romney taking advantage of our strong currency, contract laws, business protection, etc. and then shuttling his earnings into off-shore accounts could (depending on the specifics) be stigmatized much more-so than Chris Carr taking advantage of WIC so that he can eventually become a doctor. Is this what you meant when you wrote “The moral obligations of said rich people being, ultimately, aimed at helping others to help themselves.” ? Because here you seem to be excluding public goods from the social stigma.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I don’t think there’s such a black and whit distinction between what is a public good and what is not. Let’s take five theoretical goods: the military, a highway system, health care, Fulbright Fellowships, and corn subsidies.

        I think we’d all agree, whether or not we support military engagement or not, that the military is just about the ideal example of a public good, provided its engagement are exclusively abroad. The military exists to protect the borders of the nation and to advance the nation’s interests abroad. As such, the military advantages everybody equally. In this sense it is a public good. Fulbright Fellowship and corn subsidies on the other hand are designed with specific targets – young scholars and agribusiness – that comprise a very very small percentage of the public. Goods like health care and roads probably fall between these two extremes in terms of theoretical public goods.

        However, the reality is a lot different. Military spending gives advantages to special interests: Lockhead Martin for instance, whereas Fulbright Fellowships have fairly unquantifiable positive externalities that equally benefit all Americans by, for instance, increasing our soft power abroad or broadening our understanding of the world at home by osmosis.

        It’s not as cut and dried as you propose here, and what I propose is that, if we start thinking about welfare as an investment with potential positive externalities for society, we can have a more intelligent conversation about the welfare state than that currently occurring within the Republican Party.Report

  2. Avatar bookdragon says:

    I recall years in grad school making next to nothing. I’m an engineer and had more access to assistanceships and better-paying intern positions, so while things were tight, they were never quite that bad (of course, I didn’t have kids at the time – I can’t image how you manage financially or timewise). However, after years of being one of the ‘moochers’ who didn’t make enough to pay Federal income tax, I’m now paying a lot more than I would have otherwise, so your point is well taken.

    The one thing I’d disagree with is the idea that Romney’s business background is impressive or that he understands economics. He made a lot of money. That much is true, but it was made in what essentially boils down to a legal version of a con game – finding some ‘marks’ to sweet talk into handing you money and another set to swindle so you can show the first set a profit. Maybe that’s essentially Wall Street anymore, bit it isn’t sound or sustainable business.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to bookdragon says:

      A lot of people who understand finance think they understand economics.Report

      • I would not make a wager that Romney has much understanding of economics.Report

      • I constantly have to remind people that just because economics is my job does not mean that I know anything about finance. At least this government-provided road goes both ways.Report

      • Avatar ktward in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        A lot of people who understand finance think they understand economics.

        Gawd that’s so true.

        Thing is, a lot of regular folks (who vote) don’t have a sophisticated grasp of either. And frankly, a whole lot of folks who thought they understood finance and the rules of investment ended up flat on their arses in ’08 with nothing left but a WTF? look on their faces to show for it.

        Me, I know a little about finance. Enough to know that as I’ve ever come to learn more … I felt like I knew less. And far too little for comfort. (Maybe that’s just part of the whole “getting older” thing.) For sure, the more I read up on economics, post ’08, the more I’m sure that I know next to nothing about economics.

        I have no problem living with that truth.
        My education, my talents, my expertise, and most importantly my joys lie elsewhere. In this regard, I bet I’m a good example of most of the voting public. I mean, we can’t all be an Andrew Gelman or a Paul Krugman. Or even a Pat Cahalan.

        My [albeit painfully stretched] point: most voters rely less upon the nuts and bolts of economic policy, but what direction seems to make the most sense in terms of said policy. All things being equal, what makes “sense” to me doesn’t necessarily make sense to my neighbor.

        That said, I readily concede that the libertarian ideal of economic policy is, comparatively, much more simple. I understand the lure of it. Much like I understand the lure of religion.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to ktward says:

          I’m hardly an awesome economist. I’m a systems guy. That means I understand economics in a way that most economists don’t. This is a drawback *at least* as often as it is an advantage.

