Concerning “Safety Net”

A local newspaper-columnist recently praised a group of volunteers who had “repaired a hole in the safety net” by providing goods and services that had once been supplied by state or city funding.

The reference induced me to . . . think of the Reagan administration, which often spoke of federal social programs as “the safety net”; . . . consider how awful the analogy is; . . . . [but also] to think of how blithely most, if not all, of the fooled people (see previous post) accept the analogy.

With such a comparison, it’s best to recall the literal: trapeze artists use safety-nets when they practice. Probably some construction-projects use them.

Therefore, we’re asked to believe that a net used by those few who earn a living on the trapeze is to represent usefully such programs as health-care, unemployment checks, social security, and food for the hungry (breakfast programs for school-children, e.g.).

Everyone gets sick, many people become unemployed through no fault of their own (and, from 2008 forward, through the fault of Wall Street), hungry poor or homeless people deserve food (otherwise, the point of civilization is what, exactly?), and so. A “safety net” is there to stop softly the fall of someone in a highly rare event, such as a trapeze artist falling during a practice. How does an analogy using it help discussions about what programs to support via taxes, to what extent, and why? It hinders; it does not help.

It hinders by trivializing great needs that spring in part (arguably) from our economic structure. That is, the structure seems to require regular bubbles and recessions; thus it requires spikes in unemployment, which may lead to spikes in food-assistance. The nature of the human body is such that all bodies get ill, and medical-care is so sophisticated and expensive that the old system of paying a local GP a few bucks is long past, as every industrialized nation but us seems to have figured out quite a while ago. The new USA healthcare-program, if it survives the courts, is a modest attempt to catch up, in my opinion; regardless of my opinion, it is an attempt to deal with a massive problem: @ 40,000,000 citizens without the means to pay for healthcare. “Safety net” is not an apt comparison, but I think Reagan and current GOPers rely on it because they can have things both ways, rhetorically: cut or eliminate “social programs” but not seem menacing to the working class and lower middle class because they pretend to recognize the importance of “the safety net.” A safety net is there to catch one or two people, not 40 million, not those experiencing chronic unemployment because some salespersons and hucksters on Wall Street decided to cheat and to gamble recklessly.

What better analogies and comparisons might be I shall leave to you.


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