Building the "Big Government" bogeyman
Plus: The correct answer is “Sure, if their parents aren’t shitheels about it!"
Editor’s note: I left my laptop on an Amtrak the other day like a total moron. As you can probably imagine, that’s jammed up my standard workflow quite a bit. Fun! Rather than the usual Fingers Weekender, I’m publishing a book review that I happened to have ready to go in my drafts folder, and an excerpt from my Friday column at VinePair. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for your patience. Normal programming resumes next week with a new laptop.—Dave.
📚 Capital’s successful plot to shred the social safety net
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been wondering whether “things” (living in the United States) were always “like this” (stressful, precarious, relentlessly extractive, etc.) The last time things looked this bleak, the country was mired in the Great Depression, and we got out of it by building a comprehensive social welfare state akin to those that form the bedrock of modern life in Western Europe. Social security! Socialized utility grids! Government as the employer of last resort! We had it all, man. Or at least, a lot of Americans were open to the idea.
If this sounds foreign to you as a US citizen in 2024, that’s because despite our spectacular, unprecedented wealth, our present neoliberal regime provides few of the life-improving social benefits any more—and the ones still on offer, like social security insurance, are constantly smeared as “unaffordable entitlements,” in the pernicious jargon of rightwing operatives and their centrist enablers. How far backwards we’ve come. Less than a century after the speculation-addled stock market collapsed into Dust Bowl despair, many Americans are convinced that it’s not the state’s role to interdict capital’s relentless wealth-hoarding to provide those types of benefits. More still believe that even if it was, the state is incapable of providing them efficiently. As Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway persuasively argue in The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market, this is no accident.