          It does make it relatively easy for me to spot people who understand microeconomics but not macroeconomics, though. Finance guys usually are pretty good microeconomics guys who think this gives them an insight into macroeconomics, but most of them probably didn’t do well in macro in college.

          “Oh, I don’t need to know that stuff anyway, there’s no real world application!”

          (10 years pass)

          “My 10 years as a market insider gives me uniquely valuable insight into monetary policy!”

          (Dude, didn’t you tell me one night while we were both loaded in college that you nearly failed macroeconomics?)Report

          • Avatar ktward in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            I’m hardly an awesome economist. I’m a systems guy. That means I understand economics in a way that most economists don’t.

            That was, more or less, the point that I stumbled to make. Not the first time I’ve ever been accused of being too subtle. 🙂

            For personal reasons not all that pertinent to dwell upon much less outline here, I am guilty of placing way too much faith –yes, faith is an appropriate term– in the authority of UChicago economics. I’m hardly the only sucker, and I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to make me feel better about our current economic straights.

            My head was already churning, but if there was ever a specific turning point for me, it was Greenspan’s mea culpa.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    This is a really interesting take, Chris. I think there is a tendency to see government support as a one way street… the government gives it out but receives nothing in return. Even staunch advocates tend to frame the benefits to the government solely in terms of fewer bodies in the street.

    But a lot of people, people like yourself, use these supports as a type of investment. The government is investing in you, helping you so that you can continue to be a productive member of society, so that you can improve yourself, so that you can one day free yourself of the need of many of those supports and instead position yourself as someone able to offer support. This is not the reality for all recipients, but likely more than we realize. Thank you for this.Report

  4. Avatar Reformed Republican says:

    … for road and park maintenance; schools for my children; police, fire, and military protection; licensing of motor vehicle operators and other public safety measures; enforcement of contracts and the peaceful equality mediated by our court system, etc.

    Yes, because the government has crowded out private industry for most of these.

    How much further do you think your income would go if so much money was not being taken from you through numerous taxes? Maybe you would not need to rely on the state to provide your beans and formula.

    Maybe if you had more ability to select your health insurance, you could afford to purchase one the fits your needs instead of the sort of one-size-fits-all plan offered through most employers. Are plans in your state required to cover things like acupuncture or homeopathy? Are low-cost, high deductible plans available to you?

    Would you prefer to keep the money spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or are you happy to have given up the money you could have used to feed your family to support these actions?Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Reformed Republican says:

      Your last paragraph seems to assume that every non-libertarian is happy with every action the government takes. I can assure you that’s not the case, and your argument would be stronger if you didn’t make that assumption.Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Quite the opposite. I was assuming the the writer is not a libertarian and that he is not happy with those actions, which is why I asked whether he would prefer to have the money spent on those ventures in his own pocket. Of course, it is also possible that one could support those ventures on principle, but not enough to be willing to pay for them.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Reformed Republican says:

      15% of our medical costs in this country are WASTE, mostly due to having to employ people to manage the intricacies of all the medical plans. And you think MORE PLANS will help?

      Acupuncture is a well-tested medical phenomenon, as tested by western medical practices (including stabbing people in places that aren’t acupuncture loci to test placebo effects). Please do not denigrate something that WORKS because it looks a little like things that don’t.Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican in reply to Kimmi says:

        I was dealing with his reliance on the government for insurance. I was not trying to propose an ideal health care system. I do believe that the ability to choose what is covered, and not pay for procedures that an individual does not believe they would use, would reduce the cost of insurance.

        I made no claim as to the effectiveness of acupuncture, I just threw it out because I think I have read it as required coverage, and it was one I assumed the writer was unlikely to use.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Reformed Republican says:

          It’s used for pain management. Figure we all might need that.

          Most of the things automatically covered are stuff like gyn care.
          You woudln’t want things to cost more for women than men…

          I do support letting people with smoking habits opt out of cancer treatments.Report

      • Avatar Genotypical in reply to Kimmi says:

        Not wanting to derail, but as a biologist I can’t let this go. Well-designed scientific testing has repeatedly shown that acupuncture is NOT effective, and instead IS a placebo. You can get exactly the same response by poking people with toothpicks. See http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/category/acupuncture/ for more information.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Genotypical says:

          Bitching about not using sham acupuncture noted and approved of by yours truly.
          Doesn’t fix the fact that you have a decent number of real studies being done with sham acupuncture that are finding results above placebos.
          (my quick google just pulled one on migraines from Canada).

          It’s alright to be skeptical, but you’re overstating your skepticism, which does you little good, as it undermines your bonafides.Report

          • Avatar Genotypical in reply to Kimmi says:

            Kimmi, you motivated me to go look up that Canadian study, and it perfectly illustrates what I was talking about. It does have sham controls, plus a large sample and good statistical analysis, and it fails to show any effect of acupuncture on the primary outcome. They did find some weak differences in the secondary outcomes, but because the study was not fully blinded, those could easily be due to placebo effects. Also, they confounded their results by using a second treatment (electrical stimulation) simultaneous with the acupuncture.
            I’m not an expert on the acupuncture literature, which is why I referred you to a more authoritative source, but this study fits the typical pattern for the papers I have seen–poorly designed studies sometimes show weak effects that are best explained as placebo, while more rigorously designed studies show no effects. I’m reflecting the scientific/medical consensus here, this isn’t just my personal opinion. Not trying to show off any skepticism bona fides, I’m just an experienced working biologist who has seen a lot of poorly done science in my time and who hates to see people waste their money on quackery.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Genotypical says:

              Everybody ought to do a costbenefit analysis. I’d say we could make a pretty good ethical argument that a quack-cure (placebo) that works is probably better than morphine (highly addictive, possibility of overdose).

              Appreciate your analysis, but the source you’re quoting does not seem to be medical consensus.

              This seems a good deal more reliable: http://images.dieutridau.com/thongtin/detai/acupuncture-does-it.pdf

              Yes for neck pain, no for a couple other things. And raising a good deal of “what the fuck”. Which is fair.

              Remember the whole thing about snake oil (aka seasnake oil actually effective, rattlesnake oil definitely not), and I think we can maybe recognize that some things may work despite whatever reasoning their practitioners give.Report

              • Avatar Genotypical in reply to Kimmi says:

                Actually, the Ernst paper IS part of what I was referring to, and is included in the evaluations I linked to, i.e. it is part of the consensus. Remember that if you look at enough studies, you expect to get an occasional false positive result, even if all the studies were very well done. The review indicates that there is some evidence that certain kinds of acupuncture MIGHT help certain kinds of neck pain or might not, and that it pretty clearly doesn’t help with anything else that has been tested. Also, the choice for neck pain isn’t usually acupuncture vs. morphine, it’s acupuncture vs. a range of other treatments that are at least as safe as acupuncture and that are better supported as effective. A cost-benefit analysis would indicate that we should stay away from acupuncture because 1) for most of the relevant conditions, there are effective treatments that are reasonably safe, 2) acupuncture can occasionally cause serious complications or death, and 3) acupuncture costs a lot more than some other placebos. Wearing your lucky T shirt is just as effective, and much, much cheaper!Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Reformed Republican says:

      Maybe the government “crowded out” the private sector because the private sector was not providing the citizens with the results they wanted?

      Can you give us some examples of :
      “road and park maintenance; schools for my children; police, fire, and military protection; licensing of motor vehicle operators and other public safety measures; enforcement of contracts and the peaceful equality mediated by our court system, etc.”
      where a well-functioning private sector delivery was “crowded out” by government effort?

      In my reading of history, all these things used to be done privately, but were poorly done, or only available to a tiny segment of society.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Liberty60 says:

        Hey, it makes total sense to give up a system that works pretty well for most people for a system that might be, if everything goes great, a utopia of voluntary exchanges.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

          I can never tell if I’m supposed to be a libertarian because people are basically evil and we shouldn’t trust them to positions of power in government, or that people are basically reallyreally good and would always engage in mutually beneficial transactions, even purely altruistic ones, if not for government getting in the way.

