Bon Fire of the Inanities: Nevada Welfare and the Cato Study

Welfare spending NevadaThings we should probably fix — the fact that Nevada is one of 20 states in the union which allow private interest lobbyists to participate in the state pension system. [RGJ]  The fact that Nevada ranks last in per capita spending on welfare and human services.

On one hand we’re subsidizing the retirement of some individuals who have spent long hours in the Legislative Building arguing against spending “precious taxpayer dollars” on services to taxpayers — as in every Nevada resident who pays sales taxes, and on the other we have members of our communities who are struggling financially, and who are definitely not feeling “entitled” as described by the most recent faulty pseudo-study of welfare spending in America from the folks at the Cato HQ. [Moyers]

Talking about what constitutes welfare all too often provides an object lesson in how apples, oranges, nectarines, grapefruit, and bananas can be combined and compared.   Taken to the ultra-right extreme, “welfare” incorporates educational benefits to veterans, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schools, public libraries, public parks and recreation, medical services, in short anything not spent on the military, the promotion of private business, and the judiciary and police.   The consequences of this distorted political philosophy are visible in our under-investment in infrastructure and the disconnect between the elitist entitlement of the 1% and the reality of the 99%. [Burnett]

So, Nevada spends $855.13 per capita on social welfare services, compared to $1021.89 in Georgia, and $1190.11 in Texas.  No doubt there are those who find this a cheerful note.   We spend $55,228,000 on income assistance, $1,654,577,000 on payments to vendors, and “other assistance” amounts to $636,316,000 from state and local sources. [Census, xl download]  One particularly parsimonious perspective delights in these statistics, pointing out that if Nevada payments are low then potential welfare recipients won’t come to the Silver State.  The fact that this keeps those receiving income assistance who are already living here in dire straits is, evidently, of little consequence.

The other distortion of income and living assistance expenditures comes when right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute remind us that “welfare is better than working.”  There’s nothing really new here, the same type of report came out in 1995 — with essentially the same errors.  CBPP summarizes:

“The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.”

The basis for the right wing analysis assumes that every welfare recipient receives every form of assistance available — even those to which they are not eligible.

“Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91 percent of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households.  People who are neither elderly nor disabled — and do not live in a working household — received only 9 percent of the benefits.”

In short, most support programs are provided to individuals who are either not in the workforce (elderly/disabled) or to people who are in the workforce but are not earning a living wage.  Thus much for the “too smart to work” argument advanced by the right.   That “typical welfare family” cited in the recent Cato publication is anything but typical.  One of the best breakdowns of Cato’s flawed analysis of TANF and Medicaid assistance comes from Scientopia.Org:

“Nationwide, in Fiscal Year 2010, there were a total of 1,847,155 households with active TANF cases. In the same fiscal year, 18,618,436 households received SNAP (food stamp) benefits, and another 65,989,147 individuals (~25,577,188 households based on the census 2.58 individuals/household) received medicaid benefits. According to the Cato report’s own definitions, households on both of those programs should be “welfare families.” With less than 10% of SNAP households also receiving TANF, and less than 3% of Medicaid households receiving SNAP, it’s easy to see that Cato’s “typical welfare family” is actually based on an extreme case, not on anything that any of us would consider to be an “average.” [Scientopia.Org]*

If the same scrutiny is applied to housing assistance, the results are the same — a really “typical” family is worse off financially on public assistance than when at least one member is earning the minimum wage.  Not in Nevada, not in California, not in Washington, D.C. Not anywhere in this country.   Unfortunately, no recitation of statistics from the Reality Sphere will offset the conservative narrative which clings to their imaginary welfare queens and stoop sitting guzzlers who exist solely to reinforce the notion that the rich should be able to retain all their riches –and accumulate ever more, that markets are self correcting — 2008 anyone (?), and “government is the problem.”

So, if not the poor, who does feel entitled?  Not surprisingly, it’s the top 1% of American income earners.   There’s a study on this too:

“According to a new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin this month, wealth tends to increase a person’s sense of entitlement, which in turn can lead to narcissistic behaviors.

Paul Piff of the University of California at Berkeley told PsyPost “there is something about wealth that gives rise to a sense of entitlement, a sense that one deserves more good things in life than others, which in turn gives rise to an increased or inflated sense of self-importance, vanity, grandiosity, and omnipotence (narcissism).”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but the more one has the more one feels he or she is entitled to have.  Tom Wolfe summed up the type in The Bon Fire of the Vanities:

“He lived on Park Avenue, the street of dreams! He worked on Wall Street, fifty floors up, for the legendary Pierce & Pierce, overlooking the world! He was at the wheel of a $48,000 roadster with one of the most beautiful women in New York—no Comp. Lit. scholar, perhaps, but gorgeous—beside him! A frisky young animal! He was of that breed whose natural destiny it was…to have what they wanted!”

It is all well and good to aspire to having what one wants, it becomes problematic when those with a well developed sense of entitlement pursue politics which yield fewer and fewer prospects and opportunities for the remainder of the population. Yet more dispiriting for our society and its political institutions when they issue “reports” purporting to substantiate the fantasies they harbor about the entitlement of others to secure basic needs — food, shelter, and medical care.

*There are several informative rejoinders to the Heritage/Cato narrative on the relative merits of public assistance and working wages.  See Dunford at Scientopia,  Moyers and Company on the Think Tank Report,  Brad DeLong on Josh Barro’s analysis.  Slate analysis of the MacDougal WSJ misleading OP-Ed.  CBPP “Cato’s fundamentally flawed analysis.”

 

 

 

Comments Off on Bon Fire of the Inanities: Nevada Welfare and the Cato Study

Filed under Nevada politics

Comments are closed.