Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hard Data Is No Friend of Conservative Ideology

The narrative driven by current "bright lights" on the right -- Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, et al -- is that the welfare state is the cause of our economic woes and, in other words, an inappropriate response to either poverty or income inequality. The poor need dignity, not food, money or handouts! And if we do give children a free lunch because they parents' income falls below the poverty line, make them sweep the kitchen for it. They'll learn the dignity of work!

No, what we do is humiliate them if we do that. Having been a school teacher, I can easily visualize poor children sweeping the kitchen while the more affluent in the cafeteria linger over their lunches or return to their favorite cell-phone games. Yes, but oh, the dignity of work!

(In a more balanced society, we might all have free lunches and all sweep the floors. But no, we must have winners and losers and inequality because...?)

Which gets me belatedly to my point: Paul Krugman looks at some hard data that shows that levels of redistribution of income and/or wealth has some quantifiable positive effect on growth, i.e. the more a nation redistributes, the higher the GDP growth. Read Krugman's blog post for details. But here's a tease:

There is, it turns out, a fair bit of variation among euro area countries in the amount of redistribution — and there is actually a positive correlation between redistribution and growth over the post-crisis period, significant at the 10 percent level.
Overall, the data offer no reason to believe that the economic crisis has something to do with the welfare state — an empirical observation that will have no impact whatsoever on the right’s convictions.
Krugman's point is well-taken: The right is not interested in hard data, it's focused on anecdote, whether true or not. Of course, I'm referring to performances like Paul Ryan's tale of a kid who wanted a brown bag lunch from home rather than a free one. It turns out the tale was borrowed from a conservative Wisconsin pol who had lifted it and twisted it to suit the right's vision. Ryan failed to check his anecdotes. Who needs hard data when spurious conclusions that sound true will bolster your case?

The Republican base is inspired if we add to the humiliation of a free lunch with a mandatory broom in the kid's hand. Conservatism for the win!

Note. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), who insisted that there should be "no such thing as free lunch" for school children and that they should sweep the floor for food, has turned out to be quite a hypocrite. This report shows he expensed more than $4,200 in meals, yes, paid for by taxpayers.

Yes, Virginia, there is a free lunch, just not for the poor. That would be undignified.

GOPer Jack Kingston: a free lunch for me but not for thee.

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