          {{{I know, that’s a cheap shot. But still…}}}Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater says:

            Generally speaking, people are more trustworthy in 1-1 personal negotiations. So it’s kind of a cheap shot.

            Not entirely untrue, though.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

            or that people are basically reallyreally good and would always engage in mutually beneficial transactions,

            We don’t think people engage in mutually beneficial transactions because they’re basically good. We think they engage in mutually beneficial transactions because we’re generally self-interested, and do our best to shy away from those who will fuck us over.

            I’m a bit heartbroken that you don’t have that part correct yet.

            I’ll give you the “purely altruistic” one. I don’t think people are purely and solely self-interested, but I don’t see the logic of thinking they’ll meet all needs through altruism. It doesn’t flow from a theory of self-interest. Nor does it flow from the theory of markets–as James K. once said, there’s no market for charity, so we can’t expect it to clear.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater says:

            I always do wonder why, if people are basically evil and can’t be trusted, we’re supposed to put all our faith in a government that’s…still made up of peopleReport

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Liberty60 says:

        Or only available in ‘company towns’ where you got them as long as you didn’t mind being essentially an indentured servant (if not a virtual slave) owned by the private sector interest providing them.

        I’m just fine with the public sector crowding that out..Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Liberty60 says:

        That’s a pretty tall order, when what the people want is government services subsidized by someone else. The government will always be better at delivering what the average citizen wants at a price he wants, because it doesn’t have to worry about pesky little things like convincing people to give them money voluntarily.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Let’s not forget that EVERYONE pays some form of taxes. This conversation often seems to drift to moochers getting something for nothing. Property tax (including that passed on through rent), sales tax, gas tax, state, county, and town taxes, corporate taxes passed down to the consumer, etc. All taxes. So, yes, some folks will get some services for less than what it ought to cost, but let’s not act as if they contribute nothing.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:

        Re: fire protection. Phoenix.Report

  5. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    “CRS report: number of able-bodied adults on food stamps doubled after Obama suspended work requirement”

    No offense, Christopher. As a matter of fact, by working 20+ hours a week [we assume], none of this applies to you.

    Congressional Research Service report: http://www.scribd.com/doc/106346145/CRS-Memo-ABAWD

    News story: http://washingtonexaminer.com/crs-report-number-of-able-bodied-adults-on-food-stamps-doubled-after-obama-suspended-work-requirement/article/2508430#.UFn-IrJlSpqReport

  6. Avatar Pinky says:

    Government is dependent on me for schools, roads, parks, et cetera. Me and a billion Chinese who are politely taking our bad checks. I say that without a lack of charity.Report

  7. Avatar Shannon's Mouse says:

    Maybe if you had more ability to select your health insurance, you could afford to purchase one the fits your needs instead of the sort of one-size-fits-all plan offered through most employers.

    Given that Christopher appears to live in MA, thanks to RomneyCare, yes he can select from a variety of plans available through the Commonwealth Health Connector. However, it sounds like he is eligible for (and participates in) MassHealth, Massachusetts’ combined Medicaid and SCHIP program.Report

  8. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    For every Christpher Carr working their ass off to get ahead and using Uncle Sam as a shoulder to lean on, how many people are gaming the system and collecting money to do nothing (or remain voluntarily under-employed)? For me thet core disagreement between Left and Right is this: Assuming the ratio is 1:2 between temporary assistance and longterm moochers, is this acceptable? Does the latter group represent the cost of helping the former and if so, is it worth it? If we support two moochers but we get a Dr.Carr out of the deal, was that money well-spent? Report

    • Avatar James B Franks in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Why are you assuming the ratio is so high? Based on your statement it seems to me the difference between the left and the right is that the left believes that most people are good and the right believes most people are evil.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


      First, I think that is a bit of a false dilemma.

      Second, I think it assumes that there is a singular way to contribute to society.

