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"Who is Dependent on Welfare" With Ananya Roy
February 21, 2014 3:49 PM   Subscribe

It is time for America to reconsider who is dependent on welfare. Poverty is not only the lack of income and wealth but also the poverty of power. A key part of the poverty of power is to be defined as dependent: dependent on charity, handouts, welfare. Yet, it is the wealthy, not the poor, who are dependent on government subsidies. To transform dependency into self-determination is the work of poor people's movements. To demonstrate the dependency of the wealthy on welfare as well as on the labor of the poor must be our collective work.
posted by Blasdelb (66 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
[A couple "meh" comments deleted; refresh the thread please.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:09 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


I wish I knew how to have a conversation with people about this.

Yes, it's true that Walmart has the most people on welfare. They are the nation's largest employer.

If I try to discuss with the conservatives I know, they'll say that it's not Walmart's job to keep people off of welfare, maybe those people should not buy Playstations or beer or Lucky Charms.

I think it's because they honestly can't fathom that one can work a full-time job and a part-time job and STILL need welfare. And if they can fathom that, they know that they escaped it somehow (never mind whatever privilege helped them) and they figure everyone else should bootstrap as well. They don't believe the stories about people who have been out of work for years or who work two and three jobs and barely make ends meet.

It's like a brickwall with blinders. I can show them this video all day long and they'll never see anything.
posted by sio42 at 4:16 PM on February 21 [19 favorites]


the art is pretty awesome tho. this sort of style usually annoys me.
posted by sio42 at 4:17 PM on February 21


Why no actual people who are dependent on welfare actually talking about their lives?
posted by Ideefixe at 4:18 PM on February 21


Why no actual people who are dependent on welfare actually talking about their lives?

Too busy/too fatigued, too beat down, too numerous. Overlooked because their story is too mundane, not sensational enough.

Just a guess, but not an altogether uninformed one I hope.
posted by metagnathous at 4:36 PM on February 21 [8 favorites]


I think it's because they honestly can't fathom that one can work a full-time job and a part-time job and STILL need welfare.

Maybe. But I know people who work two or three jobs between two parents, are raising a bunch of kids on a tight budget, and still complain about those who are forced into the welfare system. Because they were granted privilege by birth, education, ability and lucky that others weren't, and they can't fathom that you can't just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be that lucky, too.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:40 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


Why no actual people who are dependent on welfare actually talking about their lives?

Because it's an invitation to critical thinking not a blueprint for social change. As per the video's explanation at the end.
posted by Talez at 4:45 PM on February 21


Also there's a huge lash out towards people who talk about their poverty-- you identify yourself as having hardships because of poverty and you get actively attacked for any bad choice you've ever made and for not having the strength to just solve all of the gazillion problems your facing WHILE dealing with barely scraping by or making it through a work day at all. People have endless solutions they can see you should be doing and therefore your poverty is perfectly solvable if you would just try.

The amount of attacks that happen to people who say anything about it is terrible to endure. Keeps the poor embarrassed and humiliated in themselves and their worth even if they have moments of strength to stand up against it. Not to mention enduring social hatred is physically bad for us, it's not healthy to throw yourself to the wolves and let them shred you as it's really genuinely damaging to various people to various degrees and the poor and already struggling are even more vulnerable to very real harms such attacks do to people's well being and mental health, and poor and struggling often need every shred of health and protection they can hang on to.
posted by xarnop at 4:46 PM on February 21 [50 favorites]


Bernie makes the shills look awkward
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:03 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


I wish I knew how to have a conversation with people about this.

It's hard to convince people that people's need to live should trump corporations' desire to exploit that need. WalMart literally could not exist without government support, but the villains are the workers, not the Walton family, even though the latter are stealing from the tax coffers.

It's the same people who distrust government access to their personal information but cheerfully give it to corporations.

Why do we so redily side with the rich? Because siding with the poor is, in some ways, siding with vulnerability.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:06 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


Yes, no one bats an eye at giving Macy's a hundred million dollars to build a distribution center to employ 1,600 workers, but give those 1,600 individuals the money instead and somehow that's dirty grubby welfare.
posted by wierdo at 5:11 PM on February 21 [16 favorites]


Why do we so redily side with the rich? Because siding with the poor is, in some ways, siding with vulnerability.

Ding ding ding ding ding. We have a winner folks.

