Paul Krugman on What's Behind John Boehner's Stunning Ignorance About the Unemployed

Last week, John Boehner had his Mitt Romney "47 percent" moment at the American Enterprise Institute. The illustrious Speaker of the House explained to his sympathetic audience that the unemployed are simply lazy. They prefer to "just sit around."


Paul Krugman takes on this morsel of stunning ignorance in today's column and finds that blaming poverty's victims for their own misery has a long history, and is deeply entrenched in today's Republican party.

Naturally, he wonders why, since we are in an era "when the blame-the-victim crowd has gotten everything it wanted," he points out. "Benefits, especially for the long-term unemployed, have been slashed or eliminated. So now we have rants against the bums on welfare when they aren’t bums — they never were — and there’s no welfare. Why?"

But before Krugman delves into that question, he lays out the stats for those who might not be up on them:

I don’t know how many people realize just how successful the campaign against any kind of relief for those who can’t find jobs has been. But it’s a striking picture. The job market has improved lately, but there are still almost three million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. That’s nearly three times the pre-recession total. Yet extended benefits for the long-term unemployed have been eliminated — and in some states the duration of benefits has been slashed even further.

The result is that most of the unemployed have been cut off. Only 26 percentof jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens.

And still, shockingly, "this outbreak of anti-compassionate conservatism hasn’t produced a job surge," Krugman scathingly writes.

But back to the main question: Why? Why so much hostility towards the victims of a cruel economy and cruel policies. Republicans were not always this mean. "Is it race?" Krugman wonders, a question always worth asking.  If it is, then people like Paul Ryan and John Boehner are misinformed, for "most of the unemployed are white, and they make up an even larger share of those receiving unemployment benefits," he writes. "But conservatives may not know this, treating the unemployed as part of a vaguely defined, dark-skinned crowd of “takers.”

Krugman's best guess is that Republicans live in a kind of bubble, "the closed information loop of the modern right." This includes, of course, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and The American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, who all agree with Boehner's view. Still, it takes a lot of work to insulate yourself entirely from anyone who is struggling economically and working hard to regain their footing in the labor market.

But that's one kind of work that Boehner and pals are more than willing to do. 

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