Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Greetings, Parasites!

And greetings, leeches, cuckoo birds and other types of moochers.  Also, greetings to upstanding Murkans who never depend on anyone else.  (Waves at the one hermit in the deep woods.)

Mary Matalin thinks that Americans can be divided into makers and takers, producers and parasites:

Conservative commentator Mary Matalin hailed Mitt Romney's "47 percent" line on CNN as good news for Republicans.
"There are makers and takers, there are producers and there are parasites," she said. "Americans can distinguish between those who have produced and paid in through no fault of their own and because of Obama's horrible policies who cannot get a job or are underemployed. That's what the campaign is about."
This is damage control after Romney's unfortunate words about nearly half of all Americans.  But sometimes less control would be better, don't you think?

Are there human parasites (not you, my sweet readers!)?  Of course there are, just as there are all sorts of nasty people out there, and some of those who depend on the welfare system may be parasites.  Other parasites depend on their families or on their trust funds and so on.  Note that my definition of a "parasite" in this context would be someone who is physically and mentally capable of work, has no other obligations,  but prefers living on others to working.

Such people exist.  They are not limited to the group  "poor," and in no social class are they the majority.  We can adjust the welfare system to make it harder for parasites to thrive.  It's tougher to adjust the support systems of the very rich for the same purpose.

Ezra Klein writes about something related:  Responsibility:

Still, for my money, the worst of Romney’s comments were these: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it.
In their book “Poor Economics,” the poverty researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo try to explain why the poor around the world so often make decisions that befuddle the rich.
Getting By
Their answer, in part, is this: The poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by. They’re not dumber or lazier or more interested in being dependent on the government. They’re just cognitively exhausted:
“Our real advantage comes from the many things that we take as given. We live in houses where clean water gets piped in -- we do not need to remember to add Chlorin to the water supply every morning. The sewage goes away on its own -- we do not actually know how. We can (mostly) trust our doctors to do the best they can and can trust the public health system to figure out what we should and should not do. ... And perhaps most important, most of us do not have to worry where our next meal will come from. In other words, we rarely need to draw upon our limited endowment of self-control and decisiveness, while the poor are constantly being required to do so.”

That quote from Banerjee and Duflo sounds more applicable to poverty in developing countries than in the industrialized west.  But I came across a Finnish article yesterday (in Finnish, sorry), about a newly poor family, and their concerns are somewhat similar though less urgent. 

For example, grocery stores have banned aisles, products which cannot be bought at all because of their price.  Buying  a cheap bottle of wine for the adults is out of the question because its price equals the family's food budget for the week.  Socializing is also out of the question because having people for a meal is far too expensive and because going out once a week would eat up that same food budget.

And the writer discusses that very same cognitive fatigue:  Always having to compare prices, always cutting out all the fun in preference to potatoes-next-week-too, always worrying about the next bill or how to pay for the children's school books.  Finally, asking for government help is necessary,  because of the children's needs.  The writer states that she hated doing so, and it looks to me as if the family tried to go it alone for a long time, given the Finnish welfare system.

None of this means that all poor people are saints, just like rich people are unlikely to qualify for that august position.  The point I'm trying to make is that being born on the third base doesn't make one a home-run king in the economic baseball games, and those who are not even allowed into the game may not be leeches, parasites or moochers if they fail to score a run.