Krugman on the Ugly Truth

Hunger Games, U.S.A.

By

Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.

The occasion for these observations is, as you may have guessed, the monstrous farm bill the House passed last week.

For decades, farm bills have had two major pieces. One piece offers subsidies to farmers; the other offers nutritional aid to Americans in distress, mainly in the form of food stamps (these days officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).

Long ago, when subsidies helped many poor farmers, you could defend the whole package as a form of support for those in need. Over the years, however, the two pieces diverged. Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net.

So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies — at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed — while completely eliminating food stamps from the bill.

To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs. It goes something like this: “You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money” — frequently, at this point, they add the words “at the point of a gun” — “and force them to give it to the poor.”

It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.

Now, some enemies of food stamps don’t quote libertarian philosophy; they quote the Bible instead. Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, for example, cited the New Testament: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Sure enough, it turns out that Mr. Fincher has personally received millions in farm subsidies.

Given this awesome double standard — I don’t think the word “hypocrisy” does it justice — it seems almost anti-climactic to talk about facts and figures. But I guess we must.

So: Food stamp usage has indeed soared in recent years, with the percentage of the population receiving stamps rising from 8.7 in 2007 to 15.2 in the most recent data. There is, however, no mystery here. SNAP is supposed to help families in distress, and lately a lot of families have been in distress.

In fact, SNAP usage tends to track broad measures of unemployment, like U6, which includes the underemployed and workers who have temporarily given up active job search. And U6 more than doubled in the crisis, from about 8 percent before the Great Recession to 17 percent in early 2010. It’s true that broad unemployment has since declined slightly, while food stamp numbers have continued to rise — but there’s normally some lag in the relationship, and it’s probably also true that some families have been forced to take food stamps by sharp cuts in unemployment benefits.

What about the theory, common on the right, that it’s the other way around — that we have so much unemployment thanks to government programs that, in effect, pay people not to work? (Soup kitchens caused the Great Depression!) The basic answer is, you have to be kidding. Do you really believe that Americans are living lives of leisure on $134 a month, the average SNAP benefit?

Still, let’s pretend to take this seriously. If employment is down because government aid is inducing people to stay home, reducing the labor force, then the law of supply and demand should apply: withdrawing all those workers should be causing labor shortages and rising wages, especially among the low-paid workers most likely to receive aid. In reality, of course, wages are stagnant or declining — and that’s especially true for the groups that benefit most from food stamps.

So what’s going on here? Is it just racism? No doubt the old racist canards — like Ronald Reagan’s image of the “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy a T-bone steak — still have some traction. But these days almost half of food stamp recipients are non-Hispanic whites; in Tennessee, home of the Bible-quoting Mr. Fincher, the number is 63 percent. So it’s not all about race.

What is it about, then? Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness, a contempt for what CNBC’s Rick Santelli, in the famous rant that launched the Tea Party, called “losers.” If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick. I don’t fully understand it, but it’s a terrible thing to behold.

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22 responses to “Krugman on the Ugly Truth

  1. Dear Mr. Krugman, My faith has been restored somewhat to see an article written by someone like you. Those of us in the working class, are almost at the end of our rope hoping that the Republican Party will wake up and see the damage they are doing to our country. Their arrogance of the stand they are taking, only pits Americans against each other while we scramble to survive. I never looked at myself as being exceptionally lucky just to have my own house and having made it to retirement. However more often than not, I take little pleasure in my position when so many of my fellow Americans are suffering at the hands of this party. Their humanity is in question with me and they are revealing themselves as cruel and self serving. So many great Americans have fought this kind of thing such in the past such as Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy and so many others. This country used to be great but now I have real concern as to whether or not it will be again if these people and their concepts stay in positions of power. One thing about it. The good thing that they have done for all of us is that it has made American’s much more engaged in the political process and are beginning to wake up to the systematic, underhanded sabotage that this party is so hell bent setting into motion. I am angry every day knowing what is going on and watch every effort they make to keep my government frozen and a prisoner of their radical, disgraceful dogma and mean spirit as you said. Thank you for posting this article. I would like to see everyone read it and look forward to more of the same.

  2. Reblogged this on Power To The Voters and commented:
    Long ago, when subsidies helped many poor farmers, you could defend the whole package as a form of support for those in need. Over the years, however, the two pieces diverged. Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net.

    So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies — at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed — while completely eliminating food stamps from the bill.

    To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs. It goes something like this: “You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money” — frequently, at this point, they add the words “at the point of a gun” — “and force them to give it to the poor.”

