Sunday, 04 December 2016 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

WHAT ISSUES MATTER TO YOU?

Never miss another story on the topics you care most about.

Get Truthout's daily edition delivered straight to your inbox.

Optional Member Code

A Conservative Disdain for the Unemployed

Saturday, 27 September 2014 13:55 By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

2014.9.25.Krugman.Boehner.MainRepublican Speaker of the House John Boehner and other House GOP members talk with the media last year. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

House Speaker John Boehner says that unemployed Americans are pretty clearly malingerers, bums on welfare who have decided that they don't feel like working: "This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that, you know, 'I really don't have to work; I don't really want to do this. I think I'd rather just sit around.' This is a very sick idea for our country," Mr. Boehner said in comments made after a speech at the American Enterprise Institute this month.

I could point to the overwhelming economic evidence that nothing like this is happening - after all, if what we were seeing was a mass withdrawal of labor supply, we should be seeing wages for those still willing to work taking off. I could also point to zero interest rates and low inflation as evidence that we're living in a demand-constrained economy. I could ask how, exactly, Mr. Boehner believes that increased willingness to work would conjure more jobs into existence.

But what really gets me here is the fact that people like Mr. Boehner are so obviously disconnected from the lived experience of ordinary workers. I mean, I live a pretty rarefied existence, with job security and a nice income and a generally upscale social set - but even so, I know a fair number of people who have spent months or years in desperate search of jobs that still aren't there. How cut off (or oblivious) can someone be who thinks that the problem here is just that these people don't want to work?

When I see stuff like this, I always think of the opening of B. Traven's book The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: "Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn't know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world."

Return of the Bums on Welfare

It has long seemed to me that the issue of unemployment benefits is where the debate over economic policy in a depression reaches its purest essence. If you're on the right, you believe - you more or less have to believe - that unemployment benefits hurt job creation, because you're "paying people not to work."

To admit that depression conditions are different - that the economy is suffering from an overall lack of demand and that putting money into the pockets of people who are likely to spend it would increase employment - would mean admitting that the free market sometimes fails badly. And, of course, disdain for the unemployed helps a lot if you want to oppose any kind of aid for the unfortunate.

But there's something remarkable about seeing these claims made now - because even if you believe that expanded unemployment benefits were somehow a cause rather than an effect of the economic crisis, those expanded benefits are long gone. They're back down to their level at the height of the "Bush boom" in 2006.

And Josh Bivens, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, recently pointed out that the recipiency rate - the percentage of the unemployed receiving any benefits at all - is at a record low. As Mr. Bivens says, the pullback in benefits is one main reason that economic expansion isn't reducing poverty.

So basically the right is railing against the bums on welfare not only when there aren't any bums, but when there isn't any welfare.

© 2016 The New York Times Company
Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.
Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008. Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including "The Return of Depression Economics" (2008) and "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007).
Copyright 2016 The New York Times.

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus
GET DAILY TRUTHOUT UPDATES
Optional Member Code

FOLLOW togtorsstottofb


A Conservative Disdain for the Unemployed

Saturday, 27 September 2014 13:55 By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

2014.9.25.Krugman.Boehner.MainRepublican Speaker of the House John Boehner and other House GOP members talk with the media last year. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

House Speaker John Boehner says that unemployed Americans are pretty clearly malingerers, bums on welfare who have decided that they don't feel like working: "This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that, you know, 'I really don't have to work; I don't really want to do this. I think I'd rather just sit around.' This is a very sick idea for our country," Mr. Boehner said in comments made after a speech at the American Enterprise Institute this month.

I could point to the overwhelming economic evidence that nothing like this is happening - after all, if what we were seeing was a mass withdrawal of labor supply, we should be seeing wages for those still willing to work taking off. I could also point to zero interest rates and low inflation as evidence that we're living in a demand-constrained economy. I could ask how, exactly, Mr. Boehner believes that increased willingness to work would conjure more jobs into existence.

But what really gets me here is the fact that people like Mr. Boehner are so obviously disconnected from the lived experience of ordinary workers. I mean, I live a pretty rarefied existence, with job security and a nice income and a generally upscale social set - but even so, I know a fair number of people who have spent months or years in desperate search of jobs that still aren't there. How cut off (or oblivious) can someone be who thinks that the problem here is just that these people don't want to work?

When I see stuff like this, I always think of the opening of B. Traven's book The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: "Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn't know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world."

Return of the Bums on Welfare

It has long seemed to me that the issue of unemployment benefits is where the debate over economic policy in a depression reaches its purest essence. If you're on the right, you believe - you more or less have to believe - that unemployment benefits hurt job creation, because you're "paying people not to work."

To admit that depression conditions are different - that the economy is suffering from an overall lack of demand and that putting money into the pockets of people who are likely to spend it would increase employment - would mean admitting that the free market sometimes fails badly. And, of course, disdain for the unemployed helps a lot if you want to oppose any kind of aid for the unfortunate.

But there's something remarkable about seeing these claims made now - because even if you believe that expanded unemployment benefits were somehow a cause rather than an effect of the economic crisis, those expanded benefits are long gone. They're back down to their level at the height of the "Bush boom" in 2006.

And Josh Bivens, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, recently pointed out that the recipiency rate - the percentage of the unemployed receiving any benefits at all - is at a record low. As Mr. Bivens says, the pullback in benefits is one main reason that economic expansion isn't reducing poverty.

So basically the right is railing against the bums on welfare not only when there aren't any bums, but when there isn't any welfare.

© 2016 The New York Times Company
Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.
Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008. Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including "The Return of Depression Economics" (2008) and "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007).
Copyright 2016 The New York Times.

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus