If The Poor Must Work to Earn Every Dollar, Shouldn’t the Rich?

[I just saw the brilliant new Spielberg movie, THE POST. In the spirit of journalism that doesn’t talk down to its readers, and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power, I’m re-printing this recent opinion piece by one of its writers. As we watch the daily destruction of the social safety net by the most corrupt, greedy and punitive administration in history, these ideas need to be examined anew, discussed, and brought out into the daylight. They do, that is, unless we all want to live in a shithole country.]


by Elizabeth Brewing, WASHINGTON POST

The argument over which poor people deserve aid has begun anew thanks to incipient Republican efforts to harshen work requirements attached to welfare programs. For conservatives and thus-inclined Democrats, work requirements are about making sure that people who receive federal aid aren’t lazy loafers living off the dole — “welfare queens” in Reaganite parlance.

It’s a badly mistaken point of view. Built into the claim that it’s only fair that poor people should be made to work for welfare are a few troubling assumptions: that poor people don’t or won’t work; that only compensated, market labor is real work; that society (and the state) always require work to precede income; and that each person is due to receive simply what they earn. Each of those is false.

According to 2013 congressional testimony from Lawrence Mead, who supplied much of the intellectual groundwork for our last round of welfare reform, “by requiring and promoting work, [welfare reform] integrated [recipients] into mainstream American life as never before.” In fact, though, the number of impoverished people who could work but are neither working nor seeking work is already vanishingly small. As the leftist think tank People’s Policy Project has shown, able-bodied adults who elected not to work or seek work in 2016 made up a scant 1.6 to 2.3 percent of America’s poor. (Disclosure: My husband, Matt Bruenig, is founder of the think tank.) A recent study likewise found that 87 percent of able-bodied adults covered by the Medicaid expansion are already working, in school or seeking work, and that about 75 percent of those not working are full-time caregivers.

The lion’s share of poor people are elderly, children or disabled persons; another chunk are caregivers. And while caregiving isn’t compensated as market labor, parents looking after children and people caring for elderly or sick family members are hardly shiftless layabouts. Being both a mother and a writer, I am well aware that the less compensated of my two jobs is the more demanding one.

 But what about that small number of people who could work but, for whatever reason, don’t? Shouldn’t they have to? Well, before deciding whether it’s morally right for them to receive income without working, consider a far larger group that takes in far more money without toil: the idle rich. They soak up plenty of unearned money from the economy, in the form of rent, dividends and capital income. Salaries and wages — that is, money paid for work — only make up about 15 percent of the income of Americans making $10 million per year or more; the rest is capital income from simply owning assets.

And yet rarely do politicians inveigh against the laziness of the well-off. In fact, the government shells out huge sums of money to the rich every year through tax breaks and subsidies. As Syracuse University professor Christopher Faricy points out in his book “Welfare for the Wealthy,” the federal government is hardly generous with the poor alone. In 2016, for instance, Social Security kept 26.1 million people out of poverty to the tune of $911.4 billion paid out in disability and old-age pensions; during that same year, federal tax subsidies for the pensions of the more affluent totaled $179.9 billion . Faricy observes that the same pattern holds in health care and education: While the government spent some $200 billion on Medicaid in 2012, it also spent $120 billion subsidizing employer-based health insurance; and while students whose families make under $20,000 per year are the main beneficiaries of federal Pell grants, households that earn between $100,000 and $200,000 receive roughly 50 percent of the benefits of college tuition-and-fee tax deductions.

In other words, the well-to-do already do what workfare advocates seem so nervous about: rake in money they haven’t earned through market labor and thrive off the government’s largesse. Perhaps that itself is unfair — so why duplicate it on the other end of the economy? Put simply, it seems ludicrous at best and sadistic at most to start one’s fairness policing from the bottom up. If we mean to transform our economy into one in which people earn precisely what they work for and no more, and receive nothing from the government lest their work ethic wither, it would be best to start from the top down, where nobody runs any risk of starvation or homelessness if they lose their benefits.

In fact, none of us live entirely on what we earn. We rely on the infrastructure, knowledge and technology developed by those who have come before us, and those contemporaneous with us. Instead of trying to mince each person’s life’s work into careful calculations of contribution and merit, it seems more sensible to pursue a fairer economy overall: one that directs its excesses not to the already rich, but to those who have the greatest need; one that recognizes in its distributive structure that every person is immeasurably valuable, deserving of life and dignity.

