Grow the Social Safety Net

Paul KrugmanWe need a bigger social safety net. Yesterday, Paul Krugman pointed this out by noting our modern economy where everyone is just supposed to get used to the fact that you will have a new job every three years and that insecurity is now normal so get over it. This kind of dynamism requires some kind of bedrock that we can all hold onto. And the only such bedrock comes from the welfare state.

I have a problem with the “new job every three years” idea, even though that has been my life. All this new economic dynamism has mostly been on the part of workers, not companies. It would be one thing if companies only lasted three years. But what happens is that companies that last 100 years no longer show any loyalty to their workers. (Even while they complain that workers don’t show enough loyalty to these companies.)

What has really happened in the modern world is that the government long ago declared open season on unions and all manner of other worker rights. So now workers are in the position of beggars, hoping that some company will take pity on them and employ them for a few years.

Of course, the people who want to destroy the social safety net are the same people who want to eliminate worker rights. I was amused earlier in the year when some conservative MP claimed that everyone should start their own businesses. This is absurd, of course. If that happened, there would be no businesses, just 7 billion private contractors. But what’s interesting in this context is that such a claim implies that people who complain about lack of work should just be able to start their own businesses. “Just take out a loan from your parents!”

I think we are past the point where we can reasonably claim that the right in this country (or just about any other) is an honest broker. They hate the poor. They think the poor are morally deficient. They would prefer that the poor just die off, but as long as they are powerless and hidden, fine.

Krugman is right of course: now more than ever, we need the social safety net. If companies are going to follow the Gordon Gekko model that profits are all and they owe nothing to society, the government needs to take over. But as long as these business owners have the power that goes along with their profits, they will fight hard to impoverish workers outside their business environment. The smaller the safety net, the more pliant the workers will be.

Eventually, this all ends in a feudal state, of course. So while we still have a democracy, we must fight to empower workers. And that means expanding the welfare state, not just protecting it.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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