I thought we’d try something a little different for a few weeks. Our next 4-5 meetings take on directly some of the major political themes that today’s conservatives sound. For me, there could be no other choice for the first topic than the “growing dependency” on government idea.
In case you didn’t know, the idea that Democrats in general – and Obama in particular – want to get Americans “hooked” on government is a major, major theme on the Right these days. One hears it over and over and over again on talk radio, conservative websites, and other media outlets. Dependency on government programs, they say, is rising, and the public only voted for Obama twice because he first promised and then delivered freebies to his voters. This meme has a powerful appeal to millions of Americans and seems to have become a core belief among conservatives. Poor people are no longer lazy, it seems; they’re seduced into dependency on the State. They are victims of liberalism.
It is easy – way too easy, speaking of seductive notions – just to dismiss it all as covert racism and willful blindness to seeing the worst recession since WWII and the fracturing of the job market for low-income Americans. One of my big goals for Civilized Conversation is to try to understand things most of us want to dismiss out of hand and to examine them on their merits. Could there be anything to this idea of growing dependency on government? What if the economy stays flat for years? Regardless of the merits of this notion, why is it so appealing to conservatives?
I’ll open our meeting by introducing the topic and summarizing the evidence for growing government dependency. Then, we can perhaps debate in a civilized fashion why so many of our countrymen believe in this.
Discussion Questions –
- What do they mean by a growing dependence on government? What evidence do they cite and how do they (or do they!) rebut the obvious counterarguments?
- Who really benefits from government? Do we really redistribute much? If so, why?
- Why does the dependency meme resonate so strongly with conservatives?
- Could there actually be a problem here? What if private sector jobs don’t come back? Will dependency advocates be right?
The argument –
- Yes, safety net spending is way up. But, the causes are mostly the unprecedented recession (temporary), and structural changes in our economy. It’s not some sudden growth in laziness.
- Does government redistribute wealth? Sure. But, it goes both ways and the federal government does not redistribute downward much!
- Of course the safety net redistributes. As social insurance, it is supposed to do that.
- Specific programs:
NEXT WEEK: Do Americans agree on what freedom means?