Thursday, October 08, 2015

We All Get ‘Free Stuff’ From the Government


WHAT are politicians talking about when they talk about “free stuff”?

The Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush got caught sounding like a Mitt Romney rerun recently: He told a mostly white audience that he could attract black voters because his campaign “isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff.” The remark comes just three years after Mr. Romney was lampooned for later describing his own message in a speech to the N.A.A.C.P. as one where the listeners shouldn’t expect “free stuff.”

In each context, it was clear what kind of government stuff they meant, given the voters they were talking about. They meant welfare programs — cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, housing subsidies and other direct spending programs that help the poor — that are, often unfairly, associated with black Americans.

But the shorthand of “free stuff” also takes an incredibly narrow, and therefore misleading, view of government benefits. There’s a whole treasure trove of government handouts that aren’t dispensed through spending, but rather through the tax code. That doesn’t make them any less “free” than a rent voucher or an Electronic Benefit Transfer card.

(More here.)


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