FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Democrats, Social Security and the Fiscal Cliff

by ROB URIE

With democrats ecstatic that political dysfunction has postponed their cutting the social insurance programs that Americans have paid for and count on for a few weeks, discussion of the intricacies of ‘chained CPI’ (Consumer Price Index) versus other measures of inflation used to adjust Social Security can now apparently wait for the New Year. Still, this probably isn’t a bad time to ask: why? Why cut Social Security? The program is currently solvent, is expected to remain solvent for decades to come, and projected shortfalls in the future could be better addressed by raising the incomes of the people who pay into the program, not by cutting payments to those who depend on them. What is to be gained by ‘solving’ a problem that isn’t?

If cutting Social Security isn’t necessary, why then is it being proposed? Barack Obama provided copious evidence in prior proposals, television interviews and speeches that doing so is his intent. Congressional democrats and labor leaders quickly acceded to his proposal to do so, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi going so far as to actively lie that proposed cuts will ‘strengthen’ the program. And given the cuts will eventually put tens of millions of Americans into dire poverty from a program they paid into for all of their working lives, what rationale could possibly justify doing so?

The reason I ask is a coalition of democrats, labor, liberals and progressives just re-elected Mr. Obama and democrats in Congress to what—cut Social Security? Mr. Obama created the ‘fiscal cliff’ to first push his stacked (in favor of cutting social insurance programs) ‘deficit commission’ to develop a plan to cut government spending and second, to force the issue to be revisited immediately after the election if no plan was agreed to. And Republican threats to refuse to raise the debt ceiling for leverage to ‘force’ spending cuts are idiotic—George W. Bush and congressional Republicans just led the largest increase in government spending in modern history. And that is not a difficult point to make. (And had it been on beneficial programs, it would have been laudable).

Ultimately the entire ‘debate’ is nonsense—the U.S. doesn’t fund spending directly from taxes. As the Federal Reserve is in the process of demonstrating with its QE (Quantitative Easing) programs, it can buy an unlimited quantity of government debt with money it ‘creates’ –the ‘debt limit’ is an arbitrary misdirection. This isn’t to argue that there is no relationship between economic production and money creation, but it is to point out that the ‘Federal budget’ is a convenient fiction. So, given his repeated analogy of the Federal budget to a family budget, is Mr. Obama ignorant of government finances or does he understand them and is purposely using the misleading analogy to further unstated goals?

The ‘Fix the Debt’ committee of politicians, corporate executives and connected financiers claiming to be concerned about the Federal deficit isn’t discussing eliminating the ‘carried interest’ deduction that benefits billionaire hedge fund managers, raising effective corporate tax rates that are currently the lowest in modern history, materially cutting end-of-empire levels of military spending and raising personal income tax rates on the titans of finance who would be begging for change in the street were it not for Federal government largesse in the (ongoing) bank bailouts. But they are deeply concerned about the Federal deficit, as are Mr. Obama and congressional democrats.

But again, why? The web of convenient fictions currently in play amongst both democrats and republicans in Washington—corporate tax cuts promote economic growth and job creation, government spending ‘crowds out’ more productive private sector spending, ‘excessive’ government debt will cause a financial market rebellion (bond vigilantes) and handing social insurance programs to private market profiteers is beneficial to the insured, are all demonstrably nonsense with only a cursory look at ‘the evidence.’

Effective corporate tax rates are the lowest in modern history and job creation, even before the economic calamity began in 2008, is the weakest since the 1930s. As global warming caused by largely private production and the predatory, dysfunctional private sector demonstrate on a daily basis, the ‘efficiencies’ of private production come from cost shifting, not by levels of human motivation intrinsic to capitalism. As QE is demonstrating, the Federal Reserve can control both short and long term interests rates—the ‘bond vigilantes’ are only in control when they provide cover for private interests. And Barack Obama didn’t choose the ‘least bad’ option with his healthcare ‘reform,’ he chose the private option to which he is ideologically committed.

Without apparent irony, these convenient fictions are straight from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank playbooks circa 1980. While couched in the language of ‘economic development,’ IMF policies were / are extractive, designed to exert control over political economies and were / are tools of economic imperialism. The ‘austerity’ of IMF policies, cutting social spending to divert funds to service external debt, was rarely accompanied by even the pretense it benefited those whose social insurance programs were being looted. Cut to Mr. Obama and Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi mirroring the Vietnam Warism that to strengthen Social Security we must weaken it. Welcome to neo-Colonial America.

Also without apparent irony, the neo-Keynesian wing of the Democratic Party claims to have correctly analyzed current economic travails and prescribed the necessary and sufficient solutions if only Mr. Obama and the DC democrats would listen. In the first, this leaves the great mystery of why they haven’t listened and have actively articulated the policies of the radical right instead? In the second, Keynesian solutions imply that ‘we are all in this together,’ economically speaking, decades after official Washington and America’s plutocracy made it abundantly clear they believe they are responsible for their lot and we for ours, except when they need a few trillion dollars for a bailout. Finally, the ‘we’re all in this together’ monetary policies of the neo-Keynesians have benefited America’s richest 10% who own financial assets alone. (For explanations see Minsky’s essays on inflation and Marx’s Capital, Volume II).

With no respect whatsoever, this leads to the observation that Mr. Obama and his co-conspirators in the Democratic Party haven’t ‘caved,’ ‘capitulated,’ ‘relented,’ ‘given in,’ ‘submitted’ or ‘yielded’ by agreeing to cut social insurance programs. Mr. Obama’s far-right-of-center policies of his first term were just affirmed by the coalition that re-elected him. He will propose cutting Social Security again in just a few weeks. And democrats, labor, liberals and progressives will again be sincerely debating the merits of chained CPI versus other measures of inflation by which to cut Social Security. But while the effects of cuts will be real, the ‘debate’ won’t be. Put another way, the goal is to cut Social Security, not to ‘strengthen’ it.

In his speech at the Hamilton Project launch (link above) in 2006 Mr. Obama articulated the ‘slippery slope’ argument he believed was the ‘left’ position against ‘modernizing’ America’s social insurance programs. He argued supporters of these programs feared minor ‘adjustments’ were a pretext for the wholesale cuts desired by the radical right. But what this explanation leaves out is context. Were the ‘discussion’ taking place as the economic prospects of the poor and working classes were dramatically rising– rapid income gains, increasing income security, rising food security and income and wealth distribution resembling economic democracy, interpreted intent might be benign. But with Mr. Obama and congressional democrats several decades into giving voice to the desires and policies of the radical right, it would require a fool to believe benign intent today.

Hopefully I am underestimating the political pushback proposed cuts will engender. But given the propensity of democrats, labor, liberals and progressives to sincerely debate irrelevancies while giving unwavering support to the increasingly debased policies of their leaders, I doubt it. The bourgeois of these constituencies will likely break with the poor and working class and accede to the bogus rationale that the programs must be weakened so they may be strengthened, calculating that they’ll be all right in any case. And the pundit class will do the narrow calculus of cutting this program to save that without noticing the unwavering trajectory toward neo-liberal hell of the last forty years. To the folks who support the Democratic Party without apparently knowing what their policies are, good luck with that Social Security thing and all. To everyone else, we didn’t ask for this, but it’s coming our way anyhow.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail