Truthout, February 23, 2009
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Peter Peterson is coming to get your Social Security and Medicare. Peterson was the Commerce Secretary in the Nixon administration. He then went on to make billions of dollars as one of the top executives at the Blackstone Group, a private equity fund. Mr. Peterson is known as one of the top beneficiaries of the fund managers tax break, through which he personally pocketed tens of millions of dollars.
Mr. Peterson has been using his Wall Street wealth to attack these social insurance programs for decades, but he recently stepped up his efforts. Last year he spent $1 billion to endow the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to further his efforts.
In politics it’s not easy to counter the impact of $1 billion. In addition to its money, the Peterson crew enjoys the support of many important news outlets, most importantly the Washington Post which pushes his line on both its editorial and news pages.
In fact, the Post even went so far as to identify Peterson’s foundation by its boilerplate, an organization that “advocates for federal fiscal responsibility” instead of telling readers of its political leanings, the normal mode of identification for such organizations. (The Center for Economic and Policy Research was established “to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives.”)
While the Peterson crew may have the money and the support of the media, the rest of us can rely on logic and ridicule to counter the attack. In this spirit, we have the Peter G. Peterson Inter-Generational Fairness Tax Credit. (Mr. Peterson is apparently fond of having things named after him. In addition to his new Peter G. Peterson Foundation he also has a think tank named after him, the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics.)
The Peterson tax credit would essentially take the Peterson crew at their word. They claim that they are worried that huge tax burdens will leave future generations worse off than the generations that preceded them.
This isn’t true. There is no plausible scenario, short of war or environmental disaster that would leave future generations worse off than their parents or grandparents. But we don’t have to argue with the billionaire, let’s just give future generations the option to trade place with their parents or grandparents who made out so well.
This is where the tax credit comes in. The tax credit would allow an individual to trade her after-tax income for the after-tax income that someone born 20 or 40 years sooner would have earned at the same age. For example, if someone born in 1990 believes in 2020 that their grandparents got a better deal, they would simply check off the year 1940, and they would have their taxes adjusted so that they would have the same after-tax income of a person born in 1940, when they were also age thirty.
Of course, the young ones would end up big losers in this story. Real wages on average will be more than 50 percent higher in 2020 than they were in 1970. Even if tax rates were on average 5 percentage points higher, workers in 2020 will still have after-tax wages that are more than 40 percent higher than their counterparts in 1970.
This means that anyone who chose to take advantage of the inter-generational equity tax credit would end up as big losers. That is why it can help solve the deficit problem. If people check off the tax credit, they will pay more in taxes and therefore increase government revenue.
It might be hard to convince large numbers of people to voluntarily pay more in taxes. This is where the Peterson Foundation comes in. They are spending huge amounts of money trying to convince young people that they are being ripped off by their parents and grandparents. They are even promoting front groups of young people to advance this effort.
With his billion dollars, Peterson could convince a huge number of gullible young people to take advantage of the inter-generational equity tax credit. Insofar as he successful in this effort, he can help to generate billions of dollars that can be used for items like health care, pre-school education, and other pressing needs.
So, let’s join efforts with Mr. Peterson and encourage his followers to take advantage of the Peter G. Peterson Inter-Generational Fairness Tax Credit. There is a word for taking money from willfully ignorant young people who would deny their parents and grandparents the Social Security and Medicare benefits they need to survive: justice.
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy. He also has a blog on the American Prospect, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues.