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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Unemployed? Don't Expect the GOP to Help You

Given the political environment these days, it probably shouldn't surprise anyone that Sen. Jim Bunning has his supporters. Bunning, who held up an emergency spending bill because it wasn't paid for -- and because he's a lifelong prick -- imperiled the unemployment benefits of more than a million people. And he did this in the middle of a crisis of unemployment.

But it turns out that unemployed people are lazy. They'll stay unemployed for as long as they have benefits. See, unemployed people are unemployed because they deserve it. That's the Republican mindset; people with a lot of money are wonderful people who deserve all that money, while people with just a little or no money are awful people who are purposely poor so they can sponge off the government. This reasoning is so ingrained that, even in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression -- with the vast majority of the jobless unemployed through no fault of their own -- they can't shake the belief that people in need are just lazy.

Take Tom DeLay.

Sometimes I wonder why Tom gets any face time on TV at all. The face of Washington corruption and a man of zero personal charisma, I find it really hard to believe there are a lot of people who read about Bunning and thought, "I wonder what Hot Tub Tom thinks?" One N in CNN stands for "news" -- you wonder how this qualifies.

Still, DeLay gives us a glimpse into the economic thinking on the right. "As a matter of conscience," writes Steve Benen, "having prominent Republicans chastise those struggling to find work during an unemployment crisis is just callous and cruel." It's also just stupid and smacks of economic flateartherism.

See, let's look at what a recession actually is. It's defined as negative economic growth over two or more quarters; translation, no one's spending any money. The conservative reaction to this situation is to go with the economic herd and stop spending money. This doesn't really help the economy any, in fact it obviously makes it worse. But Republicans argue that we shouldn't spend money during a recession because... Well, they don't really explain why. Not any good explanations, anyway. So just because.

But what does stopping unemployment benefits do? Other than hurt people, not a whole lot. Employment isn't a supply-side market -- no one provides jobs because applications and resumes are so abundant. It's demand-side, meaning that employers hire the employees they need -- and no more. And how many employees they need is determined by how much demand there is for their goods and services. With a lot of people unemployed, this becomes a feedback loop; employers don't hire because no one's buying and no one's buying because not enough people have the paycheck to pay for it. So unemployment benefits help the unemployed, the employed, and employers. I say it a lot, because it's true and it's important to understand, but people who need money are 100% guaranteed to spend money. So, if a recession is a drop in consumer spending, who do you want to get money to?

"What Democrats believe is what textbook economics says: that when the economy is deeply depressed, extending unemployment benefits not only helps those in need, it also reduces unemployment," economist Paul Krugman wrote last week. "That’s because the economy’s problem right now is lack of sufficient demand, and cash-strapped unemployed workers are likely to spend their benefits. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office says that aid to the unemployed is one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus, as measured by jobs created per dollar of outlay."

DeLay's flateartherism isn't shared only by Jim Bunning. In a post about Republican economic knownothingism, Steve Benen cites Rep. Dean Heller, Rep. Steve King, and Sen. Jon Kyle as repeating Delay's economic ignorance. It doesn't seem to be any sort of concerted message, it's just something they believe. I believe that history shows that Republicans have no idea what they're talking about in terms of economics and I think this just shows that this still holds true.

A lot of it, especially in our present circumstance, is just Republicans being reactionary. There's a liberal approach to economics, represented by FDR and the New Deal, so there has to be a conservative counterpart, represented by Ronald Reagan's phony "welfare queen" story. If liberals say you have to spend money when times are bad and build surpluses when times are good, then conservatives say the opposite. Mostly because liberals are always wrong. So you spend money like it's going out of style when the economy's good (or even just OK), then panic over the size of the deficit you've run up when the economy turns. That no one can actually explain the logic behind this economic strategy is irrelevant. If you even need an explanation, then you're forgetting one of the immutable laws of the universe: liberals are always wrong.

That's all they need as proof that they're right.


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