by Ryan Streeter on February 23, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.
In one of those I-can’t-believe-this-guy-won-a-Nobel-prize kinds of posts, Tino Sanadaji gives Paul Krugman a little lesson in how to read data on the voting preferences of welfare recipients. In a recent column Krugman wondered why so many Republican states consume so much welfare. He essentially concludes that welfare dependents have been duped by the GOP or don’t know enough to vote their interests.
He doesn’t factor actual data on voting habits into his calculations, though, so Sanandaji give him a hand. Using data from the Maxwell School’s survey of welfare recipients, which clearly shows that they vote overwhelmingly for Democrats:
The Democratic Party, to which Krugman pledges his allegiance, has already figured this out of course.
In defense of one of Krugman’s points in his column, which Sanandaji doesn’t address, it’s clear that many Americans receive government benefits without knowing it or thinking it through. Many Social Security beneficiaries, for instance, don’t think of themselves as receiving welfare, since they “paid into” the system. Of course, the reality is that Social Security is a welfare program, in that it transfers money from workers to recipients who are (mostly) not working. That you “paid your fair share” when you were younger is beside the point. The program is still a welfare program (even if participation is involuntary), and many Republicans receive Social Security benefits from it without thinking of themselves as receiving income transfers from others.
Thinking more generally about these issues, it’s worth noting that there’s a different kind of dependence which is a frame of mind that affects habits. And on this point, conservatives have long rightly held that a loss of aspiration matched by an expectation that someone will bail me out is a dangerous combination – in an individual, a family, an organization, or an entire society.
Conservatives have been less astute at recognizing this habit higher up the income ladder and among so-called private actors in the economy who stand in expectation that a government will bail them out if they make bad bets. But the principle that dependence is harmful remains right, and preying on it for political gain is always wrong.
UPDATE: A reader pointed out that my original comments on Social Security unfairly compared beneficiaries to welfare recipients who can choose not to receive benefits even if they quality for them. I’ve edited that passage for clarity, grateful to the reader.