The Corner

The Economy

Re: There’s Nothing Hypocritical about Small-Government Groups Taking PPP Loans

David contends that it is silly for some in the press to criticize small-government think tanks for using the PPP loan program. I agree. PPP wasn’t an example of government counteracting the vicissitudes of the market; it was an example of government counteracting government. In form, PPP is more akin to a Takings Clause program than to welfare as traditionally understood. There’s no great inconsistency here.

But I want to add a different point to David’s, rather than just to reiterate it: Namely, that making this sort of argument is pretty much the worst thing that American progressives do — including to their own interests.

In order to garner conservative support for this bill, progressives made exactly the argument that David has. But, now that conservatives have used the law that resulted from that argument, it’s “welfare” again. They do this quite often. Criticize Medicare or Social Security as “welfare” and you’ll be told that it’s just “an insurance program.” Even now, when it isn’t remotely true, recipients are encouraged to view their checks as nothing more than “what they paid in.” But when an old guy shows up at a Tea Party rally with a sign that says “Keep your hands off my Medicare!” he is roundly mocked as an idiot who doesn’t understand the system — by the same people who told him in decades’ worth of political ads that that was how the system worked.

We hear a great deal from progressives about the conservative tendency to prefer “owning the libs” above actually getting things done. And, often, they’re right. But this is an example in reverse. Unlike conservatives, progressives were united in insisting that we shut down the country to slow the spread, and, unlike conservatives, they were united in their conviction that the federal government should pay restitution once we did. But, once they prevailed, they were quick to blame the shut-down country on their opponents, and, now, to recast that restitution as “welfare.” I’m sure it made them feel good to do so, but what exactly was achieved after the endorphin rush? Practical politics is about building consensus. Does this make it easier or harder to do that next time?

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