Not surprisingly, after the Very Wise Commission declares its Oracle, the Usual Suspects denounce whatever what was said, people go back to work, and the Report of the Very Wise People goes onto a shelf where it remains until the next Very Wise Commission is formed. Thus it is with the latest dog-and-pony show of Washington, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
Because nothing can occur in Washington without fanfare and moral theater, the latest Very Wise Commission has its website, photo ops, and even a report. These people -- who helped create the very conditions that we now face -- solemnly have told us that we need to pay higher taxes, cut spending, and live within our means. Obviously, even that (as phony as it might be) is financially and morally intolerable.
In the name of being an equal-opportunity annoyer, I present the side-by-side views of Paul Krugman and David Brooks, to columnists who really deserve each other. On the one side, we have an "economist" who hasn't a clue about capital or factors of production in general, who has no idea as to what entrepreneurship is, and really believes money is nothing more than a quantity variable to be placed within a mathematical algorithm.
On the other side, we have an Apostle of "National Greatness," that code term that comes from the Abbott and Costello of Neoconservatism, Brooks and William Kristol (who apparently is now a close adviser to Sarah Palin, Lord save us) telling us that we have to love "National Greatness" more than ourselves if we want to stay on this side of the cliff. It is hard to know where to begin, my day job beckons, and, dammit, it IS my birthday. However, duty calls....
Krugman is angry not because the commission has recommended this or that, but rather because the commission actually thinks that government should consume less, not more, of the country's wealth. He writes:
Start with the declaration of “Our Guiding Principles and Values.” Among them is, “Cap revenue at or below 21% of G.D.P.” This is a guiding principle? And why is a commission charged with finding every possible route to a balanced budget setting an upper (but not lower) limit on revenue?Should we make Social Security -- a true Ponzi scheme -- on more solid footing? Perish the thought!
Let’s turn next to Social Security. There were rumors beforehand that the commission would recommend a rise in the retirement age, and sure enough, that’s what Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson do. They want the age at which Social Security becomes available to rise along with average life expectancy. Is that reasonable?How does one "reform" a Ponzi scheme? I guess raise taxes, which solves everything. But Krugman does not stop there. No, he engages in what I think is a rather bizarre attack that apparently undercuts what he has been claiming on his pages: that ObamaCare actually will cut healthcare costs. Read on:
The answer is no, for a number of reasons — including the point that working until you’re 69, which may sound doable for people with desk jobs, is a lot harder for the many Americans who still do physical labor.
But beyond that, the proposal seemingly ignores a crucial point: while average life expectancy is indeed rising, it’s doing so mainly for high earners, precisely the people who need Social Security least. Life expectancy in the bottom half of the income distribution has barely inched up over the past three decades. So the Bowles-Simpson proposal is basically saying that janitors should be forced to work longer because these days corporate lawyers live to a ripe old age.
It’s true that the PowerPoint contains nice-looking charts showing deficits falling and debt levels stabilizing. But it becomes clear, once you spend a little time trying to figure out what’s going on, that the main driver of those pretty charts is the assumption that the rate of growth in health-care costs will slow dramatically. And how is this to be achieved? By “establishing a process to regularly evaluate cost growth” and taking “additional steps as needed.” What does that mean? I have no idea. (Emphasis mine)Anyone who has read Krugman regularly knows that Krugman is a True Believer when it comes to Congressional Budget Office claims about the future of the cost of healthcare, now that the government will be controlling it. (See the chart below to get a better understanding of how this process will work. I'm sure you will conclude that the system is in very, very, very good hands.)
It’s no mystery what has happened on the deficit commission: as so often happens in modern Washington, a process meant to deal with real problems has been hijacked on behalf of an ideological agenda. Under the guise of facing our fiscal problems, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson are trying to smuggle in the same old, same old — tax cuts for the rich and erosion of the social safety net.
Now, why is it heresy for Krugman to claim that ObamaCare will cut costs, but it is not OK for Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to do the same? I don't know, although I do believe that any notion that what Congress passed earlier this year will cut anything but the quality and supply of medical care is ludicrous. Nonetheless, Krugman believes the CBO pronouncements like Jerry Falwell believed in Biblical inerrancy -- except when someone else who Krugman doesn't like says the same thing.
Then there is David "National Greatness" Brooks. What can I say, except to include the following from his latest column:
It will take a revived patriotism to get people to look beyond their short-term financial interest to see the long-term national threat. Do you really love your tax deduction more than America’s future greatness? Are you really unwilling to sacrifice your Social Security cost-of-living adjustment at a time when soldiers and Marines are sacrificing their lives for their country in Afghanistan?There are some things that simply don't need a reply, as they are ridiculous enough on the face. Brooks' column is one of those things.
Like the civil rights movement, this movement will ask Americans to live up to their best selves. But it will do other things besides.
It will have to restore the social norms that prevailed through much of American history: when narcissism and hyperpartisanship was mitigated by loyalties larger than tribe and self; when competition between the parties was limited and constructive, not total and fratricidal.
This movement will have to build institutions to support the leaders who make the hard bargains. As in the civil rights era, politicians won’t make big changes unless they are impelled and protected by a social upsurge.
Most important, this movement will have to develop a governing philosophy and a policy agenda. Right now, orthodox liberals and conservatives have their idea networks, and everybody else is intellectual roadkill. This coming movement will have to revive the American System: a governing philosophy that believes in targeted federal efforts to arouse growth, social mobility and responsibility.
Like the chairmen’s report, this movement could demand that Congress wipe out tax loopholes and begin anew. It could protect federal aid to the poor while reducing federal subsidies to the upper-middle class.
The coming movement may be a third party or it may support serious people in the existing two. Its goal will be unapologetic: preserving American pre-eminence. It will preserve America’s standing in the world on the grounds that this supremacy is a gift to our children and a blessing for the earth.