Friday, February 08, 2008

Why I move right - but could never vote Republican

In accordance with the old truism, I've moved right - I've become more conservative - as I've gotten older. This is partly the natural cleaving to the old ways, it's partly getting an MA in Economics from the University of Tennessee, and it's a lot about moving to the UK and seeing the consequences of a true welfare state. You talk about dependency culture - whooo-weee, daaaang - there are generations of people here who don't have the foggiest about work.

So in Mitt Romney's withdrawal speech (full transcript from the NYT) there were some things I agreed with:

Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is culture killing. It's a drug. We've got to fight it like the poison it is.

Yep. I agree. It is a poison. A poison that rots the soul.

But he goes on in that mean spirited Republican way which just sickens me. Sickens me with its mantle of "personal responsibility" - which is just a slick cover for tight-fistedness, for I-got-mine-so-screw-you, and most shamefully for sticking their noses in the trough of public goods that they like (highways, infrastructure, business tax credits and subsidies, policing and defense) and turning off the tap for other social goods that they have access to privately ( i.e. health care) despite the fact that this approach is actually economically inefficient and delivers poorer outcomes overall.

Now, some people think we won that battle when we reformed welfare. But the liberals haven't given up.

At every turn, they tried to substitute government largess for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever.

And the crowd cheered and the band played on.

Is this the latest sick, selfish Republican mantra? Make sure that poor folk don't have access to health care? Make sure the low paid pay through the nose but get rid of taxes on unearned income (e.g. capital gains, estate taxes)?

One thing I've learned about a dependency culture in the UK is that you want to make the transition into working as easy and rewarding as possible. One truth about universal health care that the Selfish-right don't want you to know is that it actually encourages economic activity and entrepreneurs. In the US, some people get caught in the trap of losing health benefits when they start to earn too much money. In the US, people are stuck with dead end jobs or denied the opportunity to go out on their own because they must cling to their employer provided health care.

In the UK, the non-working have every incentive not to work (at least in the short run) as they lose benefits pound for pound as they start earning (which doesn't take into account that leisure does have value) and they come into a rather punitive and regressive tax system. My tax burden is far lower now than it was when I was barely scraping by (though of course I am paying far more overall - it annoys, but it doesn't hurt now.)

The point is, of course, that everyone has to start somewhere. And unless you're the privileged child of wealth, the place you start is at a very low wage job. You work your way up. And you should be rewarded for trading a life of penurious leisure for penurious labor by keeping as much of your wage as possible when you're at that rough, rotten bottom rung of the economic ladder.

It's not as if the low-paid don't pay taxes. They pay a lot of tax (proportionately). They pay taxes on goods and services. They are almost certainly paying other payroll taxes (FICA in the US, National Insurance in the UK). And they can't escape the taxman with sheltered income and offshore accounts.

I believe in the hand up, not the handout. But forcing the poor to hand-over disproportionately, making their precarious situation all the more tottering is just wrong.


Anonymous said...

Well said daughter. VM

Anonymous said...

I agree with VM. I just cannot sign this comment VD