Rick Warren, Paul Ryan and budget priorities
Political arguments over the last several days crystallized the contrasting worldviews in our economic debates. Last week President Obama forcefully deconstructed Rep. Paul Ryan’s federal budget proposal, calling it a “Trojan horse for a radical agenda” and “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” It’s an apt description, given that Ryan’s budget A) has $4.6 trillion in tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, B) makes harsh, immediate cuts to protections that keep families out of destitution, and C) ultimately phases out most of the government’s capacity to protect the common good.
Then on Easter Sunday, ABC News aired an interview with Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (which provides much support for impoverished people), in which Warren echoed an argument Paul Ryan has made many times – that safety-net programs are ineffective and unwise because they create dependency that robs people of their dignity.
While such concerns might be well-intended, they’re overblown. The threat families face right now isn’t from a government encouraging complacency, it’s from a weak economy and conservative leaders trying to gut the safety net even if it causes people to suffer. Consider:
For every job opening in this country, there are four people looking for work. The problem isn’t a government that encourages idleness, it’s the fact that there aren’t enough jobs. And the GOP’s claim that this shortage is caused by “over-regulation” is baseless.
Private charity isn’t enough. As Ron Sider says in his new book, Fixing the Moral Deficit, the government provides 94% of funding of anti-hunger efforts, and each of America’s 325,000 religious congregations would have to contribute an additional $1.5 million to replace federal anti-poverty programs. That just isn’t feasible.
Key programs Paul Ryan cuts help struggling families avoid poverty, rather than trapping them in it. Food stamps and unemployment insurance help families who can’t find work get back on their feet, and both programs are efficient, stimulate the economy and create jobs.
The conventional wisdom that “welfare reform worked” is wrong. An important New York Times article this week illustrated that federal welfare reform has left many poor families in a state of desperation, and research shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit and the strong economy of the 1990s were primarily responsible for reducing poverty in the wake of welfare reform.
It’s important to spell these things out. Many people of good will who genuinely care about helping those less fortunate are appealed to by politicians who use reasonable-sounding arguments to make social Darwinism sound like social justice. But these claims just don’t hold water.