I’m not an optimistic person by nature, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. When I heard that the president of a conservative think tank said that Republicans should “declare peace” on the social safety net, I was skeptical. Weirdly enough, that was an actual thing that happened.
According to Think Progress, Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, spoke at Right To Rise: Education as America’s 21st Century Ticket to Social Mobility. At that event, he said the GOP should stop its assault on the social safety net:
One of the things, in my view, that we get wrong in the free enterprise movement is this war against the social safety net, which is just insane. The government social safety net for the truly indigent is one of the greatest achievements of our society. And we somehow want to zero out food stamps or something, it’s nuts to want to be doing something like that. We have to declare peace on the safety net.
What the what? My brain is going to explode from all the cognitive dissonance!
Oh, but here comes my natural pessimism. Brooks may have said this, but I doubt any actual elected republican officials feel the same way. Or if they do, it seems unlikely that they will act on it. However, if growing the economy is the goal (an assumption I probably shouldn’t make), the GOP should really get on board the welfare train.
Let’s take food stamps, for instance. Republicans have been working really, really hard to cut Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). (Because, look, if your body fails for lack of nutrients, it’s just like a business failing for lack of funds. And we let business go under all the time! Oh, wait…) Back when the Great Recession started in 2008, industry research firm Moody’s Economy.com determined that food stamps are one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus, as reported in CNN Money:
In findings echoed by other economists and studies, [economist Mark Zandi] said the study shows the fastest way to infuse money into the economy is through expanding the food-stamp program. For every dollar spent on that program $1.73 is generated throughout the economy, he said.
“If someone who is literally living paycheck to paycheck gets an extra dollar, it’s very likely that they will spend that dollar immediately on whatever they need – groceries, to pay the telephone bill, to pay the electric bill,” he said.
Incidentally, that same study found that tax breaks for businesses only infused 33 cents per dollar into the economy. But whatevs.
Another example: unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits have a similar economic impact to food stamps. According to a Department of Labor study conducted under the Bush Administration, for every dollar spent on unemployment insurance, two were pumped back into the economy. In addition, unemployment insurance kept over 3 million Americans over the poverty line in 2010. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Ironically, the American Enterprise Institute seems to be in favor of eliminating funding for these benefits. Hmmmm…
If getting the economy back on track is the goal, which it should be, we should be strengthening the social safety net, not trying to dismantle it. I hope that Brooks’ comments are a sign of a change in tide. I doubt it, but that might just the pessimist in me talking.
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