18 February 2013

Social Parasites

(part of an ongoing series of articles called Living in Babylon)

mooch (v.)

mid-15c., "pretend poverty," probably from O.Fr. muchier, mucier "to hide, sulk, conceal, hide away, keep out of sight," of uncertain origin, perhaps from Celtic or Germanic (Liberman prefers the latter, Klein the former). Or the word may be a variant of M.E. mucchen "to hoard, be stingy" (c.1300), probably originally "to keep coins in one's nightcap," from mucche "nightcap," from M.Du. muste "cap, nightcap," ultimately from M.L. almucia, of unknown origin. Sense of "sponge off others" first recorded 1857.

Obviously the connotation of this word has changed a bit and no longer matches the actual denotation. It's a word that's thrown about quite a bit these days, particularly in light of the recent election.
To most people a 'moocher' is someone always on the take, someone who lives by taking from others, something of a social parasite, one who does not contribute, one who only takes and does not give.

Since the election has proved a disaster for the Republican party I have seen this word used a great deal in the blogosphere, some expressing almost violent opinions toward those who receive government subsidies.
One fool in particular wanted to launch a crusade against merchants who accept EBT (Food Stamp) payments, because if they were true patriots they would reject the type of people who would accept these subsidies.

While I do not wish to sound like an apologist for Obama, (I'm not, nor did I vote for him,) I would like to point out the vacuous thinking and reasoning these people have put on display. Some of it is factual and demonstrable through simple number crunching, but frankly a good deal of it is moral.
The reality is none of us live as the true rugged individuals we (as Americans) would like to think we are.

At some level everyone benefits from the social pooling of money. We all benefit from roads, the police and fire departments. This is not to say these institutions or projects are run well but that's a cultural issue (regarding bureaucracy) not related to the principle at stake.

For those of us who live in a rural area, the reality is the monies come from the urban areas are paying for our roads and infrastructure. My township which is heavily Republican cannot by any long shot generate enough  revenue to pay for our roads, let alone our water and sewage infrastructure...nor our schools.

Now many would like to see our schools shut down. I'm no fan of them either and yet I don't think society would benefit if they were altogether eliminated. While the schools have done a poor job and are grossly mismanaged I think the breakdown of the education system lies largely with the breakdown of the family....something government cannot fix.[i]
This raises the question of 'legitimate' pooling of funds, the legitimate social functions of the state. How much Socialism is permitted one might say? So-called Conservatives allow for it when it comes to roads, police, schools, and certainly the military. Going back at least to Goldwater (perhaps Hoover), these are the legitimate functions of the government. Everything else is viewed as welfare and handouts.

There are debates within conservative circles regarding Social Security. The present generation of conservatives is bent on eliminating it and in reality most people if they live past the age of 75 or so end up 'getting' more than they actually paid in. Some make the argument that it's not a subsidy because you paid into it, but most (who live) end up being subsidized. That's the way the system was set up. Both of my in-laws died before reaching 62 or 65 and thus paid all their lives into the system from which they did not see a dime of benefit. My surviving grandfather is pushing 90 and has disproportionately benefitted from his government pension.
I've written elsewhere about how it can be argued that in reality it is many employers who benefit from food stamps and other subsidies.

I grew up about 20 minutes away from the Mexican border and had semi-family connections (it's too complicated to explain) across the line. We made many trips into Mexico and visited this sort of step-family I had there. They lived in a shanty town. At the time it didn't occur to me that most living in the United States would have never seen a shanty town nor have had an opportunity to do so.
This town was no different than the thousands of others scattered across the Third World. The nicer dwellings were constructed of un-mortared cinder block with perhaps a corrugated roof weighted down with tires. Other dwellings were an amalgamation of plywood and cardboard with a plastic tarp for a roof. There was no electricity and water was carried in buckets from a nearby community spigot. I never quite figured out what everyone was doing about going to the bathroom. I always made sure I didn't have to go when we were there.

Yes it was interesting, here I was the pale-skinned reddish haired kid riding around in the back of a pickup truck through the backstreets of Tijuana with a bunch of Mexicans. Though it was awkward at times (due to the stares) it was great. It was an adventure. It was eye-opening. I'm glad it happened. As I grew up I had to confront my own feelings about race and poverty and seeing that it led me to question the systems that allow a shanty town to exist in one place and yet 20 miles to north be unfathomable. Why were some of these people so hard working and yet had virtually nothing?

The only reason we don't have shanty towns is because of the legislation introduced by two great liberal villains....Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.[ii]
The New Deal and The Great Society provided Americans with a social safety net. Western Europe also engineered a much more comprehensive version of this as it rebuilt its society after World War II.