When A President Has No Empathy

[This is where we are at the beginning of 2018. An American territory, populated by American citizens, pleading for the basic necessities of survival while their President plays golf at one of his resorts and eats off gold plated dinnerware. Happy New Year, and may we be rid of this scourge before the end of this year. In Mueller we trust. Resist. Amen.]

by Mark E. Andersen, Daily Kos

The other night I watched an episode of The Profit, on CNBC. Normally this show is about Marcus Lemonis working with people in businesses that are failing. This past week’s episode was about his trips to Puerto Rico, and how much the people are suffering. This show is usually on as background noise for me while I am doing something else—this episode angered me. Not because of Lemonis and his actions, but for the lack of response to the disaster that Hurricane Maria wrought on this American territory.

During one segment of this show, there was a village that had lost the only bridge that connected them to the rest of the island. They had made up a jerry-rigged shopping cart with a cable and pulley system to bring supplies in and out of the village. In another segment the people living in another village dammed up the river so they could pour a homemade concrete mix to make a makeshift road through the river so they could come and go, albeit in four-wheel drive vehicles only. What made me so mad about this is that sitting in the United States are the resources to build temporary bridges, and do expedient road repairs—any U.S. Army combat engineer battalion has the manpower, and know how to do these repairs. In eight hours or less one platoon of engineers could have had Bailey bridges over these rivers giving these villages access to the rest of the island until a permanent structure could be built.

Potable water is another issue—people are using ingenious ways to collect water from mountain streams. Lemonis was amazed at the ingenuity used to collect this water. He did collect some and had it tested—it was contaminated with E. coli. Again, the U.S. Army has the capability to purify water:

“The 288th is a water purification unit. We have four pieces of equipment to purify 1,500 gallons an hour,” said Capt. Duane Fousie, a native of San Antonio, and 288th company commander, “If we run all our equipment, in one 24-hour period we can purify 200,000 gallons that can be used for laundry, showers, cooking, by the engineers as well as the civilian population.”

That is one company that can purify 200,000 gallons of water in a 24-hour period. There are many more of these units in the Army. Why are they not in Puerto Rico providing clean water?

I was no fan of President George W. Bush—his handling of the Katrina disaster was incompetent at best. But at least he showed some compassion toward those who were in her path.

You’ve seen the photo of Donald Trump meeting with victims of Hurricane Maria. He is tossing out paper towels as if they are T-shirts from a T-shirt gun at a minor league baseball game. That is not presidential, and sure as hell shows no empathy toward the people who survived a natural disaster.

I am not sure that the current White House occupant, or the Republican-led Congress is even aware that Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory, populated by U.S. citizens.

“The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this. This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” — Donald Trump

I have never before questioned a sitting president’s grasp on basic geography before, but, then again, there are a lot of things I never questioned about a sitting president prior to Trump. Empathy toward others and your actions toward the less fortunate are how we should be judged. Many of you reading this are just one or two missed paychecks away from disaster. In Hubert H. Humphrey’s last speech he stated,

 “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

By that test, our nation has failed. A “victory” in getting tax cuts for the rich was far more important to the Republican cabal currently running our nation, than providing adequate aid and relief to Puerto Rico, the sick and the poor.

I am not a religious man; however, I have read just about every religious text I could get my hands on. The bible, a book that I doubt many of the so-called Christians on the right have ever read, contains some wonderful writing. One of my favorite quotes is from Matthew 19:24:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

The Republican Party has sold its soul in the pursuit of wealth. The evangelical leaders who support them have forgotten the words from the very book they preach from—in many ways they have become no better than then people who are twisting the words of the Koran to fit their twisted, violent vision of the world.

Perhaps President Trump views those living in poverty in Puerto Rico as rabble, if that is the case, then maybe he should watch It’s a Wonderful Life, in particular, this scene:

Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle.

Denise Oliver Velez and Kelly Macias have done an amazing job of keeping Puerto Rico in the headlines on Daily Kos—the rest of the U.S. media, not so much, and for that they are to be commended. Now, if we could just get our nation’s leadership to pay attention to the plight of Puerto Rico, instead of crowing that they cut taxes for corporations, and the wealthy—if we had a leader who showed empathy, any empathy, our nation would be far better off than we will be with the tax cuts that will cripple our nation and cause even more people to suffer.