Category Archives: Social Welfare Policy

A More Perfect Union

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 2005: Situation...

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 2005: Situation in South Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana near Empire, Buras and Boothville, United States of America (2005-08-29, 7:10 EDT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago hurricane Katrina left us wondering how such a tragedy could happen in America; not the winds, the rain, or the storm surge, not even the broken levees.  The failure and frustrations related to relief efforts are what prompted us to ask how such a thing could happen here.  This time it’s the fiasco in the wake of hurricane Sandy.  People are without power, water, shelter, and hope.  Despite the best efforts of many, and despite the generosity of millions, there is simply not enough being done fast enough to keep children warm and safe at night across New Jersey and New York.  New York!  Rudy Giuliani, America’s Mayor (so dubbed after 9/11), is blaming the federal government, FEMA, and by extension President Obama.  Others are pointing the finger at the state governments of New York and New Jersey, local governments included, for not having plans in place for such an event and for not having the resources required to respond effectively to such a disaster.

But, let us be fair.  People are standing on line across the Northeast waiting for gasoline.  Gasoline is a commodity that is privately produced and distributed by the private sector—the same oil companies that have been posting record profits throughout the nation’s greatest recession.  Government has virtually nothing to do with local gasoline supplies or pricing.  In the same light, non-governmental charitable organizations are providing what they can, but it’s obviously not enough.  Organizations like the Red Cross are responding admirably—as always.  There are web sites, hash tags, text messages and celebrity, all-star, concerts raising tens of millions of dollars for the relief effort.  But almost two weeks after the storm there are still families without generators or shelter.  Why are we not blaming Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, Target, and every other retailer of basic goods for NOT rolling out the truck convoys with emergency supplies for storm victims?  Why are hotels and motels across the region refusing to accommodate storm victims unless they can pay up front (they are not willing to wait for FEMA reimbursement)?  Take notice people.

We live in a nation that depends on the combined capacity of government, the private sector, and non-governmental, not-for-profit, organizations to produce and allocate all of the things we need to live the lives we live.  We are just coming out of a long campaign year and we know who the President will be for the next four years.  We know which party will control the House of Representatives.  And we know we will be subjected to politics-as-usual—both sides arguing about the proper role and size of government.  My suggestion:  Force President Obama and Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to meet and talk about recovery in the wreckage of a family home somewhere in Staten Island, New York.  Surround them with families and small business owners that have been wiped out by the storm (have Mitt Romney sit there and listen just for good measure).  And, finally, don’t let them leave until they strike a deal that last longer than the photo-op.

We the People, of the United States of America, in order to
form a more perfect union . . .



The Tool of Taxation

Old hammer during reconstruction of the buildi...

Old hammer during reconstruction of the building in Pleszew. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In graduate school a professor of mine often referred to the “toolbox of government.”  The characterization must have resonated with me because I still use it in my own classes almost fifteen years later.  Of course he was referring to the variety of actions that governments at all levels have at their disposal to implement and otherwise enforce public policy.  For our purposes we can narrow the contents of the “toolbox” down to the bare minimum:

  • The power of government to deprive a person of liberty (think incarceration and in the most extreme form, the death penalty)—the hammer.
  • The power of government to deprive a person of property (think real property and money)—the hammer.

Confused?  Don’t be.  Chief Justice John Marshall (1801-1835) is credited with expressing the position that the power to tax is the power to destroy.  In this regard the power to tax is the power to punish those who violate the law, ignore regulations, or otherwise challenge the general welfare—the hammer.  The power to tax citizens and residents, businesses, corporations, is generally available to most governments—from Congress to your local water district.  Check your text books, one of the first concurrent or shared powers listed is the power to tax.  Moreover, taxes are ubiquitous—fees: taxes; assessments: taxes; dues: taxes; levies: taxes; taxes: taxes.  The power to tax is the power of government to deprive.

In the months following the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obama-care) , much will be made of the taxation aspect of the now upheld health care reform package—especially the individual mandate, which requires people capable of paying for health insurance to do so or risk a penalty (tax).  What do you think, is it the most intrusive tax ever devised by government (in this case by democrats)?  Is it a new tax?  Is it a tax increase (even though it only applies to people who don’t buy their own health insurance—and wouldn’t we otherwise call these people free-riders or equate them to people who don’t buy car insurance and drive up all of our rates)?  With all the hammers we get hit with every day, is this the one we’re really going to object to?  Ouch!  I know how to fix it; where’s my hammer?!


Get Ready for Several Weeks of Useless Analysis

Inside CNN

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to render its ruling on the constitutionality of Obama Care. However, the media coverage of the ruling and the resulting political fallout will be the same. Regardless of the ruling, both republicans and democrats will try to spin the Supreme Court’s ruling in a way that benefits their side. Meanwhile, the news media will overflow with coverage concerning the political impact of the ruling, but will ultimately fail to explain the ruling divorced from the typical horse-race coverage.  Horse race refers to the news media’s focus on which candidate is up or down in the latest public opinion polls. My prediction is that the news media, regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obama Care, will bombard its audience with poll numbers for the next several days along with a bloviated analysis of said poll numbers with a pretentious and misguided sense of accomplishment for delivering what they consider to be the news. Get ready for several weeks of useless analysis and blatant political spin.


The Hispanic Vote—Myth, Monolith, Mystery

Garth Brooks singing the Don McLean song "...

