Sunday, November 18, 2012

Of Food Stamps and Smart Phones (Part 1?)

Okay, today (being yesterday, actually) turned out to be a mostly "in" day since I am still with cold and I didn't think it would be good of me to loiter over-long among otherwise healthy coffeehouse patrons.  So, it is now 1:05 a.m. on Sunday and I am just getting something in to make all of you happy.

In other words, I'm tweaking the margins, chugging the caffeine (metaphorically), and bullshitting my way to the requisite number of pages.  Then I'll run a spell-check, take a cat nap, and turn in my first draft as my final.

The topic of today's paper - I mean, post - is an observation: The most cost-efficient way to get people off social services is to stop bullying people who receive social services.

Last month (October) was anti-bullying month (among other things), and it occurred to me that all the memes going around Facebook about people who have food stamps and iPhones are just another form of bullying.  All of the rhetoric during the campaign - and, sadly, post-campaign - about poor people just wanting handouts is bullying.  It's bullying in the form of propaganda.  It's also an insidious form of racism (I can back that up, but it'll have to wait for another blog). 

And what we know about bullying is that kids (and adults) who are bullied, tend to not do well.  We know that they do not perform as well in school (or work).  We know that bullied kids make sick adults, both physically and mentally.  We can easily see how kids who are belittled for being poor - either directly by their peers, or indirectly by the politicians and pundits - those kids are less likely to make it to graduation and, if they do, are likely to have worse grades than their non-poor, non-bullied peers.  This means they are at a disadvantage moving on in higher education.  So, if they do worse in school, then their income potential is lessened.  A downer for the economy.  And their poor health becomes a greater cost to the system, as well, by their increased need for medical intervention, as well as the greater likelihood that they'll be in need of government assistance to cover the payments.

And what of the adults?  It's the same story.  They miss work, their performance suffers.  They don't have the equivalent energy of their non-poor, non-bullied peers.  They do not advance.

There are numerous scenarios under which a person could be receiving government assistance of some kind or other.  The lie, the propaganda, is that it is ultimately due to some moral failing on the part of the person receiving it...  I could expound, but in the interest of me getting some sleep - any humanly decent amount of sleep - I'm going to have to rein it in for tonight.

My point is that we have allowed the discussion to become a question of whether or not people deserve their financial hardships and, therefore, whether or not they should be helped. The discussion has been turned into one of tax rates, not wage rates.  When low-wage jobs are brought up at all, the discussion turns to how to get a different job, and not to ensuring that even low-wage jobs pay for your real costs of living.  The discussion stays scrupulously away from asking ourselves how we accept such a thing as the working poor.

The bottom line is that people under the psychological stress of this rhetorical shaming (among all their other stresses) do not do as well and, therefore, we all do not fare as well.  Their potentials are blunted, their costs are increased, their lives, in so many ways, diminished.  If we were to rally around these people - and their smart phones and their bad choices - and encouraged them, instead of beating them down, then we would see a return on our investment.  An investment of nothing but our good will and our understanding of the reality - of the math - as it is and not how it is being sold to us, would yield a great return.  How much?  I don't know, I'm tired.  Go ask those Freakonomics guys.


  1. I think government bullies don't think they are bullies. They think they are practicing tough love. They think that by ridiculing you and making you feel like you are less than you should be, you'll work extra hard at attaining their acceptance. They don't realize they are only pushing the Children of the Village further and further away until one day they won't want to have anything to do with any of it at all. Then they turn to drugs and prostitution and other horrible unmentionable things that we all know about but don't dare to speak out loud.

    Great post and solid argument. I'd like to hear more of this when you've had more sleep ;-)

  2. most people are two pay-checks (or less) away from needing assistance. thats why we have it, because life is hard, and most people need to help at one point or another.