This quote is from Jon Chait via Krugman.
I would call it the Repetitive Drone of Elite Condescension. Krugman was talking about deficit scolds. Yesterday, I was talking about education reformers. And don’t forget the personal finance snake-oil folks.
All of it is part of rationalizing a world of extreme inequality and doing it primarily through allegations of bad decision making, as if most of the elite ever once faced some of the decisions that the working poor face. When was the last time someone who reported for a national news agency had to worry about whether taking their kid to the doctor would mean they didn’t have enough for food at the end of the month on the one hand, but she might be really sick and get worse if I don’t. Do they know what that decision feels like? What’s the “personally responsible” choice?
When was the last time anyone in Congress had to decide whether they should take a construction job in the next town even if the cost of gas would make it a less-than-minimum wage proposition?
Of course, what they’re thinking when they are presented with these hypotheticals is, well, stupid poors, you wouldn’t be in that situation if you had gone to college and worked hard for a good job like me! As if resolve was all it took to make it through life on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis.
School reform is based on the premise that it’s the schools that are failing. If the schools were “reformed” everyone would go to college and get a great job. That the end result of everyone feeling they need to go to college is a student debt crisis and graduate students waiting tables is lost on these people.
Entitlement reform is based on the premise that people want to be poor and giving them less benefits will make them be less poor magically. That the end result of this is people put in more of these impossible “personal responsibility” choices and thereby only furthering the cycle of poverty is lost on these people.
Personal finance self-help gurus are part of the same trope. If you just make better choices you won’t be poor. Yeah, right. Going out to dinner is for smart rich people. Defaulting on credit is immoral even though the banks charge significant premiums in order to hedge against it (and get bailed out if they don’t charge enough). Please.
Many of these arguments would go much further if there was abundant work for people that provided for a living wage. That there isn’t is the result of the relentless campaign to destroy the working class. Break unions. Keep minimum wages low. Look the other way at all kinds of wage fraud. Send those jobs to places with near-slave labor and no environmental regulations to worry about so that the rest of us can buy 99c underwear at Wal-Mart! (Lower wages and lower prices? Hmmm… that’s deflation! A perfect way to destroy a debtor class.)
All the VSPs blanche at the idea, but our country will not get back to it’s former greatness until we start imposing fair trade tariffs and undergo a period of significant inflation, with an emphasis on wage increases.
This is very easy to do in theory. Print money and send it to people. But in practice because it doesn’t discriminate between people who
make upper-middle-class white people choices have personal responsibility, it won’t happen.