A Rant About People Who Criticize What People on Welfare Buy

tony the tiger
The way people depend on welfare programs in America is sick. But I’m not talking about the people living on welfare. I’m speaking of the people who in righteous indignation condemn the poor for buying food of which they do not approve, depending on class antagonism to prop themselves up as the noble middle-class, the reluctant hero who comes to the aid of the desperate and downtrodden. “How dare they squander my gifts to them on name-brand food products!” Yes, how dare they strive for the same standards of living as us, the standards that have been propagated so thoroughly through mass marketing that one’s sense of self-worth is inescapably determined by what one consumes. Poor mothers are undoubtedly fiscally irresponsible for buying their child Frosted Flakes rather than store-brand cereal when the child asks for the Tony the tiger cereal — the child has been denied so many other non-food products due to poverty, why now treat him to a cereal that costs twenty cents more than the store brand?

Impoverished persons live in the same consumerist culture as the rest of us, a culture wherein you are only ever as valuable as what you buy. It’s not their fault that they were born into such a culture, if they knew they were to be poor in this life then they would not have chosen to be born into a culture where personal welfare is determined by wealth, and if they knew they would be born into a culture where personal welfare is determined by wealth then they would have not chosen to be poor. But no one gets to make either of these choices, so don’t question the choices of poor persons now.

And do not tell me that you can make the choice to not be poor. The opportunities that allow for a person to pull themselves out of

This scumbag.

This scumbag.

poverty are in large part determined by luck and the fortuitous actions of others, such that one cannot expect the same opportunities to present themselves to each poor person. In a moment of mind-boggling hypocrisy, in the documentary Mitt, Romney notes that he owes all of his good fortune to the actions of his father, i.e. factors he did not decide, and then says those actions allow him to be the presidential candidate, and to run on the platform of cutting taxes and welfare programs. (Alright, he didn’t say that all in one breath, but the last part is implicit then and explicit at other times.)

The standard of what is an acceptable quality of life is in large part determined by the marketplace, and even everyone’s favorite conservative economist, Adam Smith thought there were necessities to be assured by the government so that all could present themselves in society without shame. At the time Smith noted that this might include food, a nice shirt and shoes. Given the manner in which we communicate at present, is it not inconceivable that among the necessities of a modern life are cellular phones? Some of the noble middle class are outraged by the modern conveniences that the poor are afforded through taxation. “How dare they have cell phones at my expense!” That is the mindset of the covetous non-poor – every gain for the poor is a loss for them. How can one be not poor if no one is poor? For the middle-class the poor are the Other that enables them to be between the mega-wealthy and the impoverished; without the poor the middle-class becomes the non-wealthy and so the poor must not purchase middle-class products, only poor person products, otherwise the middle-class loses sight of the poor Other and becomes the non-wealthy.

At the end of the day, you have no right to judge what poor people may spend their money on. Perhaps if you had directly given your money to a poor person then you could argue that you should have some say in what they buy (but I wouldn’t even really grant this sickly paternalistic point). But you didn’t give your money to the poor person. You gave your money to the government, which uses that money to fund the projects and services that it deems necessary. You benefit from many of these projects and services, directly and indirectly, but it would be absurd to assume that you benefit from all such services. Given the (unfortunately) small percentage of all tax revenue going to welfare programs it is beyond arrogant to assume that your tax dollars are paying for the food the poor person in front of you in the check-out line is buying with their EBT card. But that’s besides the point, because it’s literally impossible for the government to give your money to someone else; there is no transitive ownership of money. You are in no way paying for that food, the government is. Do not be so narcissistic to think you are in some way responsible for their being able to buy food. With this in mind it becomes obvious that you have no right to judge poor persons for the food they buy, and that if you do judge people in this way then you are a megalomaniac that needs to realize that the world does not revolve around you, and that people have conditions and issues and problems that are not so immediately transparent that you can decide what food they should be eating and what things they can afford. Do not be so naive to assume that you know everything about a person by looking at them and their shopping cart, and that the government must have made a mistake because they have a cell-phone or a tattoo. You might be surprised to learn that the government decides who qualifies for welfare based on their income, which the applicant proves through heavily scrutinized documents, and which are not legally required to brought to the supermarket every time they go shopping in order to prove to the judgmental, privileged persons there that they are poor.

Rant over.

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  1. #1 by bloggingisaresponsibility on May 7, 2014 - 9:19 am

    I think your angle on the consumer culture is at the root of this. Name brand goods are not essential (as the critics say), but unfortunately marketing is a powerful force that leads to a sense of self-esteem.

