Austerity Measurement: Paychecks vs. Food Stamps; Or, Newt Gingrich vs. Logic

—by , October 13, 2010

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Newt Gingrich’s political image is his transparent mischievousness. In almost any interaction, be it in Congress or in the media, his intelligence and experience is immediate. And while what’s coming out of his mouth is a matter of taste, his ability to speak intelligently about the goals of the Republican party is a rare commodity on either side of the aisle.

Not that he’s in the aisles anymore. He’s in the think tanks, leading the curiously titled “tri-partisan” (Tea Partiers? Libertarians?) American Solutions For Winning The Future, which, online, serves as a blog of ideas for right-wing candidates to get their talking points across and a variety of go-nowhere petitions, such as calling for Congress not to have a lame duck session after the elections to prevent the capital-L Left from passing “unpopular” legislation.

Hey, they’ve barely passed any popular legislation, maybe this is there chance.

But his “home stretch” campaign “winning” message is the kind of Gingrich talk that gets under my skin; a false argument. Newt’s winner? “Paychecks vs. Food Stamps.” Dig it. Like “Right vs. Wrong” or “Good vs. Evil.”

“Paycheck vs. Food Stamps.”

You see, in the amount of time that Democrats have been in Congress, paychecks have gone down and food stamps have gone up. And remember when our hero Newt was in Congress? When his block was in power, they made more paychecks and less food stamps. Makes for a nice sound bite, similar to Reagan’s “Morning in America” and the 1994 GOP’s “Contract With America,” which everyone forgot about until recently, and barely knew about in 1994.

Gingrich references those two slogans in his screed, but he adds “versus the Democrat’s yadda yadda yadda” to the end of each one. It’s a real fight out there for “Winning the Future,” isn’t it?

Beyond the pure partisanism, what bugs me is not the staggeringly insensitive framing of the food stamp program—one of the most maligned and successful welfare programs and methods of injecting government money back into the economy—but that Newt Gingrich knows what cum hoc ergo propter hoc means, and he knows full well that most of the voting public does not.

In other words, Newt, correlation does not imply causation.

Of course, there is a correlation. That’s for sure. If unemployment goes up, the amount of food stamps issued tends to go up, and the amount of paychecks tends to go down. But it’s not always true. For example, jobs were added in the last period of employment figures, but unemployment stayed roughly the same, as its not going to match growth. Result? More paychecks, same amount of food stamps.

See, paychecks don’t defeat food stamps. They don’t trump them in Magic. And food stamps don’t kill jobs. Actually, during the bubble recovery in the mid-2000s, food stamps remained fairly steady, as food stamps are tied to the poverty rate, not unemployment.

It is possible to get a paycheck and be poor, Newt.

However illogical and oversimplified Newt’s argument is, it’s clever, as it’s based around a perceived shame in food stamps. No one wants to be on government assistance for food, and pretty soon the people who are won’t even be able to buy cola with their stamps in NYC if Mayor Bloomberg has his way. In addition, it’s estimated that 40 percent of Americans who qualify for food stamps don’t take advantage of the program, and while many may not be on the program out of ignorance, it’s assumed that the stigma of being on food stamps is part of that percentage. With the amount of Americans on food stamps at an all-time high and Nancy Pelosi’s recent call to double unemployment benefits, including food stamps, serving as gasoline for the socialism bonfire the right and Gingrich have been tending for the better part of the last two years, Gingrich’s battle of words hits home.

But who does it hit home to? People who are on food stamps and don’t like having them? People who aren’t on food stamps and have contempt for those who are? People who see it as an unnecessary entitlement?

Interestingly, even if the entire food stamp program was eliminated—something Gingrich is not calling for, though some reporters have said so—it wouldn’t match the budgetary gain in eliminating the Bush tax cut on the top two percent of earners. In 2009—a bad year—the food stamp program cost roughly $56 billion. Assuming some growth in the next ten years, which is only barely optimistic, the estimated gain of $700 billion over the next ten years would go beyond paying for the food stamp program.

Highly logical.

    reader responses
  1. A rather naive assessment ot the food stamp debacle.In south Texas the only people paying cash are the
    are winter visitors.The food stamp
    recipients have figured how the “game” is played and everyone is somehow qualified.they pay for food with the lonestar car and buy cigarettes and beer with cash.The reult is that the food stamp program is buying cigarettes and beer.It’s a bloated program with now 42 million recipients…

    dick on 10/14/2010 at 06:46 PM 

  2. I think the $15,900,000,000,000 spent on “means tested” giveaway programs may have contributed more to the decline of the middle class. Every dollar spent to remove the need for individual responsibility had to come from somewhere and that somewhere has been the middle class for the most part. All the money spent on all the wars this country has fought since its founding is a way less than half of what has been spent on the giveaway programs started in the 1960’s. Food stamps, WIC, subsidized housing, Medicaid, free ER care, TANF, free school lunches, SCHIP, LIHEAP, free cell phones, EIC, Child Tax Credits and the list goes on and on. Now we are going to add another 31 million people to the list of those who don’t have to pay their health care insurance? Is it a coincidence that the national debt is now 13 Trillion dollars? And what is going to happen when 11 or 12 million illegal aliens get to have their families join them here and most of them qualify to sign up for the giveaway programs? The rate the debt is increasing will go up even faster. The rich cannot pay that back. The poor and low income will continue to get their free ride. The middle class is going to foot the bill and it will drive this country’s middle class into poverty, but who will relieve them of the responsibility to pay their bills? The Chinese?

    Taxed More on 10/13/2010 at 04:05 PM 

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