Siding with the poor means that you could be like them. We need to believe that the poor did something wrong; that they deserve it in some way. Otherwise we could become them and become the objects of contempt that we consider them to be. So we must punish them to stop them from doing whatever it was that they did wrong.
posted by Talez at 5:18 PM on February 21 [17 favorites]


The food stamp capital of the US is white, and votes republican. Years of irrational arguments - and policies! - that prey on our fears of undeserving people (read: lazy, black/brown/white trash, criminal, etc.) getting a leg up at my expense, have left a great number of Americans numb to the plight of others and blind to the help they receive.

It's difficult to insert logic, and rationality, and facts into a debate that was shaped on fear, and lies. A cultural shift is needed.
posted by nikoniko at 5:18 PM on February 21 [10 favorites]


"If I try to discuss with the conservatives I know, they'll say that it's not Walmart's job to keep people off of welfare, maybe those people should not buy Playstations or beer or Lucky Charms. "

Well, do you want to win an argument, or do you want to change their minds? Because a lot of times (and this counts me too) winning an argument is more fun but less productive.

Instead of talking about how the real welfare is Walmart, the way to win is to remind them of the time, say, Aunt Betty got some help from the county when her cows died, or that time Uncle Joe broke his leg and there was a state-funded hospital to set it. By 1) not confronting (so they're not defensive), and 2) getting them thinking about someone else who they already like, you can ultimately shift them toward less anti-poor bullshit. Obviously, this only really works if you already know them pretty well and don't mind it taking a long time to shift those beliefs. For strangers on the internet, it's generally faster to just make fun of them until they shut up.
posted by klangklangston at 5:34 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


yep i get klangklangston.

in my younger days i would have railed but i don't anymore. i do try the approach you are talking about.

but they don't see a state-funded program for cows or hospitals the same way as they see food stamps and free/"free" healthcare.

as is often mentioned in these sorts of threads, and as has been mentioned, it's hard to get people to realize that the Walmart worker is not "other" - the WalMart worker IS Aunty Betty.

the people i'm talking about don't understand why the person who's working isn't trying to get a better job instead of staying at a job that underpays and forces them on welfare.

that's what i mean i don't know how to start a conversation.

they don't see anything to talk about.
posted by sio42 at 5:46 PM on February 21 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: generally faster to just make fun of them until they shut up.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:51 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


nikoniko: i nearly choked and died when the lady from the American Enterprise Institute said that we shouldn't take away WalMart's worker's choice to work at WalMart and we should not decide for them whether it's a good choice.

Holy miss the point batman.
posted by sio42 at 5:55 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


Ugh... not the bs Walmart argument again...

I think it's good to point out who is dependent on welfare. But I wish the left would figure out that making Walmart into evil incarnate is a losing angle. One, because it's so condescending. Millions of people shop there because it's what they can afford, because it's convenient, because they actually like it, and any other reason they can think of.

Two, the Walmart-as-welfare-queen model isn't really Walmart's making.

Three, if you're serious about a solution like guaranteed minimum income mentioned in the video, the Walmart-as-welfare-queen model is not only a feature, it becomes ensconced as an entitlement. Walmart is enabled, along with the thousands of other employers guilty of the same sin as Walmart.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:08 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


There was a recent article in the local news about how they are asking people who apply for medical assistance where their child was conceived, and other personal questions.

I've also gotten email petitions to try and get the state to accept the Medicare portion of the ACA. And other petitions about voting rights.

I thought this video was very well done, but it's a big picture sort of thing. I wouldn't expect them to be talking to individuals. Individuals have no control over policy: it's like expecting me, who lives in a smallish town in Maine, to be responsible for America's foreign policy. I may agree or disagree with it, but I, as an individual, have no control over that policy. I can read about, and I can see that it's influenced by many different things, but I cannot change it.

Nor can an individual who is in need of welfare, whether it's food stamps, fuel assistance, a better working wage, daycare subsidies, etc., change government policy. And believe me, people know they are being looked down on by their neighbors. Until their neighbors also need the same assistance and then, whoops! We're all in it together. And I think it's becoming more and more common, that people either have needed assistance, or know someone who has (such as unemployment compensation, and perhaps food stamp assistance as a result of unemployment), or been through foreclosure or known someone who has... it's still pretty bad out there, folks.

I had a bright spot the other day. My 21 year old son, who has been looking for a job forever, and more or less raging against the machine, why go to college and take out loans if he can't get a job afterward, and in general, distrusting of the government and the way things work around here (who can blame him? He's pretty smart, and he tells it like he sees it), he got a job as an auto mechanic of all things. And I thought, huh. He loves it, he is working, he will have zero school loans to pay off, he can get a car cheaply and know how to fix it, and he will always have that skill, should he decide to pursue other things. This is a kid who got straight A's in math and physics. But he looked at the world as it is, and he said, "Ma, this isn't right." Can't say I disagree with him there, but he's over 21 and he's on his way.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:13 PM on February 21 [8 favorites]


I was almost out of college when Reagan was elected. So, much of this video is painfully obvious to me because I am not a child of what the professor calls Post Welfare America. I have never heard this particular line of reasoning before, but it rings true - most of the most-hardcore anti-government, anti-welfare people I know are 20-30 years younger than me. They, truly, don't have any grounding in the societal can-do spirit that used to exist. When I try to describe the changes I've seen and lived through, I often feel like I might as well be speaking Martian. I'll never stop trying, but it's disheartening, to say the least.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:19 PM on February 21 [8 favorites]


My problem with Walmart is that US taxpayers are essentially supplementing the meager salaries they offer.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:26 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


Benny, me too. I took Word Processing (Wang!) as part of an educational program for single mothers and displaced homemakers (i.e., housewives whose husbands had left them and they had never worked outside the home). Our teacher made a point of telling us that this was the last class, as Reagan had cut out the funding for further education. I made a pretty good living from the skills learned in that class, which was a 6 month course in all things office and secretarial related. We even made resumes for the guys in the other program, who were taught trades, as part of our class. I used to wonder why the single mothers weren't taught trades, which obviously paid so much more than office jobs.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:32 PM on February 21 [7 favorites]


It's a lecture with artwork, not an "invitation" to anything. Videos like these justify those multimedia budgets at universities. We could have read a transcript just as easily.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:32 PM on February 21


Ugh... not the bs Walmart argument again...

While the typical Walmart rant usually has a bunch of hyperbole, I wouldn't go so far as calling the whole argument bullshit. The Walmart story is full of lessons, not the least of which is that the single biggest American business success story is a monster windfall to a few, and a financial burden to all.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:33 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]


I'm wondering if generations past have had the same discussions regarding the Woolworth's and Kresge's. Not that I think the Walton's are any great shakes, but maybe the Kresge's gave more to society? Not sure.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:40 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Wal-Mart does benefit from welfare, but in the more obvious sense that a lot of their customers are spending TANF, SNAP, WIC, EITC, SSI, etc. dollars in their stores, and additionally can spend income in their stores which would otherwise go to housing or health care were it not for Medicaid, housing projects, Section 8, etc. By pure size it is surely the largest gross recipient of welfare dollars in that sense in the country, although I'd suspect that some of the dollar store chains derive a larger percentage of their revenue from welfare.

However, the argument that Wal-Mart or any low-skill / low-wage employer is a welfare beneficiary for its employment practices is and always has been absurd. Welfare, including that paid to its employees, hurts them because welfare takes supply out of the low-end job market (some people don't work, and some people demand higher wages). In a no-welfare state, Wal-Mart would have better employees, cheaper employees, or potentially both.
posted by MattD at 6:42 PM on February 21


In a no welfare state, Walmart workers would starve.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:45 PM on February 21 [17 favorites]


In a no-welfare state, Wal-Mart would have better employees, cheaper employees, or potentially both.

Wal-Mart pays people the least it can legally get away with. They mess with schedules to ensure people are always part time, always on call.

This ensures that their workers cannot make enough money to live on, which is why they need welfare; Wal-Mart even shows employees how to apply!

So tell me. Please. In this bizarro paleocon no-welfare world, how are these people going to afford to eat and put a roof over their heads?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:58 PM on February 21 [20 favorites]


In a no-welfare state, Wal-Mart would have better employees, cheaper employees, or potentially both.

Please don't mistake your theories for facts.

Marx, like you, argued that desperation and misery are an effective way to build a low-cost labor force and to improve the returns on capital. That said, Marx wasn't right about everything. It's also entirely possible that the misery would show up not as hard-working plebs but rather as a violent revolution, or that we'd suffer some other similarly undesirable outcome.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:07 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


The question isn't whether or not to have government welfare, it's what kind of welfare and for whom.

Once the economic realities of the situation are laid out, this conversation becomes much different.
posted by willie11 at 7:10 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Fact 1: every country in the world that doesn't have welfare. Low-skill people compete to offer their services to employers at market-clearing wages far less than Wal-Mart pays, when those wages are usually lower than US minimum wage even on a COLA-adjusted basis.

Fact 2: right at home: illegal aliens. They are ineligible for most welfare, and for the most part confined to the lowest-skill occupations. They risk death to come here for that work, and manage not to starve once they're here. Employers risk civil and criminal penalty to employ them.
posted by MattD at 7:24 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


How come we are always proudly exceptional until the conversation turns to proving it? Market-clearing wages in non-welfare states has exactly fuck-all to do with the situation in the greatest, richest, most-economically-successful country in the world, no?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:30 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]


Q1: Which countries don't have welfare?

Q2: which of those countries are a place I'd actually want to live?
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:32 PM on February 21 [5 favorites]


Yes but that doesn't mean employees in many of those countries without any safety net aren't being worked or starved to death by malnutrition and related diseases.
posted by xarnop at 7:32 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying people shouldn't shop at walmart if that's what they want to do.

The argument is that walmart could have low prices AND pay it's workers enough of a wage so the workers don't need government subsidies. The reason people make this argument is because the Waltons are gilded-age rich. The amount of money it would take to provide living wages would go unnoticed to their lives.

And it would be incredibly noticed by everyone who works at Wal-Mart who would no longer have to have government help while being gainfully employed.

If it wasn't for government programs, Wal-Mart employees wouldn't exist.
posted by sio42 at 7:34 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]


As in literally, they'd be dying like xarnop pointed out.

I've read The Jungle. It wasn't just about meat packing.
posted by sio42 at 7:35 PM on February 21 [9 favorites]


" welfare takes supply out of the low-end job market ... some people demand higher wages"

What? Unemployment is like 7%. Higher if you count those who've given up, many of whom are perfectly capable of working. Labor supply is not a problem for Walmart.

Re: 'demanding higher wages,' - Walmart pays extremely low, just this side of full-time wages. Walmart is extremely aggressive about paying rock-bottom wages, and has paid a $350 million settlement for working its employees without pay (i.e. slavery) in the past. And of course, welfare directly subsidizes its labor costs by enabling it to pay less than its workers actually need to survive. I don't see how its employees could get much cheaper, can you elaborate on your theory?
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:41 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


the discussion we are having here is exactly the point of the video.

she says that she lives in public housing, but no one would ever call it that.
she gets a tax rebate on her mortgage which is greater than public housing subsidies for families.

she knows it's a form of welfare and calls it such.

holy crap the phrase lipstick on a pig suddenly makes sense.

Wal-Mart is vilified because what they are doing is so incredibly egregious, not because they have low prices or because poor people shop there.
posted by sio42 at 7:56 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


MattD: I agree. we probably could have lower wage employees for Wal-Mart if we allowed the poor to build favelas within our cities, and if those employees were at serious risk of death if they didn't take an ultra-low wage job.

Your argument is not new or novel. It is the precise argument that Marx made in Das Kapital, when he described how capital can exploit labor by continuously offering slightly lower wages to desperate, unemployed people whose only other option is death. This brutal approach allows capital to capture the vast majority of the surplus created in the labor/capital relationship. And it's true that welfare and unemployment insurance balance the power in that relationship.

However, the outcome that greediest folks forget about is the one where labor just says fuck it, seizes the property of the rich, then sometimes literally kills the rich. This is an outcome that has happened fairly regularly throughout history, both in large scale (the French revolution, most of the temporarily Socialist countries) and in small scale (countries where kidnapping is a cottage industry).

Exploitation seems great to capitalists, right until it's not. Sometimes even the most sociopathic, self-interested capitalists are best served by policies that don't maximally exploit labor.
posted by grudgebgon at 8:03 PM on February 21 [23 favorites]


People are confusing apples with oranges.

You may think that Wal-Mart wages are too low in a moral sense for the quality of work that Wal-Mart employees provide. You may think that welfare programs are morally compulsory and therefore any argument from the places where this is no welfare is improper or distasteful. You may have egalitarian notions that cause you to regard it rather brutish that in a free market the clearing price for unskilled labor is very low.

