Republican luminaries like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan are talking a lot lately about helping America's poor. But according to New York Times columnist and celebrated economist Paul Krugman, until they and other Republicans are willing to change their political priorities in some fundamental ways, Rubio, Ryan and the rest will remain "enemies" of America's poor.
Republicans, Krugman writes, have difficulty speaking coherently about anti-poverty measures, in large part because of their well-deserved "reputation for reverse Robin-Hoodism, for being the party that takes from the poor and gives to the rich." To bolster this claim, Krugman notes GOP efforts on the state and federal level to deny the poor healthcare (via Obamacare's Medicaid expansion) as well as economic support (via unemployment insurance) and education (via public financing for schools). "It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that right now Republicans are doing all they can to hurt the poor," Krugman writes.
Yet while Krugman is extremely critical of the GOP's position on anti-poverty measures, he does grant that one Republican claim — that some anti-poverty programs create negative incentives, discouraging the poor from seeking gainful employment — has a kernel of truth to it. "[O]ur patchwork, uncoordinated system of antipoverty programs does have the effect of penalizing efforts by lower-income households to improve their position," Krugman writes. "[T]he more they earn, the fewer benefits they can collect. In effect, these households face very high marginal tax rates."
But that's about as far as Krugman's willing to go when it comes to giving the GOP credit, mainly because the party, devoted as it is to anti-tax and small government dogma, can't countenance any solutions that would actually help the poor. He notes that solutions to the problem of bad incentives would require "spending more, not less, on the safety net, and taxes on the affluent have to rise to pay for that spending." That's a non-starter for most Republicans; and for those brave enough to say otherwise, a primary challenge from a right-wing challenger is almost inevitable.
"The point is that a party committed to small government and low taxes on the rich is, more or less necessarily, a party committed to hurting, not helping, the poor," Krugman concludes.