The Conservative War on Pragmatism and Logic


(tl;dr version: Republicans don’t want to spend money on birth control, welfare or abortions, despite the fact that by doing so we save far more money than we do otherwise. For the specifics, see below).

Let’s talk about a few basic things in the Republican party platform, shall we? Elements of this may not be in the official platform, but they certainly do express the views of current GOP frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

1. Welfare is bad. It’s expensive and creates a mentality of dependency by encouraging people not to work.
2. Planned Parenthood should not receive any money from the government.
3. Government should not pay for birth control or abortions.
4. Abortions should be illegal.

I think we can all agree these are viewpoints held by the majority of Republicans. Now I disagree with them on every single one of these points. But for the sake of this article, I’m going to pretend that point 1 is valid. I’ll pretend that welfare is a bad thing and must be eliminated entirely or at least significantly minimized. So that in mind, let me explain to you why points 2, 3 and 4 undermine point 1.

Planned Parenthood has been a focus of the culture wars for decades. Even as a youth, I remember hearing Republicans bitch about it. I also remember a representative of Planned Parenthood coming into my high school to demonstrate things like proper use of condoms and the like.

I’ve never been exactly clear as to why the Republicans dislike Planned Parenthood so much, but I know that at least part of it is a trail of logic that goes like this:

Planned Parenthood gets money from the government.
Planned Parenthood provides abortions and birth control.
The government isn’t allowed to pay for abortions using taxpayer money.
The government shouldn’t be subsidizing people’s sex lives by paying for their birth control.
When the government gives money to Planned Parenthood, they are paying for abortions and birth control.

I am of course over generalizing and simplifying the argument, but I think that’s about how it goes. I do also think there’s an element of subtle sexism in their viewpoints, but that’s not worth discussing right now. This viewpoint undermines their position on welfare. How?

It costs about $222,000 to raise a child to adulthood. That works out to about $13,000 a year for seventeen years or so. Of course there’s variations to this if you have someone who leads a particularly rich lifestyle or a parent who is especially niggardly toward their children. But I think that’s a decent approximation.

Birth control pills cost anywhere from $180 – $600 a year, though I’ve heard other statistics that indicate it costs upward of $2,000 a year. That’s on top of any exam costs. Now I understand that isn’t that much money for most people. But for some people it is.

So if you are someone for whom $600 a year is a burden, say someone who is a student, or is unemployed, or underemployed, or a single mother who is already raising four children, then you certainly are also someone who can’t afford to pay $13,000 a year to raise a child. Admittedly the costs are probably lower if it’s your fifth kid, since you can do hand-me-downs and the like, but even still, I have to believe it’s at least another $6,000 or so.

Given that, if you are someone who can’t afford birth control and you have a child anyhow, you’re probably going to have to go on welfare. With WIC, food stamps, Medicaid and other programs, the state and federal government wind up paying a lot of money. How much? I can’t quite tell. I’ve done some Google searches, and I don’t seem to be able to find any reliable information on exact numbers. However I do know that a single, unemployed person in Arizona can receive around $200 a month in food stamps. I assume that probably goes up dramatically if a child or two is involved. Let’s assume each child adds another $150 to the pot. That means $350 in food stamps for one parent and one child.

Then there’s the other programs like Medicaid and WIC. I know that young children are often getting hurt, or getting sick. Each of those things cost money. Then there’s also things like telephone assistance, rental and housing assistance, utilities assistance, bus passes and all sorts of other things. Plus some states give out actual cash to parents to cover extra costs. Again, I can’t find hard numbers, so I’ll pull one out of my ass: $1,000 a month for all those things. This gives us a figure of about $16,200 a year in welfare benefits. That’s higher than the cost of raising a child per year ($13,500), but remember that things like housing, utilities and food stamps help the parent as well.

It’s also important to bear in mind that it’s entirely possible to work over 40 hours a week and still qualify for all these benefits. If you work two minimum wage jobs ($7.25/hour is federal minimum wage), and they both give you 25 hours a week (in my experience, most minimum wage jobs don’t offer 40 hours a week). There’s no overtime because even though you’re working 50 hours a week, that 50 hours is spread out over two jobs. That means your pre-deductions pay check is about $362.50 per week. Knock off a bit for taxes and the like, and let’s assume that your take-home pay is $300 a week, $1200 a month and about $15,600 a year. If you’re earning that wage and you have two kids, you clearly qualify for most, if not all, of the welfare programs mentioned above.

Let’s assume that someone is in that situation, has a child and gets full welfare benefits each month. Let’s further assume their economic situation never gets any better or worse (neither of these are likely, but go with it). If this person gets those welfare benefits for, say, eighteen years, that means that at the end they will have cost the state and federal government $291,600.

By contrast, if the government provided this mother with birth control at the maximum rate of $600 per year, and her reproductive lifespan as an adult ran from, say, 18 – 45, then the cost for those pills would be…huh. What do you know. $16,200. So the cost of birth control for 27 years is about the same as my estimated cost for welfare for one year. Please note, I didn’t plan it that way. It’s just how things turned out when I did my math. Nice, though.

