Reprinted from hartmannreport.com
Senator Joe Manchin, echoing the rightwing billionaire's think-tanks' PR and every Republican in Congress, recently said his objection to free college for students and eyeglasses for seniors was that such things created an "entitlement society," a slur that means "a nation of welfare recipients."
In that, he displays a fundamental ignorance about what governments do and how societies work, as well as the difference between what we usually call the "social safety net" and things people should expect simply as a "right of citizenship" in a first-world country. He also misunderstands the difference between expenses and investments.
A "social safety net" is there to catch you when you fall. Unemployment insurance keeps you from becoming homeless when capitalism has one of its periodic hiccups. Food stamps tide you over in rough times. FEMA programs provide mobile homes and a stipend to keep people rendered homeless by natural disasters like hurricanes, forest fires, and floods alive and well.
These are the sorts of things that we generally refer to as "welfare." They're there to "catch us" and keep us from falling through society's "floor."
They also prevent people from "breaking" when they fall, whether it's a temporary hiccup in capitalism (recession, depression), a natural disaster, or a region that's failed to invest in itself so long that there are simply no jobs available. We know, for example, that inequality, along with the poverty and mental illness it causes, drive up costs to society that can be covered with these kinds of help.
So these shorter-term programs (or, in some cases, even longer-term for already-wounded people) keep society stable. Finland, for example, is providing free housing foralltheir homeless; it's cheaper than the police, hospital and mental health services that houseless people otherwise use. But these are still programs to "catch" people and regions who've fallen or been injured by life, not to grow and expand society.
A "citizenship right" is something altogether different. It's what nations provide as rights of citizenship to keep a society functioning on a normal plane, and to help that society grow and improve socially and economically.
As citizens of America, for example, we expect good public schools, decent roads, police and fire protections, and a functioning government funded by tax dollars to keep it all going. We expect as citizens that when we pay into Social Security and Medicare our entire lives, those systems will be maintained in a way that can keep us healthy, productive, and out of poverty when we retire.
While the "safety net" protects us from personal, family or community disasters, the "rights of citizenship" provide the foundation for society itself.
The physical infrastructure of a nation makes possible normal life, and the more sophisticated and functional that infrastructure is, the more vibrant a nation's economy will be.
This was the core rationale for Republican President Dwight Eisenhower building the interstate highway system: it not only made it easier to visit grandpa and grandma, it also made it easier to transport goods and thus facilitated commerce leading to the economic boom of the 1950-1980 era.
Ditto for an advanced air traffic system, quality public transportation, and a national high-speed rail system like in every other advanced country.
The same is true for the "human infrastructure" of a nation.
The more citizens a country has who are college educated, the more competitive and prosperous that nation becomes. The better the health of a country, the more reliable and efficient its workforce. When government helps young parents care for their children, it frees them up to more fully participate in the commercial and civic life of the country.
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