Friday, February 5, 2021

Deserving: The Foundational Lie

Elected and appointed Democrats at the national level are doing a lot of things relatively well at the moment, so it makes the vote today in the Senate on means-testing COVID aid all the more disappointing. I hear the vote was 99–1 in favor of it (and that 1 vote was Rand Paul, who knows why). 

The means-testing I've heard they're considering would kick in at an income around $50,000 and would be based on 2019 tax returns, so a person could be denied aid on income they had before the pandemic and no longer have, which makes no sense. We can all think of lots of people who fit that description. 

A few days before this vote, A.R. Moxon, whose popular Twitter account is @JuliusGoat, had a great thread on the underlying philosophy of means-testing. Here's most of it:

If you ever want to consider how committed our society is to the foundational lie that life must be earned, and those who fail to earn it must die, consider that the proposition “giving everyone money to spend would be bad for the economy” is widely accepted as truth.

“Giving money to people in poverty solves poverty” is an obvious truth, which needs (another) study for proof, for the same reason that this finding will be ignored (again).

We don’t want to fix poverty, even if doing so helps everyone — not if it means life for the “undeserving.” It’s not about saving money.

There's a great fear in this country that a single dollar might go to someone who might not deserve it; or that a single given dollar might be spent on something we deem unworthy. We'll spend five dollars to prevent the waste of that one dollar.

The manifestations are everywhere. From the overt, gleefully cruel hostility of conservatism toward people in poverty, of course. But also hidden in almost everyone's assumptions. Our use of charity as a way of controlling who gets helped, for example.

Even the reversal — a desire to prevent aid from going to "undeserving" wealthy who don't need it (true) — leads us to create obstacles to aid people in poverty often can't overcome, but wealthy people can.

Which is why wealthy people like means testing.

Whenever someone proposes a means-testing solution, it's an indication they've internalized the lie, foundational to the United States, that some people deserve life and others don't.

It's an expensive lie.

People of the lie love means testing because it keeps the conversation within the framework of the lie — which is that some people deserve the social contract and others don't. As long as people go on believing the lie, it benefits them even if it targets them.

They don't care if the social contract goes away, because — as has been pointed out! — they don't need it. But if you want to spend money trying to administer it away from the "undeserving" they're happy to exploit it.

These are all expensive lies.

Things like this will help wealthy people, not people in poverty, because they are at the heart a reinforcement of the big lie, that some people deserve and other people don't. Which benefits those who benefit from the lie.

If you accept the framework of the lie, people of the lie will exploit it....

Once a society opens the door to the idea "not everyone deserves access to something that should be made publicly available," groups of people who need that thing but are denied it becomes inevitable. Maybe not even intentionally, but it will happen.

"Nobody who works a full-time job should starve."

"No hard-working American should be denied access to affordable healthcare."


"Nobody who makes under $50,000 a year should choke on unaffordable college debt."

It's still a question of who deserves and who doesn't.

Example: I understand why it seems right to only make college free to those least able to pay. But doing so keeps us in the framework of the lie — some deserve, others don't. It will make it harder for those who can't afford than if there were no cap.

It'll have the opposite of the intended effect, because that is what the lie is meant to do. People with extraordinary wealth don't care if they have access to free college. In fact, they'd rather not have access to it. Denying them access to it preserves the lie from which they profit.

The thing about this lie, it's a foundational lie. The idea that life must be earned? It founded our country. We believe it down to our bones.

It's a profitable lie for a few — but it's an expensive lie. We can't afford those who profit off it anymore.

We can't afford cruelty anymore. We can't afford greed. We can't afford billionaires, and we can't afford any longer to wait for their whims of largesse.

We can't afford this lie. It's too goddamned expensive. The messaging really ought to be the truth, which is:

* We can't afford to not take care of sick people anymore.
* We can't afford to not house the houseless anymore.
* We can't afford a population crushed by debt.
* We can't afford our carceral state.
* America can't afford cruelty.

Simply put, poverty is a result of an unfair imbalance built on a pernicious lie. It's what happens when a few people take all the money for themselves. This is obvious.

Poverty is a luxury tax the wealthy make us pay.

We can't afford poverty anymore.

I've had this general thought for a long time, mostly when it comes to free or low-cost public education vs. the high cost/high aid model we've been living with since the 1970s, or all of the hoops poor folks have to jump through to get income, food, and housing support, which works against the obvious stress they are under just to stay alive and deal with their situation (as described in the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much). And it also ties in with my intense dislike of the concept of deserving, which I've mentioned way too many times (here's one of them). 

So thanks for being topical and pushing my buttons, A.R. 

Someday, maybe we'll get this right.

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