Robert J. Samuelson Also Exaggerates Social Security Problems

Robert J. Samuelson Also Exaggerates Social Security Problems

Not really a surprise, after all, it is Monday, and RJS has been at this for quite a long time at his post at WaPo.  But the recent release of the Trustees’ Report has not only gotten the Associated Press all bent out and shrieking “insolvency,” but I think with the push coming from the recent massive tax cuts that are swelling the budget deficit, the usual old gang of “cut the entitlements!” VSPs are out in force and raging pretty hard.  So Samuelson is denouncing “The Cowardice of the political class,” just unwilling to cut those benefits like they should, darn them, and calling for us “to rewrite the contract between the generations,” even thought about the only new thing in the report is that indeed Medicare is looking more financially troubled, and it has always been in much bigger trouble than Social Security.  But it and Medicaid involve medical care, and we know that is a political nightmare, so time to go  after those Social Security benefits in the name of helping out those young people by cutting their future SS benefits now, because otherwise they might get cut later.

Dean Baker has an excellent post on this today (I am never abler to link to him for some reason) at Beat the Press, and makes lots of valid and excellent points about how totally misguided RJS is, which I shall not repeat here.  I shall simply pound the point in more with some further observations.

One is that while RJS starts out going on about the Trustees report as if it is telling us something new, it really has no new news about Social Security.  While he hyperventilates quite dramatically, late in the column he admits that “The trustees’ reports don’t help us much, because they focus on the minutiae of various trust funds rather than fundamental questions about the proper role of government” (which should not be to help old people so darned much!).  Darn.  The “us” here, of course is all these ranting VSP ninnies who keep crying out that the sky is falling so the benefits must be cut, but the report simply does not say anything of the sort or particularly support such a push.

Also near the end, RJS does admit that “Yes, taxes have to go up…” but that is it on the tax issue, with not a whisper about the massive tax cut we just had.  No, undoing that nonsense is not the priority, it is cutting those darned benefits now! Maybe we could have cut the benefits more gradually if we had started way back when the VSPs started all their whining about this, but no, now only drastic action will forestall SS recipients in 2034 receiving real benefits equal to what they do now (no, RJS has never heard of the Rosser equation, poor thing).

As it is, he does admit that the art of all this that is rising the fastest is the medical care part, but he does not even nod at doing anything about that, because cuts in Medicare or Medicaid get borne by doctors and hospitals.  Of course, Dean has long pointed out that patents on drugs and the forbidding of doctors to immigrate are major contributors to the outlandish medical care costs we face in the US, but RJS has nothing to say on this.  That out doctors get paid twice what those in other high income nations do?  Not a problem, instead to insure their high incomes we need to cut Social Security benefits, and the sooner the better!

Finally, of course, these hysterical ninnies never compare what is going on in the US with what goes on in other high income nations.  Of course the medical cost situation is simply an outrage, with us far above them for much poorer health outcomes, but that cannot be touched.  But even on Social Security, US demographics, including the retirement ager he wants to see further raised, look good compared to other high income nations.  Many of them pay more than we do, have their people retire younger, have longer life expectancies (RJS is very upset that people are living longer in the US, oh no!), lower birth rates, and lower immigration rates (or used to), but somehow these other nations have managed to pay their old people what they promised them, and with most of their economies not exactly falling totally apart. Again, after the baby boomers finally get fully retired by the mid-2030s or so, the increase in SS payments will only amount to about 1% of the US GDP, not exactly an overwhelming amount, although RJS like others prefers to throw around scary raw numbers rather than a percentage that shows what the order of magnitude of what is involved here really is: not that big of a deal, and certainly not worth all his moaning and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Yes, the US political class is cowardly, but not because it is afraid to go after Social Security.  I do not think I have to list the many ways they are cowardly that are far worse.

Barkley Rosser