by Chidem Kurdas
It has become a standard left-liberal jibe that those complaining of government largesse receive a piece thereof themselves. Such beneficiaries go against their own interest if they favor smaller government—so it is alleged. Thus Paul Krugman in the NYT largely agrees with Thomas Frank, who attributed apparent red state ingratitude to the exploitation of social issues by Republicans in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas?
In addition Mr. Krugman cites evidence suggesting large percentages of Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries are confused about their use of these government programs. They don’t seem to think they’re getting handouts.
Maybe that’s because they’re in fact not getting handouts. As they were reminded every time they looked at their paycheck stub and saw the Social Security and Medicare tax deductions, they were forced to sacrifice part of their income for these programs through their working lives. The programs are compulsory; there is no opting out of them; the taxes come out of your paycheck whether you like it or not.
Therefore the notion that people who don’t like big government should not get Social Security and Medicare is utter nonsense. What are they supposed to do? Refuse the benefits that they already paid for? You’d have to be rich to do that. But one can see why left-liberals keep bringing up this humbug. People who don’t share their love of big government are labeled inconsistent for doing what by law they are coerced to do, mocked for complaining about a government apparatus from which they can’t escape.
In another column Krugman explains what he sees as extreme conservatism. He says economic conservatives and their wealthy supporters played a con game to advance their own agenda of tax cuts and deregulation, but over the decades “this strategy created a base that really believed in all the hokum—and now the party elite has lost control.”
While it is well established that much of the electorate is ignorant of policy issues, it does not follow that voters don’t know their own values. Of course politicians cater to certain preferences as a way to construct a brand that they hope will get them elected. They do that because part of the public has those preferences.
The desire for limited government that left-liberals regard as extreme is an old American value, going back centuries to the founding of the country. If you think it was newly created by bad politicians, you have to believe that people have no sense of what they like. This view of the public as a flock of sheep fits the top-down statist ideology of political dictates and bureaucratic control.
It also explains the extreme reaction against the grass roots movement for limiting the growth of government. The best and brightest like Mr. Krugman should be able to mold the public mind—-assumed to be entire malleable by the select few. So why are all these people still objecting after they’ve been told to shut up, pay their taxes and be grateful for whatever scraps the government throws to them? It must be that they were misled by certain evil members of the select, since they are presumed incapable of judging things on the basis of their own values.
Thomas Sowell has long been the trenchant critic of this elitist vision. “The anointed do not simply happen to have a disdain for the public,” he wrote in The Vision of the Anointed. “Such disdain is an integral part of their vision, for the central feature of that vision is preemption of the decisions of others.”
That explains a lot of the punditry’s hysteria. Some of the supposed sheep have become uppity, going against the wisdom of the anointed. What bothers Mr. Krugman is that “the party elite has lost control” and hence politics as deal making within the elite can no longer be taken for granted, at least not all the time.