Is Tom Corbett a Secret Socialist?

The governor's main economic accomplishment has been to increase the kinds of jobs that require public assistance to be viable.


Is Tom Corbett a socialist?

Crazy question, of course, for a Republican governor perhaps best known for suggesting Pennsylvania’s unemployed workers prefer receiving state benefits to actually hunkering down and finding a job. But consider two facts:

• Between January 2011 (when Corbett took office) and July of this year, the second-fastest job sector growth in Pennsylvania has been in accommodations and food service—basically low-paid hotel and restaurant jobs. The sector added 28,000 jobs during that time, second only to the health care and social assistance segment of the state economy, providing about a fifth of the state’s overall (meager) growth in jobs.

• As Alfred Lubriano detailed in Sunday’s Inquirer, about half of all non-managerial workers in the fast-food industry need public assistance to get by. The number is somewhat lower in Pennsylvania–about 42 percent–but the result is that state taxpayers still provide $204 million a year to provide food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of public assistance to fast-food employees.

Pennsylvania is far from alone, of course. According to the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, more than $7 billion per year is spent annually providing such assistance to the employees of McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food restaurants—a taxpayer subsidy that helps all those for-profit companies avoid the responsibility of paying their workers a living wage. (And we won’t even mention the ag subsidies which lower the cost of the food those companies prepare.)

All of which means that the Corbett economy has been successful mostly in growing the kinds of jobs that require taxpayer assistance in order to be viable.

Hurray, capitalism!

It’s been about a year now since video emerged of then-GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney telling rich supporters that he was running an uphill race because 47 percent of the country was, essentially, addicted to government assistance, too lazy to do the kind of work needed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

“There are 47 percent who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,” Romney said. A year later, two things are true: That statement pretty much killed Romney’s candidacy. But it remains an essential part of the Republican Party’s overall philosophy.

That philosophy ignores two true things:

• That goods like health care, food and housing aren’t luxuries—they’re necessities for survival (especially the last two) that are a very long way from the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Republicans might as well contemptuously snort, “There are 47 percent who believe they are entitled to breathe.” It makes as much sense.

• Most people—even poor people—really are willing to work for those necessities. Often, when they do, it’s not enough. So they do the rational thing and accept help, because the imperative to survive is stronger than the disapproval of Republican millionaires who don’t know how lucky they are.

A further problem? Many, probably most, Republicans these days would be willing to end or severely curtail the kinds of safety net programs that keep McDonald’s employees alive and working—and remember, Corbett himself has attempted huge cuts to social welfare spending—yet they still resist the idea that private work itself should then pay a living wage. When fast-food workers began striking for higher wages this summer, conservatives mostly reacted incredulously—one friend of mine even reacted with pointed worry about what might happen to the cost of a Big Mac. The only responsibility of business, he wrote, is to increase profits without the use of fraud or deception.

Which means, of course, that Republicans believe society has the right to expect poor Americans to work—but that poor Americans aren’t allowed to expect much, even the ability to survive, in return. Seems like a raw deal, especially in a country as rich as ours. Tom Corbett may be an accidental socialist, but Republican socialism is never about helping the poor—it’s always about maximizing business profits.

Hurray, capitalism.