04 February 2012

Why You Shouldn't Resent the Unemployed, Unemployable...or Even the Just Plain Lazy

I have never been on welfare. I have been fortunate to benefit from a great education, hard work and some plain ol' dumb luck. But I don't resent those who are on welfare. Indeed, one reason I find it so difficult to relate to the radical right wing in this country, is their whiny temper tantrums about the poor. They seem to believe these people are lazy and want to live in unemployment and poverty, that they prefer to live off the largesse of the public purse.

Let's put aside the fact that the 'largesse' of the public purse is hardly enough to afford the luxurious lifestyles Republicans want us to believe the poor lead. The myth of the Welfare Queen is exactly that: a myth. Let's also put aside the fact that an exceedingly small number of Americans spend very long periods on welfare. For most, welfare is exactly what it's intended to be: a short-term safety net to prevent people from starving or becoming homeless due to unemployment or family situations that preclude employment. A relatively very small number of people are on it for decades.

But these few people just make Republicans seethe with anger. And this rage makes people perceive that the costs for programs helping the poor (both here and abroad through foreign aid) are huge when in fact they are not. When pollsters ask people how much of our budget goes to helping the less fortunate, the figures they state are staggeringly wrong. For example, most Americans believe that more than 5% of our budget goes to foreign aid, when in fact it is less than 1%.

Let's also put aside my rather subjective take that this resentment and this anger are childish and selfish. It reminds me of the 5-year-old who throws a tantrum because his friend is using his toy, even when it's a toy he didn't care about and hadn't been using for ages. When conservatives get so worked up about welfare, I half expect to see them throwing themselves on the ground, kicking and screaming, shouting 'MINE, MINE, MINE!'

So putting all these issues aside, why should Republicans, Teabaggers and others NOT resent the poor and unemployed? One simple reason: we'd all be screwed without them. Let me say that again: without the poor, unemployed, and yes, even the lazy, this and every other capitalist country on the face of Earth would be quite royally and completely screwed. Why? Because having a certain portion of the population idle (by choice or otherwise) is like a safety valve through which the built-up steam of excessive demand for goods, services and labor can be vented. In the absence of this safety valve, you get runaway inflation and economic collapse. If there were a job for every person in this country and everyone who could work, did work, inflation would spiral out of control, primarily for two reasons: 1) Labor costs would soar. It's simple supply and demand: if everyone is working, there are far fewer applicants for new jobs and employers must thus pay a premium to entice people to change jobs. This has a snowball effect and soon wage inflation is out of control. This might sound good if you are a wage-earner, but it isn't because of reason number two. 2) When there are too many dollars chasing too few goods, prices skyrocket. With all those added wage-earners and all that added wage inflation, there would be too much money flooding the system in relation to how quickly that system could meet demand. Next thing you know, inflation hits double, then even triple digits.

So the next time you see one of those obnoxious bumper stickers that say, 'Work harder: Millions of people on Welfare are counting on you', tell the driver that he should be sending thank-you notes to those people for keeping his whole economic system and way of life feasible.

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