The answer to the question that is the title to today’s post is a lot of us. The thing is, most of us just fail to realize it. If you haven’t seen this yet, brace yourself. Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler recently published a study that, among other things, includes a table showing the percentage of program beneficiaries who report that they “have not used a government social program.” Yes, that’s right. These are people who actually get government benefits of some sort, and yet claim that they have never received government benefits of any kind.
You can see their responses here.
You wouldn’t expect numbers like that to be very high. I mean, if I conducted a poll just outside of the food court at the mall and asked people who passed by “Have you ever eaten at the food court at this mall?” You’d expect that most people would know the answer–especially the ones who had just finished a meal there. What these figures suggest is that many people don’t know just how much government does for them, which is interesting when considered in the context of how many people are hopping aboard the anti-government bandwagon.
Those people probably hate the idea of what they consider lazy good-for-nothings sitting around and spending all of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money on food stamps, public housing, welfare, and Medicaid. I know people who espouse that view. I eat with them regularly during the holidays.What I also know is that those same people are likely saving for a child’s college education with a 529 plan, took advantage of federal student loans, claimed a tax credit for educational expenses, get a Social Security check every month, or have most of their health care paid for by Medicare. In fact, I myself have taken advantage of three of those government programs.
The thing is, for some reason, those very important, very beneficial government programs somehow aren’t framed as government programs in the minds of many who use them. There is some serious cognitive dissonance going on here. There has to be. That’s the only way that these people can survive what I imagine would otherwise be a crushing amount of hypocritical guilt. So they tell themselves a story about how they are different, how they aren’t like “those” people, never realizing that they, too, are the recipients of government assistance. Soon, health reform will be added to the list. Maybe Jonathan Gruber’s graphic novel will enlighten them on this one.