Welcome to Fox, where it is 1912, Eugene Debs is ascendant and socialism is on the march.
Or so you might think, if you tuned in to the Fox Business Network on Monday afternoon to catch the above segment, hosted by Charles Payne and helpfully illustrated with the not-at-all-hysterical chyron “CAPITALISM UNDER FIRE.”
Payne’s guest was Ben Stein, apparently recovered from his brief bout of horniness over Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez. The topic was ostensibly a pilot program in Stockton, California, to give $500 a month to 100 of the city’s residents. It is a test of a universal basic income program on a very, very small scale.
Stein actually seems a little torn here. On the one hand, the money looks as if it is going to homeless people, and he does not want to see any homelessness in America, ever. On the other hand, the money is coming from the government, and he will stop being asked to appear on Fox if he doesn’t stick to the conservative talking point that this is an example of Big Government controlling people’s lives, which is always bad.
Luckily on the point about the homeless, Payne is there to keep him on track:
“This is not about just helping a few homeless people. This is about, hey, if you don’t want to work, you don’t have to work. But you still deserve a quote-unquote income. This is not just AOC…They are not doing these programs for altruistic reasons. These are tests, so that they can say hey, it works…This could be part of America! What impact would that have on our economy?”
This leads to a soliloquy from Stein about people being made too lazy to work if they are just getting money from the government. Which is the usual Republican argument against welfare of any kind. Whether it is unemployment or universal basic income, if it smacks of the welfare state in any way, conservatives don’t like it.
What’s amazing about Stein’s comments is that he throws his own son under the bus for being a freeloading leech, then goes on to suggest the country needs a higher minimum wage, which might get him booted off of Fox forever:
Stein: “We have to have Americans who are willing to put in perspiration, blood, toil, tears, sweat, we’ve got to have an America, that works, in order for it to be a successful America. You have to have people out there willing to do that. If we say to people, you don’t have to work, then we’re going to have a lot of people like my son, well I have a well-to-do old dad he will take care of me and nobody else has to take care of me. I don’t have to take care of myself. […]
Payne: “Is there a role for government to play in that?” […]
Stein: “I think there’s a role here for having a higher minimum wage. The minimum wage is not nearly enough for people to live on.”
Stein appears to be at least aware that working people are wildly underpaid, which brings him into tension with Payne, who would like Stein to agree with him. But what could be a debate about the value of a government passing laws for higher minimum wage or supplementing current insufficient incomes with UBI payments gets subsumed by the threat of SOCIALISM OH MY GOD.
Payne is also very concerned that people are not taking the threat of socialism seriously enough, which gives Stein a final chance to slam people for being lazy and wanting free money:
“An awful lot of people don’t want to work, and an awful lot of people out there are just plain lazy. A awful lot of people are being brainwashed that believe the government owe them a living. People like you and me owe them a living. In a which we owe them help but don’t owe them a living on the scale we live.”
No one is suggesting that everyone should get a UBI that approaches the income of cable news pundits. Policy wonks talk about UBI partly because the stinginess of wages today does not allow people to live with dignity even when they work full time. The trope of lazy people demanding handouts from government is in itself a lazy characterization by out-of-touch pundits.
Let’s be clear: what is being proposed by leftist politicians today is not socialism by any stretch of the imagination. It is still capitalism, just with stronger governmental regulations and a more generous welfare state. It is a return to New Deal liberalism, which is farther to the left than the country has been for a few decades. But it is not unprecedented. Ben Stein probably knows that. But he also likes the appearance fees he gets to pretend otherwise.
Watch the entire segment in the video at the top of the post.