More On The Ethics of Receiving Government Benefits

In addition Mr. Krugman cites evidence suggesting large percentages of Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries are confused about their use of these government programs. They don’t seem to think they’re getting handouts.

Maybe that’s because they’re in fact not getting handouts. As they were reminded every time they looked at their paycheck stub and saw the Social Security and Medicare tax deductions, they were forced to sacrifice part of their income for these programs through their working lives. The programs are compulsory; there is no opting out of them; the taxes come out of your paycheck whether you like it or not.

Therefore the notion that people who don’t like big government should not get Social Security and Medicare is utter nonsense. What are they supposed to do? Refuse the benefits that they already paid for? You’d have to be rich to do that. But one can see why left-liberals keep bringing up this humbug. People who don’t share their love of big government are labeled inconsistent for doing what by law they are coerced to do, mocked for complaining about a government apparatus from which they can’t escape.

But why do regions that rely on the safety net elect politicians who want to tear it down? I’ve seen three main explanations.

First, there is Thomas Frank’s thesis in his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”: working-class Americans are induced to vote against their own interests by the G.O.P.’s exploitation of social issues. And it’s true that, for example, Americans who regularly attend church are much more likely to vote Republican, at any given level of income, than those who don’t.

Alternatively, as I proposed before, they may simply see this as sunk costs to be recovered. They can’t avoid paying taxes, so they might as well try to recover as much as they can. Furthermore, opposing the political program one uses makes sense because political programs tend to be monopolies for the poor. If the government offers medical care for poor people, they are going to have an impossible time trying to refuse it, especially since taxes (both direct and indirect) eat up a decent portion of their budget. In a sense, the only people who can refuse government programs are the sufficiently wealthy because they can afford to bite the bullet on taxes while also avoiding government programs. The poor cannot do this. The only way a poor person can opt out of a suboptimal government program is vote against it. Thus, it should make sense that some poor people oppose the government programs from which they receive benefits because they would much prefer to simply not go through the government to get their benefits.
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