However, none of these things makes it true that in the absence of welfare programs, the market would compel Wal-Mart to pay higher wages per unit of labor value (quantity and quality), when every evidence we have from markets is that the wage per unit of labor value would fall. This is not only observable from places with no welfare, but also places with lots of welfare, where we observe (entirely non-paradoxically) both higher wages AND higher unemployment / welfare dependency.
posted by MattD at 8:24 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


> Low-skill people compete to offer their services to employers at market-clearing wages far less than Wal-Mart pays, when those wages are usually lower than US minimum wage even on a COLA-adjusted basis.


Those are also the countries where hundreds or thousands of people die yearly in slavery-like work conditions. If that's you're idea of a functioning economic system I really don't want to know what you'd consider broken.
posted by sandswipe at 8:29 PM on February 21 [16 favorites]


Nobody is making those arguments actually. We are saying that Walmart's low wages and low prices could not exist without welfare, i.e. their business model is predicated on having their labor costs subsidized by society.

Also, which places with no welfare are also modern, developed countries where I'd actually want to live?

Also, I took a cursory glance via Google, and it appears that countries with very strong welfare states (I am thinking of Nordic and Western Europeans here) have unemployment rates comparable to or lower than the U.S. When you say that more welfare leads to higher unemployment, which modern countries with strong welfare systems did you have in mind?
posted by mrbigmuscles at 8:30 PM on February 21 [7 favorites]


In a no-welfare state, Wal-Mart would have better employees, cheaper employees, or potentially both.

Isn't this the same argument as the one against minimum wage?
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:47 PM on February 21


Isn't this the same argument as the one against minimum wage?

It's similar in form but actually nonsensical, since welfare subsidizes and lowers labor costs, it doesn't raise them.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 8:49 PM on February 21


Irony of ironies, I got a Wal-Mart ad right before the video.

So are we going to talk about her advocacy of a guaranteed minimum income? Because I am seeing a lot of discussion about that in different places online, and I am just waiting for the right-wing media to start freaking out about it.
posted by emjaybee at 8:53 PM on February 21


You may think that Wal-Mart wages are too low in a moral sense for the quality of work that Wal-Mart employees provide.

No one at all is saying this.

In fact we're saying that REGARDLESS of the work they do, they should be paid a wage that means they do not need government assistance.

I think we're saying apples and you're hearing moose. Or Pluto. Or something else that's not even fruit.
posted by sio42 at 8:54 PM on February 21 [5 favorites]


Guaranteed minimum income is so crazy that I will just be happy if we get living wage.
posted by sio42 at 8:55 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


However, none of these things makes it true that in the absence of welfare programs, the market would compel Wal-Mart to pay higher wages per unit of labor value (quantity and quality), when every evidence we have from markets is that the wage per unit of labor value would fall. This is not only observable from places with no welfare, but also places with lots of welfare, where we observe (entirely non-paradoxically) both higher wages AND higher unemployment / welfare dependency.

Those who don't learn from history, etc.. FDR had a remarkably effective answer to this: work programs. Employ willing workers who are paid a livable wage, that sets a floor on labor compensation, doing societally beneficial work that is not within the province of private corporations. Win win. Was it opposed by the usual suspects back in the 30's? Hell yeah. Just as you'd hear pig squealing today from the same forces. But guess what? It worked! And there was no runaway inflation - quite the opposite, it was economically necessary and beneficial to pull us out of the deflationary spiral - and the same prescription seems indicated to remedy today's imbalances.

We may not have the political will in today's bought and paid for legislature and exec. branches, but that remedy clearly demolishes any claim to some kind of economic inevitability of poor, poor, put upon Walmart.
posted by VikingSword at 9:14 PM on February 21 [8 favorites]


That was a great video but guaranteed minimum income is years away from flying in the United States regardless of how nasty Wal Mart treats their workers or regardless of how rich the Waltons get.

The only way to fix this fast might be with a Huey Long style populist dictatorship and that would not make things better I am pretty sure.

(Conservative icon Milton Friedman proposed a negative income tax (equivalent to minimum income) years ago but real American voters and politicians seem aghast at the idea to this day.)
posted by bukvich at 10:39 PM on February 21


This ideology of "dependency" that is used to shame poor people needs to be countered at every opportunity, so I'm delighted to see videos like this one.

The shaming is usually some variation on this theme: "People on welfare need to get a job and earn their own money instead of taking government handouts. They need to be "independent."

