Douthat: Hey, The Rest Of Us Are Victims Of Paternalism Too!

The Paul Ryan poverty plan demeans the poor -- but hey, Ross Douthat says, the rest of us have to clear (tiny) hurdles to get government aid, too!
Douthat: Hey, The Rest Of Us Are Victims Of Paternalism Too!

In a blog post yesterday, Ross Douthat lashed out at critics of the Paul Ryan poverty plan (New York magazine's Annie Lowrey, Demos's Matt Bruenig) who've charged Ryan with paternalism for proposing that poor people work out and live up to a plan of action (developed in conjunction with a "life coach") before they can receive aid. Douthat insists that the poor aren't singled out by this approach -- heck, all sorts of people have to meet benchmarks before receiving government benefits!

Such as, Ross?

The child tax credit, for instance, is reserved for taxpayers who are, well, raising children, and thus making sacrifices that at least theoretically redound to the benefit of society as a whole: Parents don't have to "prostrate" themselves to get the tax credit, true, but they do have to show proof that they're actually raising kids....

And who else?

Likewise, before it turned into a McMansion subsidy the home mortgage deduction was a plausible forced-savings device for many households -- you got the deduction only if you were also making your monthly payments, building equity and hopefully solidifying your place in the post-war middle class.

So that, to Douthat, is comparable to the humiliating, demeaning process of meeting regularly with a life coach to demonstrate progress on personal goals: the obligation to keep being your child's parent if you have a child, or to keep paying your mortgage if you have a mortgage. Got it, Ross. Thanks.

(Douthat also says that Social Security beneficiaries don't get cash unless they pay in -- which is true in most cases, but not if you're a minor whose parent has died. One person who was in that situation as a young man: Paul Ryan. Full disclosure: As a kid, I got those benefits too.)

Oh, and what about government benefits for the well-to-do? Do well-off people ever have to jump through hoops and demean themselves for Uncle Sam's cash? No, Douthat acknowledges -- but they will soon, you betcha!

... here's the thing: Conservatives often and increasingly favor capping, cutting or doing away with those giveaways entirely! Lowrey and Bruenig write as if it's a hypothetical or a reductio ad absurdum to imagine the government demanding "action plans" from corporate welfare beneficiaries or trying to wean rich households off the mortgage-interest deduction. But the assumption behind every recent draft of tax reform on the right, from Mitt Romney's 2012 plan to Mike Lee's family-friendly proposal to Dave Camp's blueprint (in ascending order of fiscal precision), is that a range of "welfare state for the rich" provisions in the tax code should be straightforwardly eliminated. Likewise, the assumption behind the most plausible right-of-center health care proposals is that the health care tax exclusion should be capped for well-off households. And the assumption behind the entire libertarian-populist project on the right is that agribusinesses and energy companies and airplane manufacturers currently "sucking the oxygen" of federal subsidies and guarantees should be cut off the tank entirely.


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And if you believe the Republican Party as a whole is ever going to lift a finger to actually enact any of these proposals, I have some swampland I'd like to sell you.

The fact is, we shouldn't have to wait years for some gradual electoral triumph of "reform conservatives" to see corporate welfare curtailed -- there's already a large contingent of tea party Republicans in Congress, and Douthat hasrepeatedly assured us that those folks hate hate hate corporate welfare and "crony capitalism" with the fury of a thousand suns.

So, um, why don't they ever threaten to shut down the government in order to ban corporate welfare? We know that shutting down the government is within their power -- why don't they use that power to curb the thing Douthat tells us they loathe so much? Or, for that matter, why don't they try making common cause with liberal Democrats in Congress who'd also like to ban corporate welfare? Maybe they could even get some legislation passed! Apparently they don't hate the "welfare state for the rich" all that much.

Sorry, Ross, I'm not holding my breath waiting for the triumph of your reformer pals, because it's never going to happen.

(Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.)

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