Decreasing the Surplus Population

I feel like I’m in something of a Dickens Twilight Zone.  Are we all being transported back to a time in human history when debtors prisons and workhouses for the poor were the norm in dealing with those lower income levels Mitt Romney has deemed the 47% not worthy of his concern?

 

There is often the blind assumption that the poor are always responsible for their plight

We’re all familiar with that part of the Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, where Ebenezer Scrooge is approached by two gentlemen gathering donations during the Christmas holiday to help provide “some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time”.  Scrooge frowns and shakes his head at the two men as they entreat him to donate.  He tells the men to leave him alone after assuring them that such ne’er-do-wells can best be assisted by the prisons, workhouses, treadmills and poor laws that were still in place then.

I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

One of the gentlemen replied, “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.  Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”  SOURCE 

That last line about how Scrooge wasn’t even aware that conditions were so bad at those workhouses that “many [of the poor] would rather die” is symptomatic of very wealthy people who often view most poor people, especially those so destitute that they are homeless, as lazy derelicts and what aid they receive is more than they deserve.  Some would view them as the secured caste in India, better known perhaps as “the untouchables”.

Those institutions Scrooge mentions were publicly supported.  They were the harsh government efforts by which the poor were dealt with in early 19th century England.  They are a far cry from what civilized Western societies offer today who treat people much more humanely and provide esteem-building incentives to overcome their poverty.  For example:

The  Poor Law was the Victorian answer to poverty [that] was enacted in 1834. Prior to passage of the New Poor Law, indigent care was the burden of individual parishes, but the new regulation required parishes to band together and create regional workhouses where the poor could apply for relief. Little more than prisons for the poor, workhouses were notorious for denying civil liberties, separating family members, and destroying human dignity. As a result, most of the poorest people went to great lengths in order to avoid this degrading solution.    SOURCE

Though we have become more humane over the last two centuries there are signs that some segments within society would like to “Restore America” to a level and time where such humane assistance was not available.  Take for example Mitt Romney’s comments recently in an 60 Minutes Interview with Scott Pelley:

Pelley: Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?

Romney: Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance, people– we– if someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.

If I were Pelley I would have followed up this comment and asked Romney, “what about the aftercare these people will need Governor?  Many can’t afford it and because of it will surely die”.

The refrain from many of those who will either be voting for Romney or against Obama is “Let ‘em die!” .   Of course Romney and others within the GOP hierarchy would not be so brazen to simply say let them die but the policies they support are creating that very condition.

Those politicians who signed Grover Norquist’s No Tax pledge have agreed to shrink government small enough so it can be drowned in a bath tub.  This means deep and lasting cuts to social welfare programs that  provide “some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly …”   Some recent news has revealed that this tactic is having the “Scrooge Effect”.

For generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.

The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance.   SOURCE 


The conditions mentioned in this report, that scientist feel may be the causal factors for lower life expectancies for the country’s least-educated whites, are predominant in the South along with two adjoining states – Texas and Oklahoma.  This has become a region of the country that routinely votes Republican in large numbers

Red staters love their tobacco and high fructose, fatty foods.  A 2006-07 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health showed that those age 12 or older in 6 of the states in this region had a higher rate than the national average of 8.1 percent of people who had used an illicit drug in the last month.   That region’s high school graduation rate was a full 8 points below the national average of 74.9%

Based on the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the national average for uninsured people was 18.4 percent in 2010.  Half of the states in the South including Texas and Oklahoma had higher rates, with my home state of Texas leading all others at 25% – 1 in 4 Texans have no health care coverage.  These rates will likely improve over time thanks in part to that “socialist” legislation Republicans are trying to repeal and derisively call “Obamacare”.  The Congressional Budget Office projects that 32 million more people will have insurance by 2019.

What jumps out and grabs me the most in all of this is how this region of the country consistently votes against their own self-interests.  In sheer numbers, these states draw in the larger share of public assistance programs than any other region.

In a NY Times article earlier this year, data revealed that “the share of Americans’ income that comes from government benefit programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, more than doubled over the last four decades, rising from 8 percent in 1969 to 18 percent in 2009.”  Take a look at the map below to see where the greatest concentration of these needs are located.

The darkest areas are where the highest concentrations of social welfare beneficiaries reside

Click on image to interact 

It quickly becomes clear that those areas of the country that routinely vote Republican are most dependent on welfare assistance; benefits that Republican elected officials routinely vote to reduce or eliminate altogether

Voters in this region also elect politicians that favor legislation that enriches corporations while ignoring matters that would reduce the effects of obesity, smoking, drug use and health insurance coverage.  Regulations aimed at mollifying the ill effects of poor diets, smoking and pollution are always cited as government overreach by GOP representatives, often ignoring how the consequences of their actions are leading to the advanced death rates of those least-educated whites.  

By getting these voters to support legislation and policies that diminishes their chances of survival, the Romneys of our age, the modern day Scrooges, have surreptitiously collaborated in reducing that surplus population who rely on Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare benefits; benefits they are entitled to.

Do the Grover Norquist loyalists think in terms of reducing this population to advance their own income status?  Are they really unaware that these low and middle-income people who collect these benefits in most cases are part of that work force that enabled the 1% to acquire their fortunes?  Without a labor force that earns a living wage there would be far less demand for the goods and services that businesses rely on to make a profit.  Depriving them of the means to enhance their lives and become productive members of society is a short-sighted effort by those who actively seek to eliminate safety net coverage, vital resources for retirees and those who lack adequate health coverage.  Such a strategy is bound to come back and bite the Scrooges of the world on the butt and ultimately pick their own pockets.

[T]he United States has experienced an upward redistribution so profound that it affects far more than incomes. Whole sectors of the economy and regions of the country have been decimated by these economic changes. The descent in all manner of social indexes is most apparent among poorly educated whites. Conservative commentator Charles Murray has documented in his new book the decline in marriage rates and family stability within the white working class. … While other Americans’ life expectancy has advanced, the life expectancy of whites without high school diplomas has declined since 1990 — by three years among men and five years among women.

The market is not just redistributing income in the United States, then. It is redistributing life.  – Harold Meyerson

The two gentlemen who confronted Scrooge for a charitable donation were not buying into his statement that he was unaware of the deplorable conditions in the workhouses

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

It is only later, when confronted with his own mortality that Scrooge concludes that mankind is indeed his business more than he is willing to concede.  We also discover that his assets are far greater than he had led us to believe as he gives generously to these two men later as well as to the Cratchits and his own family.  What Scrooge learned was that accumulated wealth may indeed be an individual right but it doesn’t permit us to cut ourselves off from the rest of humanity.

Believing that we are independent of each other and that our success is based solely on our own actions is a bogus premise.  Believing too that an unfettered free market is the sole answer to our economic survival ignores the lessons of history where human greed will always prevent a fair shake to allow a rising tide to lift all boats.

When the system fails, and it will because mankind has yet to create a singular equitable system, we need to allow those public resources to fill the voids where charities and local efforts alone can’t.  No one should plan their life around the charity of others or rely on a public safety net to catch them when the economy falters.  Common sense however tells us that inevitably there will be conditions that require some kind of system in place that can address this failure.

But neither should we have to fear that opportunities exists only for the fortunate ones who inherited their wealth or are a member of an advantaged group.  The revered notion of an American dream does not mean we will all share equally in the wealth that free markets generate but it should ensure that mechanisms are in place to provide the necessities for good health and security without being an undue burden.  Corporate interests must put people, especially their employees on a level plain with their profits.  They are not mere objects for venture capitalists like Romney to dispose of in order to maximize their bottom line.

Until we can find a better economic substitute for the free market system, it will fall on the wealthiest amongst us during tough economic times like these to make necessary sacrifices.  Not the 47% who Romney wants to ignore.  These are usually the people who get squeezed the most, making it even more difficult to sustain a reasonable measure of security and good health.  There are no throwaway human surpluses.  Only those who are kept down by soul-less people who have contrived a misguided premise that we ” are all on our own.”

 

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17 responses to “Decreasing the Surplus Population

  1. Larry,

    I live in Michigan, as you know. I’ve lived all over Michigan, in point of fact. According to your map, the highest beneficiares of welfare live in the northern region. Unless they’re including Federal money given to Indian reservations, it’s simply not true. Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw have extremely high rates of welfare beneficiaries – yet curiously those regions are light.

    So many of the people in northern Michigan are retired General Motors workers, or people collecting money from Indian casinos. Not even per capita could that map be correct. Trust me.

    That last line about how Scrooge wasn’t even aware that conditions were so bad at those workhouses that “many [of the poor] would rather die” is symptomatic of very wealthy people who often view most poor people, especially those so destitute that they are homeless, as lazy derelicts and what aid they receive is more than they deserve. Some would view them as the secured caste in India, better known perhaps as “the untouchables.