    It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.

    https://seniorsforademocraticsociety.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/krugman-on-the-ugly-truth/

  3. Pingback: Krugman on the Ugly Truth | Power To The Voters

  4. Unbelievable!!! This country is made By the People for the People, not the rich!!! Not Racist, and certainly not rich organizations or groups who think they can surpass other Americans rights!!

  5. there is NO HOPE for the Republican party to change…the ONLY hope is voting out as many Republicans as The American People can in the elections of 2014…its the beginning of hope

  6. David Kerlick

    Hitler’s term was “useless eaters.” Sums up today’s GOP.

  7. What kind of country are we living in where assistance for FOOD is so resented and our politicians gleefully cut that assistance while giving lifelong subsidies to billionaire “farmers”…… Mr. Krugman is right when he says “Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological mean-spiritedness, a contempt…… If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick. I don’t fully understand it, but it’s a terrible thing to behold.” It is a terrible thing to behold and it is disgraceful coming from our so called “leaders”…..I am ashamed to be an American.

  8. I think the correct term is “sadistic”…

  9. Margaret McVey

    Thank you, Mr. Krugman, for your writing. You seem to be the lone voice among your peers who speaks of compassion for the many who are suffering at the hands of these politicians. They quote the bible in a perverse way to support their cruel views. We need you, Mr. Krugman. You are our voice.

  10. They give all the money to the “farmers” and now there is the big uproar about Monsanto and GMF. I don’t get it.

  11. I am a farmer. The only “subsidy” we get is a long-term payback of about half of the value of the “tobacco base” that limited how much tobacco could be grown and sold at what price. We are getting annual payments, which, when done, will amount to about half of the value our farm was assessed for tobacco. In other words, we’ve been taxed on the full value of that base for many years and now can only recover about half of what we were taxed on. The government is keeping the other half for themselves.

  12. Thank you Mr. Krugman for your never ending attempts to explain the destruction that is being assaulted on the middle class and poor class of America. Your voice of sanity has been soothing as is disturbing, and as your article indicates, you are losing patience with having to constantly give the facts once again. It’s what is called the Tea Party types that have invaded the Republican party, because many Republicans are not this cruel. But they go along and are letting them take over. Americans are voting them into office too, so we are to blame also. Keep on keeping on because we need your voice.

  13. We are seeing the dead-souled, compassionless, narcissistic, self-absorbed, “not my brother’s keeper,” “I got mine,” anti-social-compact, cheapskate, objectivist face of modern American conservatism conflated with a racist element that bases its assumptions about “worthiness” to receive government assistance both on misguided assumptions about the ethnicity of the recipients and the causes of poverty. (See the Skocpol study of the Tea Party and watch the Teapublicans confirm this in their own words.) At some point, you are not really having a difference of opinion or philosophy or policies with someone like that; rather, you are just dealing with an out and out bad person.

  14. Republicans have BECOME a party of EVIL-DOERS.

  15. Val Fitzgerald

    If each of you will look at the Voting Maps of your State, you will notice two things: One, that your district maps have changed beyond recognition from what they were ten years ago. Two–these maps have been created by the Republican party, to electorally segregate their White base and keep it in power. THAT is what Republicans have been doing all these years. THAT is what we have to fight at the voting booth. The recognition that everyone has to get out and vote in the big cities, and provision has to be made for everyone’s vote. That’s also what the current spate of anti-voter ‘laws’ have done—from eliminating Sunday voting (big cities, Black neighborhoods) to keeping pols in power who will do nothing to help and everything to harm, voter registration. How do you fix that? Get involved NOW on the voter registration front. There isn’t much time left—but there is just enough time that, if we all get behind an enormous push, we will do better in 2014 than we did in 2010. We have to. President Obama still needs those last two years, to actually have a Presidency. And the enemies are gathering at the polls.

  16. Why should it not surprise anyone that the GOP would decrease SNAP while increasing subsities to the rich agribusinesses? Isn’t hyprocisy the middle name of the GOP?

  17. Vote them all (demo & GOP) out. Bring on the term limits

    • David Kerlick

      Term limits favor the right wing. Popular candidates are deprived of office whilst easily replaceable corporate stooges take over.

      • Good point. Term limits (1) empower corporate marketing budgets to fund their preferred candidates and (2) support the odd idea that our complex government and politics can be better-run by a series of amateurs.

  18. It’s often been stated, when one points a finger, 3 fingers and a thumb are pointing back at the one pointing. Blame who you may, just take a look at this entire nation, then take a look at the people responsible. I suppose a good question may be, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR OUR COUNTRY LATELY. Quoting the Master, ” YOU WITHOUT FAULT, CAST THE FIRST STONE.

  19. Pingback: Congressional Hunger Games « Well Power

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