Time to get serious, people. Extendo-holidays are over. This week has five actual workdays. Figgy-pudding leftovers are gone, the tree’s on the curb, Grandma PostScript is flying home, it’s salad for lunch. Everyone’s a little sick but powering through. Time to either fix the deficit/entitlements/health care curve/sequestration/debt ceiling or come up with a new and more complicated reason why we can’t fix it at this time.
Or don’t even have to, E.J. Dionne argues in his column today. The giant numbers challenge with scary metaphors, the one we’ve been talking about, is a BogeyMan, Dionne writes. The BM, he continues, can probably be appeased fairly easily with just a little blood sacrifice, but our focus on him means we’re not talking about fixing the problems of OUR time, the ones we can see and touch now.
The deficit’s invisible. We can’t lock it in a room without food until it confesses what it plans to do to us and what would make it stop. It could literally do ANYTHING to us once it reaches its full powers in the future, or it could want to serve Man. Our way of grappling with it, as Dionne points out, is based on computer models and projection graphs and metaphors and comparisons and rhetoric, so really anyone with a computer model or projection graph or metaphor gets to tell us what it aims to do and how to fix it.
Years ago this would have been solved by the Village Elder, who would advise us to put a tincture of mugwort in our shoes and spit during a full moon, and at least we’d feel like we solved it until our next problem surfaced. But now, with modern medicine and Medicare there are LOTS of Village Elders, and lots of competing belief systems vis-a-vis what the deficit is going to do.
Dionne would advise a smoker that he/she need not quit now because the consequences won’t appear for years.
He should read Mr. Obama’s budget. While he says education should be fixed, he fails to understand that spending over the next 10 years will result in $600 billion more than this year being spent on interest payments while only $10 billion more will be allocated to the Dept of Education (hardly enough to offset wage increases and inflation). Perhaps Dionne’s idea of balance is to spend an additional $60 on interest payments for every additional $1 on education.
Dionne seems to mistake a road down which we’ve just kicked the can for a “promising path.” The problem with getting past the deficit so that we can deal with “real” problems is that real problems invariably cost money, which is something that, thanks to a dozen years of profligate spending, we don’t have in ample supply.
In the late 1990s, adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars, the federal government spent about $8000 per person in this country. For 2013, that figure is at $12,000 per person. Cut a third from the current budget to take us back to 1999 levels, and we’d end up with a projected $400 billion surplus for 2013. The Clinton-era surplus would magically reappear, and Obama would not have to fret about the debt ceiling anymore. That’s the real deficit argument that needs to be put before the American people.
Mr. Dionne says the debt is only 73% of GDP. That excludes debt to Social Security and similar commitments. Is Mr. Dionne saying that the Government doesn’t owe the amounts it stole from the Social Security Trust Fund? If you are not going to stiff Social Security and other obligations, the debt is 113% of GDP. So, which is it?
We got into this mess not through spending but by cutting taxes. We cannot get out of it by cutting spending, but only by raising revenue wisely, through steeply progressive income tax rates implemented to cause the least impact on demand for domestically produced goods and services.
Our economy is in need of stimulus, not austerity. There are ways to cut the cost of health care without cutting its availability — some sectors, including but not limited to insurance companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, take too big a cut and need to be brought back to earth.
The problem is not the deficit. The problem is the long term destruction of the middle class that has been going on for the last 40 years. By incorrectly perceiving the problem as being the deficit, one can incorrectly assess what must be done. The cause of the long decline of the middle class is excessive regressive payroll taxation that has been used to fund our old age support programs. It is not because of the deficit that Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed. It is because of what they are doing to the middle class.
Five elders, five reasonable-sounding metaphor-projections and corresponding necessary actions to take. PostScript advises finding out what mugwort is and buying stock in it now.