Friday, February 11, 2011

Tantrumocracy

David Sirota finds some interesting facts in a recent poll.

How aggressively stupid is America when it comes to our debates over taxes, budgets and the size of government? That’s been difficult to answer with any precision, beyond simply citing the Tea Partier who famously told his congressman to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” But now we have some hard numbers to tell us how deep this ignorance really goes.

According to new data crunched by Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler, large numbers of Americans who receive benefits from government social programs nonetheless tell pollsters they “have not used a government social program.” And when I mean large, I mean large. For example, a majority of those who have received federally subsidized student loans, 44 percent of Social Security beneficiaries and 40 percent of G.I. bill recipients say they have not used a government social program.

These numbers go a long way to explaining why the economic debate in our country is so insane. Indeed, at a moment when taxes have hit a historic low, most politicians — from presidents to governors to state legislators — insist we must further cut taxes and shrink allegedly “Big Government.” And they are finding a receptive audience in the general public because, as the numbers show, so many Americans wrongly believe they don’t receive direct financial benefits from government.

The obvious solution to this situation is to make it clear to people exactly how many benefits people receive from their government, but I’m not sure that it would do any good. It’s a lot easier to portray yourself as self-sufficient and proud of your ability to get along without any help from anyone. And it’s also a lot easier to throw a tantrum about how evil the government is than to actually take responsibility for your own shortcomings or needs, especially when there’s an entire cottage industry of politicians and PAC’s that are ready to sucker you in to giving them money if they can exploit your life’s little miseries for their own gain.