Robert J. Samuelson Goes Whole Hog Against Dems On Social Programs

Robert J. Samuelson Goes Whole Hog Against Dems On Social Programs

I want to follow Dean Baker in dumping on the Robert J. Samuelson Monday, 9/11/19 WaPo column on “The Democrats’ fairy-tale campaigns.”  He may be right that lots of proposals have been put forward with no clear accounting of how much all of them will cost, but RJS also fails to recognize some might save money, such as a properly structured universal health care program that might move us more towards the costs we see in other nations.  Of course, RJS regularly uses this column to call for cuts in Social Security benefits, so that some of these candidates dare to call for increased such benefits has him really riled up.  How dare they!?!?

Aside from reminding that RJS has regularly been misguided on Social Security projections, he goes after  him for not noting the role of patents and other regs supporting monpoly power, especially in the health care sector, including supporting outrageously high doctor salaries.

As it is, RJS whines about the size of budget deficits and claims the next president will need to increase defense spending.  This latter is not obvious. Trump has done a lot of increasing it, and restoring damaged US alliances does not obviously call for more spending.  How about just behaving better and making outrageous demands of US allies, including a stupid trade war?


The additional item I see him not mentioning involves taxes.  Implicitly no tax increase can play a role to pay for new programs, and this is how he almost always how he addresses Social Security, where what must happen is benefit cuts, no tax increases.  But nearly all the candidates have called for at least undoing the large Trump tax cuts, which have been quite unpopular, and most also call for going further with increased taxes on the wealthy beyond what we had earlier.

I shall add here that today the NY Times in an article by Jeff Sommer is adding on to the standard hysteria over Social Security, although there is not really much new.  The big news is that indeed in 2020 the long built up assets of the SSA will start to get drawn down, with a projection of those getting used up by 2035.  This is not news.  Sommer does go on and on in detail about how if nothing is done, SS recipients will face 20 percent or so cuts in SS benefits.  I must differ with this.  Of course, that will not happen, but as has long been the case the calculation does not account for the fact that benefits will rise.  By my calculation, if such a cut were to happen, it would put real benefits back to about where they are now in real terms.  This is an overblown story.

Back to Samuelson, I shall conclude by noting that he makes some outright incorrect comments. In particular he claims that “Government does more things for more people than ever in U.S. history.”  No, sorry RJS, that is just false.  Social spending as a percent of GDP peaked in 2010 as automatic stabilizers were kicking in big time.  Yes, SS and Medicare and Medicaid have now gotten above 10 percent of GDP. But even with no changes, the much denounced SS increase will only amount to another one percent of GDP.  This is the coast of the baby boomers retiring, not that big of a deal.  Yes, there is a problem in health care, but this calls for more fundamental change, indeed, probably a universal health care coverage system that gets costs under control like other nations do.

Barkley Rosser