August 26th, 2019

Other People’s Money, Other People’s Misery

There’s a vocal segment of Vermonters who consistently decry what they see as “the liberal” tendency to spend “other people’s money” on social programs. I ran across this most recently in comments supporting gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott’s public statement that he’s pretty sure that $50 million can be cut from Medicaid. Objections from us “liberals” that this is putting the burden of patching state finances on the backs of the most vulnerable prompted the claim about liberals loving to spend other people’s money.

That’s an interesting concept, that idea of other people’s money. What these people are talking about is, of course, tax revenue. I pay taxes. I have paid taxes my entire working life—now approaching 50 years. Those taxes will be and always have been, used to fund any social programs that I advocate. People who have not been as fortunate as I have been have paid less in income tax than me over the years, but even the poorest people pay taxes in several forms, especially sales tax. Those taxes also fund any social programs they advocate.

So what exactly does “other people’s money” mean? Social support programs are funded by “everyone’s money,” not “other people’s money.” Calling it other people’s money implies that the people who support social programs aren’t contributing. That’s an effective propaganda tool to stir up opposition, but it isn’t true.

On the other hand, the people who complain about social support programs, the people who want to cut them, aren’t going to be affected by the cuts.

They won’t suddenly find themselves unable to pay rent or visit a doctor.

They won’t suddenly find themselves without a community service that allows them to live independently. They are, in a very real sense, voting for “other people’s misery.”

Between those of us who advocate for public support programs and who share in their funding, and those of us who advocate for cutting those programs but do not share in the misery that causes, who is really being cavalier about what we inflict on “other people?” If I was interested in being a propagandist, I’d make a habit of talking about “the conservative” tendency to cause “other people’s misery.”

Lee Russ

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