If there’s one thing that truly fascinates me about American politics, it is the process by which the orthodoxy is constructed. Once upon a time, this was the result of different parties choosing different “planks” of the platform and then going to the polls, with “planks” that appeared in winning platforms more often than not becoming the orthodoxy. Example: no major party has made the reinstatement of slavery or plural marriage or the nationalization of grocery stores a plank of their platform in quite some time. These positions are no longer up for the debate. They have become orthodox.
Today, the orthodoxy appears to begin with partisan media bleating about a particular topic until the consumers of that media accept it as a fact. When the topic spreads to general media and the general media bleats about it until the general public accepts it as a fact, then it’s orthodox and the voting is just a formality. So the next question becomes: How does the partisan media decide what should be pushed out to the sheep? Sometimes it’s done through actual star-chamber stuff like the secretive JournoList or the brash ALEC. Sometimes it’s the product of association with, or reaction to, like-minded positions.
Then you have the progressive position on drug testing welfare recipients, which appears to make no sense whatsoever.
As someone who worked in the check-cashing industry for a while, albeit more or less involuntarily, it makes sense to me that welfare recipients use drugs more often than “regular” people. (Big, heavy, monstrous quotes on “regular”, by the way. Plenty of welfare recipients are what we think of as regular people, particularly in the current economy.) I cashed thousands of welfare checks a month and I cashed thousands of employment/contracting checks a month. Nine times out of ten I could guess the check based on the person who presented it — and if they were obviously high or drunk, it was almost always welfare.
My individual experience over the course of eighteen months in that profession is borne out by a fair number of studies that show that substance abuse is, in fact, a problem for welfare recipients and that addressing that substance abuse significantly increases the rate at which they return to work. The studies also show, incidentally, that chronic depression and PTSD are just as prevalent among the welfare base — but that’s another problem to address, not a reason to ignore drug use among welfare recipients. You don’t decide not to fix your car’s alternator belt just because the muffler has rusted out. You try to fix both when you can.
This all seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Of course welfare recipients use drugs at a higher rate than the working population, and of course it’s an impediment to their finding and retaining employment. But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It’s the new orthodoxy regarding welfare recipients and drug use, and you can find it explained in typical Millennial poopytalk at The Daily Beast. You can read the article if you like, but I’m about to cover the salient points.
We start with this:
Last year, Utah Republicans passed and enacted a law that mandated drug testing for welfare recipients… if you the kind of person (sic) who takes facts seriously, this is a ridiculous idea…. The myth of welfare recipients spending their benefits on drugs is just that—a myth. And indeed, in Utah, only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening. The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people. The only thing “gained” from mandatory drug testing is the humiliation of desperate people.
This is a typical partisan hit piece, of the progressive kind. (The conservative kind of hit piece tends to favor contempt over outrage, as seen in the writing of Ann Coulter et al.) Let’s examine the assertions:
- “Facts have a liberal bias”. Whenever you read something to that effect, you can rest assured that you’re about to hear about some “facts” that are only “facts” in the broadest, most inclusive sense of the term. Failing that, you’ll hear about some misinterpretation of statistics.
- “It’s just that — a myth”. Another progressive trope, this one almost always used to defeat a common-sense position. “The myth of water boiling at 100C is just that! Fracked water boils at room temperature!” The conservative equivalent of this, BTW, is the extension of common sense into uncommon territory. “Corn syrup can’t be bad for you — it’s made from corn!”
- “only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening.” So what does that mean, exactly? You could take that factoid to mean one of two things. Thing 1: nobody was on drugs. Thing 2: they were ALL on drugs, but awareness of the testing requirement made them quit. To put this another way: Does the fact that metal detectors at airports rarely “catch” people with guns mean that you could take the metal detectors away and the number of guns brought onto planes would stay low? If we publicly ended all highway speed enforcement in the United States, would speeds stay the same?
- “The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people.” Was the person who wrote this piece fucking high when he wrote it? In what world is the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people less than $25,000? In a single month, maybe; but Utah pays out $19,000 a year to each recipient, which is slightly over $1,500 a month, which is $18,000 a month for a dozen recipients. It would take our dozen drug users just 45 days to chew up over $25,000 in benefits.
What can we learn about the author and the media source from this piece? Well, they don’t think you can operate a calculator, and they don’t think you’ll examine any potential reason for a particular “fact” other than the one provided. But wait, there’s more.
Indeed, if we’re going to test welfare applicants—who receive trifling sums of money from the government—it makes as much sense to test bailout-receiving bankers, loan-backed students, defense contractors, tax-supported homeowners, married couples with children (who receive tax credits), and politicians, who aren’t strangers to drug use.
