Last week, supposed conservative intellectual heavyweight Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Let Them Eat Block Grants) released an anti-poverty plan in an attempt to humanize both conservatism and himself (good luck with that). It’s essentially libertarian business school dweeb meets compassionate conservatism. Anyway, it’s already been noted that it would hurt the poor, especially during economic downturns–when they and the economy as a whole need all they help they can get. The block grants to states is a time-honored way to weaken federal programs and to allow states where they believe life starts at contraception and ends at Honduran to screw the needy. Jared Bernstein channels my Uncle Harry (“rich or poor, it’s always good to have money”) and notes that the poor are poor because they don’t earn enough. But this is the part of Ryan’s plan that floors me (boldface mine):
The underlying thesis is that those who are closest to actual poor people will be best able to figure out how to help them. But Ryan fails to take this idea to its end conclusion: that poor people themselves, being the closest to their own situations, are the most knowledgable about what they need to improve their lives. Instead, his proposal calls for low-income people to meet with providers to create a “customized life plan,” a contract that includes goals and benchmarks, as well as penalties for missing any steps.
In describing what this would look like, Ryan outlines the minimum requirements:
• A contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success
• A timeline for meeting these benchmarks
• Sanctions for breaking the terms of the contract
• Incentives for exceeding the terms of the contract
• Time limits for remaining on cash assistance
There would be bonuses for people who meet their goals ahead of time, such as finding a job before the time allotted, although the bonus wouldn’t likely come in the form of cash but in something like a savings bond. But if they miss those goals — say, in the current American economy where there are more than two job seekers for every opening, they struggle to find a job in that time period — the poor person would face consequences, “most likely immediate sanctions and a reduction in benefits,” Ryan writes.
An entirely different approach would take out the middle man of the providers and let poor people decide for themselves how best to improve their lives. This could be done by simply giving money, without strings attached, to the poor.
Essentially, what Paul Ryan wants to do is create a government bureaucracy to monitor these ‘contracts’ (or, maybe monitor the Social Contract?). Conservatives have spent the last forty years railing against this very thing. Of course, people will disagree about whether they hit these ‘benchmarks’, so we’ll need to hire people to adjudicate that process. More ‘big government.’ It also opens people up to the predations and whims of ‘petty government bureaucrats.’ Maybe some will be lenient and kind, others might not. Seems like there are plenty of opportunities for abusing and preying on the needy–which already happens.
When you look at the two of the most successful anti-poverty programs, Social Security and SNAP, they don’t involve a lot of monitoring (SNAP does have some limits on what can be bought). They just disburse money to those who need it. Ryan’s plan isn’t liberalism, it’s liberalism as designed by a fucking moron who hasn’t been paying attention for the last three decades. This idiocy is not a bug, but a feature–it is intentional (boldface mine):
Here’s the thing. There’s nothing in the plan and there’s nothing in anything he’s said about it that even hints that he’s changed his mind about why the poor are poor—dependency on government aid has made them lazy—and how they need to get out of their hammocks and get to work or work harder if they are working and be more like…well, Paul Ryan….
There’s enough that’s not awful in Ryan’s new plan to give Ezra Klein the opportunity to amuse himself imagining how it could work to actually help some people besides millionaires who want their taxes cut if…if it was administered by people Paul Ryan and his masters in the Republican-controlled house would die before they’d let get their hands on it—that is, technocratically-minded liberals with a mild fondness for the memory of Franklin Roosevelt. Truer-hearted liberals with a real commitment to the memory of FDR are likely to see it as the con it is and toss it back to Ryan with a thanks but no thanks.
It’s just kinder, gentler flim-flammery.