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Welfare for Gramps

- May 16, 2011

“Josh Marshall”:http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2011/05/welfare_for_gramps.php pokes fun at Paul Ryan for, as he puts it, saying that Gramps is on welfare.

bq. In his speech today relaunching his plan to privatize/phase out Medicare, Rep. Paul Ryan said that his plan for phasing out Medicare will strengthen “welfare for those who need it.”:http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/05/ryan-defends-medicare-privatization-as-strengthening-welfare-for-those-who-need-it.php.

But (abstracting this one particular point from the much larger debate), isn’t Ryan actually right here? Medicare is about as obvious an example of welfare as one could possibly imagine – a program intended to spend government money on providing services to a population that would otherwise be vulnerable (not all Medicare recipients need it, obviously, but many do). This gets us “back to the Suzanne Mettler point”:http://tmc.org/blog/2011/02/08/the_invisible_american_welfare/. Nearly 40% of Medicare recipients believe that they have never “used a government social program.” Plausibly, this is because the recipients of this and other welfare benefits identify government social programs with welfare, and welfare with the poor (and often, with non-white people – debates over welfare in the US have an obvious racial tinge). And hence the American welfare state is submerged, inefficient, and largely unrecognized, even by left-leaning commentators like Marshall, as _actually being_ a welfare state. Mettler’s book, which will look at the underlying dynamics, comes out “in a few months”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226521656/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=henryfarrell-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399349&creativeASIN=0226521656 – I hope it has the effect on political debates that it deserves.