Saturday, May 21, 2005

Why are they so insistent? (From Brad DeLong's blog)

"What puzzles me is energy and persistence of this propaganda campaign with scant positive results."

It is not economics it is ideology. Exactly zero in this campaign has the interest of future retirees at heart. We have to talk numbers, because in the end this will be decided on numbers, but when I point at 2.0% as being the productivity number for 2005 currently used to set policy I am not making an economic case, instead I am making a forensic case that these people are simply not serious. They don't believe these numbers, they can't. Economic reality has already left Intermediate and Low Cost's numbers in the dust and surely someone in the Bush Administration understands that.

The numeric case for Social Security solvency was made by 2001. Anyone who was seriously concerned with the question of whether the American economy could meet its mid-century obligations to Social Security had only to read the 2001 Report, take its numbers seriously, and measure them against any reasonable projection going forward. It wasn't broke then and it is not broke now.
2001 Report: Economic Assumptions
These people took an economy that returned 3.2% in 2000 and put up 2.2% as their "optimistic" Low Cost number for 2001. The notion that sharp slowdown was in any sense a best case scenario was frankly bizarre then, stubbornly repeating it year in and year out when reality keeps slapping you in the face with better numbers begins to border on pathological. But only if you assume that this discussion is being carried out with economics as a backdrop.

The Right Wing case for killing Social Security is iron-clad in their own minds. It is Socialism pure and simple. And they are taking a simple page out of Goldwater's playbook: "Extremism in the pursuit of Liberty is no Vice". Small 't' truth is not going to stand in the way of capital 'T' truth.

Cato and Heritage and AEI took the lazy man's way out in 1983. Rather than making the case on the merits, rather than arguing that Social Security was a bad policy choice under any economic conditions, they chose the "It's going broke anyway" path, they put their whole weight behind "something is better than nothing". The dawning reality that "nothing" equates to full funded Social Security Trust Fund is rocking their world, they are desperately trying to play catch up with "infinite future liability" "intergenerational income transfer" "worthless IOUs", with pretending that "Full Faith and Credit of the United States" is just a meaningless catch phrase. God Damn it the numbers were supposed to be there for them, the impending wave of Boomer retirements was supposed to put an unendurable burden on Social Security. Numbers were going to be their Best Friends.

Well you don't go to war with the numbers you want, you go to war with the numbers you have. In this case Republicans declared War on Social Security in 1936, started drawing up War Plans in 1983, and simply assumed that they would have an unlimited Army of Numbers to back them up when push came to shove.

Well much as we have seen in the wholy tragic and unnecessary War on Iraq, Hope is not a Plan. And while most Americans will stand up and salute when you wrap yourself in the Flag and call out "Support the Troops", only a tiny minority are kneeling at the shrine of Milton Friedman and intoning "Markets".

These people are true believers and eager enlistees in the War on Social Security. Unfortunately for them they put their full trust in the Shock and Awe of Trust Fund Insolvency and they have no viable back up plan. Their "energy and persistence" is only a mask for desperation, admitting that their 70 year dream of killing Social Security is melting away before their eyes is killing them. But watch out, proverbally the dying beast always lashes out at the last moment.

(Or as the VP put it after I penned this: during its "last throes")