Sorry for the whiny headline. It’s just that I’m going from wondering how one gets a paying job as a glorified caption writer (although Benny Johnson was sacked; good luck finding another gig that sweet, dude) (update: on second thought, he’s an old Breitbart alum. Wingnut welfare will provide.) to wondering how come there’s always plenty of money to pay “experts” who don’t know what they’re talking about? Especially conservative “experts”? Well, OK, I know what the answer is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wallow in the injustice of it for a while.
The buzz from the Right this week was the rebirth of “compassionate conservatism.” The original was never more than an empty slogan, of course, but like good little courtiers the pundit class mostly pretends that’s not true and take it seriously.
Paul Ryan is being praised even in some center-leftie corners for his new anti-poverty ideas. Basically, unlike some of his previous plans, he does not wish to help Americans who are falling behind by taking away their shoes and breaking their feet. Instead, he proposes to treat them all like lazy children so they’ll shape up.
This is most obvious when you look at the portion of Ryan’s draft that has attracted the most scorn, the idea that poor people, if they want to use government programs, should sign a “contract” that would outline various steps and benchmarks they’d be responsible for — or else suffer the consequences of undefined “sanctions.” What kind of steps and benchmarks these are, Ryan doesn’t say, which is perhaps a gesture toward his beloved subsidiarity (the Catholic belief that authority should be devolved as much as possible), albeit one that is particularly hollow within the context of a policy that quite literally would have government agents micromanaging poor people’s lives. The point is, however, that Ryan assumes poverty in America cannot be adequately addressed by doing seemingly obvious things like giving people money or creating well-paying jobs that tackle vital public needs, but that it instead requires the poor to learn from a government-provided surrogate parent how to wrest themselves free from that dreaded “tailspin of culture” Ryan’s previously warned us about.
However, this doesn’t mean the poor will get to keep their shoes.
Every year or so Paul Ryan comes up with a glossy new plan to deal with poverty or spending on social programs. The plans never go anywhere, but they’re not really intended to: They’re designed to make the Republican Party (and Mr. Ryan himself) appear more thoughtful than it actually is on these subjects.
The one he released today is somewhat better than previous efforts, in that it doesn’t propose massive cuts in overall spending (unlike his House budgets), and would even increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the government’s most successful anti-poverty programs. Democrats have also embraced a larger credit, although unlike Mr. Ryan, they would pay for it by raising taxes on the rich rather than slashing federal nutrition programs that Mr. Ryan thinks are a waste of money.
But the lack of seriousness in the plan is demonstrated by its supposedly big idea: It would combine 11 of the most important federal poverty programs into something called an “opportunity grant” that would be given to the states to spend as they see fit. The eliminated programs would include food stamps, what remains of the welfare system (known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), Section 8 housing vouchers, and low-income heating assistance, among others.
So, depending on where you live, it’s your state that will confiscate the shoes and break the feet. Gotcha.
Shorter Paul Krugman: Paul Ryan is still full of crap. Do read the whole column, though.
Elsewhere, via mistermix, the very exasperated Matt Bruenig takes apart the allegedly serious conservative intellectual Reihan Salam for misstating basic facts about how anti-poverty programs work. Again, do read the whole thing.