Paul Krugman’s recent post makes some good points about the myth of the undeserving poor. But does he have a nervous tic? When criticizing conservative economic views, doesn’t he always seem to genuflect slightly to conservative opinion in order to appear “reasonable”? In this post he says:
“I’ve noted before that conservatives seem fixated on the notion that poverty is basically the result of character problems among the poor. This may once have had a grain of truth to it, but for the past three decades and more the main obstacle facing the poor has been the lack of jobs paying decent wages. But the myth of the undeserving poor persists, and so does a counterpart myth, that of the deserving rich.”
What “grain of truth” ever existed in this story? Where is the empirical evidence that the poor were ever more “lazy” than the rich or had other “character defects” (Not K’s words) that the rich don’t have in abundance, as well? I don’t think there is any. What the conservatives believe is pure BS. Some people are certainly “lazier” than others. But there’s no evidence that this aspect of character is class-based. It’s just prejudice, myth, and conservative fairy tales, which they embrace in place of authentic religion, run rampant.
Many of our most visible and celebrated “liberals” or “progressives” seem to share this nervous tic with Professor Krugman. Bernie Sanders, for example, seems always to begin any comment he makes about fiscal policy by genuflecting to the idea that, of course, “. . . the US has a long-term debt problem, and we must have a plan for long-term deficit reduction, but . . .” Bloggers at the Campaign for the American Future are careful to mention that in order to implement progressive spending policies, of course we need to raise taxes on the rich, because the spending must be consistent with the goal of long-term deficit reduction. And while raising taxes is certainly not genuflecting to conservative religion, the idea that we need deficit reduction is.
I’m sure my readers can easily multiply examples. But the larger point here is that genuflecting just reinforces the conservative framing and we don’t need that. What we do need are full-throated statements of progressive ideas that make no full or partial validations of the myths and shibboleths of the neoliberal and conservative past.
What we need is the unvarnished truth as we see it. That is the only way to move on and away from the sad place of emerging global feudalism in which we find ourselves.