The given title is “Seven Tough Choices We Will Not Make”, but the Washington Post should’ve titled Robert Samuelson essay in today’s newspaper to accommodate the fact that at least two choices are stupid. Consider:
Let me engage in a fantasy. Let me assume that Democrats and Republicans actually intended to address two serious national problems: first, our huge dependence on insecure sources of foreign oil; and second, the persistent mismatch between public resources (taxes) and public obligations (spending). What might they do? Herewith, a package of proposals:
- Increase the top tax rate on dividends and capital gains (profits on stocks and other assets) from today’s 15 percent to at least 25 percent.
This list is clearly doomed, because Mr. Samuelson accepts the same garbage that the economically ignorant love to perpetuate, namely that only the rich have dividends and capital gains, and anyone rich enough to receive them is rich enough to pay their “fair share” without concern. No data actually backs this up, and principles of economics and fairness disprove it, but a lie told often enough, and with enough pleasant motivations can overcome truth.
- Raise the eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare gradually to 70 by 2029. At 65, people would have to buy into Medicare (that is, pay for coverage) until they reached eligibility for subsidized benefits.
If we’re going to force people to buy into Medicare for those five years before they turn 70, wouldn’t it make sense to stop the charade and let them spend the money they would currently contribute to Medicare (and Social Security) on their own private insurance? This is a better-than-nothing approach, but Mr. Samuelson’s solution offers little more than a blatant acceptance that Social Security is a shell game in which no one is much interested in correcting the foundational flaw. It’s stupid.
Reading Mr. Samuelson’s conclusion, much of this becomes obvious:
That something like this won’t soon be proposed — let alone passed — speaks volumes about our politics. Both parties have marketed government as a source of aid and comfort. Benefits are to be pursued, burdens shifted and choices avoided. Problems are to be blamed on scapegoats (“the liberals,” “the rich”). There is little sense of common interests and shared obligations. Politicians resort to symbolic acts that seem more meaningful than they actually are: the minimum wage, for instance.
Mr. Samuelson’s analysis of the problem seems to coincide nicely as an explanation for his recommendations.