Now let’s say further that you’re a single woman who doesn’t use birth control, or the birth control fails for whatever reason, and you become unexpectedly pregnant. You’re about to experience, dare I say, unplanned parenthood (I’m so clever!). Well, if for whatever reason, you’re not ready to have a child or that child has massive genetic problems or birth defects, or whatever, and you decide to have an abortion, that abortion will cost you anywhere from $350 – $550. It’s a one-time cost and from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, if a woman can’t afford to cover that cost (and therefore can’t afford to have a child), it’s better financially for the taxpayers to pay for that abortion than it is to cover the welfare expenses following birth, especially if the child has any sort of defects, since I would imagine the cost of raising a special needs child goes up exponentially from the cost of raising a regular one.

Of course moralists want to say that they don’t want their taxes paying for something they consider to be immoral. Fair enough. I consider the death penalty, warfare, the bloated military budget and the War on Drugs to be immoral. Can I have my tax dollars not go toward those things, please? Of course not. Our taxes go to many different areas and every single person probably has at least one thing those dollars go to that they consider immoral, so let’s ignore that argument.

There’s also the argument that the mother can simply put the child up for adoption. Fine and dandy, but who pays for foster parents and orphanages in the meantime? Plus, despite the Republican talking points, not every child is wanted. If they were, we wouldn’t have orphanages and foster care. Older children, minority children and disabled children are usually in the system until they’re eighteen and then go into adult welfare. This isn’t even addressing the fact that child birth is a very dangerous process and forcing a woman to go through it and have a baby she doesn’t want strikes me as far more immoral that using tax dollars for abortions.

Many of those same moralists make the point that they consider birth control to be immoral so their tax dollars shouldn’t pay for that. Well, we’ve demolished that idea. They also say they shouldn’t be subsidizing someone’s sex life. Ok, that’s a fair point. But the birth control pill is also used for so many other medical purposes that really the “birth control” aspect is almost just a side effect. It is legitimate medicine for many, many women. Now you can argue, as some people do, that the government shouldn’t pay for anyone’s medication, but they already do, and so therefore there’s no real reason birth control pills should be treated differently.

So, to recap from the top of the article, about 1500 words ago, here’s the Republican positions:

1. Welfare is bad. It’s expensive and creates a mentality of dependency by encouraging people not to work.
2. Planned Parenthood should not receive any money from the government.
3. Government should not pay for birth control or abortions.
4. Abortions should be illegal.

I think I’ve covered 1 and 3 fairly well. 4 is something I fundamentally disagree with, and I think anyone who is sufficiently pragmatic would also disagree. As for number 2…well, it is true that Planned Parenthood receives money from the federal government. How much? About $362 million. That’s the same as the welfare costs for about 22,345 children for eighteen years. One small-sized stadium. That’s it.

Mitt Romney said the following about the government funding for Planned Parenthood, “…is it so critical that it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?” First off, $362 million is a pittance off the federal budget of about $3.6 trillion. Actually, it’s about .1% of the federal budget. So it’s unlikely we’re having to borrow money from China to pay for it.

But even if we were, let’s look at the costs versus the benefits. Let’s assume that without government funding, Planned Parenthood shut down entirely or at least had to curtail their operations so much that many women didn’t have access to it. We will ignore the fact that this means many women won’t get preventative care for various physical problems and therefore will only seek treatment for those problems when they are much worse and much more expensive to treat. We’ll just focus on the “parenthood” part of the organization’s name.

If we assume that as a result of this defunding, an additional 100 children per day was born, which I think is extremely low, but it’s easy to work with, that means that at the end of the year another 36500 children will be born. If their parents couldn’t afford birth control and family planning stuff on their own (which is, as mentioned before, about $600 a year), then that means each of these children will end up on welfare at the cost of $16,200 a year. That means each year the state and federal government pay a combined total of $591,300,000 each year for those unplanned children. That’s about $230 million dollars extra.

In other words, by funding Planned Parenthood, the federal government may be saving about $230 million per year in welfare dollars. So I’d say that if we do have to borrow money from China to fund it, then, yes, it is indeed worthwhile since it saves us from having to borrow more money to pay for welfare.

Of course the GOP wants to eliminate most welfare, too, but that’s another discussion, and I really don’t see how we’d end up any better off if the single mother with two children winds up homeless instead of drawing welfare payments. Because, basically, the GOP cares about you right up until the moment you’re born, then they don’t give a fuck.

Also, one last point: throughout this article, I’ve used the example of the single mother with one or two children, but it’s entirely possible to have a married couple with one, two, five, eight children who are on welfare. Consider the situation where a married couple has three children and the mother stays home to take care of them (as the Republicans want), while the father works at a job that pays $14 an hour, or $4480 per month before deductions. That’s $58,240 per year, again before deductions, probably around $40,000 after them. But we’ve established that it’s about $13,000 per year for one child, and probably another $6000 or so for each additional one, so $25,000 per year. That’s half the family’s income just to raise three kids, and realistically, it’s probably more than that. This family therefore probably gets welfare payments. They’ll get even more if the father loses his job, and they’re now a no-income family. So it isn’t just the single mothers that matter in this situation. It’s the married ones, too.

In the end, this isn’t about money. What it’s about is Republican moralizing disguised as fiscal responsibility. It’s about the party who says, “We want to keep government out of your lives,” adding the rider of, “unless it’s your sex life, and then we’ll get involved in every negative way possible, but none of the positive ones.” It’s about a party of prudes who don’t think single women should have sex, and if you’re married, well, it’s your job to have babies and take care of them. It’s about a party that should be pragmatic and, dare I say, conservative, instead acting like a bunch of idealists who don’t live in anything even approximating the real world.

And that’s a problem for all of us as long as they have any power.

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