Krugman Misleads Again with 'Moochers Against Welfare'

Paul Krugman, unfortunately, is the dominant voice among left-leaning economists. His columns are too often a sad example of what passes for great intellectual insight from the Coastal Elites in today's United States.

Consider this series of logical leaps:

Moochers Against Welfare 
Published: February 16, 2012 
[The] regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn't Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don't eat Thai food and don't rely on handouts?
Krugman is a master of misleading arguments, resorting to a mix of straw man arguments and ad hominem insults that are meant to belittle conservative voters. Why the use of the word "moochers" for people on aid? If the goal is to make a point that people on aid are not moochers, Krugman fails. Instead, his use comes across as insulting. A moocher is someone who asks for handouts without offering to do anything in return. Krugman makes reference to an earlier New York Times article on business owners and others finding themselves on food stamps or other forms of aid.

These people are not moochers, and Krugman certainly knows this. His attempt to illustrate a larger point falls flat, if that is his real goal.

Throughout this column (and many others) Krugman is technically correct on some points, while relying on his readers being equally biased against specific regions and demographics. I believe Krugman wants to reinforce his "elite" readers' biases.

The overall argument he makes is ridiculous, though.

I can dislike the system, but find myself trapped within it. Being a slave within any system might leave an individual without a pragmatic option to accepting the food, shelter, clothing, or whatever else the system offers. For centuries prison camps have used this method: forced labor followed by "generous" offers of food or water for good behavior. The idea is that in time the prisoner starts to really believe this "handouts" are signs of kindness.

I'll offer the absurd extreme as a first rebuttal: Would it be wrong for a North Korean or a Cuban to accept government aid to survive while also blaming the government for his or her dire situation? On a closer parallel, is it wrong for the Greeks, Italians, or Spanish to blame their governments for their situations?

While I would argue that many voters in the social-democratic nations are also to blame for their economic situations, the point is that government can be to blame for lousy economic conditions or to the policies that exacerbate these conditions. Yet, because you find yourself unemployed or otherwise in need, what choice is there but to turn to the very power that is creating the mess?

You think it is wrong of a welfare recipient to assert the political system might be creating unemployment and poverty? I know many people who have had to accept aid while feeling horrible and angry about their situations.

In fact, one could argue that governments sometimes want citizens to be dependent. Governments can make the citizens no better than slaves, and seeing no choice but survival the people accept handouts.

Krugman is trying to imply fiscal conservatives are hypocrites when the reality is that many know the mess around them was created, in large part, by politicians. (I still also blame some voters, but our leaders haven't led well.)

Many "conservative" voters, especially the social conservatives, are not classical liberals. I'm not a social conservative, and don't share much with the modern GOP voting base, but I understand their "local is better" philosophy. They prefer a less powerful federal government, but they would accept a state or local government providing community-based assistance. You can support different government and not be anti-govenment.

Krugman and others seem to believe only an idiot could disagree with his love for centralized power.

But, there are plenty of reasons to dislike the dictates of the elites of both major parties.

If I were a parent and living in an urban setting, I could believe that our schools are failing students and still have no choice but to send my child to a failing government school. Of course, the reason I have no choice might be because liberal politicians (and many unions) oppose school choice while sending their children to private schools. That's genuine hypocrisy in my mind because it allows some children to be penalized; the burden of a bad education is life-long.

The parent is forced to accept the "handout" of a free government education for his or her children. A mediocre education, but a handout nonetheless. How dare they complain!

I've been in business and dislike any and all government "favoritism" that helps or hinders one business over another. Yet, I would relocate to an "enterprise zone" and I definitely claim every legal tax deduction for which I am eligible. I don't have to like the tax system, and I can decry its lack of uniformity, but it would be stupid of me to pay more taxes than my competitors do.

It is not ignorant or hypocritical to believe government forces some of us to accept handouts and other benefits we would rather not accept. Government is all about control, regardless of which parties are in charge at any given moment. They just seek different controls.

To further his thesis that conservative voters opposed to government are ignorant, Krugman writes:
Cornell University's Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they "have not used a government program."
This is a technically correct argument, but misleading for a few reasons.

I can find quotes from Democrats and Republicans telling voters that we pay money into Social Security as if it is a retirement program. Unemployment is supposedly from unemployment insurance. Politicians talk of a "lock box" and keeping programs like Social Security "out of the hands of politicians."

You can forgive voters for believing the political rhetoric, especially since it is often liberal politicians claiming that voters deserve to receive "what they paid in" over a lifetime. The problem, as Krugman and others will acknowledge, is that most of us receive far more from federal "insurance" programs than we contributed to the programs.

The voters aren't stupid — they've accept the rhetoric that it is their own money they are receiving back. I don't blame people for being confused and I don't suggest anyone is ignorant because the system is so complex. If politicians of both parties explained that these programs are not "insurance" or defined contribution benefits, then the public would understand that recipients of aid are getting welfare.

Most voters also don't release the earned income tax credit is welfare. Again, it is named in a manner meant to confuse voters. Maybe Krugman should argue for truth in federal program naming.

I plan to write on the historical reasons some states and regions of states are distrustful of government, while other (mainly urban) settings embrace government. I've addressed this before, in terms of rural lifestyles and history. But, I don't know that many elites appreciate the rural experience, even those elites originally from rural communities.

Government "help" comes with strings attached and a sense of guilt. That's easy for me to understand.
More on that in another entry.


  1. In your description of yourself, you are a classical liberal defined as:
    "Classical liberalism embodies the original concept of liberalism: a faith in freedom to, not freedom from as a guiding principle."

    Yet the concept of 'freedom to,' which is positive liberty, is contained nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. The founding fathers of our country were, as far as the definition of classical liberal that I know, mostly classical liberals - hence where we get the term. Yet, the U.S. Constitution is only written in terms of negative liberty, or 'freedom from.'

    How do you reconcile what appears to be a modern interpretation of classical liberalism from what is most assuredly a different actual and historical definition of the term classical liberal?

    Check the definition with references from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy before answering -

    The original definition of classical liberalism the way our founders saw it most certainly had nothing to do with positive liberty, which is a modern concept, and everything to do with negative liberty, or freedom from.... especially government interference.

  2. You are correct that the system is one of "Negative Rights" but those are still "freedoms to" do whatever you wish, within reason. The post could be clarified accordingly, with an explanation drawing from Mill.

    J. S. Mill's Harm Principle and his general notion that "the individual is sovereign" would be very much in line with the Founders. He wrote eloquently about the problems of compulsory behaviors, even when they might benefit the individual.

    You are reading the "freedom from" in quite a different manner than I do, but I understand the point.

    Negative Rights, to my mind:
    * Limits what government should do, by listing what it cannot do to the individual.
    * Rights of “non-interference” to live as you want.
    * Locke, Mill, and Thomas Jefferson are historical supporters of negative rights.
    * John Hospers, The Libertarian Alternative (1974).
    * Ayn Rand’s works also promote negative rights.

  3. I describe the "Freedom From" to students (which is oddly a list of "positive rights") as being the way Social Democracies approach government:

    Freedom from poverty, hunger, disease, et cetera.

    Again, the semantics are important and do confuse / confound students. But you are correct that what I embrace and promote are "negative rights," even if I dislike the standard nomenclature.

    Again, my lectures do use the terms negative and positive rights, as you correctly identify them. But, I still view this as the "freedom to" and not the "freedom from" — probably under the influence of the Austrian economists I favor and discuss.

  4. A longer explanation, with Nathan's query included:


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