Government Benefits - We Hardly Knew Ye

Friday, July 15, 2011


A Cornell study has shown that a substantial portion of Americans who receive government benefits either don't believe or don't understand that they are government beneficiaries.  We talked with Danny Hayes of American University to figure out what role the media, politicians, and citizens themselves might play in our nation-wide cognitive dissonance.

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Comments [14]

John P.

The Tea Party movement is a good example of the level of cognitive dissonance that appears so widespread. As those of use who did not fall asleep during high school will remember, the centerpiece to resistance of the Stamp Act of 1765 was the concept of taxation without representation. A better historical event to symbolize the Tea Party’s premise that they should not be required to financially support our democracy would have been the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, yet the Boston Tea Party has come to represent the rejection of taxes.

The issue not covered in this report is why so many people have misconceptions of history and public policy. While factual distortion is typical in the positions of either political extreme, extreme conservative viewpoints appear to have gained general acceptance. The key question is why? I would suggest that these misconceptions are based on the subtle and very skillful use of semantic distortion, omission, oversimplification, misdirection and appeals to class and racial stereotypes that the extreme left has yet to master.

Jul. 24 2011 02:06 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

To Mort Moore, I doubt if you will find many Tea Partiers who favor abolition of the government, either. Those supposedly confused people who wish to see government spending brought under control but don't want their Medicare touched have been paying into Medicare, voluntarily or involuntarily, for most or all of their adult lives. The government has thus given them a false sense of entitlement (like it gave Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) which, as rational economic players, they seek to redeem. I don't agree with them, but I understand the impulse.

As for liberals with investments in private corporations, I think they are in the same position, logically, as those 'cognitively dissonant' Tea Party types. See if you can acknowledge the following: that affluent people with holdings derived from investment frequently advocate regulations which, if they had been in force when the initial investments were made, would have made it harder for them to become affluent. It's pulling up the gangplank just a bit on those who are not affluent, but who want to be, without benefit of inheritance. Academics will study the supposed ignorance and mendacity of Tea Partiers of modest backgrounds all day long, but seldom within my hearing have they discussed the use of taxes and regulations (zoning and environmental ones are the most favored) to protect the socio-economic status of the 'haves' against the 'wannabes'. The NY Times did, to its credit, run a piece several weeks ago about the response of a liberal neighborhood to 'eco-friendly' bike lines which would have taken away automobile parking. More of this sort of coverage would seriously embarrass left-leaning politics to swing voters, but it's not done much. Certainly not by OTM - even though Brooke probably lives near the neighborhood in question . . . or maybe because Brooke lives near the neighborhood in question.

Overall, I'm suggesting that when it comes to the coverage of race, gender, environmentalism, etc., and the specific measures sought to pursue liberal aims on these, the press does a very poor job of confronting liberal demonstrators with 'be careful what you wish for' possibilities.

As for my other friend, I dozed off as soon as I saw 'right-winger' in his response. Even the abuse of progressive-minded people has liver spots on it.

Jul. 23 2011 11:32 AM
RozDV in Michigan

Here's a definition for you from Websters:
rebate: a return of a part of a payment

Jul. 21 2011 01:23 PM
Mort Moore from The Great Blogosphere

To Mark Richard:
I think you'd be hard pressed to find many examples of liberals who "mindlessly...urge...the abolition of (institutions such as large corporations)." There may be some anarchists or socialists among us who urge the abolition of corporations, but I've never seen a liberal urging any such thing.
Regulations, sure; it's clear that corporations need regulation, lest they (pick one: pollute air and water; sell dangerous products to unsuspecting consumers; kill or maim their employees to make a larger profit; swindle customers and competitors). Those of us who have investments in such corporations recognize that those regulations are a cost of doing business, and we're glad if our investments aren't used to violate standards of common decency.

Jul. 20 2011 01:33 PM
John P.

Nothing like arguing semantics with the right wingers. Here are the definitions from

1. something that is advantageous or good; an advantage: "He explained the benefits of public ownership of the postal system."
2.a payment or gift, as one made to help someone or given by a benefit society, insurance company, or public agency: "The company offers its employees a pension plan, free health insurance, and other benefits."
3. a theatrical performance or other public entertainment to raise money for a charitable organization or cause.

When politicians talk about cutting benefits they're talking about definition 2.. a payment or gift... not definition 1, which (according to Mark) we are graced with by supporting the rich and powerful.

Jul. 19 2011 06:21 PM
RozDV from Michigan

I disagree about the scope and definition of the "government benefits" presented in this piece. Providing a tax incentive (in the form of a refund of taxes paid) for home mortgages IMHO is a rebate, not "getting something for nothing" or an entitlement program.

