Thursday, November 10, 2011

Journamalism - Gregg Easterbrook Edition (Vol. Eleventy Hundred)

Easterbrook's up to his old, stupid tricks again, pretending to be the "middle" while really being as wingnutty as ever. His latest column praises Mitt Romney for being a similar "middle" wingnut and then he does a drive-by on Social Security. 

Easterbrook believes Mitt Romney should be praised for threatening to take away benefits for seniors and poor people. I'll point out everything wrong with Easterbrook's column below, but I would also like to point out that I commented on the article (though it was perhaps a little ranty) and had my comments deleted by Reuters.

I'm not sure they deserved to be. And if Reuters wants to consider itself a reputable news organization it probably ought to think long and hard about letting Easterbrook write the crap he writes, misinforming his readers in the process and deleting comments... that way lies RedState (and no, I will not link to RedState).

Anyway, here's how Easterbrook starts. He opens by praising Romney for what Easterbrook feels is a "gold" statement:
"We cannot with moral conscience borrow trillions of dollars that can only be repaid by our children."
Easterbrook comments:
Reckless borrowing, with the invoice passed to our children – nobody in power in Washington right now will be asked to repay the national debt – is not just numbers, it is a moral issue. Romney recognizes this.
Both Easterbrook and Romney are guilty of throwing out pointless platitudes here, and neither displays the slightest understanding of economics. The federal government can currently borrow billions of dollars for 2% per year for ten years. If the economy improves (without further fiscal policy action, this is unlikely to happen immediately) then the government really should be able to inflate away the interest payments on all those billions (and probably a lot of the principal as well). They should be able to do that long before the ten years is even up. Is it reckless for the government to borrow billions when the market is willing to shove billions at it at such ridiculous low rates? No.

Conversely, is it reckless of the government to let the opportunity to borrow at ridiculously low rates pass without taking advantage of it? Yes, it is. Especially when the government could use those billions to invest in infrastructure and provide jobs that might re-inflate the economy and then provide a much broader and healthier tax base to pay off the debt.

The truly horrifying part of the article is when Easterbrook follows Romney into his baseless attack on Social Security (as is typical of every single wingnut in existence). Easterbrook calls the following line of crap, '24-karat gold':
Romney placed his hand on the third rail of American politics, by proposing Social Security cutbacks. He said, “I believe we can save Social Security with a few commonsense reforms. First, there will be no change for retirees or those near retirement. No change. Second, for the next generation of retirees, we should slowly raise the retirement age. And finally, for the next generation of retirees, we should slow the growth in benefits for those with higher incomes.”
Easterbrook adds to Romney's nonsense by saying (emphasis mine):
The Social Security trustees report that the system can currently pay only about three-quarters of scheduled benefits. In 2010, the report notes, that system wasn’t even self-sustaining, having to draw on the federal debt. If benefits aren’t trimmed, either taxes must rise or the federal deficit must accelerate anew. Neither would be good for the country, and that’s assuming China would keep loaning us additional money, which may not be an accurate assumption.... Many seniors need their Social Security checks, but those who don't should no longer receive them. 
Where to begin with all this lunacy? First of all, you knew that Easterbrook would say that raising taxes is an impossibility didn't you? But raising taxes to the levels of the mid-90s, you know back when Bill Clinton was busy destroying the economy, would completely fix Social Security's funding problems. Of course Easterbrook, being a wingnut, has completely ruled that out. He's also ruled out taxes on Wall Street, financial speculation, cuts to military spending... all of it. We only need to make small changes to fund Social Security for the next eighty years, but Easterbrook says those small changes are too much, instead we should cut benefits!!!

Next Easterbrook simply lies about the Social Security trustees report when he claims that the system can only pay 3/4 or scheduled benefits. Easterbrook's lying because he knows that the report states that Social Security can pay FULL BENEFITS to everyone until 2036 (without making ANY adjustment whatsoever) but that, after 2036, if there have been absolutely no adjustments made to the fund's income, it will only be able to pay 77% of what it should to every retiree. And again, this is without any adjustment (meaning no tax increases on the wealthy, on Wall Street, on financial speculation, on ANYTHING). So is Easterbrook lying about this? Well, by not saying that the fund is fully healthy until 2036 and by not saying that it will only pay 77% of benefits AFTER 2036 (if no changes are made to the fund's income) he's trying to make a wingnut point by deliberately misleading his readers that the fund is not healthy NOW. (which, to me, amounts to an outright lie).

But this is typical, Easterbrook and Romney are doing their conservative duty to hammer a valuable, worthwhile social program by lying about its current funding.

Finally, Easterbrook lauds Romney for proposing that Social Security stop paying well-off retirees their benefits on the one hand, but saying we can't raise taxes on the other.

Well, first of all, not paying benefits to well-off retirees really amounts to a progressive tax, doesn't it? The well-off will be paying taxes for benefits they don't receive, so why not just raise taxes on the wealthy? Wouldn't that be easier? Raise taxes on the well-off and keep paying everyone seems like a much easier solution to me. And while the average person might not understand that 'means-testing' for Social Security benefits (which is what Easterbrook has proposed) amounts to a progressive tax, someone who's a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a public intellectual, and has a paid gig writing for Reuters? Well, he really, really, reeeeally oughta understand this.

But very well, he doesn't. What he also doesn't understand about his moronic proposal is that means-testing for Social Security will also force the government to be more invasive of citizens' private lives. To determine if a person should or should not receive Social Security the federal government will now have to determine not just a private person's wealth, but their dependents, their monthly outlays and a whole host of other information. And they'll probably have to do this regularly. Who the fuck wants that? Why not just leave the well-funded program the way it is, so that when you reach eligibility you get Social Security, no questions asked. And why not fund that system by raising taxes on the rich? Um, of course, all that's already been ruled out before even starting.

Just typical.


UPDATE: I forgot that somewhere in Easterbrook's idiocy he mentioned the threat of China not buying our debt anymore. But remember, if China stops buying Treasuries, that would be a good thing. Which once again proves Easterbrook is a complete ignoramus on all matters economic. 

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