Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Moral Hazard in the Minds of Conservatives

Here is a bit from a post by Robert Reich that looks at the kooky ideas that are causing the fabric of civil society to unravel in the US:
Tonight it was Harvard Professor Robert Barro, who opined in today’s Wall Street Journal that America’s high rate of long-term unemployment is the consequence rather than the cause of today’s extended unemployment insurance benefits.

In theory, Barro is correct. If people who lose their jobs receive generous unemployment benefits they might stay unemployed longer than if they got nothing. But that’s hardly a reason to jettison unemployment benefits or turn our backs on millions of Americans who through no fault of their own remain jobless in the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Yet moral hazard lurks in every conservative brain. It’s also true that if we got rid of lifeguards and let more swimmers drown, fewer people would venture into the water. And if we got rid of fire departments and more houses burnt to the ground, fewer people would use stoves. A civil society is not based on the principle of tough love.

In point of fact, most states provide unemployment benefits that are only a fraction of the wages and benefits people lost when their jobs disappeared. Indeed, fewer than 40 percent of the unemployed in most states are even eligible for benefits, because states require applicants have been in full-time jobs for at least three to five years. This often rules out a majority of those who are jobless – because they’ve moved from job to job, or have held a number of part-time jobs.

So it’s hard to make the case that many of the unemployed have chosen to remain jobless and collect unemployment benefits rather than work.
What I find repugnant is that "conservatives" bemoan any public policy that helps the bottom 98% of the society, but have no qualms over TARP funds, bailouts, big bonuses for Wall Street types that caused the financial crisis, etc.

I have a hard time trying to picture what kind of civil society these so-called "conservatives" are trying to preserve.

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