Welfare for Gramps

Josh Marshall pokes fun at Paul Ryan for, as he puts it, saying that Gramps is on welfare.

In his speech today relaunching his plan to privatize/phase out Medicare, Rep. Paul Ryan said that his plan for phasing out Medicare will strengthen welfare for those who need it..

But (abstracting this one particular point from the much larger debate), isn’t Ryan actually right here? Medicare is about as obvious an example of welfare as one could possibly imagine – a program intended to spend government money on providing services to a population that would otherwise be vulnerable (not all Medicare recipients need it, obviously, but many do). This gets us back to the Suzanne Mettler point. Nearly 40% of Medicare recipients believe that they have never “used a government social program.” Plausibly, this is because the recipients of this and other welfare benefits identify government social programs with welfare, and welfare with the poor (and often, with non-white people – debates over welfare in the US have an obvious racial tinge). And hence the American welfare state is submerged, inefficient, and largely unrecognized, even by left-leaning commentators like Marshall, as actually being a welfare state. Mettler’s book, which will look at the underlying dynamics, comes out in a few months – I hope it has the effect on political debates that it deserves.

[Cross-posted at the Monkey Cage]

Henry Farrell

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.