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Denigrating Trump's budget & voters

| Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

News and opinion sites lately overflow with reports of how President Trump's proposed budget cuts allegedly will hurt his core supporters. For example, in U.S. News & World Report, Chad Stone calls Trump's proposed budget an exercise in “backstabbing.” Why? Because many cuts are aimed at programs said to help blue-collar and rural Americans — who voted disproportionately for Trump.

As they tut-tut the administration for betraying its supporters, some of these reporters and editorialists clearly relish the supposed comeuppance these cuts will visit on the unwashed who put Trump in the Oval Office. Others among these reporters and editorialists are genuinely baffled that many continue to support Trump despite proposed cuts to programs aimed at helping them.

Regardless of a pundit's particular “take,” agreement seems widespread that voters are irrational if they knowingly support candidates who threaten to reduce their government handouts. Any preferences or values that might run counter to receiving government goodies are treated as evidence that such voters really don't know what's in their best interest.

This attitude denigrates voters. It treats them as if they should care only about narrow material concerns. Yet many who think voters are stupid for not being upset at the prospect of losing some government funding are surely among the first to condemn the free market for its supposed crass materialism.

Progressives like to remind us there's more to life than dollars and cents — that people do not simply crave ever more consumption but instead want lives filled with meaning, dignity, beauty and love. In this matter, progressives are right (though wrong to presume free-market advocates do not also understand this). But progressives' tune changes when government doles out the dollars and cents. They seem genuinely unable to grasp why many poor and working-class people do not value government handouts above all else.

Coming from a working-class family that was never fond of big government, perhaps I can help my progressive friends to better understand such voters.

First, many understand that accepting government handouts conflicts with the pursuit of dignity in making one's own way in life — in overcoming hardship, not being an object of charity. I proudly recall my parents refusing to apply for food stamps when my pipefitter father was laid off. Being on the dole would have drained them of their dignity. They overcame hardship without handouts.

Self-reliance was more important to them than profiting materially from government.

Second, many ideologically oppose certain government programs. You might disagree with some voters' opposition to, say, programs to reduce domestic violence or retrain workers. But surely voters who stick to their principles are admirable even when — indeed, especially when — doing so runs counter to their narrow material interests.

There are plenty of good reasons to object to Trump's policies, but the fact that some reduce government funding to Trump supporters is not among them.

Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.

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