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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press It's Monday and Robert Samuelson is Beating Up on Seniors, Again

It's Monday and Robert Samuelson is Beating Up on Seniors, Again

Sunday, 09 February 2014 21:33

It's great that the Washington Post lets Robert Samuelson run the same columns again and again. Otherwise he might have to work for his paycheck.

Today's column is a rerun of the senior bashing piece. The premise is that we can never raise taxes and that we are too stupid and/or corrupt to get our health care costs in line with the rest of the world. And, if these two claims prove to be true, then voila, spending on seniors will crowd out other spending in the budget. 

It's not clear why anyone would think we will never be able to raise taxes ever again. Reagan signed into law a large increase in Social Security taxes. Clinton raised income taxes, as did Obama. We also have polling results showing that the public would support increases in the payroll tax to sustain benefits.

As a practical matter, if we restored normal wage growth, so that wages rose in step with productivity, it's difficult to see why it would be so difficult to take 10-20 percent of wage growth in some years to meet the cost of an aging population. If Samuelson knows some reason why this is impossible he is not sharing it with readers.

We also pay more than twice as much per person for our health care as people in other wealthy countries. We have nothing to show for this extra spending in terms of outcome. It is difficult to see why we will never be able to get our costs in line. Do protectionists so dominate U.S. politics that we will never be able to open up our health care system to international competition, if we are unable to fix it?

In short Samuelson is telling us that we have to beat up our seniors because we can never raise taxes and never fix our health care system. Furthermore, Samuelson complains that those of us who don't want to join him in beating up seniors are engaged in a "charade":

"Both liberals and conservatives are complicit in this charade, but liberals are more so because their unwillingness to discuss Social Security and Medicare benefits candidly is the crux of the budget stalemate."

Of course liberals and conservatives are discussing Social Security and Medicare. They just aren't saying the things that Robert Samuelson likes so he just insists they are saying nothing.

Actually, if someone wants to assess Samuelson's credibility, he gives a line that tells readers everything they need to know:

"The military is being weakened. As a share of national income, defense spending is projected to fall by 40 percent from 2010 to 2024."

Yes, well we were fighting two wars in 2010. The projections for 2024 assume that we will not be fighting any wars. That is a big deal if you were trying to make an honest comparison of military spending in 2010 and 2024, but this is a Robert Samuelson column.

Comments (9)Add Comment
You know it's nonsense from the title
written by Jennifer, February 09, 2014 9:39
. . . the Air Force has discussed retiring all its 300 A-10 jets, a close-in ground support fighter, for a savings of $3.7?billion. The move would mean that “more people will get hurt and die” in combat, one general told the Wall Street Journal.

Wow. It's really unusual for the Defense people to hype this or that contraption, because if we didn't have it, we'd be putting troops in "harms way". That never happens. Of course even if there was an ounce of truth to that statement there is a really easy way to avoid that situation. Don't put soldiers to war, period.

Government’s most powerful agency isn’t even on the organizational chart. It’s AARP, the chief lobbying group for retirees, which triumphs over the Pentagon and other Cabinet departments

Really? The AARP is stronger then every other major industry-financial, manufacturing, fossil fuel? More powerful then the Pentagon which can't even be audited whereas Social Security is constantly being monitored and is constantly under attack? Hey, let's compare how many articles have been written in the last three months calling for specific Social Security cuts, and compare that to how many articles have been written calling for specific Pentagon cuts. I think we all know that ratio is pretty lopsided and it's not in Social Security's favor.

Since the AARP is so powerful, this mean that all of the retiring Congress people are going to be headed to the AARP?
Ten plates with ten cookies
written by ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©, February 10, 2014 7:39
Plutocrat walks into the room, grabs nine of them and stuffs them in his maw.

Next, his lackey runs in and yells, "The old people are taking your cookie!"
Samuelson Delivers Divine Message Received from Zeus, God of Zero-Sum Economics
written by Last Mover, February 10, 2014 8:02
This is the central budget story, and it’s largely missed — or ignored — by political leaders, the media, political scientists and the public. The welfare state is taking over government. It’s strangling government’s ability to respond to other national problems and priorities, because the constituencies for welfare benefits, led by Social Security’s 57 million, are more numerous and powerful than their competitors for federal support. Politicians of both parties are loath to challenge these large, expectant and generally sympathetic groups ...