    Isn’t it true that many poor people often view rich folks as having been born with a silver spoon in their mouth? Isn’t it also true that such sentiments minimize the hard work and suffering many wealthy folks went through to get where they are today?

    Wealthy folks would not be wealthy if it weren’t for poor and middle-income wage earners, I agree. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that rich folks didn’t work hard for their success in the first place.

    Believing that we are independent of each other and that our success is based solely on our own actions is a bogus premise.

    Many conditions are responsible for success and failure, but individual choices by far take the lion’s share, in my view.

    If corporate America is as big a problem as you say, BOTH parties are responsible. BOTH parties – and BOTH candidates – take money from lobbyists and special interest groups tied to corporate America. To single Romney out is the epitome of prejudice.

    • ”Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw have extremely high rates of welfare beneficiaries – yet curiously those regions are light.
      So many of the people in northern Michigan are retired General Motors workers, or people collecting money from Indian casinos. Not even per capita could that map be correct. Trust me.”

      Sorry Terrance. Unless you have done the research and due diligence on this, trusting your assessment of all these people, just because you have “lived all over Michigan”, would be rather naive of me.

      ”Isn’t it true that many poor people often view rich folks as having been born with a silver spoon in their mouth? Isn’t it also true that such sentiments minimize the hard work and suffering many wealthy folks went through to get where they are today?”

      

I wouldn’t know Terrance. I could only specualte on this and that would not be a very realistic assessment now would it.

      Besides, how poor people see the rich is less likely to impact the wealthy as much as how wealthy people see the poor. Remember, it’s the wealthy that have the greatest influence in our government and elsewhere, not the poor.

      And there are a lot of wealthy people that really haven’t “worked and suffered”. Romney is but one of them since he was pretty much born of the manor. he may have had to earn his grades in school but to even be able to attend the levels of education he did was a factor of his wealthy family. Now, you could say that his father George fits your perception of hard working, but I don’t think Mitt qualifies.

      ”If corporate America is as big a problem as you say, BOTH parties are responsible. BOTH parties – and BOTH candidates”

      True to a large degree but I don’t think the Democrats are the ones trying to kill financial reform legislation at this time

      • Larry,

        Sorry Terrance. Unless you have done the research and due diligence on this, trusting your assessment of all these people, just because you have “lived all over Michigan”, would be rather naive of me.

        I understand. But I know that map is a complete sham, so I will ignore it and anything else that comes from that particular source. Like I said, unless all Federal monies to Indian reservations are considered “welfare,” the map is an absolute lie. If, however, those monies are considered welfare, the map is absolutely misleading. Either way, I know the source cannot be trusted.

        I don’t need to research the issue because I have 27 years of experience in this state. I’ve worked in many urban areas in many arenas, including community housing – all over the state. You should consider finding new sources.

        I wouldn’t know Terrance. I could only specualte on this and that would not be a very realistic assessment now would it.

        I would suggest that ascribing certain sentiments to wealthy people is just as speculative, Larry.

        Besides, how poor people see the rich is less likely to impact the wealthy as much as how wealthy people see the poor. Remember, it’s the wealthy that have the greatest influence in our government and elsewhere, not the poor.

        
The point is that we can’t know for sure how wealthy people view the poor, or how poor people view the wealthy – in general. It’s all, as you say, speculative.

        And there are a lot of wealthy people that really haven’t “worked and suffered”. Romney is but one of them since he was pretty much born of the manor. he may have had to earn his grades in school but to even be able to attend the levels of education he did was a factor of his wealthy family. Now, you could say that his father George fits your perception of hard working, but I don’t think Mitt qualifies.

        Certainly. And there are a lot of poor people who are poor because of their actions, not Mitt Romney’s or the Koch Brothers.

      • “I don’t need to research the issue because I have 27 years of experience in this state.”

        You know Terrance you don’t help your credibility ratings when you make comments like this. Are you saying that your formative years as a child and a teenager were actively engaged in analyzing the welfare recipient demographics in your state? Where did you receive your training?

      • Larry,

        People in northern Michigan are generally not poor. I know this because, as I said, I’ve lived in Michigan for 27 years. I know it.

        I’ve also discovered that over 50 different types of “welfare,” including Veterean Benefits, are used in creating that map? I don’t yet know what all 50 are, but I’m working on it. But I can tell you right now, the map is at least misleading.