In other words, if stopping waste is your goal, then drug screening should be mandatory for anyone receiving cash from the government, which—in one way or another—is most people. But Republicans haven’t proposed testing for church clergy or oil executives. Instead, they’re focused on the vulnerable, with schemes that would embarrass a Bond villain.
We can assume from this paragraph that Jamelle, the author of said paragraph, is both a student and a moron, and that he has never held a real job. Yo, Jamelle: Nineteen grand a year isn’t “trifling” unless you’re asking your parents to give it to you. Furthermore, every “bailout-receiving banker” out there took a drug test to get his or her job, and all of them are subject to random testing in the future. The same is true for every defense contractor, with the possible exception of the owners of privately held firms. Married couples with children and/or homes are also subject to drug testing, because nearly every major corporation in America tests its employees for drugs. Most temp agencies do. Wal-Mart does, and they use a hair test!
The vast majority of employed Americans have taken a drug test. Not just pilots and surgeons. You need a drug test to clean the toilets at a restaurant. If you ask me, that’s ridiculous and it should be illegal. The contents of your urine, blood, feces, sperm, toenails, or DNA strands should be absolutely private and you should not have to piss in a cup so you can work at the Home Depot in the paint department. Hell, let’s give LSD to the people in the Home Depot paint department. Might liven some shit up in these eggshell-wall McMansions.
Applying a zero-tolerance drug policy to children makes perfect sense. Applying one to every adult who wants to work in the United States — all that does is make people drink more. Not that alcohol will be legal for long. Nor will caffeine. I was recently asked during a pre-employment physical if I “used” caffeine.
“Intravenously?” I replied.
We are rapidly moving towards a society the Puritanical nature of which would shame the fucking Puritans. Between that and the increasingly insufferable March Of The Foodies, we’ve managed to regress all the way to prehistorical religions where they obsessed night and day about sacred eating rituals. It’s like Matthew 15:11 never happened. The only thing that a man is allowed or encouraged to put into his mouth in public or private in the year 2014 is, seemingly, another man’s dick. If you eat a marijuana brownie you’ll be unemployable for life as a drug addict. If you eat a regular brownie you’ll be unemployable for life as a sugar addict.
Incidentally, it is perfectly within the remit and purpose of the United States Government to make pre-employment drug testing illegal. But the corporations don’t want it that way, so it doesn’t get done. For now and the foreseeable future, if you want a job in this country you’d better lay off the weed and everything else. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. And, like Strother said, I don’t like it any more than you men.
Which means that if you are currently on welfare and you are looking for work, no matter what that work might be, you also need to be off drugs. Now, if you think that people on welfare are beyond hope, that they are going to be on the dole for the rest of their lives, that they’ve dropped out of society and will never return— well, those people don’t need to be ready for the workforce, so they should be allowed to do whatever they want. Because at that point we’re just talking morality and we shouldn’t force people to be moral be any particular standard to receive help. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to force people to pledge their belief in Jesus, or Buddha, or gender equality, or Neil deGrasse Tyson, just to get assistance? Of course it would. By the same token, preventing people on welfare from smoking weed or eating Cheetos on moral grounds is ridiculous.
If, on the other hand, you think that welfare is a waystation for people who temporarily suffer hard times, that it is a helping hand when it’s most needed, that it is simply a safety net — well, then it makes sense to ensure that the recipients of welfare are ready to return to the workforce. And since the workforce doesn’t accept drug users, welfare eligibility should be restricted to people who are ready to abide by the demands of the workforce. You shouldn’t have a negative incentive in place preventing welfare users from returning to work — “Oh no, I want to interview, but I need 90 days to pass the hair test.”
When I was cashing checks for a living, I watched my customers who were on public assistance deteriorate over time. The person who cashes his fifteenth welfare check is not the person he was when he cashed his first one. The fact is that being on welfare sucks. You can’t add “dignity” to it because even the least intelligent among us knows it’s humiliating to live on charity. The more my customers screeched about their “rights” to assistance the more we all knew that they didn’t truly feel that way. The GOP is wrong: most people on welfare probably don’t want to be there. The Democrats and their media machine are wrong: most people on welfare are in fact there because they put themselves there through the consequences of choices they made.
The best outcome for any person on welfare is to be off welfare. So if you believe that most welfare recipients are capable of doing something better, it’s critical to remove every barrier in their way. And since drug use is one of those barriers, it needs to be removed as well, and the sooner the better.