Helping children is a great idea – 01/26/2021 – Paul Krugman

Some things in American politics are completely predictable, even in a time of insurgency and QAnon madness. Anyone who has paid attention over the past 10 years knew that as soon as Democrats took control of the White House, Republicans would instantly take a 180-degree turn from the budget deficit.

Suffice it to say that the Republican Party identified public debt as a threat to the country’s existence under the Obama administration, but became completely indifferent to it during the time of Donald Trump.

Surely no one should have been surprised that Republicans have returned to deficit hysteria now that Joe Biden is president.

Why have Republicans bragged about debt phobia again? Their usual argument is that the federal debt is a burden on future generations; myself and other commentators have spent a considerable amount of time trying to prove that this is an incorrect economic view.

But let’s put aside the economic aspect of the debate. Shouldn’t politicians who are terribly concerned about the future of helping children in the United States, for example, be trying to help the child in the United States today?

I am not proposing a hypothetical question. Democrats are apparently preparing a bill that would offer monthly aid to most American families with children and that could, among other things, cut the number of people living in poverty by half.

A particularly interesting aspect of the legislation in the making is that Democrats have finally broken free from the Republican framework in which every benefit must take the form of a tax credit. The new project apparently intends to pay money directly to eligible families.

Assuming Democrats ultimately succeed in defeating Mitch McConnell’s attempt to stop the party that won the election from taking control of the Senate, Republicans will soon have to vote on this bill. And how will they justify voting against him?

The context needed: The United States stands out among the rich countries for its inability to provide support to families with children. US spending on family benefits, as a share of GDP (gross domestic product), is less than a third of the rich country average. And in large part because of this, we have a much higher proportion of children living in poverty than is common among our peers.

This greed does a lot of damage. Economists have already shown that past expansions of aid to families that include children, such as the gradual expansion of food assistance programs in the 1960s and 1970s and the federal health program Medicaid in the 1980s, n ‘ve not only improved children’s lives in the short term. because it made aid recipients healthier and more productive than before. By not doing more for children, we are damaging their future, and therefore the country.

But are we financially capable of doing more? Independent estimates of the cost of something like the Democratic proposal that has been reported point to a cost of $ 120 billion per year. To put the question in perspective, this only represents half of the loss of income that will be caused in 2021 by the tax cut adopted in 2017.

And helping children would accomplish what many proponents of tax cuts promised but failed to do: improve the long-term economic outlook for the United States. If the children we help today grow up to be healthier, more productive adults than they would otherwise – and they certainly will – it would translate into higher GDP in the future.

And helping children would also indirectly help the budget, as beneficiaries will later pay more taxes and are less likely to depend on social security programs. These tax advantages may even be large enough to cover the costs of childcare and would in any case mean that the real cost of the assistance, even in narrow fiscal terms, would be less than it appears.

Overall, therefore, extended assistance to families that include children is a very good idea. It would immediately improve the lives of millions of Americans, make us stronger in the future, and its budgetary costs would be modest. So how can the Republicans in Congress oppose it? Because you know most, if not all, will.

One answer, of course, is to shout about fiscal responsibility and believe that voters’ memories are very short.

Another answer is that they will claim that the Biden government and its allies have a “radical left agenda” – because helping to keep children fed and safe is certainly proof of fanatical Marxism – and will expect so voters don’t hear what Democrats are doing. made propose. (It’s worth more than child care: Polls show that on issues like taxes and health, Republicans, not Democrats, are the radicals whose positions are out of touch with public opinion.)

Finally, it’s also safe to hear some version of the standard Conservative argument that any policy that reduces poverty reduces the incentive for people to become self-reliant – you know, UI encourages people to end up in the middle. unemployment, food aid encourages them to be lazy, and so on. It will be difficult to make this argument against a massive child welfare program, but they will certainly find a way.

However, I do not expect any form of good faith argument against helping families with children. This does not mean that the Democratic proposal will be perfect; there is no doubt that experts will discover aspects of it that could be improved. But spending more money on children is a great idea, both economically and morally, and it should become law.

Translation by Paulo Migliacci

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