Paul Krugman dismantles Boehner's callous attack on the unemployed

The Times columnist says the right's inane "blame-the-victim" meme has one fundamental problem

Published September 22, 2014 11:03AM (EDT)

Paul Krugman                                                                                                                                                                     (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
Paul Krugman (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

In today’s New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning economist and best-selling author Paul Krugman heaps scorn on the persistent right-wing claim that laziness is the culprit behind unemployment.

Highlighting John Boehner’s recent American Enterprise Institute speech blaming joblessness on people who would “rather sit around” than find work, Krugman notes that Boehner’s sneering condescension is emblematic of the GOP’s long-standing contempt for Americans out of work. That attitude – “impervious to logic and evidence,” Krugman writes -- explains the right’s campaign to dismantle the social safety net.

But what’s particularly strange about Boehner and the right’s continued laziness meme, Krugman observes, is that “the blame-the-victim crowd has gotten everything it wanted: benefits, especially for the long-term unemployed, have been slashed or eliminated.” Boehner might have us believe that the jobless are welfare bums, but as Krugman points out, not only were they not bums in the first place, but there’s largely no welfare for them to collect, either.

While the job market continues to slowly improve, research by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank shows that nearly 3 million Americans have been unemployed for longer than six months, the typical limit for unemployment insurance. But the GOP succeeded last year in ending benefits for the long-term unemployed, and now barely a quarter of unemployed Americans draw any type of unemployment benefit. Moreover, Krugman notes, the total value of unemployment benefits is only half of what it was in 2003, when the country was experiencing similar rates of joblessness.

So what’s behind the right’s stubborn insistence that unemployment is ultimately the fault of its victims? Krugman implicates “the closed information loop of the modern right”:

Is it race? That’s always a hypothesis worth considering in American politics. It’s true that most of the unemployed are white, and they make up an even larger share of those receiving unemployment benefits. But conservatives may not know this, treating the unemployed as part of a vaguely defined, dark-skinned crowd of “takers.”

My guess, however, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not.

Whatever the explanation, Mr. Boehner was clearly saying what he and everyone around him really thinks, what they say to each other when they don’t expect others to hear. Some conservatives have been trying to reinvent their image, professing sympathy for the less fortunate. But what their party really believes is that if you’re poor or unemployed, it’s your own fault.

By Luke Brinker

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Joblessness Jobs John Boehner Labor New York Times Nobel Prize Paul Krugman The Right Unemployment