But who benefits from this? Everyone does and conservatives who think otherwise are blind.
The safety net which is comprised of everything from Social Security to Medicare and Medicaid, welfare and housing subsidies, WIC, and many other programmes allows for the poor to keep plugging away... to not end up destitute and on the streets. It hasn't always worked. Homelessness soared in the 1980's with the financial collapse that took place under Reagan's first term and we've seen a resurgence in recent years. As their numbers grow they begin to form communities which are often subject to police intimidation.[iii]

While undoubtedly there are many 'takers' many who are lazy and refuse to work and there are many who exhibit great foolishness with their money, there are also many who are employed and yet would end up homeless if it were not for the subsidies they receive.
Who is benefitting?

If these people ended up homeless and/or living in shanty towns they are on a road to becoming disenfranchised from society. They are no longer invested in society. Despair sets in. It's easy for us as Christians to judge the moral choices these destitute people make but we have not put ourselves in their shoes, nor have we grasped that lost and now financially desperate people are not thinking about what is 'right' and how to please God. They're trying to survive.

And frankly in many cases the moral arguments are clouded by the fact that the system itself is corrupt and very often their own employers are corrupt.
And that corruption might begin with the fact that they don't pay their employees a wage that can actually support a person or a family. The 'Market' they insist. Well, the market is amoral, something we as Christians cannot afford to be.

Some would argue if the subsidies were eliminated than true competition would take place and actually drive prices down and wages up. A cursory read of history will show this to be otherwise. The 19th century was the Golden Age of Capitalism if there ever was one. It was the age of Rockefeller's, Vanderbilt’s, Carnegie’s, and Rothschild's and grinding poverty from London's East End to Manhattan's Lower East End to the immigrant neighbourhoods of Pittsburgh.
Elimination of the minimum wage standard and subsidies would allow profits to increase but you would also see a spike in poverty and homelessness.

Well, so the poor benefit from these subsidies right? In part they do. They are allowed to function, to live on the edge of a razor. The 'lucky' can escape and some are able to figure out other pathways out. Many just subsist. Some are intellectually simple, some have been failed by family and the system and are ill-equipped to do much else but a menial job. The wealthy should be thankful for it. Someone has to collect the trash, wash dishes, and clean their offices. Not everyone can be middle class....that would cause another socio-economic problem wouldn't it?
So some are poor and unskilled. Can they not at least possess a little dignity? Do they not deserve to live a half decent life? Shouldn't they be able to at least pay their bills and keep food on the table?

They only way they are able to do so is through subsidies.
The desperate people living in shanty towns have nothing to lose. Society has already rejected them and when you're in their shoes the doors are closed. There are ways out but they are so difficult that sheer hard work won't do it. It has to be luck (or Providence if you're a Christian, since there's no such thing as luck).

Such people see the world in black and white terms. There's Them (the rich) and Us (the poor) and They are doing everything they can to keep Us down and exploit us. There's some truth to it as there is some truth in the arguments of the rich.
But for these poor if not motivated by Christian values why shouldn't they 'take' from the rich? If the rich are criminals then they (the lost) will view the poor taking from the rich as a form of vigilantism. In fact it can be cast in political terms as social revolution as some have done.

It creates a fractured society and a dangerous one. The wealthy live in compounds with security guards and drive at high speeds from location to location in SUV's with tinted windows. This type of society is ripe for revolution.
Keeping the poor in a status that allows them to be content allows society to function. The poor have some stability and at least a hope of escape even if it is kept alive by foolish dreams attached to reality television or lottery tickets.[iv]

The reality is the middle and wealthy classes in this country though they begrudge the costs associated with the social safety net have benefitted from it. They are allowed a measure of security they would not otherwise possess.
The fact that these subsidies exist allow them to maintain functional employees, who will (for the most part) show up to work and be productive. The overhead costs required are much lower because these same people (of tolerable quality) will continue working for the lower wage. They'll do so because they can sign up for food stamps, get energy assistance, daycare subsidies, WIC, and in extreme cases housing assistance.

Overwhelmingly I have found that most well-to-do people do not understand the way the system works nor do they understand the ceilings and requirements associated with applying for these subsidies or benefits.
If you make more than minimum wage you basically become ineligible for Medicaid, meaning you have no health care whatsoever. In some cases individual doctors and hospitals will allow you to secure a discounted rate....which isn't really a discount. The prices are all inflated two to three times because at the retail level because this allows the insurance companies to negotiate the costs. But when a poor individual enters the system he or she has no such negotiating power and actually ends up paying a hyper-inflated rate. As a result many providers have now lowered the costs (though this is done on the sly, because the insurance companies object to this practice) in order to give people a bill at a price that they might actually be able to pay.

