Tom Edsall writes an interesting piece about the future of liberalism in America. It’s worth the read, but it also adopts some of the lazy arguments of the authors he cites.
Long-time readers know that I’m a big fan of mocking Walter Russell Mead’s superficial attacks on the failing “Blue Model” of Social Security and the like. Mead cites the end of the New Deal-era business model of lifetime job security and pensions and bashes public employee unions for continuing to collect pensions and push local governments into bankruptcy.
Mead has never listened to Grover Norquist, who explains clearly that the “crisis” Mead complains about is entirely manufactured by conservative ideologues. Indeed, he often just assumes that liberalism spends itself to a position of near bankruptcy without breathing on the massive tax cuts that put our cities in that shape. Moreover, Mead’s complaint makes no sense — if businesses have stopped providing the long-term security they provided in the past that actually supercharges the need for programs like Social Security and Medicare to provide needed services.
Edsall asks Mead to articulate a viable alternative model. Mead demurred.
Not a shocker.
Edsall goes on to discuss the funding issues with Social Security.
In the current debate over financing the cost of income support for older Americans, the chained C.P.I. proposal has more political support than the progressive alternative of raising the current $113,700 cap on the amount of income subject to the payroll tax. Low-income Social Security beneficiaries are not equipped to absorb cuts in benefits that a switch to a chained consumer price index would entail; on the other hand, according to the centrist Tax Policy Center, raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax could completely cover Social Security costs into the foreseeable future without reducing benefits.
True. So…let’s get people on board with ending the stupid, regressive tax, right? I mean, this isn’t rocket science — if making wealthy people pay the same rate (yes, same rate…not a higher rate) as the rest of the country completely solves the problem let’s get it done.
Yet, Edsall worries that this is not possible because he gives Joel Kotkin way more credence than he deserves — which is to say none. Kotkin’s article was profiled in a recent edition of The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week for good reason. Rather than cite evidence for his claims, Kotkin makes a thinly-veiled effort to sow discord among the Obama coalition, hoping that poor and middle-class Democrats will be gullible enough to think that wealthier Democrats are out to get them. The whole article reads as a confusing rebuttal of everything conservatives believe — liberals aren’t going to destroy the economy, they’re just trying to protect the rich!
And this is my main quibble with Edsall’s article. By taking Kotkin at face value, Edsall dismisses the idea of eliminating the payroll tax cap in order to finance Social Security as a threat to liberalism’s coalition with wealthy urbanites. The problem is the idea that wealthy urbanites have joined the Democrats to preserve their own wealth is an illusion.
Having been one of those wealthy urbanites back when I was a practicing attorney, I can vouch for the fact that a tax hike would not have shaken my support. I don’t vote liberally because I want to be super-wealthy, but because I care about a wide array of policies beyond my own nose.
When a “crisis” is entirely manufactured, it’s not difficult to solve.