Joe Biden, welfare king
5 min read
fairly difficult
Will he be the president who realizes Americans love government money?
The 2005 film Cinderella Man, about a Depression-era boxer, includes an instructive segment about American anti-welfare ideology. Early in the film, Russell Crowe's character, James Braddock, can't box because of an injured hand, and he can't get work thanks to the national economic crisis. He is forced into accepting welfare payments, which is shown to be profoundly humiliating. Then, when he returns to boxing and finally gets paid, he carefully pays back all the relief money he received — restoring his masculine pride as a father who takes care of his wife and children by earning money through work.

For decades this type of thinking has been assumed to be nearly universal among Americans. And that assumption is a big reason why the American welfare state is so weak. Frightened of waking the anti-welfare, anti-government beast, Democratic politicians have built convoluted means tests into their programs to make sure only the "deserving" receive benefits, or hidden them in the tax code out of sight, or both.

But it turns out that, when given the option straight up, the American people overwhelmingly support getting free money from the government. Joe Biden's presidency could be one in which the toxic ideological bias against a proper welfare state and active government dies an extremely deserved death. Free money is both good and fun!

The side effects of the anti-welfare prejudice can be seen in the trap that center-left politicos often back themselves into trying to appease it. It goes something like this: We're designing a new program to help the poor. In keeping with laissez-faire notions of the self-regulating market, which views government programs as an imposition on the preexisting economy, we assume that welfare payments are an immoral, unnatural drag on production, and hence only the very needy should get them. Thus we need to cut the middle class and the rich out, because we don't want to waste public dollars on people who aren't truly desperate. But…
Ryan Cooper
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