Garth Brooks singing the Don McLean song “American Pie” at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial concert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the race for the White House moves along Hispanic voters will show up on the radar for both democratic and republican candidates. More experienced and knowledgeable commentators will know enough to differentiate between largely republican Cubans and Cuban Americans in Florida, from the deeply divided Texas contingent of Mexican cowboys that listen to Garth Brooks and those that stencil Michoacan on the back windows of their trucks. The Hispanic vote also includes the diverse block of socially conservative Catholic and growing evangelical Christians across the nation who believe in marriage between one man and one woman and their relatives who marry and divorce often—and sometimes with the same people. And don’t forget the urban Latino professionals who have managed to make it out of college and graduate programs to take very good jobs in every industry you can imagine. The so-called Hispanic vote is there for the taking.

Aggregated, the Hispanic vote largely goes to democratic candidates in percentages that make the gender gap look ridiculously trivial (anywhere from sixty-five to over seventy percent). In a good year, a republican candidate can get close to forty percent of the Hispanic vote. That translates into an unpopular democratic candidate getting just over sixty percent of the Hispanic vote. Over a decade ago I worked as a researcher for the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (one of the most important Latino think tanks in the nation). Our research routinely led us to conclude that Hispanic voters shared many of the same characteristics as other democratic groups of voters. Some care more about social issues. Some care more about immigration issues. Some care quite a bit about crime and the environment. Most care an awful lot about the economy and jobs and their children’s education. To make a long story short, candidates on both sides are going to have to work this one out on their own. The term “Hispanic” was actually first used by the Census Bureau as a term to capture the growing Spanish surnamed population in the United States. It’s an arbitrary and largely artificial term used to identify a very real and very complicated assortment of peoples and experiences that have contributed greatly to the American experiment. What do you think? Will the Hispanic vote help determine the winner for 2012? Will democratic and republican candidates figure out how to play the Rubik’s Cube of the Hispanic vote?


MPSL VLog: Feeding Frenzy: Media Devour Comments About Food Stamps

Food stamps have been all over the news after Newt Gingrich branded Obama the best “food stamp president.” Issues involving food stamps seem to strike a nerve across the political spectrum.  Professor Gaffaney explains.

Food Stamps, Government Subsidies, and Elections

Why have food stamps become a political football in the 2012 election?  The first high profile punt came from Republican candidate and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, when he referred to President Obama as the “food stamp President.”  The dynamic and diverse new media world of tweeting and blogging could be partly responsible; along with the never ending search for the ultimate sound-bite.  But explanations that focus on the nature of the media today forget to acknowledge that political parties and their candidates have made use of such socially and politically-charged symbolism for decades—if not since the early days of the Republic.

In a larger context, food stamps are just one form of federal and state public assistance to families with incomes that are too low to adequately provide for their needs.  In one form or another, food stamps have been a staple of the social welfare safety net that has protected the poor since the New Deal.  But as a form of government subsidy, food stamps are a symbol of the relationship that exists between government and people.  In that sense, food stamps and tax incentives that benefit home owners (i.e., the deduction of interest paid on home mortgages) are equal—both represent public policies intended to benefit very real constituencies in the political process.  More importantly, the actual impacts of such policy choices are never as one-sided as some might suggest.  A dollar spent by way of food stamps in part keeps farms, dairies, grocery stores, truckers, importers, and even members of Congress at work (just as tax breaks to home owners keep mortgage brokers, banks, tellers, and ATM companies at work).

Public policies generally don’t just benefit one person, group, or class.  And they probably don’t just capture a narrow range of intentions on the part of the policy-makers that pass them.  What do you think?  Are food stamps the issue as some would suggest?  If so, then shouldn’t all government subsidies become symbols during elections?  Can you imagine a way of talking about such programs that does not lend itself to vilifying particular communities in the name of political expediency?


Class Warfare?!

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

Karl Marx

President Obama recently proposed $1.5 trillion in tax increases on American corporations and the American wealthy in an attempt to reduce the nation’s annual deficit. To be fair, the term “tax increase” is not entirely accurate as the president’s plan would not increase taxes per se but would merely close corporate tax loopholes and let the Bush-era income tax cuts expire. CNN’s political ticker posted a great blog summarizing the various responses of GOP leaders to Pres. Obama’s debt plan. In general, the response from the Republican leadership has been to condemn the president’s plan as class warfare.

Class warfareis a term typically used by communists and socialists to describe the struggle between the rich and the poor. In fact, according to Karl Marx, class warfare is necessary as it will lead to the violent overthrow of capitalism. In other words, the republican response to proposed tax increases as class warfare is an attempt to imply the plan as ideologically and inherently Marxist and thus un-America and illegitimate. Conversely, if asking the top 5% to pay their fair share is analogous to class warfare, what is cutting services to the middle-class to avoid rising taxes on the rich? The American middle-class have stood idly by as:

  • Corporate lobbyists maintain more influence in Congress than the American people
  • The U.S. Congress facilitates the outsourcing of American middle-class jobs to China via tax breaks
  • Corporations receive bailouts and/or subsidies devoid of strings
  • Colossal military spending goes unimpeded while the average American soldier is underpaid
  • Bank of America and General Electric paid zero taxes to the IRS in 2009 and 2010 due to tax loopholes

The “cut government spending” counter-solution presented by Republican Party leaders make for great politics but contradicts history. Historically, there has never been a nation that has “cut” its way into prosperity. However, history is filled with examples of nations building their way to prosperity with the United States being one of them. Asking the super wealthy to pay higher taxes was not a partisan issue under the republican Eisenhower administration when the wealthy paid a whopping 90% of their income to the government. So why is asking the rich to simply pay their fair share, who are currently paying the lowest taxes since World War II, an issue today?  The answer is unfortunate but simple – party politics.