I’ve been trying to keep an open mind about the 2020 primaries, even though I’m leaning towards Warren because of her housing policy, which is much better than anyone else’s (haven’t gotten around to writing that post yet). But Joe Biden just ruled himself out for me because he wants to means test Social Security in order to ‘save it.’ Because that has worked so well in the past for Democrats (no, no it hasn’t…). Since non-New Democrats have had to fight this battle so many times, I’ll just summarize:
- One of the political strengths of the Social Security program is its universality. That is, it’s not a program for the ‘poors’ or those people. Everyone who has worked gets it. This makes it politically popular. We are now in the perverse situation where, after multiple Democratic attempts to cut Social Security, Democrats have a hard time making this a signature issue, even though it is arguably the defining program of the 20th century Democratic Party.
- For means testing to do anything significant, you’ll need to cut lots of people’s benefits sharply. Cutting a few percent of recipients’ payments by some amount just doesn’t do very much relative to things like changes in GDP growth.
- The Social Security Trust Fund estimates are, by law, pessimistic. Very pessimistic. What that means in practice is that they have predicted the Trust Fund will be depleted and new taxes will be unable to meet payments in 20 – 30 years for about thirty years now. Re-read that sentence and think about it. Put another way, if the Fund will be unable to meet its obligations, the economy will have swirling around the bowl for many, many years in a row (think 2007-2009 for years and years). Will any politician state, “If elected, I plan to set us on a path of twenty–plus years of historically dreadful and unprecendented GDP growth?”
- As Dean Baker has noted since the 1990s, even were everything to go to shit, 75-80% of benefits will still be worth more due to a rising economy.
In short, Biden is pushing a politically unpopular and unnecessary policy, even though he is supposedly the ‘electable’ candidate (which just shows that no one has any idea what ‘electable’ actually means*). I really don’t engage in generational politics much, since there are shitty people and good people in every generation (though subcohorts of GenX and millenials really did get the shaft). But there is a subset of Boomers and pre-Boomers who, in political terms, really need to shuffle off this mortal coil. Their obsessions, and austerioeroticism is a big one, have done so much damage and distracted us from the real problems we face for decades. I’m fine with older politicians (see my commments about Warren above), but some ideas just need to die or fade away.
So count me as part of the ‘anyone but Biden’ crowd.
*Including me, which is why I don’t give a shit about electability.