Most do not realize that even a modest income immediately disqualifies you from many of the subsidies and the more you make, they are quickly reduced to inconsequential numbers...to the point that it's barely worth the headache of going through the application process.
This numerical and bureaucratic 'weaning' is viewed as a way to help the poor learn to manage their money and as they advance slowly lose the subsidies, however when you talk to those folks you'll find that often they're cut off a critical point...and end up being harmed. This ends up functioning as something of a disincentive to try and work your way out. Right when you're on the verge of success you get the rug pulled out from under you.

Most programmes do not allow people to just sit at home and receive benefits. This is a myth. Mothers with infants and toddlers can stay home but the minute those kids reach school age the mother must enroll with the unemployment office and begin to actively seek employment. If she refuses she will be disqualified from receiving the subsidies.
Far from being lazy, many of these people are trapped in awful and almost impossible situations. Few low-end employers will hire anyone on a full-time basis. In most cases they're looking at somewhere between 15-25 hours of work per week. Obviously this isn't enough money to live on, so they're forced to secure a second and in some cases a third job. What does this practically mean? Often these people are working six and seven days a week. I know of one lady who works at a gas station/convenience store and a Home Depot. Between the two jobs she never has a day off. The only way she can get one is to take a vacation day. Is she lazy? It's the only way she can make ends meet and even then she doesn't make enough to live at a standard that most middle class people would find acceptable. More jobs often means more miles on the car. If you live in a rural area, that can mean lots of miles, brakes, tires, wear and tear on a vehicle.

After World War II, Europe invested in infrastructure, mass transit systems, and universal health care. The United States built interstate highways and a massive military industrial complex and today the reality is our small town economies have been largely eradicated. Living in a rural area necessitates an automobile and a lot of driving. So move to the city? Not so easy. Housing costs are often three and four times as high in the city. It's easy enough to sell a home in the city, scale down or retire and move to the country, but to move up...from the country to the city can prove for many an impossibility.                                 
These people are not 'moochers' or takers. These are people that are doing the best they can and in many cases the system itself makes it virtually impossible for them to ever get ahead or even attain a modicum of security.

[i] I have been interested to learn that teachers have to keep lowering the bar because students refuse to do the work. The teacher cannot 'fail' the entire class....this would only reflect poorly on them. Playing the role of curmudgeon I'll say that 'in my day,' when you didn't do the work and the teacher called your house...there were consequences.

Today, the parents blame the teacher and the school and make excuses for their children and we end up with a poor result where a teacher assigns a 2 page paper to a high school class and most of them refuse to do it. The idea of being assigned a 30+ page paper as I had numerous times in school has simply become unfathomable.

One could also talk about the 'market' at work within the universities. While costs have skyrocketed and the reasons for this are not simple but in part due to Government subsidizing a private industry, there is also a very noticeable 'dumbing down' of college education. Today's bachelor degree is like yesterday's High School Diploma. The one exception would be Private Universities which are closed to non-scholarship students due to the staggering costs.

[ii] By the way I do believe these men to be terrible villains, very evil men...however, these flawed programmes are not what I attach to their evil deeds.

[iii] We recently saw this in Erie Pennsylvania as a local homeless community was broken up. It was on property belonging to the railroad company and they decided to call in the police to chase them off... The railroad company which is heavily subsidized by tax dollars. And yet the liberal media portrays the homeless people as slouches and parasites while the railroad company wouldn't exist if it weren't for taxpayer funding.

[iv] Itself a kind of stupid-tax on the poor. It's not mandatory but many fall for the false dream it presents and now many governments depends on this revenue source.


Anonymous said...

I'll be honest, Proto...

I tried to read this, I really did. I skimmed it saw the word "Christian" in a few places... Came across as more of a "rant" than anyting else. (I also realize why a friend of mine that I referred here asked me when I saw him last night-"do you think that guy knows Jesus?" I didn't understand his question until I saw the last couple of entries).

Saw a comment about the apparent moral superiority of Europe over the US after WWII because "Europe invested in infrastructure, mass transit systems, and universal healthcare..."

And that's where I stopped. Didn't see the point, or more accurately the value of it. If "the Church" isn't part of the world system, it doesn't much matter to me what Europe did vs. the US, and frankly I don't come here to read views on "history" but on the impact wrong thinking and bad theology have on the mission of the church. So, yea, maybe you got my hackles up a bit by drawing some vestige of patriotism out of me?

Seriously, all kidding aside, there's alot of American blood running through the soil all over Europe, and to boil down the after effects of WWII to "infrastructure and universal healthcare", while ignoring the obvious evils and shortcomings of European society and governments, and then conveniently forgetting that Europe re-built itself with US dollars (correct me if I'm wrong...please) is pretty…well…"lame".

If the Europeans built anything it was only by the Grace of God, the "blood" of those unfortunate American GI's, and a whole bunch of greenbacks...

