Bailout Anger and Other Americanisms

Why doesn’t the US have a better safety net? Because, unlike, say, the Czech Republic, we can’t afford it? Probably not. Because we are nasty people with no social conscience? I really doubt that. No, I think the mechanism is more complex. I think many Americans would rather suffer undeserved deprivation themselves than see others gain a single undeserved benefit. They would rather live on Wonder Bread than see, or even hear urban myths about, Welfare Queens spending their food stamps on lobster and caviar. They would rather become homeless when they lose their jobs, than see a single voluntarily jobless lazy bum collect adequate unemployment or disability benefits.

The bailouts, obviously, are tailor-made for this kind of attitude. Large sums of bailout money are certifiably going to the undeserving. Not just lazy uneducated slum-bred louts, but spoiled-brat billionaires and overpaid incompetent greedy CEOs, people even a liberal could manage to hate. Much of this money is not even being used for its intended purposes, though the Administration is working on preventing that in the next round of bailouts.

At the same time, most of us have not yet caught on to the other potential beneficiaries of the current economic crisis—Social Security recipients. When the rest of the economy is going into a deflationary spiral, there is actually a lot to be said for living on a fixed income. The Greedy Geezers win again! No doubt the Administration will ultimately respond by eliminating this year’s Social Security cost of living increase, and raise the retirement age a little faster than it is currently inching upward. But that still leaves many elders better off than the workers who pay for their benefits. Actually reducing current benefits for retirees is just not going to happen. (SSI, disability, and survivors’ benefits, on the other hand, are likely to be considered fair game, since most of the recipients, unlike retirees, are already poor and therefore deserve whatever they get, or don’t get. You heard it here first.) When we finally catch on, will a generational war ensue? The main factor militating against that is that this generation of workers would probably rather support 1.5 retirees apiece through the Social Security payroll tax than move their own elderly relatives in with them, and those may be the only available choices.

It’s hard to tell whether the rabid Rushite Republicans who hope Obama’s economic fixes fail are among the Samsons who would rather bring the temple down on their own heads than let the Philistines escape uninjured. Limbaugh himself and probably at least some of his fans have enough money under the mattress to survive any such failure quite comfortably, so they may just be indulging in anticipatory schadenfreude. Here’s hoping they continue to be a minority among us. And here’s hoping the rest of us can learn to ease up on our unworthy neighbors in time to help our own friends and families.


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