      • Terrance,

        I don’t think you are doing much more than looking at the map on my blog rather than clicking on it so you can interact with it and see what kids of benefits have been issued in Michigan over the last four decades. There are several categories that include not only social security and medicare but things covered under “income support” like food stamps, disability benefits and the earned income tax credit. There’s also a category for Veterans benefits and Unemployment insurance.

        Now, if you will also click on the decade up in the right hand corner of the map you’ll see that these demographics have changed over the last ten years. Clearly in the 1990’s during the Clinton administration when we had a budget surplus and unemployment was at some of its lowest rates, the dark areas in Michigan become much lighter. This may be the period of time during your travels around the state that what you saw then correlates with what your thinking now.

        Keep in mind too that social security and medicare benefits are received not just by the very poor. Many well off families also collect such benefits simply because they are eligible to.

        You need to get off of your “I’m not going to believe anything that doesn’t settle with my gut level experiences” attitude and seriously consider this information here. It’s not going to be exact but if I were a Romney venture capitalist, I would be putting my money on this information more than a well-intentioned young man who has moved around the state a lot in his young life.

      • Larry,

        I clicked on it and it took me to a NYTimes website. That’s where I found out that over 50 different “welfares” are included.

        I assumed that by “welfare,” they meant food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid,and cash assistance only – ya know, safety nets for the poor. I guess I’ve never considered things like Veterean Benefits and EITC to be “welfare.” I don’t think most people think of those things as welfare either.

      • Terrance, its all a matter of semantics. Welfare = Government benefits and vise versa. It’s only those on the right who have taken the word “welfare” and made it something bad. The NY Times map did use the word government benefits.

  2. Are you saying that your formative years as a child and a teenager were actively engaged in analyzing the welfare recipient demographics in your state?

    I;ll give ya one thing, Larry. That statement cracked me up. LOL. Smart ass.

  3. As a social scientist I tell people never to trust their own experience or other people’s own experiencing in making a general claim. Our experiences are limited and subjective (and interpreted within the prism of our beliefs). It doesn’t mean one is wrong, only that verifiable data trumps personal experience. I don’t see any reason to consider this map wrong, the source (US Government Bureau of Economic Analysis) is usually trustworthy.

    What I really like about the post is the timelessness of Dickins’ works. Yes, it’s not as bad as then, but markets plus human nature always lead people who succeed to want to both build structures to give them advantages in the future and to rationalize their wealth so they don’t need to confront moral dilemmas.

    • “As a social scientist I tell people never to trust their own experience or other people’s own experiencing in making a general claim. Our experiences are limited and subjective (and interpreted within the prism of our beliefs).”

      Exactly. Thanks Scott Getting data is tiresome work but if its done diligently and systematically it will reasonably reflect the reality.

  4. Recently, a few different conservative R friends (one an Air Force grad and commercial pilot, another a college grad and sales manager) have said to me that the poor probably shouldn’t have as much influence on public policies since they don’t have “as much skin in the game”. So I proposed a solution to the dreaded problem of those without means exercising their constitutional rights—one vote for every 50k/earned. I’m naive, I thought most Americans had a built-in egalitarianism. Is there anything less American than saying democratic participation and influence should be based upon one’s socio-economic status?

    • “Is there anything less American than saying democratic participation and influence should be based upon one’s socio-economic status?”

      Nope and I can’t help but feel that many on the right would be satisfied if we went back to a form of feudalism, under some other Orwellian name of course like the Ownership Society but which would be a far cry from Bush’s notion of merely owning a house. You couldn’t vote or have a say in making policy unless you owned more than one piece of property and income no less than $1 million annually

    • Wow, Ron. That is a miserable and idiotic position for those Rs to hold. Actually, they were being generous, I suppose. Some Rs would just like to ship those “people” off to another country.

  5. Hehe, I lived in Michigan for 46 years. Giggle..should I get in this? Unfortunately what passes for “fact” today is mostly anecdotal. And that is not fact, just a single or a few examples which are statistically irrelevant. But most of what you hear in opposition to scientific polling and study, is just that. It’s that old bugaboo that a certain segment of the population has when it comes to science.

    • :-) Now, now Sherry.

      I had forgotten too that you had mentioned you lived in Michigan. I wasn’t aware that it was for 46 years. You lived all four of those decades there that the map shows how government benefits have evolved.

      • most of the time from age 3, I was busy studying the demographics of people who were on the govt. dole, you know my grandma who had social security, and my uncle who had disability from WW2. I kept a pretty accurate map of the state I surely did. It’s at the Smithsonian now, getting ready for display to a grateful nation.

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