Defending Jindal

Bobby Jindal is taking a lot of heat for refusing to accept a small amount of strings-attached money. George Packer is comparing him to Hoover. Matt Yglesias suggests that he might be trying to drive the unemployed out of Louisiana. I find this strange.

As Joe Klein observes — he thinks this is a criticism, interestingly — Jindal is eager to accept the vast majority of the stimulus money, except for measures that tie his hands.

He’s going to accept all the money heading his way—except for the funds associated with one program, a permanent change in the rules governing the provision of unemployment insurance to part-time workers.

Matt cites Ryan Powers, who writes:

By Jindal’s own estimate, the recovery package would have funded his state’s unemployment expansion for three years, at which point the state could — if it chose to do so — phase out the program.

But let’s not forget the power of loss aversion, and the difficulties involved in phasing out new spending. This was one of the weaknesses of the COPS program, and it is a reason why the federal government phased out operating subsidies for urban mass transit systems. Accepting the money would involve changing Louisiana’s unemployment regime in a way that would be difficult to reverse.

I tend to think unemployment insurance should be somewhat more generous, or it should take the form of insurance plus loans that would facilitate a longer, more deliberate search. Asset-poverty is a huge problem for people who are trying to relocate or retrain, and more targeted assistance could help.

I can see why liberals are bothered by Jindal’s take on this issue. I think he’s being smart, sober, and responsible. Klein challenges Jindal to refuse all of the stimulus money his state has been offered, which is akin to Klein voluntarily handing over more of his income to the IRS to demonstrate the seriousness of his support for a more progressive tax code.