      Bearing in mind both these contentions… suppose a mother of four opts to remain a stay-at-home mom and collects government assistance because her partner’s salary is not enough to meet there needs. As a stay-at-home mom, she can ensure her kids get breakfast in the morning, sees them off to school, is home when they return, can supervise homework, and otherwise perform the many parental duties that she would A) be unable to provide if she was working and B) which have a tangible impact on her kids’ long term outcome. Her choice greatly increases the likelihood that they stay in school, go to college, avoid criminal or gang activity, and themselves avoid needing government assistance as adults. She remains on government assistance for the 24 years between the birth of her first child and the high school graduation of her fourth. Is she a moocher? How do we factor in the impact she had on her children? While we can’t say with any certainty that her kids WOULD have been on assistance without her home or will never be on assistance because she was, we can at least give her partial credit, right?

      All that being said, I don’t know that I’d consider a 1:2 acceptable. I’d really need to know a lot more about the programs. In the abstract, I am on board with having certain conditions tied to government assistance. Lifetime caps, temporal limits, work requirements, etc. would all be reasonable mechanisms to limit the problems offered here, if implemented reasonably.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Kazzy says:

        hmm… I have somewhat less sympathy for the scenario you posit when it’s stated in terms of ‘doing what’s best for her children’. The majority of mothers working outside the home, who pay into the system she’s using, don’t have that option.

        Otoh, with 4 children, the cost of childcare is likely to make it impossible for her to find a job that would make working a net gain in terms of income. However, it would make sense for her to stay home until the kids were in grade school and then get at least a part time job with hours corresponding to when they are in school (My family was never on public assistance, but this is what my mother did so there would be extra income to put away for college).Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to bookdragon says:

          What of families, like the ones near me, that are called on by their faith to procreate regularly and for women to stay home with the children? My county has the largest percentage of folks on welfare and largest percentage living below the poverty line. This is largely because of a Orthodox Jewish sect that fits that profile. Are these observent women, mothers of (on average) seven to eight kids, who have zero intention to work, and observent men, fathers of (on average) seven to eight kids, who generally take low-wage jobs working for the Temple or community itself through arms of the Temple… Are they mooches?Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Kazzy says:

            Technically they are moochers, even in Israel. By definition they will bankrupt societies once they reach the requisite critical mass. There is no escaping this math. The “Right” worries about this outcome far more than the “Left” does. When the Right brings it up the Left screams, “You’re killing the poor and helpless”. Meanwhile the train is heading for the same cliff as before but both non-conductors of said train can feel good that they “did something” about it. The Galts of the world want to get off that train. They are vilified for it.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to wardsmith says:

              I use these families as an example not because I find their use of government assistance any more or less objectionable, but because the use of the term “mooches” is sucha value laden term. It assigns intentions that are largely unknowable. My hunch is these families would practice their faith regardless of the availability of government assistance. They’d likely have a different standard of living (not that their current one is particularly high), but they’d still probably take the same course of action. That they take advantage of GA to provide a better standard of living for their family while following their religion hardly seems like “mooching” to me.

              My point is not that we should give religious folks a free pass, but that we should avoid tossing around terms such as “moocher” when we know little of an individual’s circumstances or intention.Report

          • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Kazzy says:

            A nice counterexample to this is the Amish. Like Orthodox Jews, the Amish procreate quite freely, but choose to remain outside of any government system, including the welfare state.

            That said, it seems as though the term moocher is thrown around pretty freely in regard to people who just want to eat. Does anyone really believe that the welfare system is that laden with people whose lifelong goal is to remain idle and produce children?Report

          • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Kazzy says:

            If they are using the system to make people who don’t share their faith subsidize their practice, then I think ‘mooches’ might not be the worst term. (Really. Not the worst. You should hear what the Jewish, but decidedly non-Orthodox, side of my family thinks of them). My biggest problem with them is that they seem to think everyone should be happy that we’re supporting them because they’re so terribly righteous. Erg.

            That said, any mother of 7-8 kids works. Just not for money. I also feel bad for the kids (esp. the girls). You can’t help what family you’re born into and they shouldn’t be stuck in the opening scene to ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ just because of their parents’ religious views.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      How about the opposite scenario? What if the ratio is 2:1, or (more likely) 100:1?

