Mike the Mad Biologist

…make sure you know what the hell you’re talking about. Jacob Weisberg had a recent post at Slate, “Down With the People: Blame the childish, ignorant American public–not politicians–for our political and economic crisis“, which argues, well, what the title says. Now, we do have a longstanding tradition of calling idiots fucking morons in this humble bloggy abode, so we can’t be upset with Weisberg’s attempt (although, as usual, Lance Mannion does it far better than Weisberg, albeit with nuance, which is very French).

First, I actually don’t agree with Weisberg when he writes, “We like the idea of hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one in reality?” That will have to be the subject of another post, but, in 2008, the U.S. national median household income was less than $51,000. Suffice it to say, even if many people do sacrifice, it won’t amount to that much–besides, they’re already tapped out just trying to get by. (Hint: Some households have done very well over the last couple of decades–they need to ante up and kick in).

True to form, Weisberg reaffirms his bona fides as a Very Serious Pundit by presenting with Compulsive Centrist Disorder:

Republicans are more indulgent of the public’s unrealism in general, but Democrats have spent years fostering their own forms of denial. Where Republicans encourage popular myths about taxes, spending, and climate change, Democrats tend to stoke our fantasies about the sustainability of entitlement spending as well as about the cost of new programs.

So, let’s talk about “entitlements”, in particular Social Security (aside: civilized societies would use the phrase social compact, not entitlements, but that’s, like, biblical, and shit). I know I’ve said this many, many times before, but, regarding Social Security, there is no crisis.

This is not fantasy, this is called reading the fucking report. Yes, according to the Social Security Trustees report, the accumulated Social Security surplus along with the annual payroll tax contribution will be insufficient to cover expenses–a claim that has been made every year for the last fifteen years (and what I call a Samuelson Unit). But there’s an assumption in the report (and we like understanding our assumptions): the economy must perform miserably–think mid-2008 to mid-2009–for twenty five to thirty years straight. And if that economic collapse does happen, all we need to do to close the shortfall is to raise Social Security payroll taxes from 6.25% to ~7.25%. Not ideal, but that’s a problem, as opposed to decades of economic misery, that can be fixed easily.

So why do we keep hearing about a crisis? Because the annual Social Security revenue surplus (in 2008, it was around $150 billion) is used to finance general expenditures. In other words, about ten cents on the dollar of non-Social Security and non-Medicare spending (Social Security and Medicare are fully paid for by dedicated taxes) is paid for by the Social Security surplus, a highly regressive tax disproportionately borne by households earning under $93,000.

In terms of the national debt, when the Social Security surplus is spent down, the total debt will have increased by $2 trillion (with a “t”). The ‘Social Security’ crisis is nothing of the sort: it is a general budget crisis. Why a program which has done a spectacular job of keeping the elderly and disabled out of poverty should have to ‘sacrifice’–as opposed to rich, dead people and their lucky descendants (the estate tax), for instance–is mindboggling, not to mention disgusting and unethical.

And that’s not a “fantasy”, it’s called reading the report. If you’re going to call people stupid, know what you’re talking about.

Comments

  1. #1 Ktesibios
    February 16, 2010

    But Mike, you’re forgetting the definition of “pundit”, which is ” a person who makes a business of not knowing what he’s talking about”.

  2. #2 Min
    February 16, 2010

    “So why do we keep hearing about a crisis? Because the annual Social Security revenue surplus (in 2008, it was around $150 billion) is used to finance general expenditures.”

    There is, I think, a more pertinent reason that we keep hearing about a crisis. Because the anti-government types hate social security and know that the Big Lie, repeated loudly and often enough, will convince a lot of people. As Maverick’s pappy used to say, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, and those are very good odds.”

  3. #3 llewelly
    February 16, 2010

    It’s funny that the primary symptoms of Compulsive Centrist Disorder are moving to the right and ignorance.

  4. #4 ebohlman
    February 16, 2010

    is paid for by the Social Security surplus, a highly regressive tax disproportionately borne by households earning under $93,000.

    The Social Security tax is levied on individuals, not households. In theory, a household making $186K could have all their income subject to the tax.

  5. #5 Mitch
    February 16, 2010

    Your rant ignores one important point:
    entitlement =/ social security

    Social security is but one of several entitlements. It is the this sector of the budget which poses the largest problems to future stability.

  6. #6 Stu
    February 16, 2010

    “Social security is but one of several entitlements. It is the this sector of the budget which poses the largest problems to future stability.”

    Other than the military budget that grows by 7% every year, of course. But hey, who cares if old people are starving to death in the street, we’ve got brown people to bomb!

  7. #7 Doazic
    February 16, 2010

    While we’re on the Death Tax issue, just a friendly reminder to make sure to kill your wealthy relatives before the end of 2010.

  8. #8 Art
    February 16, 2010

    The goal, from the Reagan administration on of the GOP leadership has been to bankrupt the government, both financially and by reputation, and to use this as an excuse to undo the New Deal. In neocon speak to return control to those who own the nation and to return to the good old days when unrestrained capitalists ran everything, including the government, in a way that best benefited them.

    Dismantling Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of the social safety net, by proclaiming their failure, lowering confidence in them, and/or privatizing them, ‘to save them’, is just part of forcing these mechanisms to align with the interests of the property owners.

    What gets lost in this is that before the New Deal we were very close to having a revolution that would have swept away the corporations and the wealthy in a wave of bloodletting. The Communist Revolution was an attractive light for those who felt abandoned by the capitalists.

    It is felt by the powers that be that now that the USSR has fallen they can safely push for an oligarchy based along plutocratic/cleptocratic/capitalist lines and the people will have nowhere else to turn. For them a crash is all good.

    Then again they haven’t heard about the joke where Galt steps into an alley and gets mugged by one of the inferior beings he didn’t want to help.

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