Means Testing Is Butt
Amanda Marcotte, a politics writer at Slate and general neoliberal shill, had a tweet-storm yesterday morning seemingly arguing in favor of means testing as a way of “centering” low income individuals, in contrast to universal programs which provide “middle class entitlements."
Marcotte seems to be saying (the five-tweet series is worded a little oddly) that not only are universal programs such as free college or single-payer not “anti-poverty,” they are not as class conscious as the idea of means-tested government programs such as Medicaid and free or reduced lunch. This is a ridiculous position to take and a dangerous current running through the current iteration of the Democratic Party, particularly in its centrist establishment wing.
Means testing, the idea that there should be some sort of limit—income, age, education level, etc.—placed on who gets what from the government, has been around for a while. Medicaid and Medicare are two prime examples. To qualify for either of these programs you either have to be over a certain age, or make less than a certain amount of money. The same goes for EBT programs, school lunches, etc. It came about, without getting to into the history of it, as a way to make sure that charity was going to where it should, i.e, the government isn’t “needlessly” giving money to people who don’t need it. Democrats, starting with Clinton, and continuing with Obama, started embracing it as a way to cut deals with Republicans, a sort of "let us have this program, but we promise not to give it to too many people" type deal. It, however, eventually became less of a negotiating tactic and more of just a strict guideline. See Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign where, in response to Sanders’ “Free college for all plan,” she proposed a means tested free college plan for people who maintained a certain GPA, worked while in school, and attended a community college. The adoption of a means testing as standard operating procedure has been a tragedy for the Democrats and needs to be fixed immediately.
All this is to say that Marcotte's claims about means-testing centering the poor or being more class conscious are false. Means testing, rather than "focusing" on the poorest people in the U.S., singles them out as targets who are "incapable of taking care of themselves." It assumes that anyone over this subjective line is capable of providing for themselves and their family, when that has been proved objectively false time and again. Instead of focusing on the poorest, it excludes many of those who need the help just as much.
The line setting also does nothing to help class consciousness. By setting a line, the process of which is fodder enough for an entire book, the government is essentially blocking off the poor from the rest of society. It is creating whole cloth a new class of people, a class that does not need to exist. Separating the "middle-income" from the "low-income," when they should be working to create a class conscious among all laborers, instead of more artificial divisions. Marcotte's statement that free college for all is a middle-class entitlement is ridiculous on its face, because all, obviously, means everyone, including the poorest in our society.
There are also other issues with relying on mean's testing, which Marcotte was afraid to touch. One of the biggest problems is that no one but the nerdiest stats people get excited about it. "Everyone gets free college" as a slogan is ten thousand times better than, "Some people, who meet certain ever changing criteria and almost certainly not you, will get free college." And yet the Dems keep running out this same old formula every year, expecting to win votes. What ever happened to a chicken in every pot? Why has that become, a chicken only for those whom the government deems it necessary? Of course, the counter-argument trotted out by many Dems is that "We shouldn't have to pay for Donald Trump's kids to go to school." This is insane. Programs like these are tax payer funded, and, if done well, Donald Trump would be the one taxed more to pay for it, not the people who can't currently afford college. And yet the Dems persist.
Universal programs are the only way forward. Focusing on means tested government aid, in the name of austerity or keeping out the rich, will never defeat Trump or make America into what it needs to be.