I also take issue with calling Social Security an entitlement program. I have paid into this program all my working life. US Government classes in the 60's explained that the government would invest these monies in order to provide retirement income. Because our elected officials have mismanaged this program doesn't give elected officials and the media the right to call this an entitlement program. At least acknowledge my cost basis!!!

Jul. 18 2011 12:10 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

To my posting friends, I don't think you have quite undermined my contention that a lot of people who protest 'big corporations' derive benefits - not only in securities income, but in products they like - from 'corporations', while simultaneously and (in my opinion, mindlessly) urging more restrictions and even abolition of such instititutions. Why don't academics objectify 'liberals' the way they objectify 'conservatives'? Any glance at the political composition of the social sciences in American higher education will answer that.

The fact that many people with left-wing opinions talk one way and live another is not often explored in our mainstream media as a reason for why such people are viewed with some wariness by many of their mostly apolitical fellow citizens. This is even with the prominent example of John Edwards (who railed against foreclosures of homes after Hurricane Katrina even as he was parking his own money in a tax-shelter that foreclosed on homes after Hurricane Katrina) still fresh in political memory. OTM continues to wimp out in asking questions that may be embarrassing to the Left. I mention Edwards specifically because he was the subject of quite flattering coverage even after his investments and other warning signs of a deeply hypocritial human became known - to OTM as well as the rest of the mainstream media.

Jul. 18 2011 11:52 AM
David in Austin from Austin, Texas

Mark Richard of Columbus misses an important point. Teachers and other public employees are fully aware that their pensions are invested with investment managers and the holdings include large corporations. The investment managers and the banks had much to do with the drastic downturn in the stock markets and the subsequent drag on the economy that has has left interest rates on most fixed income investments at under 5%.

Because those equity investments and fixed income investments have performed so poorly the last few years, many pension funds are underfunded.

What is making most public employees unhappy is that they are expected to bear the consequences of the underfunded pensions when they had nothing to do with the collapse of the financial markets.

Jul. 17 2011 08:49 PM

Good topic, interesting segment - & thanks Daniel Bennett for those great points.

The flacks & flunkies are on it, seemingly. Has Mr. Richards overlooked the many GOP politicians who seem to act as if their jobs were nothing more than a means of enrichment, rather than public service?

Jul. 17 2011 08:47 AM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

It is also cognitive dissonance, of the sort seldom noted by academia and OTM, for a lot of equally reality-challenged people to receive corporate benefits and not be aware of them. Such questions are not asked of, for example, striking teachers carrying banners denouncing corporate wealth while their own sacred retirement funds are managed by Wall Street fund managers and invested in big corporations. Somehow, in the orthodox media, leading or embarrassing questions are not asked if they might show that support of liberal or leftist causes might also be based on misinformation - and cognitive dissonance - in spite of a lot of evidence that liberal causes end up being used to support greedy or otherwise self-interested persons.

Jul. 16 2011 06:49 PM
beljacs from San Diego CA

If you work for a military or other government contractor, are in the military,
receive a government pension or other veteran benefits you are being paid by the Federal Government. Many of these pensioners are dead set against entitlement spending, except of course for their own.

Jul. 16 2011 03:56 PM

Getting something for nothing, jealously and being deceived into dependence are normal traits of human nature that politicians manipulate to expand their business which is government. This suggests that people are too stupid to know what is best for them and the paternalistic government run by elites know best and the people should shut up and be grateful. This is not a progressive or innovated form of governance but an ancient relationship between the ruling class and the governed. The fact that those who promote this seduction must regularly take an oath to the US Constitution is the final punch line.

Jul. 16 2011 03:21 PM
Daniel Bennett from Washington, DC

Good point. And there have been efforts to keep the government from letting people know what it has done for its citizens, like when the Republicans tried to pass a rescission on money in the recovery act to pay for signs to let the public know that a construction project was funded by the act.

And few people realize that government debt is a massive government benefits program. Instead of borrowing from taxed entities like wealthy citizens, the government could just tax them. This is a huge government benefits program that funds and protects (i.e. is an investment hedge). Just imagine a stock market without being able to invest in reliable government bonds.

And then there are major benefits from government that are unknown to many, including: the Internet, Web browsers, GPS, cancer research, creating wealth through regulations like patent, trademark and copyright, corporations having limited liability thanks to government regulation, the courts to enforce contracts, etc, etc etc.

Jul. 15 2011 11:51 PM

This reminds me of the time 10 years ago, when a co-worker's unmarried, unemployed, ever-partying daughter became pregnant, and my co-worker decided it was finally time for some Tough Love. "I told her I am NOT going to support you and this baby. You are going to have to stand on your own two feet. And I marched her right down to the welfare office so she could fill out the paperwork herself."

Jul. 15 2011 05:58 PM

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