Tag Archives: takers

About Those “Takers”

For the past three years or so, I’ve had my house cleaned once a month–an indulgence I justify to myself on the grounds that it frees up time I can use to write and teach. The woman who does the cleaning lives on a farm in Johnson County; most months, she brings her two teenagers with her. She has been utterly dependable, and has a key to the house; on “cleaning days,” I generally leave her money on the dining room table and go about my business.

Last Friday, I came home while the “crew” was still here. The teens were working, but their mom was sitting in her car in front of the house. The boy explained that his mother had had a heart attack that Monday.

I was appalled. Why on earth didn’t she postpone? Why was she driving? The son agreed. Looking concerned, he explained that she was worried about losing me (and others) as a client if she wasn’t dependable–and that he and his sister can’t drive.  I went to talk to her–to reassure her that I would have been fine with a postponement, that her health should come first–and I asked her about health insurance. She had Medicaid, she said, but “that doesn’t pay the light bill or put food on the table.” She assured me that she’d “be fine.”

Tell me again about Paul Ryan’s description of the “lazy” poor, and the “substandard” work ethic nurtured by their “culture.” Tell me again about Mitt Romney’s disdain for the 47% of Americans who just want to live off the “makers.” Tell me again about those constant Fox News’ stories about people who “rip off” taxpayers and live high on that generous social safety net we provide.

How many of the self-satisfied assholes who look down their noses at the growing numbers of struggling Americans would get out of their beds three days after a heart attack and go to work?

And how can the richest country in the world justify a system in which that’s necessary?


As Long as We’re Rhyming

The meme of the moment, which annoys the hell out of me, is “makers” and “takers”–a sneering dismissal of the plight of the less fortunate and a wholesale rejection of their labor and aspirations, not to mention their human dignity. The maker/taker formulation assumes that comfort and privilege are the result of merit and responsibility, and that need and/or misfortune is a sign of irresponsible behavior, sloth or “poor decisions.”

It is an utterly self-serving construct– a latter-day Calvinism that equates poverty with moral defect and success with evidence of God’s approval.

As long as we are labeling with a broad and unfair brush, let me offer another rhyme that “slices and dices” human society into easily caricatured categories: Thinkers and (Kool Aid) Drinkers.

Thinkers occupy a complicated world, where issues are often thorny and their solutions partial and/or nuanced. Thinkers try to make their assessments based upon the best available evidence; they employ reason and logic in arriving at their conclusions, and (in the best tradition of the scientific method) such conclusions as they reach are usually tentative and subject to revision if and when contrary evidence emerges.

Drinkers, on the other hand, have imbibed the Kool Aid. They don’t need no stinkin’ evidence, because God or Fox or Marx or whoever already told them what to believe. Every argument is tested against whatever bumper-sticker philosophy or religion they cling to; if the argument is consistent with what they already “know,” they accept it. If it isn’t, it isn’t even examined; it’s summarily rejected. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias;” exasperated Thinkers call it cherry-picking.

Every society has both Thinkers and Drinkers, but Drinkers proliferate in times of rapid social change and uncertainty. When the proportion gets out of whack–when we have way too many Drinkers (or worse, when we’ve elected too many of them)– our political institutions no longer function.

Social scientists spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make Drinkers think.

The prospects aren’t good.

I’ve recently come across some political psychology research that is extremely worrisome: when people who are invested in a belief– people who have “drunk the Kool Aid”–are presented with irrefutable evidence that the belief is false, they don’t abandon it. Instead, they cling to it even more tightly. They believe it more fervently. The “birthers” are a good, albeit extreme, example. (No birth certificate ever issued will convince them that the black guy in the White House is legitimate.) Creationists and climate-change deniers are others.

Most of us can come up with plenty of other examples, from the brother-in-law who sends those racist emails to the biblical literalists demanding that the legislature do (their version of) “God’s will,” to those who believe the world is composed of “makers” and “takers.”

Facts and evidence don’t move these folks. They don’t see shades of gray, and they are impervious to logic and reason. Show them mountains of data–most poor people work 40 hours a week, low taxes don’t create jobs, American health care ranks 37th in the world, not first– the Drinkers simply won’t believe you.

The Drinkers are driving me to drink.

In the Eye of the Beholder

Someone posted a comment to one of my previous blogs to the effect that taxation is theft. This is a not-uncommon complaint of the far right–that government is using its coercive power to steal the fruits of honest labor from its citizens.

I see a different picture. I see whiners who want to steal from their fellow-citizens–people who accept and use the services provided by government with our tax dollars, but who are indignant at the notion that they should pay their fair share for those services. They drive on streets paved with tax dollars, call on police when assaulted, employ workers educated in our public schools, put their garbage out for pickup, are protected by the National Guard and armed forces…No matter how loudly they complain about “socialism,”  I know of none who refuse to accept their Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Talk about your “makers” and “takers”…People who want the benefits of our public infrastructure but get indignant when asked to pay for those benefits sure seem to me to fall into the “takers” category.

The issue confronting thoughtful citizens is not “how do we avoid paying for what we get?” The issue is “how do we insure that government is operating efficiently and fairly, that it is doing those things that are properly its job and not others?” “How do we ensure that we are paying a fair price for services we really want government to provide?”

Of course, addressing those (much more complicated) questions, and monitoring our governing institutions takes effort and a modicum of civic understanding. Fixing those institutions when they are malfunctioning–or not functioning at all, which seems to be the case now–will require real effort. It’s easier to whine.