Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Doom Of Republican Economic Policy

The New York Times had some really great reporting today about the reality and politics of the federal government's SNAP (formally food stamps) program. It's a great portrait of people struggling at the fringes of American life in rural Tennessee including a 20 year old mechanic unable to find steady work to support himself, wife and one year old son, a woman who left her job in slaughterhouse after she got cancer (she get's the most at a whopping $352 a month to support a family of four) and a 62 year old former welder who can't work anymore because of lupus, this lucky ducky get's a $125 per month.

Juxtaposed to this is the new and improved Republican Party which is now making gutting SNAP, and other benefits like it, a high priority. As one Heritage Foundation scholar quoted in the article puts it, “I think food stamps have in the Republican mind become the symbol of an out-of-control, means-tested welfare state.” A standard bearer in this new struggle just happens to be the member of Congress that represents these folks:
Surrounded by corn and soybean farms — including one owned by the local Republican congressman, Representative Stephen Fincher — Dyersburg, about 75 miles north of Memphis, provides an eye-opening view into Washington’s food stamp debate. Mr. Fincher, who was elected in 2010 on a Tea Party wave and collected nearly $3.5 million in farm subsidies from the government from 1999 to 2012, recently voted for a farm bill that omitted food stamps. 

“The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country,” Mr. Fincher, whose office did not respond to interview requests, said after his vote in May. In response to a Democrat who invoked the Bible during the food stamp debate in Congress, Mr. Fincher cited his own biblical phrase. “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,” he said. 
When someone get's $125 to buy food it's a national tragedy. We someone get's $3.5 million in farm subsidies, it's a statistic. 

This article got me think about an old Matt Yglesias article about a similar problem facing the GOP when it comes to raising the minimum wage. Basically the argument goes like this, the Republican Party knows it continual embrace of unpopular economic policies is costing it at the ballot box and making it harder to win elections. But the hardline nature of modern conservatives and conservative organizations makes it impossible to embrace any practical solutions to things like poverty, food scarcity or rising inequality. To paraphrase Yglesias this is not because there are no conservative thinkers with policies about how to tackle these problems, but because none of those policies is going to be embraced in practice by Republican politicians. For one because if they are, those politicians would get RINOed. And second because as Ayn Rand taught us long ago, taking from the rich to give to the poor isn't just bad policy, it fundamentally morally evil and thus can never be accepted.

Now Republicans could of course respond to this by promoting their own ideas about how to help struggling families. They could embrace Milton Friedman's idea of a negative income tax, or a higher earned income tax credit, or a bigger tax deduction for dependents, or any other policy you'd like to suggest. But of course they won't, for the reasons outlined above. Meanwhile some politicians will keep trying to throw up smoke screens about how they are "concerned about these issues" and that's probably the best the GOP can hope for. Meanwhile we'll be stuck with the same you-didn't-build-that/47%/Lucky-Duckies GOP we've had for a quite a while.

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