Romney And Misunderstanding Dependency

Posted by | September 19, 2012 14:18 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

The Romney remarks on the “47%” has generated much condemnation across the ideological spectrum.  It has also generated thoughtful commentary on the left and the right.  Mark Schmitt has an essay on the “submerged state.”  By this he means the fact that many people have no idea the extent of their dependence on the government (hence the ridiculousness of the “we built it” theme of the Republican convention).

Conservatives and liberals built the submerged state together, often sharing a preference for delivering benefits through the tax code. But a concerted effort to reduce the long-term budget deficit, with tax reform at the center of it, creates an opportunity to surface submerged programs and replace them with far more efficient, visible, direct programs. When the public is fully aware of the benefits it’s receiving, it’s possible that voters will recoil in shock at the degree of their dependency, or perhaps they will regain a healthy respect for the role of government in providing some of the security that helps them take full advantage of their capacities and opportunities.

It’s disappointing that Romney shows no interest in either drawing out the submerged state or in the bipartisan project (of which his health reform in Massachusetts was a part) of smoothing the path to economic success for families. Instead, he just sees half the country as people who can’t be convinced “that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” That’s a very strange view of this country and a tragic development in modern conservatism.

And Jonathan Cohn talks about similar themes in the way misunderstand what government can accomplish:

That’s really the point I hope people take away from this episode, if not in the next few weeks that precede the election than in the months and years that follow. If the polls are right, the voters today are pretty skeptical of government, at least relative to what they were up through the 1960s. But the voters also believe government should make sure the elderly and poor have health care. They believe government should provide pensions through Social Security. They even believe government should guarantee that everybody has food and shelter, as the Washington Post’s Suzy Khimm pointed out on Tuesday. With any luck, Romney’s controversial comments will get people to think about these contradictions—and to realize that they like government a lot more than they seem to realize.

There are a lot of worthwhile themes here worth discussing.  Unfortunately, given the abominable language used by Governor Romney, he seems utterly incapable of discussing them.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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