radio draft,
Influencing Machines
{tags: notes }

Who Doesn't Want Free Stuff?
The NYT published an[other] article shaking their heads at Tea Party folk who oppose government benefits. The title says it all: "Why Do People Who Need Help From the Government Hate It So Much?" [1]

The piece follows a Berkeley sociologist who [surprise] concludes that anti-welfare politics are rooted in racism.
    "Hochschild takes care not to call anyone racist but concludes that 'race is an essential part of this story.'”
I think this conclusion is inaccurate, but left-leaning observers continue to arrive at it because they start with the assumption that free stuff is good.

If free stuff is good, and people turn it down, they must be doing so out of spite, fear, or some other negative emotion right?

Well, I come from the heart of Tea Party country and my impression is that people [there] believe government handouts destroy one's illusion of self-sufficiency and instill a sense of helplessness. They prioritize purpose over comfort.


Scoffing at the temerity of poor whites -- the primary Tea Party demographic -- might make for amusing dinner conversation on the coasts, but I believe it's important to admit that there could be some merit to their view.
    "Being in existential poverty means living in a state of, or near, persistent material poverty while also being socially excluded, marginalized, or disadvantaged. It is a life-disempowering experience, one that privileges both immediacy over the future, and welfare over work. This results in learned helplessness, manifesting as a lack of will to take control of life."[2]

    Existential Poverty: Welfare Dependency, Learned Helplessness and Psychological Capital
Which sounds a lot like the so called, "dark side of foreign aid."
    "But foreign aid has rarely done anything that countries could not have done for themselves. And it has often encouraged the recipient governments' worst tendencies--helping to underwrite programs and policies that have starved thousands of people and derailed struggling economies."[3]

    The Continuing Failure of Foreign Aid
It's the primary reason I'm skeptical of basic income. Human beings, and societies, don't seem to thrive without first achieving a sense of agency.


John Keynes once suggested, tongue in cheek no doubt, that burying money and allowing people to "mine" for it may improve the economy.
    "If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is."[4]

    The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (London: Macmillan, 1936), p. 129.
It feels silly to imagine a welfare system based on what amounts to government subsidized easter egg hunts, but even that may be less existentially depressing than no-strings-attached cash.

For anyone who's lived in Appalachia, where the Tea Party is popular, and where boredom and meaninglessness have contributed more to misery in the last thirty years than poverty, it should be easy to imagine that being the case.
    "Thinking about the future here and its bleak prospects is not much fun at all, so instead of too much black-minded introspection you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, the draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short — the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than does a man in Fairfax County, Va. — and they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007..[5]

    The White Ghetto
[In Appalachia,] our great-grandparents were often poorer, materially speaking, but their lives seemed much less grim and their attitudes much more optimistic.

Instead of searching for ulterior motives, onlookers would be wise to place the instincts behind Tea Party politics into this context.

09-20-2016 , rss feed