      I say 100:1 is more likely simply because of the types of people I know who have had to turn to WIC, food stamps, etc. They tend to be either students or military (we don’t pay enlisted very much and a lot of military families wind up using WIC just like Mr. Carr).

      Also, I think someone should ask Mr. Romney your question but phrase it: If we support two moochers but we get a _George Romney_ out of the deal, was that money well-spent?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      My question is, by what criteria are we to separate out the legitimate users of the safety net (e.g., the hardworking future Dr. Carr and his family) from the moochers?

      Nearly everyone I talk to objects to people abusing the social safety net. This includes liberals, although they are reluctant to point to specific individuals and identify them as “cheaters” in most cases.

      Nearly everyone I talk to likes the idea of a social safety net being there for people who use it for the purposes for which it was intended. Conservatives too and even some self-identified libertarians (they’re a little more grudging, but they will say that given that social welfare programs exist at all, “legitimate” users offend them less than cheaters).

      So in principle, there is very broad consensus that a social welfare system should be there for people who need it, but not for people who abuse it. What is “abuse?” How do we, on the outside, look into particular cases and see that the person receiving social welfare benefits is doing so in good faith or not?

      I think that coming up with objective rules to determine this in advance of an examination of any particular case is a dauntingly difficult, if not impossible, task.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I think that coming up with objective rules to determine this in advance of an examination of any particular case is a dauntingly difficult, if not impossible, task.

        Agreed. Let’s suppose that it is impossible, and refining a methodology for determining what constitutes a “good faith” request for aid is hopeless. That means we’re accepting that the system will quite likely contain some graft.

        Is there a level of graft (say, in percentage of illegitimate claims) beyond which the libertarian/conservative/liberal would agree to scrap the whole program because it’s too costly?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

          Conservative/libertarian: They’re all moochers. Forget about what ratio would be legitimate, it will always be 100% moochers, so close the whole program.

          Liberal: No matter how many moochers there are, if even one person benefits we need to keep the program going.

          There, the strawmen are out of the way. Nobody else needs to use them.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

            But it’s a difficult question to answer, no? I tried. 30% graft? 50% graft? What about that little old lady who will freeze to death, alone, in the dead of winter, without those subsidies…?

            I don’t like any answer, actually. And that’s pretty much your point. My view actually might be the strawman view.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

              Oh, I wasn’t mocking you, Stillwater. I agree it’s a difficult question to answer, which is why I wanted to mock the strawmen up front, so we could dispense with the chickenshit avoidance tactic of criticizing a simplistic answer the other side wouldn’t actually give, and get to a focus on the difficulty of a serious answer–for any side.

              And then you have to go and blow it by accepting the strawman. Thanks a lot. Seriously, though, I think you feel a temptation to the strawman that you wouldn’t actually put into practice. At some point you’d say, “this program obviously isn’t working; let’s shut it down and try something different.” Or at least, “let’s drastically revamp it.”Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      We have moochers:
      1) Mr. Mooch runs a small time farm. He’s not terribly good at it, and makes a decent profit one year in five. The rest, he’s on food stamps so his kids have a decent source of meat most of the year…
      2) Your Standard Variety Welfare Mom. Her husband works, she supervises their five kids (religious obligation fulfilled in SPADES). adn they glare at me for walking down the road in shorts.
      3) Off-again on again monogamous Mom: has a life-partner, he’s in and out of jail (never pays taxes, never on anyone’s books whatever he’s doing). She works, some, when her kids aren’t sick. Sometimes loses jobs because they’re sick. but a mooch. she’s not terribly good for her kids, and they sometimes get neglected because she’s depressed a lot.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Kimmi says:

        The problem with all of those examples is that kicking the moochers off assistance means either removing their kids and shuffling them through foster homes (seldom a good option in terms of out come) or letting the kids starve.

        And can you imagine the outrage among the religious right if CPS came for the kids in case #2?Report

    • For every Chrisotpher Carr working their ass off to get ahead and using Uncle Sam as a shoulder to lean on, how many people are gaming the system and collecting money to do nothing (or remain voluntarily under-employed)?


