Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mitt Romney to the Unemployed: You're On Your Own

Prominent Republican and potential 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said that unemployed workers should have to pay for their own unemployment benefits.

That's right. His idea is that the government should not help individuals who lose their job and cannot find one right away. Indeed, in Mitt's mind, a person should pay a little bit from each of their paychecks into an unemployment insurance fund and if they lose their job...they can tap into that fund of their own money to help out when they lose a job. This, in his mind, will provide incentive for the unemployed to find work rather than count on the government helping them in a time of need.

Many in conservative circles call this type of thing building an "ownership society" where "each individual is responsible his or her own life." Sounds good, but the real translation of that kind of talk is "you are on your own." In this instance, the Mittster is saying, "if you lose your job, you are on your own. The government should not and - if I were to get things my way - would not help you."

There are SO MANY things wrong with this approach - both generally and for unemployment insurance specifically:

It's goes against long established norms for our society. Between the founding of the nation and the early part of the 20th Century, there was zero safety net for Americans. All you had to help you out in times of trouble were either your own savings (great if you were rich, not so great if you were not), your relatives or religious organizations. That was it. Nothing else. You lose your job? You out of money? Sick? Tough. You're on your own and on the street.

This situation was addressed only after the massive unemployment and associated problems of the Great Depression brought it to a head. Indeed, as part of the New Deal championed by the Roosevelt administration, several key functions were set up. The best know is the Social Security Act, which in addition to setting up safety net for the retired and elderly included an unemployment insurance provision.

These things are predicated on the notion that at some level we are indeed all in this thing called the United States together and as such we have a duty to our common man and woman...and through our elected government we agree that a minimal level of safety net should be set up and maintained to help our fellow citizens out if or when they hit hard times and in their old age.

And this is the approach that has endured through the balance of the 20th Century and up to the current time. Sure, conservatives scoffed at this the moment it was enacted and have long wanted to repeal Social Security and related programs, but it hasn't happened. The Supreme Court has upheld them, and try as they might, Republicans have been unable to repeal it. It's existence is settled law and a settled cultural issue. Why? Because Social Security and minimal unemployment insurance is the right thing to do. It's fair and the fundamental reason for it are sound. Americans support it.

Mitt Romney's approach flies in the face of this and offers up more of this "repeal the New Deal" philosophy that's been a burning issue with Republicans since the 1930s. This is one of the key flaws in the Republican cause in my opinion. On many fronts, they are essentially waging a battle to roll back all government programs to pre New Deal models as part of either a naive (and disproven) political/economic philosophy or in a cynical ploy to enrich corporations and cronies.While voters may rage against "the government," you ask them if they want Social Security, Medicare, Medicade and unemployment insurance repealed. They don't.

It won't work. "Empowering" every individual to "control" his or her own future sounds great when people like Mitt Romney trot out these ideas, but the reality is that these schemes won't work. Fundamentally, if you repeal something like unemployment insurance and you tell people they can chose to pay into their own "unemployment rainy day" fund or something like that, guess what a majority of Americans are going to do? That's right, they're NOT GOING TO PAY IN. They'll opt out and take the cash now thank you very much. It's their money after all. And then what happens? You guessed it again, people still lose their jobs and have no money to get by. This will create major problems in terms of health, homelessness, foreclosures in the real estate market, retail spending and public safety. Not only is all that bad...those problems are expensive to fix!

So, why would conservatives like Romney want to repeal unemployment insurance and set us all out on our own? Well...

It usually ends up enriching corporations. Usually when conservatives talk about things like "ownership society" and champion plans that would shift the onus onto the individual, there often a component of their plans that will enrich or benefit big corporations. The classic example is when the Bush administration attempted to privatize Social Security by proposing a privatized system in which people's payroll deductions for social security would be managed and run by private money management companies and stock brokerages rather than the government. Wow, a massive influx of money from Americans for money management firms to make profit on. That sure would have been great for those banks and money management firms. Ultimately, and thankfully, that initiative failed.

And so it is with Mitt's idea here with unemployment. Yep, the U.S. unemployment insurance model is paid for by payroll taxes collected from...companies. This is about eliminating payroll taxes for companies. And as a bonus, while Romney likes the idea of everyday people paying their own way when they're laid off, under his proposal he is also in favor of the government giving companies money as "incentive" to hire people. So, for the record...Mitt wants to put you out on your own if you lose your job, and he's in favor of giving companies a massive tax break and then paying them money to potentially hire people. Nice.

Finally, I would also add that floating this idea is a concrete, glaring and easy-to-spot warning sign of how out of touch with everyday American conservatives like Mitt Romney truly are.

No comments: