While it seems sensible to most to extend unemployment benefits, there has been some serious debate about this matter.
One stock argument for not extending the duration of the benefits is the cost. For fiscal conservatives, this does make sense. After all, this will cost the taxpayers more money than it would if the benefits were not extended.
On stock reply is that the money can be raised by taking out more loans rather than by raising taxes now. While there is something to be said for solving today’s problems by creating tomorrow’s, creating more debt seems to be a sub-optimal solution to the problem.
Laying aside the problem of where the money will come from, there is also the important question of whether extending the benefits is a good idea.
One argument in favor of extending the benefits is that the state has an obligation to serve the good of the people and protect them from harm. Being unemployed is clearly a threat to the well being of a citizen and, as such, it would seem to make sense for the state to provide security in this area. Of course, there is considerable debate about what sorts of harms the state should be in the business of addressing.
It can also be argued that we have a moral obligation to aid the unemployed based on moral obligations to other citizens and our fellow human beings. In many cases a person’s unemployment is no real fault of his own and hence he can be seen as victim of a man made disaster. Just as we would not begrudge survivors of an earthquake aid, we should not do the same to the victims of the economy.
As I see it, this is the most compelling argument. While there are people who are content to milk the system, most people prefer to work, if only because a job tends to pay better than the government benefits. If supporting a few sponges is part of the price of helping out people who are truly in need, then that seems to be an acceptable cost. I would like to think that we are compassionate and ethical enough to sustain our brother and sisters in their time of need. Also, to be a bit selfish, almost anyone of us could be in their situation. And, on that day, we would surely not wish to be abandoned.
There is also a practical argument being put forth by proponents of the extension: unemployed people who receive additional support will spend this money and this will help keep the economy going. It can be added that this is better than simply dumping money directly into businesses because it also helps unemployed citizens.
Since the money in question must ultimately come from the taxpayers (either via taxes now or later taxes to pay off loans taken now), this can be seen as a money game: money is taken from the taxpayers (now or later) and given to unemployed people so they can spend it to keep other people working…so they can pay the taxes needed to provide money to the unemployed so they can spend it. Obviously, this cannot work very long as a closed system and money must come in from parties other than those who jobs are kept going by the spending of the unemployed. As such, this aspect of the economy would have to be sustained by loans or by the taxes paid by other people. However, this system might last long enough for the unemployment problem to turn around.