Two Ways To "Help" The Middle Class

A recurrent theme here is that there are two ways of looking at the world.   One arena where those two visions play out is the current competition by politicians to demonstrate that they will "help" the middle class.  Nearly all politicians claim to make "helping" the middle class a priority, but there are two completely different ways of going about it.  One proposed method of "help" is government handouts; the other is facilitating increased self-sufficiency.

There are inevitably some things about this discussion that are not completely intuitive.  Here in my business of commercial litigation -- that is, the fight over who gets the money -- it is taken totally as a given that getting more money is always better and getting less is always worse; that the quantity of money that you gain or lose is the measure of how much better or worse off you are; and that the source of the money doesn't really matter -- you could earn it from a job, or have a good trade in the stock market, or it could fall from the sky, and it's all equivalent.  But I would argue that the principle that it's always better to get more money from whatever source actually does not apply in all circumstances.  For example, suppose that I could somehow supply my children with so much money that they could have everything they possibly want in life without ever having to work -- would that be a good thing for them?  And would it really be better for them than having to work and earn their own way?  I think this would be the worst possible thing for them.  Maybe that's because I think that the thing that makes life worth living is figuring out how to achieve individual and family self-sufficiency in a complex world.  I've known multiple people in my life who got too much money from their parents and found themselves lost and adrift, and quite unhappy.

So where do government handouts fit into this picture?  The political Left completely follows the principle that we use in litigation -- more money is always better, and the fact that the money comes from the government as handouts and obviates the need for the recipients to figure out how to live independently is of no consequence.  Values like hard work, self-sufficiency and, for that matter, freedom, get weighed at zero.  I could give lots of examples, but let's take a few.

The food stamp program (aka SNAP) is a frequent subject of commentary, perhaps because it is a regular target of budget cutters.  It didn't become a target of budget cutters randomly, but rather because it has exploded in size and cost totally out of proportion to any ability to explain that from underlying economic conditions.  According to data compiled here by the Food Research and Action Center, the number of food stamp recipients was 17.2 million in January 2001 (last month of the Clinton administration), 32.2 million in January 2009 (last month of the GW Bush administration) and -- after six years of supposed economic "recovery" -- 46.3 million in December 2014 (last data provided).  Here is what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (left-wing think tank) had to say in January 2015 about a proposal to reduce that 46.3 million by about 1 million:

Roughly 1 million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut off SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) over the course of 2016, due to the return in many areas of a three-month limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed adults aged 18-50 who aren’t disabled or raising minor children. . . .  The loss of this food assistance, which averages approximately $150 to $200 per person per month for this group, will likely cause serious hardship among many.

No mention of any value placed on loss of self-sufficiency by people who have no reason why they can't take care of themselves.  And that CBPP comment is actually tame compared to a September 2013 article in the New York Daily News reacting to a then-proposed 5% cut in the food stamp program (then at more than 48 million recipients), which within a span of a few sentences used all of the following descriptors: "heartless" "devastating," "sheer meanness," "repugnant," "hunger crisis," "repulsive," "cruel," and "disastrous."

Or consider the dozens of amicus briefs filed in support of the government in the King v. Burwell Obamacare litigation.  The question there is whether the federal government can provide healthcare premium subsidies to people on the federally-established exchanges -- or to put it another way, whether permanent government hand-outs to millions of not-poor citizens (if they were poor they would be getting Medicaid) on balance help those people (because more money is always better) or hurt them (by taking away self-sufficiency).  As far as I can see all of those who support the government, and for that matter the government itself, see the Obamacare subsidies as a dollar-for-dollar gain for the recipients, with no value at all placed on independence or freedom.

An alternative way to help the middle class is to enable and facilitate private sector technological development that has the effect of increasing incomes and reducing costs throughout the economy and making the people richer.  Exhibit A is the "fracking" revolution for oil and gas, which has suddenly led to the price of oil dropping by more than half in the last several months.  Just that alone makes every American who consumes energy (all of us) a couple of percent richer -- and a couple of percent better able to lead independent lives.

Reaction on the Left?  Ban it!  And thus we have the Obama administration in the last few days coming out with restrictions on fracking on federal lands.  This is not a complete ban, and only applies to federal lands, but the regulations appear clearly intended to hobble fracking to the maximum extent that the administration can get away with right now.  And how did environmental groups react?  With outrage, of course -- according to the Washington Times here.  They want fracking outright banned immediately and everywhere.  I guess then we can all live off federal hand-outs while we freeze in the dark.