    The real solution (which won’t happen) is to unplug from the marketing machine which has so commercialized, dumbed down, and cheapened our existence.

    • #2 by ausomeawestin on May 8, 2014 - 12:28 am

      Quite right! I suspect that if we all unplugged from the marketing machine (I like that phrase a lot, btw), the wealthy included, privileged persons who now pass judgment on the habits of the poor would feel less threatened by redistribution of welfare, as they wouldn’t feel deprived of their potential possessions through taxation due to a lack of marketing creating imaginary needs that lead the wealthy to think every dollar should be spent on self-validating products.

  2. #3 by jmeqvist on May 8, 2014 - 9:54 pm

    This is an interesting and insightful post.

    It is interesting that you mention Smith on this topic, because Smith himself recognized that what the rich and middle class are able to buy does not render them any more happy than the poor. For example, Smith notes “the poor man’s son, whom heaven has in its anger visited with ambition, goes beyond admiration of palaces to envy. He labours all his life to outdo his competitors, only to find in the end that the rich are no happier than the poor in the things that really matter.”This is not even about branding per se, but rather about luxuries and the accumulation of wealth, but yet it seems that all those on the political right who quote Smith on economics fail to note this and act as if he viewed acquisitiveness as the highest good.

    Also, one difficulty with this issue is that when we purchase and begin to use a certain good, whether it is a luxury or not, we become dependent on it for our happiness and it becomes very difficult to give up. So, while the danger of feeling that seemingly frivolous goods are genuine necessities is a danger that is exacerbated by marketing and consumerism, this is a danger that is built into any society that puts a high priority on economic growth and commerce, as all these societies tend to see the acquisition of things as a fundamental human activity. For the record, I am not disagreeing with anything you have said, but just adding my thoughts.

    • #4 by ausomeawestin on May 11, 2014 - 3:10 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, I think you bring up some important points, particularly that insofar as we are concerned for welfare, and the equalization of it, welfare is not just happiness, otherwise some persons of great wealth might be considered equal in welfare to those that are poor, and surely our tacit conception of welfare intuitively excludes such a possibility.

  3. #5 by SelfAwarePatterns on May 9, 2014 - 7:28 pm

    Well said. I think that this type of complaining is simply people finding excuses to be against welfare. If they can view those people as deserving their predicament, it makes it easier to be callused toward them, to be against that assistance.

    • #6 by ausomeawestin on May 11, 2014 - 4:39 pm

      Thanks, and yes I think that’s a large part of it. I also wonder how much of this class antagonism is due to a lack of homogeneity in our culture. Many of the most socialist Western nations (I have in mind Sweden and Denmark) have little cultural diversity, so it enables a mindset of looking at welfare as aiding people who are very similar to you. I don’t mean this as a criticism of either country, I lived in Denmark for a time and I love the people and the culture, but there really was not much diversity, and I think this allows for persons in those societies to not see people in need of welfare as “The Other” in the way that I suggested takes place in America. So one has to wonder whether our criticizing the poor for what they purchase reveals the thought that they are undeserving of welfare (as you worry), because of racism and ethnocentrism. As such, I suspect that opposition to welfare is rooted in the primitive thought that people of other ethnicities and cultural practices are different in a way that normatively warrants you not paying for their practices. I would of course deny that there is such a normatively relevant difference.

      • #7 by SelfAwarePatterns on May 11, 2014 - 5:07 pm

        I think that’s an excellent point. I do think much of welfare hostility, and overall hostility to government programs, originated in racism. Most of the US had no issue with “big government” from the Great Depression until the Great Society. What changed? Civil rights laws with federal mandates. I don’t think all of it is racism today, since it’s taken on a life of its own since the 60s, but racism remains a big factor.

      • #8 by ausomeawestin on May 11, 2014 - 5:56 pm

        I agree, not all of the opposition to welfare is from racism. For some people, their basic belief is that other people, even those of their cultural group, do not deserve the benefits of a redistribution of wealth — there are certainly libertarians who object to welfare programs for this reason, and thus hidden racism is not the cause. Also, many persons inherit their parents’ political beliefs, and while the beliefs of the older generation may be shaped by racism, the younger generation may hold these beliefs without racist sentiments in their hearts. This doesn’t let the latter group off the hook though, in my mind, because the results of their unreflectively endorsed beliefs, if brought to fruition, would result in further systemic inequality and thus, racial discrimination. I think all of this is consistent with what you said, and I thank you for your excellent comment.

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