Here’s the thing, though. No one is truly independent, and there should be no shame in this. We're all dependent - on one another. Ultimately, we are dependent on the Earth - plants, soils, pollinators, oxygen, etc. When our conditions change (e.g., we lose a job and go on welfare), our source of support may change, but our fundamental interdependence remains; it's merely changing form. That interdependence can be obscured - though not eliminated - by the use of money: money simply allows us to be dependent on strangers to meet our needs, instead of people we know.

...are we going to talk about her advocacy of a guaranteed minimum income? Because I am seeing a lot of discussion about that in different places online...

I'm thrilled to see this level of discussion about it online. I've been an advocate of unconditional basic income for 20+ years, and while I don't kid myself that it'll happen anytime soon in the US, the discussions I'm seeing are slowly but surely kindling a heady new spark of hope for me.
posted by velvet winter at 2:59 AM on February 22 [8 favorites]


Yeah I think people should have an innate right to the earths resources. Since the gov and individuals claim to own those resources, they have a responsibility to share with the people they have robbed of the right to live on and work the land. I'm cool with a minimum income. I also think either land or housing and food are the responsibility of the gov to the people. Either give people food and housing or give them the rights to land fertile enough to grow and build on and the resources in the wild. Supposedly the gov owns all the land and resources in the name of the people, if that's true show it.
posted by xarnop at 4:37 AM on February 22


none of these things makes it true that in the absence of welfare programs, the market would compel Wal-Mart to pay higher wages per unit of labor value (quantity and quality), when every evidence we have from markets is that the wage per unit of labor value would fall

You have twice now made the idealogue's common mistake if claiming that the evidence for your bullshit theory is so widespread and self-evident that you forgot to provide any.

Whoops.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:23 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


He also hasn't answered the very simple question as to how these employees would put a roof over their heads and food on the table without welfare.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:31 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


I think one of the most complicating factors in these conversations is the view that people have of taxes. I see tax expenditures as expenditures -- the mortgage interest deduction, the EITC, and WIC, it's all money spent. But if you see taxes as sort of a necessary evil that we have to fight back all the time, like the kudzu that's taking over the national lawn, then it's different.

I was low-income until very recently. I'm friends with a lot of other low-income parents. In my experience when people make the decision to start receiving SNAP, or to quit paying for their crappy private insurance and go on Medicaid, they often need to justify it to themselves and other people. They say things like, "I swore I'd never go on food stamps but my husband's hours got cut and we're still paying off the bill from the baby's hospital visit and we just have to suck it up and do it." I've never in my life heard anyone apologize for deducting their mortgage interest, or even for receiving the EITC, which is a fully refundable straight cash handout to the poor.

When I say to conservatives what this video essentially said -- that we're spending much more money on corporate support and deductions for the wealthy than we are on programs for the poor -- they look at me like I'm out of my mind and tell me, no, it's THEIR MONEY, we're just taking less of it. It's one of the many ways I feel like people on opposite sides of the aisle just talk straight past each other, all the time. We're not even asking the same questions.
posted by gerstle at 7:36 AM on February 22 [22 favorites]


gerstle - i rarely flag for fantastic comment but that was a fantastic comment.

i think people are afraid of the corporations in this country. they are afraid that if they piss them off, they'll leave and take their jobs with them.

so if you try to point out that our tax dollars are going to companies and banks and that THAT IS WELFARE, people will get deer in headlights.

it's easier to say "stop giving my taxes to other people" because it's easier to not care about those other people. they aren't going to take away your job, especially if they're poor, broke, diseased, and homeless. it's easier to think the mob won't come for you because you're not the problem.

so i think that's how end up not even asking the same questions or seeing the same problems.
fear.

and i don't know how you get people to realize that they can be afraid and still fight back.
posted by sio42 at 9:39 AM on February 22


We are saying that Walmart's low wages and low prices could not exist without welfare, i.e. their business model is predicated on having their labor costs subsidized by society.

Is there any evidence for that, or are you just making it up?
posted by jpe at 9:52 AM on February 22


If it wasn't for government programs, Wal-Mart employees wouldn't exist.


Sure they would; they'd just have less income and resources.
posted by jpe at 9:54 AM on February 22


He also hasn't answered the very simple question as to how these employees would put a roof over their heads and food on the table without welfare.

It would expand the burgeoning back alley refrigerator box real estate market! Just think of how many high paying clerical jobs we could create and how many entrepreneurs would be self-starting and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to service this brand new opportunity!

