A must-read piece in today’s New York Times focuses on the declining fortunes of Chisago County, near Minneapolis, and examines an interesting paradox:
The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.
And as more middle-class families… land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age…
This is called denial. These stalwart white citizens will need more help as the real economy continues to spiral downward, and they will accept this help because they want to live. But they will continue to bitch about the government that keeps their leaky boats afloat, just as they will continue to vote for morons (Rick Santorum) and phonies (Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich) who will tell them that their choice is between an “entitlement society” and an “opportunity society.”
This is what comes of 30 years of expensive right-wing propaganda extolling Reagonomics. These sorry-ass citizens are the Seeds of Ronnie — full-grown organisms now and wilting, each in his own backyard, still waiting for good jobs and other opportunities to trickle down from the people who conned them into believing taxation and regulation are the enemies of prosperity rather than its allies.
Their real choice is between a society that embraces the idea of a social contract ensuring good jobs and decent pay, and a society that rewards only those people who are rich and well-connected beyond the wildest dreams of the down-and-out.
It’s 2012. The middle class is dwindling, the poor have been abandoned, and decent, informed people everywhere (not only in Occupy Wall Street) should be shouting this question: When will you suckers wake up?
Footnote: My headline refers to CivilWarLand In Bad Decline, a short-story collection by George Saunders that examines some of the same issues as the Times piece, but from more interesting angles.