This Is Why We Can’t Talk To Each Other Anymore….

Have we gotten to the point where we can’t have an honest political discussion any more?

I’ve used this blog to criticize the crazies (Gail Collins refers to them as ‘rabid ferrets in today’s column) who currently control the GOP. Today, I’m giving equal time to the lefties who characterize any proposed change to social programs as “cuts” to be fought tooth and nail.

As part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, President Obama has signaled a willingness to change the formula by which Social Security cost-of-living raises are calculated. In the wake of that suggestion, my inbox has been filled with hysterical warnings about imminent poverty for the elderly, recriminations for the administration for its willingness to “cut benefits,” and calls for Action with a capital A. Don’t bother to read the fine print. Sign this petition! Send this message!

This knee-jerk reaction is no different from that of the right-wing NRA types who equate restrictions on assault weapons with the imminent “confiscation of our guns.”

Can we stipulate that these issues are more complicated than these hysterical charges and counter-charges suggest? For once, can we have an adult conversation about the pros and cons of a suggested policy change?

A change in the formula used for calculating raises is not a cut–at least, not as that word is understood by most sentient humans. That doesn’t mean that there may not be undesirable side-effects from the proposed change, but if those undesirable side-effects exist, they should be specified and discussed.  If the proposed change will operate to harm disadvantaged populations, we should tweak the formula to avoid those consequences. Screaming that the sky will fall if XYZ occurs is rarely a prelude to rational policy debate.

The left justifiably criticizes the Tea Party ideologues for their refusal even to consider alternatives to their positions. That intransigence–that refusal to acknowledge nuance and complexity–is no more attractive or helpful when it comes from the left.


  1. It is no wonder that left and right stand on ceremony, it’s all they have.
    Americans receive too much information and they receive it from sources with a vested interest in skewing that information. Americans process too little of even that information and in their own way, they accept it as gospel. And then somehow, Americans believe that they know all that they need to know and willingly offer their own editorial opinions. This is one such opinion.

  2. While I agree that much of the hand-wringing is overwrought, I think that SS reform could be done in a much more equitable way. Ezra Klein says it better than I could:

    “The way we measure inflation right now really does mismeasure inflation. Chained-CPI really is a bit more accurate. But that’s not why we’re considering moving to chained-CPI. If all we wanted to do was correct the technical problem, we could make the correction and then compensate the losers.

    But no one ever considers that. The only reason we’re considering moving to chained-CPI because it saves money, and it saves money by cutting Social Security benefits and raising taxes, and it’s a much more regressive approach to cutting Social Security benefits and raising taxes than some of the other options on the table.

    The question worth asking, then, is if we want to cut Social Security benefits, why are we talking about chained-CPI, rather than some other approach to cutting benefits that’s perhaps more equitable? The answer is that chained-CPI’s role in correcting inflation measurement error is helpful in distracting people from its role in cutting Social Security benefits. Politicians who are unwilling or unable to offer a persuasive political or policy rationale for cutting Social Security benefits are instead hiding behind a technocratic rationale. We’re not “cutting benefits,” we’re “correcting our inflation measure.””

  3. I get so many political and organization newsletters I can’t remember who I replied to yesterday when they sent a petition to stop Social Security “cuts”. I requested specifics and asked if they were referring to figuring a lower COLA benefit in the future because their terminology sounds as if the government is going to begin deducting money from our Social Security checks. If taking a small amount less in COLA in 2014 (I have already received notice of my 2013 increase) will return tax amounts of the wealthy to what they were 10 years ago, I am all for it. Consider this; who else will be paying the same income tax rate next year that they paid 10 years ago? My current $767 Social Security check will increase to $781 in January so obviously I could use a higher increase. My $277.62 PERF will not increase. Maybe someone could tell this “moocher” where to go to get all that “free stuff” the GOP talked about. Too many of these media reports remind me of the GOP presidential campaine with Romney and Ryan spouting that Obama wants to raise taxes – not bothering to mention he wants to end Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthy…including himself.

  4. The problem is that social security has nothing to do with the fiscal cliff, income taxes, or budgetary spending. It only does if you believe it is ok to continue raiding the social security trust fund in order to keep income taxes inordinately low for the super wealthy. It is a proposal which violates the promises he made to his constituents, and there is no counter proposal.

    I thought Obama was done with knuckling under to republican threats and irresponsibility? I guess not.

  5. The issue is so complicated I don’t see how you can have an “honest political discussion any more.”

    2 questions. Can anyone point me to an answer I (a person with an advanced degree, but not a lawyer) can understand:

    1. How is the COLA currently calculated?

    2. How is President Obama proposing the COLA be calculated?

    I don’t see how we can have a civilized discussion without answering these questions. And I can’t find answers to them.

  6. Chuck – a quick surface view of CPIs – disclosure – note my field of study – CPI (current) measures the price of a fixed basket of goods. The price of beef goes up, so does the CPI. The chained-CPI assumes that if beef goes up, you will buy more chicken and it adjusts accordingly, rising less than the regular CPI. To most economists, this is a better measure of the true level of inflation.

    The problem with using it for Social Security is that the purchases of the over 65 group are different and often not amenable to substitution, like the cost of health care, so the level of inflation experienced by Social Security recipients is generally higher than the standard CPI, not lower like the chained-CPI assumes.

    I have one other problem with this all. Social Security isn’t part of the budget. It’s potential funding problems are relatively small — except like all pension funds, it has been treated like a piggy bank for the government. What they are trying to do is renege on their IOUs to the Social Security trust fund and let the recipients pay for the fact that the trust fund was used to hide the costs of two wars, many tax cuts and a terribly designed prescription drug plan. I find this to be exceedingly unfair.

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