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More Misdirection from Rampell in the Service of Generational War

11:28 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In my last post, I took issue with a recent column by Catherine Rampell, who tries to make the case that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them. Rampell relies on an Urban Institute study to make her case. Since that post, she’s offered another that replies to some of the questions raised by commenters on her earlier effort. I’ll reply to that new post shortly, but first I want to present key points emerging from my analysis of Federal monetary operations in my reply to her earlier post. See that post for the full argument.

Catherine Rampell sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them.

First, once Congress mandates spending, there is no way that the Treasury can be forced into insolvency or an inability to pay its obligations as long as it is willing to make use of all the ways it can cause the Fed to create reserve credits in Treasury spending accounts which can then be used for its reserve keystroking into private sector account activities that today represent most of the reality of Federal spending. Read the rest of this entry →

Misdirection: Rampell Views Entitlements Through the Generational War Lens

9:28 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Some of the favored children of the economic elite who have a public presence, work hard in their writing and speaking to divert attention from inequality and oligarchy issues by raising the issue of competition between seniors and millennials for “scarce” Federal funds. That’s understandable. If millennials develop full consciousness of who, exactly, has been flushing their prospects for a decent life down the toilet, their anger and activism might bring down the system of wealth and economic and social privilege that benefits both their families and the favored themselves in the new America of oligarchy and plutocracy.

Catherine Rampell sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them.

Here and here, I evaluated Abby Huntsman’s arguments for entitlement “reform,” and, of course, Pete Peterson’s son, Michael fights a continuing generational war against seniors in pushing the austerian line of the Peterson Foundation. Now comes Catherine Rampell, who, in a recent column, sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them. I’ll reply to all of the main points in Rampell’s argument, by quoting liberally and then replying to the points she makes in each quote. She says:

Yes, seniors paid into Social Security and Medicare during the years they worked, if they worked. But they generally receive much more out of the entitlement system than they paid into it.

She continues by citing an Urban Institute study and pointing out that earlier age cohorts received much more in benefits from Social Security than they paid in, and also says:

But let’s consider the average worker who turned 65 in 2010. Generally speaking, the people in this cohort will, more or less, break even on Social Security, according to Eugene Steuerle, an Urban Institute fellow who co-authors the annual report. (Earlier generations made out like bandits; for example, members of an average one-earner couple who turned 65 in 1990 receive twice as much in Social Security benefits as they paid in taxes.)

Medicare, on the other hand, is pretty much a steal no matter when you turned 65.”

After citing some details documenting “what a steal” Medicare is, Rampell concludes the first part of her argument with this:

”It boils down to this: Despite all the “we already paid for it” rhetoric popular among seniors, seniors did not pre-pay for their entitlements. If anything, they paid for their parents’ entitlements, which were more modest than the benefits today’s retirees receive.

This argument of Rampell’s is disingenuous, because it takes the claim that seniors have already paid for their entitlements as saying that they’ve paid dollar-for-dollar, more or less, for what they’re getting in benefits. But seniors who know how SS and medicare works certainly don’t mean this when they say they’ve already paid for it. What they surely mean instead, is that Congress has legislated the SS and Medicare safety nets, and the benefits that currently exist, for the purpose of seeing to it that seniors have a minimum of economic insecurity during the period of their lives when a large proportion of them no longer have the capability to earn a decent living due to illness, other infirmities, or an extreme reluctance of private sector employers to hire them even when they are very skilled.

To draw on the benefits of these programs seniors were required to pay FICA contributions during their working lives. These payments, according to the law, give them the right, in other words, entitle them, to receive the benefits of SS and Medicare that were mandated by Congress.

No one ever said to today’s seniors that there was some rule in the SS and Medicare programs requiring that their payments needed to, or ought to, correspond to the amount of their total benefits, since that was never the deal legislated by Congress. No, the deal was: “You pay your FICA contributions, and you get your benefits at retirement.” Simple as that!

So, people who followed the SS and Medicare rules and made their payments over the years rightly view themselves as having paid for their entitlement benefits, regardless of whether their cumulative FICA payments fall short of or exceed the cumulative sum of those benefits. Why shouldn’t they, and why is Rampell implying that the deal implicit in our major entitlement programs is anything different?

Additionally, I’m afraid that Rampell is also wrong when she says that today’s seniors “paid for” their parents’ entitlements. They certainly paid FICA and Medicare-related contributions, of course; but it is not true that these revenues paid for anything, in spite of Federal reports that appear to link the two, or the accounting that shows that the Social Security Administration has built up a $2.8 Trillion credit against future expenditures, and that Medicare has a much smaller volume of credit to be used for such expenditures. Read the rest of this entry →

Envy or Honest Outrage?

10:01 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone


Catherine Rampell offered a theory the other day, in a piece entitled: “Income inequality isn’t about the rich — it’s about the rest of us.” She says:

People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because they are getting uglier. . . .

Income Inequality
And then later, she says:

Yes, anti-inequality rhetoric has grown in recent years. But it’s not the growing wealth of the wealthy that Americans are angry about, at least not in isolation. It’s the growing wealth of the wealthy set against the stagnation or deterioration of living standards for everyone else. Polls show that Americans pretty much always want income to be distributed more equitably than it currently is, but they’re more willing to tolerate inequality if they are still plugging ahead. That is, they care less about Lloyd Blankfein’s gigantic bonus if they got even a tiny raise this year.

She proceeds to review polling data to show that this is so, and then advises the 0.1% that if they want to be left alone then “they should probably support policies that “promote the upward mobility of other Americans. . . “ such as Pell Grants, higher minimum wages, and early childhood education.

That’s not bad advice, of course, but I wonder what people will think of the 0.1 % when they understand more fully that their efforts to get ahead aren’t independent of the 0.1%’s efforts over the years to manipulate both the poitical and economic systems. And that further, the primary cause of the failure of poor people and the middle class to gain ground over the past 40 years is due to the deliberate efforts of the wealthy to structure both economics and politics in such a way that both nominal and real wealth would flow increasingly from the bottom to the top.

I suspect that the more people come to understand the increasing rigging of the game over a long period of time, the more likely it is that they will be bothered by increasing inequality all of the time, even when they themselves are living through a good year or two when they are making marginal gains. It is also more likely, that when they come to that understanding, the pitchforks and guillotines will come out, because people will blame the rich for the extremes of inequality and will replace any sense of fleeting envy they may have with a continuing sense of honest outrage at the Koch brothers, the Petersons, the Walmart family, and their compatriots, who have created the conditions that have made them periodically unemployed, ill-educated, financially insecure, subject to difficulties in getting medical care without going bankrupt, in staying in their homes, and to lack of opportunities and declining hopes for the future.

In short, I’m saying that:

People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because you are making yourself more beautiful AND are making them uglier.

So, even though the rich are periodically unpopular when the economy falls into bad times, it is nothing compared to what people are likely to direct at them, when they understand who is to blame for the plight of most of the population. That’s when the proverbial s__t will hit the fan.

My advice to the oligarchs is this. You aren’t involved in a low risk, predictable game, here. You’ve ruined people’s lives through your actions for many years now. Once the conditions for them are present, which will happen when people see your role in their plight clearly, mass movements can emerge at any time, and they can easily get out of control, as many seemingly unassailable oligarchs have found out in the past.

The wise thing to do is to give way to the inevitable thrust toward greater economic, social, and political democracy. Play the handmaiden to that transition, because then you may be able to keep most of your ill-gotten gains and have a place of honor besides.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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