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Means testing

Democrat James Clyburn, who was just appointed by Nancy Pelosi to the SuperCommission, thinks we should means-test Social Security.

Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot explain in their book Social Security: The Phony Crisis, why means testing puts a disproportionate tax burden on the elderly:

Some policy analysts and advocates have argued for “means testing” on the grounds that the government should not pay money to wealthy senior citizens while it cuts programs for poor chidren.

There are compelling reasons, however, to reject this approach. Most important is the danger that it poses to the program’s broad base of political support. One reason it has been so difficult to cut, privatize, or dismantle Social Security is that 43 million beneficiaries receive it. The more that base is reduced, especially by cutting off those seniors who have relatively more of a voice in politics, the shakier Social Security’s position becomes.

It is not just the absolute numbers that are significant but the nature of the program as well. Social Security is a social insurance program in which retirement benefits are proportional to one’s payments into the system. Means-testing would convert the system into a welfare program. And we know from the recent cancellation of the most important federal welfare entitlement, AFDC, how much more difficult it is to defend welfare against political attacks than it is to defend social insurance.

The justification for denying benefits to people who have paid taxes into the system is also questionable. We do not deny interest payments to the wealthy owners of U.S. Treasury bonds, for example, and it is difficult to se how the payment of Social Security benefits to rich senior citizens is any less appropriate. Indeed, why single out senior citizens as a group for special treatment in this regard? If we think that the rich are getting too much of the economic pie, then they should all be getting taxed more — not just the ones who happen to be over 65.

Rachel’s last fundraiser

R.I.P. Rachel Beckwith, 9.

Fighting back

The people of Iowa let Mittens have it:

Top 15

Philadelphia’s one of the best hiking cities.

Even in the hippie era there was Robert Redford, who could do romantic comedy then convincingly portray legendary Indian fighter Jeremiah Johnson. Now we have Zach Galifianakis, Jeremiah Johnson’s ugly brother, playing the type of guy who couldn’t fight his way up to the bar at happy hour…


Did you know the U.S. government has a legal duty to work toward full employment? Neither did I.

Known solutions

Jared Bernstein:

How did we get into this mess and how do we get out? Those are big questions for a man who is only partially caffeinated. But here are some thoughts:

–Politics and politicians matter: If you elect people who believe the government does not work, that government is always the problem, never part of the solution, they will work tirelessly to make their beliefs come true. A 45% decline in confidence in gov’t is a badge of honor to them, corroborating their ideology.

–The “America in Decline” theme doesn’t resonate with me, but we’re going through as wrenching a period as I can remember. Much of the recent damage is self-inflicted but over the longer term, as negative trends—income stagnation, inequality, weak job growth–took hold, policy makers have mostly watched from the sidelines mumbling about self-correcting markets and market forces and market blah-blah-blah.

–Dealing with the structural, i.e., longer term, problems like inequality, globalization, the quality of jobs, retirement security, and sustainable health care is truly challenging. There are often no known or obvious answers. You have to try different ideas, like research on cost effectiveness in health care, pro-manufacturing policy re globalization, better labor standards (e.g., higher minimum wages) and education policy to push back on income inequality and wealth immobility.

But solutions for the cyclical downturn in which we’re currently and intractably enmeshed in are known, obvious, and becoming more so every day. Paul Krugman not only writes about them tirelessly, but he and a few others, myself included, have pretty much been describing how things are going to unfold if we keep getting this wrong (economy stuck in neutral, high joblessness, little job growth, low interest rates, weak core inflation, too little investment). That should be a very convincing sign that we are right.

Obviously, there’s a lot of noise pushing the other way, but it’s no wonder that “confidence in government is crushed” when policy makers fail to pursue known solutions at best and aggressively push the other way, toward recession-prolonging austerity, at worst.

To establish a majority in the state Senate, Wisconsin Democrats needed to defeat three of the six Republicans challenged in recall elections held Tuesday. They defeated two. A good day but not good enough, arguably because of Barack Obama and other national Dem leaders.

Rick Perry

And the craziest of the Christian crazies.

The rich, they are different

But we’re number 1!

Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner says the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish.

In fact, he says, the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults that are now roiling the stock market is partly rooted in an upper class “ideology of self-interest.”

“We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way, and some work on compassion and it’s the same story,” he said. “Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”

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