January 13, 2014 by David K. Sutton
Talking Absolutes: The Language Of Free Market Conservatives
Free market conservatives say government cannot address the problem of poverty. They say government can’t create jobs. They assume all people who are not making a living wage must not be working, or working hard enough, and so that means they are undeserving of any government assistance. And they say government cannot give to someone unless it has taken from someone else.
But the problem with all of these “beliefs” is that they are all absolutes. There’s no room for granularity. It must be “this,” and if not, then it’s “that.” There’s no middle ground. I find it suspect for anyone to says doing one thing will lead to some extreme, like as if we lack the ability to course-correct at some point, if needed.
Government cannot address poverty? Of course it can. And while poverty is a serious problem in this country, it would be worse if not for government programs. The reason so few senior citizens are in poverty, compared to the general population, is because of little things called Social Security and Medicare. And obviously anyone receiving unemployment benefits or food stamps is at least being kept afloat, even if they may still technically be in poverty. So the reality is this, we actually could be doing a lot more to address poverty if not for the absolutists who say we can do nothing.
Government can’t create jobs? Actually, government could directly create jobs if the political will existed to do so. But good luck with that in the current political climate. But even without direct government employment, we have countless examples of government initiatives that led to thriving industries and interstate commerce. Things like the internet, highways, and overall nationwide infrastructure. Many of the things we take for granted were only made possible by government grants and subsidies. For example, do you think it was economically viable for electric companies to run power to every residence and every town in the country?
If you aren’t making a living wage, are you a freeloader who is living on the government dole? This one is just plain offensive. First of all, there are millions of retired senior citizens who live off of Social Security. Are they leeches? And second, there are tens of millions of Americans working low paying full-time jobs without benefits, and who require government assistance just to make ends meet (and even then they usually don’t). Are these people lazy? But conservatives need to believe hard work always leads to prosperity, otherwise their supply-side, free market ideology might show signs of fatigue.
Government cannot give to someone unless it has take from someone else? Well, I guess you could say this particular point is true, although again, it is framed as an absolute, the way conservatives like to frame just about any issue. But for this to be an absolute, it would require all wealth to be of equal value to all persons involved. A person making $5 million a year could lose $5,000 in his sofa cushions, but that amount of money could be a life-saver for someone in poverty. So this, like just about anything in life, is a matter of degree, and cannot be framed as an absolute.
Government • Politics • Social Safety Net • Wealth Inequality