…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.