My wife’s sister-in-law called for Thanksgiving. She never calls, but she might have been drunk. She lives in small-town Minnesota, a place so white it puts the snow to shame. Fairly prosperous with a turkey packing plant and other businesses of that size.
Inevitably the topic turned to the election. “I voted for Trump,” she said. “There are a lot of people around here taking welfare and that’s not right.”
Usually the welfare argument is code for black people taking welfare, even though most of the people on welfare, before Bill Clinton gutted it and increased poverty, were white. Ronald Reagan talked about “states rights” and “welfare queens” in the same sentence. No one thought he was talking about ladies named Olsen who freckle in the summer.
But now white people are having the same problems black people were having when Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put out The Negro Family: The Case For National Action The Negro Family: The Case For National Action in 1965. Joblessness, crime, single motherhood, drug addiction, ill-health and shortened life spans. All thought of as problems in the black community are now problems in the white community. The poor white community. Turns out it wasn’t “Negro” families that needed action; it was poor families.
Some white people—Republicans, Reagan Democrats—fought welfare as a handout. Stories abounded of all the Cadillacs parked on the streets of Harlem. Never mind it was always a pittance at best, begrudgingly given. Now that white people are getting it, they are realizing how small that pittance was.
And yet the white people who aren’t getting welfare are enraged. As enraged as ever. They thought they didn’t like welfare because black people were getting it. Turns out they didn’t like welfare because they weren’t getting it.
Paul Krugman wrote in the NY Times this Friday about the poorly-educated or working class whites and their anger at welfare recipients, even other working class whites in their own communities. He wondered at how they could vilify liberal “elites” for looking down at them but not vilify conservatives who blamed their poverty of working class whites on their own laziness. He pointed at that they hated the liberal elites even though liberal policies like Obamacare helped them.
There is no mystery here. What the Democrats did was simply not enough. Of course, they would have done more but the Republicans blocked them. The Democrats use government to help people; the Republicans use government to hurt people and then blame the Democrats for not doing enough. It works. Here’s why.
The poorly educated working-class voter believes he lives in a poor country because where he lives, it is. Government handouts, paychecks, benefits are a zero-sum game. If somebody else gets something, he must be getting less. When he begs his employer not to charge him for health insurance, the employer cuts his salary. When his brother who’s a cop, gets retirement benefits, he screams that his brother’s retirement comes out of his tax payments. What he should do is get a union into his company just like his brother the cop’s. But he’s afraid his employer would rather shut down and move to China rather than admit a union. And he might be right.
The solution is straightforward. You give everybody health insurance. Give. Not mandate to buy. The poorly educated working-class voter is used to paying taxes. He hates them but he’s used to it. But if his tax money comes back, he’s not so angry. Expand social security so people don’t have to worry about retirement. Put everybody on welfare. You don’t call it “welfare” of course; you’ll hurt the working-class man’s pride. But he can get dividend payments from a National Sovereign Wealth fund. That’s what they get in Texas and Alaska, the reddest states on the map.
The simple sad fact is we have not done enough for the poor in the wealthiest country in history. The reason is we thought of them as “the poor.” If we do more for everyone, no one will be poor. We can afford to because we are the wealthiest country in history.
And we had better because, since the Great Recession, almost everyone is poor.