See? By attempting to mix politics-liberal or conservative into the mix, "we" (Disciples of Christ) devalue the Gospel and bring ourselves down to the level of the world. That's not supposed to be our purpose here if we are truly "pilgrims and sojourners". Our mission as Christians doesn't depend one whit on economics or anything else we may encounter on this side of the Kingdom. God will give to everyone of us what we need, when we need it, to do what he wants us to do. Of that there should be no argument.

I better quit now...



Protoprotestant said...

I think you've misunderstoof what I'm writing about.

Part of my critique of American Christianity is to demonstrate how Sacralism has penetrated our thinking on so many fronts... to the point that just about everything we think about is...yes I'll say it....wrong.

As far as you friend, you can tell him 'No' because to any Americanist minded Christian I am 100% the enemy.

If this type of article doesn't interest you that's fine but it doesn't invalidate the topics that I'm writing about. I daresay the more you read here the more you will become displeased.

Europe has an evil history, but so does the United States and I would very much include the events preceding WWII and after. I'm afraid an appeal to American blood and dollars is only to perpetuate common Christo-American conservative myths.

I encountered something similar in an Eisenhower biography I just read. According to the propagandist who wrote it, Eisenhower saved Europe and defeated the Nazis! Wow, that's news to me and the 20 million Soviet citizens who died and happened to reach Berlin first.

I'm sorry you think this is all lame, but I would encourage you to reconsider. You other notes have been encouraging, but I think you may have got a bit overly excited. I don't think you're going to like this site too much, but keep reading....you can either get mad, or be challenged and reconsider not just mainstream Christianity....but mainstream America.

The ideas you're espousing don't rub me as being pilgrim-minded. That doesn't mean I'm right...we both could be wrong, but I have to say in general I disagree with the angle you're taking.

I agree with your concluding statements about God will provide what we need and that's all that matters. But sadly 99.9% of the 'Christians' in America would not agree with your sentiments and so I feel more than a little compelled to do what I can to challenge some of their presuppositions.

Thanks for expressing your opinion. You should also be receiving an email from me regarding another matter. Thanks, but no thanks. I cannot in good conscience receive a donation from you and at this point I would imagine you regret sending it. (smile)

But seriously, thank you and I encourage you to keep thinking things through....

Protoprotestant said...

And yes there are many 'rants' to be found here.

Although if you mean rant in the sense of a wild angry discourse.... I hope what I provide is a little better than that. I hope there's something of a method to my madness, a coherence to my thinking. Am I passionate? Absolutely.

My friend Jamie says that I'm often speaking with a prophetic voice. That's little 'p' not big 'P'.

While far from inspired, I am calling out and exposing lies and falsehoods and denouncing them. Why am I doing it? Maybe because it seems to me there are few who are doing this...or to put it another way, few who do it in accord with Scripture.

That said, do I mean to offend? Yes and no. Yes, I mean to offend the consciences of those embracing lies and idolatry. Not to 'destroy' them but to provoke them and prick their consciences.

I do not mean to offend in the sense of striking out with ad hominem attacks or merely defending my pride.

My last comment may have displayed something of an irritated pride and may have been offensive. If so, I ask your forgiveness. Cyber-communications are a bit tough. Eye to eye is much better. I still disagree with what your wrote and thus stand by what I said. But if my response was filled with pride or if you took personal offense, I ask your forgiveness.

I'll leave it there. I just wanted to clarify this point. It was bothering me as I eating my dinner.

Anonymous said...

Proto, this will need to be short, and I will return to make it more fully "right"...

As you indicated "it was bothering me as I was eating my dinner", I would add that it's been bothering me since I posted it.

For now, if possible, please accept my apologies. I was trying to make a point that I have no time to develop here. Suffice to say, the point was not that I was "angry with you". And obviously I failed in my attempt.

I am sorry you returned the donation, as it was given in faith and meant to be a token of appreciation for your work here. We can let that one lie for a few days.

You are not "the enemy" in my mind or eyes, and the reference to my friends comment, and my comments I hope to clear up shortly.

When we lose sight of the fact that if we are truly submitted to Christ and in our feableness only trying to lift up His name, the enemy gets a major foothold in my opinion...

I do not want that to happen...

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God...."

Take care,


Protoprotestant said...


That was a blessing to find when I came home last night. Apology accepted if you accept mine as well.

Yes I was a bit miffed and probably because it's one thing to disagree with me and engage but I found or at least perceived your comment as dismissive and belittling. I realize now that's not quite what you meant. I'm sure like the hothead I often am...I jumped the gun a bit.

It's fine if you disagree. Most people do and even those who frequent this site and appreciate what I'm saying...in now way do they agree with me all the time. I think my 'blessing' to some might just be the fact that what I'm saying is different and my angle is quite different from what's out there and it's provoking people to think and re-think things long ingrained and in many cases precious to them.

Thanks and peace.