... Choices are made on the sly with little public understanding. ... Consider:

?The military is being weakened. As a share of national income, defense spending is projected to fall by 40?percent from 2010 to 2024. For example, the Air Force has discussed retiring all its 300 A-10 jets, a close-in ground support fighter, for a savings of $3.7?billion. The move would mean that “more people will get hurt and die” in combat, one general told the Wall Street Journal. ...

... But no one is looking. Budget debates and the media focus on deficits and debt ceilings. This makes people seem engaged when they are actually evading explicit choices of what programs to cut and taxes to raise.

Is Samuelson signaling he will enter the field of tv prosperity evangelism with this new discovery that everyone missed but him, including Fox News?

And the preached message is the coming apocalypse - brought on by an excess of seniors' wanton feeding at the welfare trough of out-of-control set-on-automatic "subsidized" health care and SS that crowds out the rest of government to practically nothing?

This is the divine inspiration delivered, void of changes in productivity, efficiency and unemployed resources? Just zero-sum pieces moved around on the chess board with explained trade-offs everyone else missed, in their mad moral hazard scramble to drink all the punch before the bowl is pulled away by the Uncle Sugar they secretly support while railing against it in public through silly distracting overall deficit and budget limits?

For the sake of Zeus, Robert Samuelson, please do read what you write once in a while, won't you? 300 A-10 Warthog jets for $3.7B is an astounding bargain for potential lives saved compared to the well known critical flaws with the F-35 program for at least a hundred fold more in cost per plane over the A-10. So how does reduced defense spending "weaken" the F-35 exactly, anymore than it already has effectively destroyed itself with more spending?

Of course you and the general as the source of that quote conveniently omitted the comparable prohibitive cost of lives saved (and not saved) by the failed F-35 compared to an A-10 didn't you. After all, that would require your tiny minds to stray into the forbidden areas of economics known as positive-sum productivity and efficiency that also involve trade-offs wouldn't it.

Stupid Americans everywhere, raise your arms and pray with me in the sock puppet megachurch before the zero-sum God of Zeus, diviner of all trade-offs between makers and takers. Bring on the seniors to the economic altar of sacrifice, so the rest may live and prosper.

Amen. This message brought to you by Senior Warthogs of America Against Zero-Sum Thinking, for retention of discarded programs of the DOD when a toilet seat and a hammer cost only $600, not $60,000.
written by Larry Signor, February 10, 2014 8:18
You should have a pre-written stock dis for people like Samuelson and George Will. They don't deserve the time wasted on their petulant whining.
written by Jeffrey Stewart, February 10, 2014 9:11
I'll wear the liberal label if Mr. Samuelson wants. Working class supporter is more accurate, but okay. In return he has to proclaim that he is a capitalist class stenographer with a sinecure who will never depend on the programs he wants to destroy.

It's more than curious that Mr. Samuelson and other hacks like him never dare mention the class war now waging, where the working class is getting its collective ass kicked, but are eager to foment intergenerational war.

The same goes for Bill Maher last Friday night who ridiculed seniors for their supposedly bacchanal lifestyle at the expense of the young.
"Tagging" Robert Samuelson
written by H. S. Rockwood III, Ph.D., February 10, 2014 11:42
Perhaps everyone should automatically add "No relation to Paul Samuelson, the noted Economist," to Robert Samuelson's name.
written by Alex Bollinger, February 11, 2014 8:44
I might actually agree that we won't be raising taxes or controlling health care costs (to a greater extent than what was in the PPACA) any time soon, but it's mostly because of the Robert Samuelsons of the world that are standing in the way of change.
The Dismal Science Monitor
written by Robert, February 11, 2014 2:46
"It's great that the Washington Post lets Robert Samuelson run the same columns again and again. Otherwise he might have to work for his paycheck." Especially inasmuch as in the standard textbook on the subject, Economics, the savvy Samuelson, Paul, writes "Savings is the engine of investment."[and savers deserve to be compensated for their deferred gratification]
The military is being weakened?
written by SqueakyRat, February 13, 2014 7:51
Can Robert Samuelson, or anyone, explain why the military budget should take up any particular percentage of national income? Does a larger GDP require a larger military for its defense than a smaller one?

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.