Shared sacrifice: In which both sides agree to throw some old folks and some poor into the volcano

For whatever reason, the occasion of tax and spending cut negotiations has inspired tough-minded liberal thinkers to suggest that there’s virtue to be found in beating up poor people and Medicare-bound older folk. Full disclosure: I benefit from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the program Nick Kristof hopes will be cut during the negotiations, and I’m close to Medicare age, although I won’t be as close to it in a month or two as I am now if Jon Chait and Matt Yglesias get their ways.

Kristof, the New York Times columnist whose heart bleeds, is taking some grief for his most recent column suggesting, based on no evidence whatever other than what the only people in Appalachia whose accents he could understand told him, that SSI ruins kids through the vehicle of their greedy parents. It’s an astonishingly faithful recreation of the Reagan-era welfare queen style of assault on poor people, and it wasn’t well-received. Comments on the Times site were much in the “Kristoff is monstrously clueless” vein; elsewhere, the response was often more harsh than that.

Kristof makes many risible claims, including whining that poor people avoid military service when he clearly believes they exist to be cannon fodder, but for some reason, this quote really summed it up for me:

Antipoverty programs also discourage marriage: In a means-tested program like S.S.I., a woman raising a child may receive a bigger check if she refrains from marrying that hard-working guy she likes.

As with Mitt Romney suggesting women could single-handedly stop crime by marrying “someone”, this glimpse of how the Wanker Class imagines sex, love, and marriage for everyone else. For Romney and Kristof, of course, you marry for love. But for working class people, they prescribe a system where women exchange sexual release and laundry-doing for sharing household resources with hard-working men, who are also assumed to be able to provide discipline for children women are always mysteriously unable to provide. Love and romance go unmentioned, assumed to be a luxury for the well-off, instead of a desire shared across classes. Kristof can’t even bring himself to admit that working class women might actually be capable of a lofty emotion like love, imagining the best they can do is like someone.

Elsewhere, some people who actually know something about the program and about poverty, a subject about which Kristoff acknowledges he knows little, and about the history of clueless aggravated assaults on anti-poverty programs like SSI by people like Kristoff, had this to say.

Citing anecdotal evidence from a sample of one person living there as well as the testimony of a long-standing critic of Supplemental Security who has proposed block granting it, Kristof sensationally claims that parents are “profiting from children’s illiteracy” and pulling their kids out of literacy classes in order to keep them disabled and eligible for Supplemental Security.

[T]here is a venerable traditional of mainstream journalists spreading folkloric urban (and now rural) myths about Supplemental Security. The cycle is well-established—first, mainstream journalists claim that parents are “coaching their children” to appear disabled (prominent in the 1990s) or that parents are medicating their children to make them seem disabled (the most recent scare pre-Kristof), then investigators at [Government Accountability Office], [Social security Administration], and other places study the issue empirically rather than just relying on a few anecdotal tales and find that the claims are unfounded. So, for example, with the most recent medication scare, GAO found that children who took medication were actually less likely to qualify for SSI than those who did not. Meanwhile, resources and attention are diverted from focusing on the real-world ways we could make programs like Supplemental Security even more effective for disabled kids and their parents. And so it goes.

Journalistic myth-making about Supplemental Security takes particular aim at parents caring for kids with severe mental impairments. For some reason, there is incredible denial about the reality of mental impairments in 21st century America. Kristof demonstrates this denial when he downgrades the seriousness of mental impairments by calling them “fuzzy.” This might be called the optical definition of child disability. if you look like one of Jerry’s kids, you’re really disabled; if not, well we really can’t be sure, can we?

As a bonus idiocy, Kristof mentions that poor people in America often have air-conditioners and microwaves, the implication of course being that they’re luxuriating in poverty, and he annunciates a wholly delusional hope that at a moment when a good two thirds of the people who appropriate money are eager to cut social program funds, they’ll “take money from SSI and invest it in early childhood initiatives.” That’s not going to happen, of course; if they take money from SSI, they’ll take money from SSI. And when people are willing to take money from desperately poor, disabled children, they’re willing to take money from any constituency that can’t punish them for doing so.

Throw Mama from the train, and then make her pay retail for the hospital bills

Possibly that makes Jon Chait and Matt Yglesias slightly less monstrous than Kristof, since the people they want to punish for the sin of being alive at a time when liberals want to appease homicidal Republicans have slightly more clout than disabled children of impoverished parents — that would be adults approaching the Medicare eligibility age, which Chait and Yglesias would like to see raised to 67 years from the current 65.

Like Kristof’s, this is a really bad idea. Unlike Kristof’s, it would probably kill some people outright. Richard Eskow identifies and refutes the rationales for raising the eligibility age for people whose health care needs are increasing and whose access to affordable and useful health insurance is decreasing or vanishing altogether. None of Chait’s arguments stand up to even the slightest scrutiny, but his first one is downright brutal.

“When the question comes to what concessions the Democrats are going to have to accept,” Chait writes, ” … raising the Medicare age seems like a sensible bone to throw the right.” That’s the first bad reason to compromise. Raising the Medicare age would increase the number of uninsured Americans, and would do so for people who need substantially more care than the average person.

It would also cost more money than it saves. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that its $5.7 billion in projected Federal savings would lead to an additional $11.4 billion in health spending elsewhere in the economy.

More uninsured Americans? Higher healthcare costs? That’s not bone. It’s meat.

Eskow is being kind. That’s not meat, that’s murder.

Chait’s essay in sociopathy attracted a lot of negative attention. Eskow cites a particularly stringent response from David Dayen, which Yglesias complained of as “ritual scourging” in his own largely supportive tract. Here’s Dayen:

Let’s look at Chait’s reasoning. I would probably start with the fact that he’s not 64 or 65. My parents are, and until my dad reached Medicare in November, they were paying $2,500 a month on the private market for health insurance. So I’ll be happy to provide him with their phone number so he can tell them how it’s “tolerable” for them to spend two years more than they expected doing that.

The one thing we know will be a side effect of increasing the Medicare eligibility age is that insurance premiums will skyrocket. It will make Medicare more expensive because they lose relatively healthy 65 and 66 year-olds from their risk pool, and it will make private insurance more expensive because they add relatively sick 65 and 66 year-olds to their risk pool. Insurers hate the idea for just this reason. As a result, everyone’s premiums will rise, and cost-shifting will ensue from the government to its citizens … The idiocy on display here can hardly be believed.

But really, it’s standard-issue idiocy, and it arises at least in part from the fact that when these assholes talk about shared sacrifice, they’re doing so from the position of people who are going to perpetrate it, not participate in it.

As for Kristoff, the mentality that plaintively wonders why lower-class women won’t just cross their legs or marry their likable fellow and bemoans a state of affairs in which food stamps and welfare are more attractive than blowing up other impoverished people in far off lands, speaks for itself. Shrieks for itself.

One thought on “Shared sacrifice: In which both sides agree to throw some old folks and some poor into the volcano”

  1. The “liberals” making these suggestions are believers in the proposition that a deal, any deal, is better than no deal. This ignores the apparent fact that those insisting on harming the poor are pricks (as I noted on your reddit comment). Better, in present circumstances, that there be no deal and let’s see what’s at the bottom of the “cliff”.

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