If people wanted to live in a house they could also choose that.
posted by Talez at 10:48 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Military Families Are Using Food Stamps More Than Ever
posted by homunculus at 11:51 AM on February 22


There was a paper suggesting that the Fed should create bank accounts for every American and use that as the mechanism for economic stimulus. That would solve two problems simultaneously and I encourage anyone interested in innovative ideas for social change to investigate that further. I would dig up the research myself but I am stuck on the tarmac in a Detroit that never felt the breeze of QE II past NYC.
posted by astrobiophysican at 12:33 PM on February 22


We are saying that Walmart's low wages and low prices could not exist without welfare, i.e. their business model is predicated on having their labor costs subsidized by society.

Is there any evidence for that, or are you just making it up?

A significant percentage of Walmart's employees are on welfare and are sub-poverty level wages. It's a simple description of reality.


"I pay low wages. I can take advantage of that. We're going to be successful, but the basis is a very low-wage, low-benefit model of employment." - Sam Walton
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:58 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Why on earth a collective doesn't form offering Wal-Mart (private) a run for its money is beyond me.

Why work for Wal-Mart (private) when you can work for Mall-Walk (public), with access to the collective's housing, child care, aged care, medical clinics, schools, car pool, generous retirement packages .. all legitimately subsidised (obviously) by government benefits to big business.

Compete. Because Ananya Roy's real message is poverty of power is more widespread than lack of means where there is mature democratic capitalism.
posted by de at 7:08 PM on February 22


MattD: "However, the argument that Wal-Mart or any low-skill / low-wage employer is a welfare beneficiary for its employment practices is and always has been absurd. Welfare, including that paid to its employees, hurts them because welfare takes supply out of the low-end job market (some people don't work, and some people demand higher wages). In a no-welfare state, Wal-Mart would have better employees, cheaper employees, or potentially both."

And once again the assumption that real people are the automatons of economics textbooks rears its ugly head. Here's a tip for those of you who are susceptible to this sort of idiotic thinking: Almost nobody wants to be on welfare. Most everyone would prefer to be able to support themselves with income from a job because it makes them feel good about themselves, does not put them on the receiving end of the moral opprobrium that libertarian jackholes like to lob in their direction, and is generally a more stable situation.

For this reason, the availability of welfare programs does not materially reduce the number of people working or materially increase wages. This is plainly obvious from the wages Wal-Mart and other no-skill employers are presently paying and from the fact that there are still more applicants than jobs.

If your theory had any basis in reality as it presently exists there would be massive upward pressure on wages right now, given that workforce participation among non-disabled working age adults is the lowest it has been in a very long time. That is not happening, so you may want to lay off the Friedman for a while.
posted by wierdo at 3:48 PM on February 23 [6 favorites]


"However, none of these things makes it true that in the absence of welfare programs, the market would compel Wal-Mart to pay higher wages per unit of labor value (quantity and quality), when every evidence we have from markets is that the wage per unit of labor value would fall. This is not only observable from places with no welfare, but also places with lots of welfare, where we observe (entirely non-paradoxically) both higher wages AND higher unemployment / welfare dependency."

Absent regulation, people will take desperate jobs for desperate pay, or "wages per unit of labor value" will fall. But the problem there is that the benefits for the fall in labor value accrue very narrowly, while the costs are borne broadly. It makes most people worse off.

And think it through further — Walmart is a low-margin business selling consumer goods. As a significant source of the wages for American consumers, labor value plummeting leads to both less quality of workers (elasticity is never perfect), as well as a decrease in available consumer spending, which hurts Walmart's overall sales.

It's also worth recognizing that despite arguments by the IMF (and others) that lump all welfare and externalized labor costs together as "labor tax," the evidence for the influence of welfare directly on reducing the number of people working is mixed, and is often overstated by being included in the overall labor tax discussion, which includes things like the costs of adequate safety regulations as well as payroll taxes, etc.

So, while the evidence from markets that labor prices fall is there, that's an odd fish-nor-fowl that requires cherry picking some macro-economic trends while ignoring the larger macro-economic picture, as well as misunderstanding the relationship between democracy and capitalism.
posted by klangklangston at 11:11 AM on February 24 [4 favorites]


From the "it's only welfare when those other moochers take it" department, here's Katrina Pierson, Tea Party candidate for Congress in Texas.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:11 AM on February 25


For Boys, Moving to a Wealthier Neighborhood Is as Traumatic as Going to War
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:20 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


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