Sooner or later we, as a nation, have to do something about the deficit. In this case, later would be better. In spite of the chicken little rhetoric of the Republicans, the sky isn’t falling. There are problems far more acute than the federal deficit, nuclear proliferation and global warming for two, and persistent high unemployment, which unlike the others, could have been solved if the Republicans weren’t enjoying it so much.
The Bush administration ran up the deficit with tax cuts and wars, and then, when the Obama administration tried to fix things, complained that we couldn’t afford to repair the economy because the deficit was too high. To their credit, they did a good job of selling their snake oil, and might have succeeded if only they hadn’t gotten greedy. President Obama, who had some excellent advisors, still gave a speech saying we had to cut back on spending. He was mostly wrong. The government is not like a family – it’s the exact opposite. When we the people are rushing out and spending, the government should raise interest rates to slow things down and control inflation. When everybody decides to stop spending pay off credit cards and put money in the bank, that’s when the government should encourage spending, and even over-spend, to reduce unemployment. The deficit was a red herring, designed to keep President Obama’s stimulus programs from succeeding, and it nearly worked. If the Republicans hadn’t been so concerned about their pledge to Grover Norquist against raising taxes, they might have fooled everybody.
In a nation where electoral politics is decided by 30-second television commercials, anything that takes 15 minutes to explain is too wonkish for the general public, which is why we’re having discussions about cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare. These two programs, while hardly as generous as similar program of other nations, reflect the fact that we’re a civilized society that cares for its citizens, and helps provide some degree of social stability. Mitt Romney famously said that corporations are people, ignoring the fact that in a democracy, the government is people. The income tax is the modern equivalent of a barn raising party, and the pioneers never gave awards for the person who could drive the fewest nails. It was a matter of pride to be the most helpful and make the greatest contribution to the group effort. Going back at least to ancient Greece, there was the concept of noblese oblige. “Benevolent, honorable behavior considered to be the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank.”
There is a point where an increase in income, even a large one, doesn’t really have much effect on life style. That point is way above the $250,000 level set by President Obama (according to, the Council for Community and Economic Research [C2ER] the most expensive places to live in the United States are Manhattan and Brooklyn, both parts of New York City, which is solidly Democratic, and where $250,000/year really is middle income, just as Mitt Romney says it is.) Still, if you’re John H Hammergren, CEO of McKesson, whose total compensation in 2011 was $131 million, an extra million either way probably doesn’t matter very much.
According to reports in the New Yorker magazine, members of the super-duper rich aren’t really concerned about getting a better tax break, but they want to feel respected and appreciated. Some billionaires, who supported President Obama in 2008 switched to Mitt Romney this year because they hadn’t been given a chance to have their picture taken with the President. Since the future of Social Security just calls for having enough money, adjust the tax laws so that everybody is paying their fair share, and print up certificates suitable for framing, recognizing that the super-rich are National Benefactors – end of the problem. If that’s not enough, sell naming rights for Social Security Field Offices.
Medicare calls for a different solution. Paul Ryan wants cutbacks, and a switch from a fee for service plan to something like the cents off coupons in the Wednesday newspaper supermarket ads. If we were serious about cutting costs, we would switch to a single payer plan, which, as has been demonstrated by every other modern nation, costs 33 to 50 percent less than our present system, and gives better results with more people covered, longer lifespans, and lower infant mortality rates. The objections come from people like Ronald Williams, former CEO of Aetna insurance, who, in 2010, was paid $38 million, while raising rates to a point where an estimated 650,000 subscribers would have to drop their coverage. The other objections come from Republican legislators who consider single-payer health coverage “European Style Socialism.”
The answer is to set up the health plan as an independent agency, like the Postal Service, and name it after Ronald Reagan. Since no Republican is capable of voting against anything named after Ronald Reagan, congressional passage is assured.
From here we can go on to more serious questions, like why did anybody take Paul Ryan seriously to begin with? There are no good answers to that one.
Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@ mail.com.
From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2012
Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us