Half of Americans who receive government aid in the form of social services believe that they have not “used a government social program.” These include:
As Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing comments,
It’s the “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” phenomena writ large: a society of people who subsist on mutual aid and redistributive policies who’ve been conned (and conned themselves) into thinking that they are rugged individualists and that everyone else is a parasite.
You can see the full chart at the BoingBoing post and also read the original academic paper they’re from, “Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era” by Cornell’s Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions Suzanne Mettle entitled. (The chart is on page 809).
Mettle’s paper looks at how Obama’s policy objectives have primarily involved “attempts to reconstitute the submerged state.” She defines this notion of a “submerged state” — as government at work for us, however unaware we are — as
a conglomeration of federal social policies that incentivize and subsidize activities engaged in by private actors and individuals. These feature a variety of tools, including social beneﬁts in the form of taxbreaks for individuals and families; the regulation and taxfree nature of beneﬁts provided by private employers,including health care beneﬁts in the form of insurance;and the government-sponsored enterprises and third-party organizations that receive federal subsidies in exchangefor carrying out public policy goals, such as the banks and lending associations that have administered student loans.
According to Mettle, the “submerged state” has reshaped politics in two ways, by “[nurturing] particular sectors of the market economy [which] .. have in turn invested in strengthening their political capacity for the sake of preserving existing arrangements.” Second, the policies of the “submerged state” have “shrouded the state’s role, making it largely invisible to most ordinary citizens, even beneﬁciaries of existing policies” — and resulted in the many Americans who receive benefits from government social programs, but do not believe that they have. This discrepancy between many Americans viewing themselves as “not needing government help” and the reality that many have actually received such is indicative, says Mettle, of how unaware the public is of such policies, and of how significant Obama’s reform efforts are.
On GOOD magazine, Nona Willis Aronowitz — after pointing to reports of Michele Bachmann’s husband getting farm subsidies and also, reportedly, $137,000 in Medicaid money — makes a thoughtful point about what the above figures say about our culture of “rugged individualism”:
…the point isn’t really whether or not these people are hypocrites or uneducated or ungrateful; more compelling is why they’d see themselves as exceptions. Shame about government help is ingrained into our culture, and so is the narrative of the “culture of dependence.” It’s not only rightwingers and deficit hawks who feel this way. When my contract position ended temporarily, it didn’t even occur to me to apply for unemployment to fill the gap until my father suggested it to me. When I waved him off, feeling embarrassed, he balked. “Are you kidding?” he replied. “That’s what those deductions on your paychecks were for.”
We’re on the verge of forgetting (if we haven’t already) that our government isn’t just taking our tax dollars for “its own” purposes. “Its own” purposes are ours — we just prefer not to remember until we’re really in need.
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