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Here's Why Americans Hate Big Government — Even When They Benefit From It

July 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Paul Rosenberg, Salon

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains “The Government-Citizen Disconnect” and why it's undermining our democracy.

For 40 years, Republicans have attacked Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty as a disastrous failure. Suddenly, last month, President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors stood decades of history on its head, much as Trump himself did when he claimed, “Hillary Clinton started birtherism, and I ended it!” The War on Poverty was a tremendous success, Trump’s CEA said in a new report. Poverty is no longer problem. But dependency on government is: The remaining problem is “the decline of self-sufficiency”!

“Between 1961 and 2016, consumption-based poverty fell from 30 percent to 3 percent, amounting to a 90 percent decline,” the report claimed. “Based on historical standards of material wellbeing and the terms of engagement, our War on Poverty is largely over and a success.”  

But the so-called “consumption-based poverty” rate is absurd on its face, as seen in a chart accompanying that text, showing less poverty during the Great Recession than during the dot-com boom a decade earlier — a rare period of tight labor markets and rising wages, even for low-wage workers.

In short, as is often the case in Trumplandia, the narrative had nothing to do with reality. But the narrative is a powerful one, echoing Mitt Romney’s scorn for the 47 percent of Americans he labeled as “takers.”

Fortunately, a new book by Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler seems custom-made for blowing this report to bits, as well as illuminating a complex history at odds with many common myths. “The Government-Citizen Disconnect” explains that government social spending has grown substantially over the years — more so in red states than blue — even as wages have largely stagnated ever since the 1970s. Never before have so many Americans gotten so much from their government in so many different ways, or appreciated it so little.

Examining 21 federal programs — Social Security, Medicaid, SNAP, the home mortgage interest deduction, etc. — Mettler finds that 96 percent of adults have received benefits from at least one of these policies, and that the average person …read more


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