Today? Welfare Queens!
She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.
— Ronald Reagan during his 1976 presidential campaign
They are often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators… No conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.
— Hillary Clinton using a racist dog whistle to lock up Black and Latinx youth
“And they are black… ” both could have added, since studies show that the perceived face of poverty and crime is black. Reagan never named a particular woman because the woman never existed. Contrary to the conservative spin, there never was an army of young, amoral, crack-addicted black mothers driving Cadillacs while giving birth to litters to super-predator cop killers. And Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for punitive social policies that resulted in ramping up our race to incarcerate basically said that rather than trying to understand how poverty and social exclusion may have led children to make certain choices, it was more important to first “bring them to heel.” Like animals.
Reagan and Hillary both specialized in the use of the outrageous anecdotes that were usually false. Yet the media so sensationalized such narratives that these falsehoods were used to frame any public debate about poverty. Make no mistake: the new and improved racism is couched in the conservative language of individualism and boot-strapping. Reagan’s and Hillary’s “examples” of welfare queens and super predators relied on existing racist stereotypes of welfare cheats and black criminality and resonated with news stories about welfare fraud and marauding, sociopathic black and brown gangs, they did indeed gain real footing within the public discourse on poverty.
However, the real story should have been about a different kind of welfare queen. A Welfare Queen that actually existed, most likely drove higher end gas-guzzlers and wore three-piece suits: the Corporate Welfare Queen.
Even at its height, “welfare” as perceived by the public was probably about 1% of the federal budget. Corporate Welfare on the other hand — government programs that provide special benefits to specific industries or corporations — have always been far more generous than anything ever given to the poor. Poverty, in case you haven’t received the memo, is a sin in these neoliberal times. If you’re poor, it’s because you lack morals, drive, intelligence, or any kind of civic responsibility. Neoliberalism postulates you’re poor because you’re defected. After all, didn’t rich people pull themselves out of the muck?
Well, maybe we should rethink that last part. Many of the largest companies have been on the welfare dole, including Wal-Mart, General Motors, Boeing, Archer Daniels Midland, and the whole military-industrial complex. And all this was before the latest capitalist collapse — I mean! — “great Recessiom” that has resulted in trillions being given away to failed bankers and CEOs.
The ultra-conservative Cato Institute estimated that the federal government spent a total of $100 billion on corporate welfare in the fiscal year 2012. State and local governments also hand out money to businesses. Here in New York City, for example, we have a stadium built with billions of taxpayer money in which the citizens cannot afford to buy a seat. While subsidies for stadiums are popular, studies show that they do little to promote local economic improvement and never pay for themselves. The primary beneficiaries are the wealthy team owners who then go on to sell their teams at a huge profit.
Large businesses often bargain with (or more correctly extort) communities, demanding major tax breaks, free or reduced-price land, or infrastructure assistance in return for the promise of creating jobs. One recent study showed that Wal-Mart has received more than $1 billion in subsidies. Yet Wal-Mart often destroys almost as many jobs as it creates, driving smaller, more community-based retailers out of business.
However, the bulk of the real welfare money is distributed through entities that usually have the word “complex” as a descriptor. By far, the largest welfare program for rich people is known as defense spending, or the military/ industrial complex. As a nation, we spend more on defense than the next ten nations combined. I can’t tell you know how much we give away, because much of this money isn’t reported; but if we take just one program as an example, The Star Wars program, we can get a sense of how easily we give away our hard-earned money. Initially an idea that sprouted out of Reagan’s diseased-damaged brain, The Star Wars program spent $100 of billions for an anti-missile program that has yet to hit a target! Yes, you heard that right: decades and $100 of billions for a weapon that cannot hit a target. Not once… ::blank stare::
And lest you think this is a republican issue, think again, the military-industrial complex gets a lot of help from both sides of the aisle. Let’s take the fighter jet that doesn’t fly, for example. That’s 1.5 trillion spent on something that doesn’t work. To better understand the magnitude of this expenditure, the estimated cost of tuition-free college for all US students enrolled in public colleges and universities is approximately $62 billion, when accounting for all tuition dollars paid at those schools. If we were to do away with the F-35 program, completely revamp the way our government funds higher education, and start from scratch, we could allocate $62 billion in funding for tuition-free college every year for the next 23 years. Yet Hillary Clinton and her neoliberal democrats and supporters are adamant that free college is a pipe dream.
In addition, let’s not forget the $100 hammers and screwdrivers or the fact that I haven’t even addressed the latest round of welfare for the rich, otherwise known as “bailout.”
Which brings me to the second half of my post: a particularly vicious welfare program known as the prison/ industrial complex. Note that our government finds it fit to help to rich people. However, when it comes to the middle class, poor, and working poor, we’re on your own.
In the US, the rich get welfare and the poor get to go to prison. I would argue that the sources of crime are well known (e.g. poverty, prisons, guns, drugs) but, in contrast to our approach to the rich, little is done to reduce the causes. In fact, I would submit the criminal justice system has a stake in its own failures (The Pyrrhic Defeat Theory). The Incarceration Nation has replaced the vision of a Great society. Plus, it’s an extremely profitable business traded on the stock market. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager is a lobbyist for the private prison industry.
In 1996, Rand published a study that highlighted what works to reduce crime: preventing child abuse/neglect, enhancing children’s intellectual and social development, providing support guidance to vulnerable adolescents, and working extensively with formerly incarcerated youth. As it stands, we incarcerate more people than any other nation in the world. South Africa’s incarceration rates for blacks, at the height of apartheid, paled in comparison to ours today.
And yet, we lead the free world in addiction, crime, and violence. Furthermore, sociologists have confirmed that incarceration as a social policy reaches a threshold where it actually increases crime and makes vulnerable, marginalized communities less safe.
We need to ask some important questions: Who defines crime? How is the public image of crime created? How is crime not defined? What is the image we have of criminals? Why do white collar crooks are not punished commensurate to the damage they do to society, and why is white collar crime rarely reported?
Blacks make up no more than 13% of all drug abusers but 74% of those in prison for drugs. There’s no way you can do the math and justify that number. Discrimination occurs at all phases of the criminal justice system from arrest to imprisonment. The race of the victim and the race of the defendant are significantly related to use of the death penalty.
I will state that people who cannot see a better way to curb crime, other than to lockup millions, lack more than imagination — they lack intelligence. Crime and disorder, which flow from hopeless poverty, unloved children, lack of access to quality public education, and drug abuse, can’t be solved by building prisons, mandatory sentencing minimums, or hiring more police.
From an empirical standpoint, what will work has been known for decades. It’s not the knowledge that’s lacking, it’s the civic will. Th following are just some solutions we know works:
- End poverty
- Universal health care
- Doing away with punishment as the only response to crime
- Legalize or decriminalize drugs
- Offer public education that promotes self-actualization of the individual and prepares children to be part of the global village
- Gun control
- Decrease the dependence on police, prosecutors, and judges to address social ills
- Implement the right to equal legal representation.
- Explore a vision of a society with a more just distribution of wealth.
We ignore these solutions at our own risk. This affects you, whether you know it or not, because where do you think they get the money to build and maintain prisons? From your child’s school.
The issue here is equally simple: do we want to create a society based on teaching our children, or locking some of them up?
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…