Who Needs Government Anyway?

15 Feb

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.


Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Who Needs Government Anyway?

  1. Joel

    February 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Typical argument defending forced wealth redistribution: Once you take the carrot, you're culpable. When a government makes participation in such schemes compulsory, you lose the option to credibly complain about the "hypocrisy" of taking handouts for which one has already paid.I'm sure that given the option of never contributing to such programs many would gladly choose to exchange the benefit they provide. Social Security? Please.

  2. Jan Baer

    February 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Dr. Wright,(I'm being previous with the "Dr." but it's meant in a hopeful way)The disconnect you write about is a puzzler. Many people believe they receive from Social Security only what they paid in, and thus they earned their share; they don't know that it takes an average of just 2 1/2 years to use up all they've contributed. Did those people lose all math skills at age 65?What saddens me is the current wave of hateful animosity toward the poor; the assumption that all recipients of Medicaid and Social Security Disability are crafty drug addicts, when (according to one source) 70% of Medicaid dollars are spent on the elderly – including the parents of the very people who make these outrageous accusations.I don't know from what comfortable income bracket these hateful people make such claims, but either they are very wealthy or quite ignorant. It seems never to cross their minds that they, too, may someday need one of these programs. More likely, just as you've stated, they're already using the programs but can't make the big connection.Which, naturally, would lead me to the next question of how so many Americans became so ignorant?

  3. Murfomurf

    February 18, 2011 at 5:55 am

    I'd like to ask Joel who paved the road to his house, organised that water pipes, electricity and gas go to every house and who helped educate all those expensive doctors you can see if you're ill (or very old)? Do you have nice straight white teeth and strong bones because your mum took you to well-baby clinics? Are you confident and have a good job because you went to government approved schools and past government-required exams? Or do you live in modern day Russia, where government has gone to the dogs, along with the idea of wealth redistribution? Imagine how nasty the 80% or so of people who are below your level of intelligence would be if someone (ie. government)didn't look after them- could you keep up your lifestyle while fighting them off? Lastly- what would you suggest as an alternative system, thinking from the point of view of keeping people civilised while not taking their contributions to the greater good?

  4. Michael Kirsch, M.D.

    February 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Brad, the government is broke and drowning in debt. Your suggestions?


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