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READ: Halloween, cynicism and the government shutdown

Published on Monday, October 28, 2013

 

by Professor Jay Prag

[From the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin]

I like Halloween, the concept. You can argue that many of our fall holidays have lost their meaning, drowned by commercialism, secularism and lots of other ‘isms’. But what we do on Halloween is to decorate our houses and welcome children to our front door to get a free treat. It is the only time that we voluntarily give things to total strangers, no questions asked.

Well, no questions asked, but we do expect a little consideration. We like the occasional thank you. We don’t want kids taking 10 pieces of candy. And we don’t want parents carrying a baby in a Yoda suit to our door saying that the candy is for the baby. I don’t suppose anyone would say no if an adult asked for a piece of candy. I have been asked; I never say no. But that’s not what Halloween is about. It’s about giving treats to kids.

What makes people turn off their porch lights and not answer the front door on Halloween? Meanness? Probably not. It’s probably cynicism. They probably had a few too many “grab a handful and run” kids. Or a few too many kids who were driven into their neighborhood by parents who also missed the point. People get tired when their generosity is overtaxed.

And speaking of overtaxed, what about that government shutdown?

The Republican majority in the House of Representatives wouldn’t pass a budget for two weeks, effectively closing many discretionary parts of the Federal Government. They said they were trying to postpone the start of the Affordable Care Act. But the point was really bigger than that.

Social welfare spending has increased over the past five years. This was partly due to the recession but it was also because of the swing to the left in Washington at the beginning of the first Obama administration. Food stamp enrollment has risen 70 percent, government programs provide free cellphones and then, yes, there is the Affordable Care Act. Some people are getting a little cynical. Maybe the government is giving away too much of the taxpayer’s money.

It’s dangerously dismissive to call those who shut the government down “Tea Party” radicals. Every Representative in the house represents hundreds of thousands of people. Most of these conservative voters work hard for their income and they don’t like paying taxes if they think the government spends wastefully.

I don’t think that most fiscal conservatives are mean. I don’t think they are ungenerous. I don’t think they hate everyone who doesn’t look like them. I think they are tired of “grab and run” government. Of politicians extracting an ever-increasing percent of taxpayer income in order to give things to people who vote for them.

What kind of society are we creating? A headline last week said, “Food Stamp Glitch Causes Legal Looting at Walmart.” The spending limit on food stamp debit cards in Louisiana was temporarily disabled and card-carrying people more or less cleaned out a couple of Walmarts. Legal looting? How is this legal? How is it any different from stealing, or forging the old food stamps? This “grab and run because you can get away with it” behavior is the kind of thing that makes conservatives want to close down the government. It’s the kind of thing that makes some people not participate in Halloween.

 

Jay Prag is a clinical associate professor at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. Prag also serves as academic director for the school's Executive Management Program, and can be heard weekly on "Inland Empire News Hour" on KTIE-AM 590.

 

 

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