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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Ross Douthat Claims That "Everybody Knows" Something That Is Not True

Ross Douthat Claims That "Everybody Knows" Something That Is Not True

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Monday, 27 September 2010 08:50

That's right NYT columnist Ross Douthat told readers today that: "And as everybody knows, the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security."

Of course everybody who knows anything about the budget knows full well that this is not true. The budget problem is almost entirely a story of a broken health care system. If the United States had the same per person health care costs as any of the countries which enjoy longer life expectancies than the United States, then it would be facing long-term budget surpluses, not deficits. 

Everybody also knows that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. It is financed by a separate designated tax. The most recent projections from the Congressional Budget Office show that this tax will be sufficient to fully fund benefits through the year 2039 with no changes whatsoever. 

Given the health of the program, it is not clear why anyone would want to cut Social Security except to take money from ordinary workers -- a major sport in Washington. It would make more sense to default on the national debt.

Comments (19)Add Comment
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written by John Shaplin, September 27, 2010 10:14
Cutting Social Security would be defaulting on the national debt. The Republicans are acting like drunken sailors, the Democrats their enabling wives.
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written by izzatzo, September 27, 2010 10:21
As everybody knows, the USA succumbed to Nazi fascism just when the ratio of debt to GNP exceeded 100% at the beginning of WWII.

As everybody knew, the only way to reduce the debt was to stop the war spending and give in to the enemy instead. This is why the USA is stable today with a balanced budget under a government run by a Nazi Efficiency Machine.
Don't ignore the problem until 2040, Low-rated comment [Show]
No cuts to medicare....just magically lower health costs??, Low-rated comment [Show]
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written by Ron Alley, September 27, 2010 11:49
Just the incessant drumbeat of the radical right. Unfortunately, it is being palmed-off and increasingly accepted a conventional wisdom. Hopefully the Democrats in Congress and the White House will begin efforts to shine the light of truth on false arguments.
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written by liberal, September 27, 2010 1:20
AndrewDover wrote,
If you say we can fix it then, why not fix it now with a smaller fix over thirty years?


Because the Republicans will steal the savings from a fix and hand it to the fat cats.
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written by fuller schmidt, September 27, 2010 1:21
You've got to do the reading, Pete. The Conservative Nanny-State would be a good place to start.
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written by liberal, September 27, 2010 1:23
pete wrote,
...by using patient incentives to prevent overconsumption...


Patient incentives aren't the root of the incentives problem in medicine. Rather, the root of the problem is that the same people who make decisions on treatments (doctors) are the ones who receive payment for those treatments (doctors).

The idea that patients could be incentivized to cut costs generally won't work, though there are things here and there which are certainly amenable to patient incentives.
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written by liberal, September 27, 2010 1:24
Adding:

Of course, the ultimate treatment decision rests with the patient. But in actuality, the patient mostly just ratifies decisions made by the doctor.
these two sentences seem to contradict?, Low-rated comment [Show]
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written by Fitlh, September 27, 2010 5:27
Pete said, "Seems pretty clear that patients who have no marginal cost for consumption will be inclined to consume more than those that have to pay. Especially those with low opportunity cost of time. Start to sneeze, get a rash, whatever, go to the emergency room."

They don't go to the ER because they have a "low opportunity cost of time". They go because they don't have any other way to get treatment.

"Placing our extremely unhealthy U.S. inner city folks in a European style health care system would simply break the bank."

Wow, dogwhistle much?
Marginal Cost of Consumption
written by bobbyp, September 27, 2010 10:50
Actually, Pete, the marginal cost of medical care consumption for the poor in this country is quite high--not low as you claim. They can be fired for leaving work. They do not get paid for leaving work (paid hourly). Absent insurance, they are billed for this care (this may come as a surprise to you), even though they may not be able to pay up.

Please do start over. A connection to reality would help.
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written by liberal, September 28, 2010 7:17
pete wrote,
Seems pretty clear that patients who have no marginal cost for consumption will be inclined to consume more than those that have to pay.


I didn't say patient incentives played no role. I said it's not nearly as large as the problem that the person truly making treatment decisions (doctors) are the ones who get paid for treatment.

Take for example spinal fusion surgery. Apparently it's completely useless in most cases, but IIRC costs billions of dollars each year.
da burbs ran outta twinkys?!
written by frankenduf, September 28, 2010 9:28
yo pete- ima "us inner city folk" (don't be afraid- im not black as ur racist dog whistle blew)- seriously, tho, i giggled at ur "extremely unhealthy" label- u cant be serious- for every obese, busridin, hard workin, couch potato, twinky eatin us inner city folk, i can point out an obese, suvdrivin, desk workin, couch potato, haagen dasz eatin us suburban folk- perhaps ur reference was to disparity of treatment, but sorry- to me, it smacks of naive racism
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written by izzatzo, September 28, 2010 9:51
One time while on Minuteman surveillance duty from my couch watching video cameras I saw an undocumented soccer mom eating a twinky and reported her to the Teabagger Diabetes Death Panel Commission.
sorry, but pretty sure that health declines with income
written by pete, September 28, 2010 11:05
and, as you point out indirectly, income is highly correlated with race, which is highly correlated with geography like inner city...hence, a stupid charges of racism when it is income which matters

Here's racism: Forcing poor folks with shorter life expectancy to take an annuity which they will not get much of instead of a lump sum payment from social security.
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written by Scott Schaefer, September 28, 2010 12:40
Mr Douthat makes assertions about apples (federal budget), and you ridicule him by pointing out details of oranges (federal deficit).
The commission plans no change to current beneficiaries
written by Fred Donaldson, September 29, 2010 9:03
All of the cuts to benefits will be to today's retired recipients children and grandchildren. This is a plan to reduce the retirement benefits of future generations. Unfortunately, many stupid young people think that current benefits will be cut so they can get benefits themself. How sad it is that we no longer teach economics and civics in high scholls.
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written by AlanDownunder, October 03, 2010 3:37
America in a nutshell. What everyone knows is BS. A national mass halucination is in progress and it's not just about social security and medicare.

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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.

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