      I imagine it’s a combination of people who work very, very hard, people who work very hard, people who work hard, people who work not so hard, and people who don’t work at all. I imagine that sometimes it shifts and sometimes the hard worker loses his or her job and sometimes the very very hard waged worker might decide, along with Kazyy’s example, to spend more time in non-waged work. Perhaps even people who work as hard as Christopher could conceivably get a fourth job by quitting school. And perhaps some people are just figuring out what to do with their life while on the taxpayer’s dole while others have given up from the learned helplessness the system has led them to. And others are just cynically lazy, laughing at the taxpayers.

      My point is, it’s probably not a ratio or 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, or 50:1. It’s probably something more like a spectrum. Manifold individual circumstances are caught up in in a handful of government support programs that have to draw lines somewhere and end up defining some people as deserving or undeserving, or qualified or unqualified.Report

  9. Avatar jc says:

    you obviously know more about your financial situation than i do, but i think loans while in medical school could cover quite a bit of your situation without need for direct gov’tal assistance.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon in reply to jc says:

      You might not have noticed, but getting loans, even just for tuition, has gotten considerably harder in recent years…Report

    • Avatar James B Franks in reply to jc says:

      Depends on who if anyone he can get to co-sign. When I was going to college after being discharged from the Navy I had to get a co-signer for all my secondary student loans.Report

      • Avatar ktward in reply to James B Franks says:

        Of course you did. Both of my kids had to get co-signers for their non-gov subsidized loans, which they still needed even after scholarships and grants and a college trust left to them by their paternal grandmother.

        Which meant me. What would my kids have done if I hadn’t been an “acceptable” co-signor?Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to jc says:

      Well sure thing, but I’m not in medical school yet. I have to apply and get in, and, once I’m in, I plan on joining the military as a medical officer in training. I don’t know if there are any student loans for part-time postbacc students. Personally I know a lot of people who have dropped the program for financial reasons, and I don’t want to become one of those people. Given the choice to drop the program or to temporarily accept government assistance that is designed for people like me, I choose to accept assistance from the government.Report

  10. Avatar jc says:

    i have noticed-in fact took out a substantial amount of loans for graduate school myself recently. while as a student, i would’ve probly been eligible for government assistance of some sort, the shame referenced by Mr. Kuznicki kept me from getting them.Report

    • Avatar ktward in reply to jc says:

      How exactly did you, all by your lonesome, actually qualify for those “substantial” grad-school loans you reference?

      I wanna hear this. Do tell.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to jc says:

      If it were just me, shame would probably keep me from applying for government assistance. I’d probably greatly simplify my life, spend less on food, forego any sort of weekend outings or travel, and just work all the time, but I do have a family now, and I don’t think that they should have to share my shame. I’m mostly taking government assistance because I don’t want my family to be affected by our circumstances. I’m not ashamed of this.Report

  11. Avatar Kolohe says:

    [devil’s advocate time]
    Though wasn’t having a child a choice?
    [/devil’s advocate time]Report

    • Avatar ktward in reply to Kolohe says:

      This is relevant …. how?
      There’s zero agenda behind my query, I’ve simply lost track of the thread and I don’t understand how your comment fits, either seriously or satirically.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Kolohe says:

      It’s a reasonable avenue to explore. Of my four children, three of them antedate our present circumstances and one was conceived shortly thereafter when we were of a more optimistic mindset. Even so, I don’t think people on welfare should feel any sort of pressure to not have children. All children in public schools receive special assistance from the government.Report

  12. Avatar Rose says:

    I have felt this way, too. I receive Medicaid on a Katie Beckett income Waiver for my kid with disabilities. This means no matter what insurance I get, my kid can get stuff like medical equipment, ramps, babysitters, etc. This frees us up to be entrepreneurial. If philosophy doesn’t work out, which is very likely, opening a business is a serious consideration. We cannot open a business without the Medicaid waiver or the ACA guarantee about coverage for pre-existing conditions.

    IIRC, Jason specified able-bodied. We are able-bodied, but accept government help for our non able-bodied kid. Not sure he meant us. But I have felt how in our case taking a government handout would be a spur to work, not a discouragement.Report