Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Robert J. Samuelson Goes Imbecilic Over Obama

In today's WaPo, Robert J. Samuelson attacks "the Obama delusion," complaining that he is a new kid on the block whom RJS is uncomfortable with in contrast with Hillary and McCain. He starts with the usual whine about Obama's speeches being too good but lacking substance. Then he admits that Obama presented a 12-point economic plan at the Janesville, WI GM plant, only now the problem is that it is just "the usual political goodies," and looks too much like Hillary's plan. Oh. But I thought Hillary's plan was OK. I think RJS is steamed that he has not been schmoozed enough by Obama and his circle.

Of course RJS makes a serious fool of himself by ranting about entitlements, he being one of these people who thinks social security and medicare are one and the same. So, Obama is castigated for not resolving entitlement spending. His call to lift the income cap on FICA taxes is simply dismissed, although it is something specific. That Hillary is calling for a vague commission with no specifics, and McCain has said nothing at all that I know of about any of this, and has confessed that he does not know much about economics, does not seem to bother RJS in his lather at all.

5 comments:

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I just checked on McCain's views on social security. He is for "supplementary" private accounts, does not think promised benefits can be kept, and opposes any tax increases. Looks like that means he is for future benefit cuts, probably some variation on Bush's old non-plan.

Barkley

Jack said...

Has Mr. McCain checked on market performance lately? Those supplemental private accounts are likely to be more beneficial to the acct. managers than they will be to the account holder if the market continues to do its roller coaster antics. Yes, I too got bombed in 2000. Yes, I did see some come back by 2007, only to see it beginning to evaporate once again. What a boon to man kind those private accounts will be.

Of course, we could all have private accounts that consisted of Treasuries, fully insured and backed by the full faith and credit of the US government, paying around 7.5% and compounded annually I might favor private accounts. Oh, I almost forgot, the Trust Fund that I've been contributing to with my "excess" payroll tax payments is supposed to be just that. What does McCain have to say about the Treasury collecting enough general fund tax money to pay the Treasuries held by the Trust(in who) Fund?

jamzo said...

i have spoken to several people my age

we had a similar experience

we thought energy that the obamma campaign projected on television felt like the kind of political
energy that we had felt as young adults in the civil rights era

we liked the energy and then we were suspicious of it

then we agreed that the suspicion was beause we could see a torch being passed to a younger generation and at first we felt excluded

and then we agreed that there was no reason to feel suspicious, or excluded

we could be part of this new spirit too

maybe samuelson will get over his suspicions too

Bruce Webb said...

No one has been able to show that private accounts would work in the sense of giving a better outcome for most workers. You can only work the premium between returns on equities and guaranteed returns on Treasuries so hard, if it was the slam dunk enthusiasts suggest we wouldn't even have a bond market. Instead a system of 'private' accounts would not in the end look all that private. Instead the proposals out there suggest some sort of replica of the Federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) which offers a range of funds with more or less risk.

Most of the people who oppose Social Security don't understand its fundamental financing, heck most of the people who support Social Security don't either. Instead they see it as some sort of wealth transfer akin to welfare and to be opposed as such on purely ideological grounds. While I won't go so far as our friend Coberly is pressing the case that it is just 'your money', because it isn't, the relation between what you pay in and what you could draw out is not so tight that you can make that claim, Social Security is not the equivalent of an interest earning bank account. But once you set aside some metaphysical mumbo jumbo opponents use to draw distinctions that don't really exist, it can clearly be seen for what it is which is insurance. Which may even explain why they call it Old Age/Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance, the only operational difference between OASDI and AFLAC is that in the latter you are trusting in the investment decisions of people who chose to use a duck as a front man, in the latter you are trusting a combination of future real growth and Full Faith and Credit.

But know this. Opponents of Social Security could care less about a Crisis that manifests itself as a future benefit cut, I don't even think they worry about the financing of the debt represented by the Trust Fund, certainly they never, ever make any attempt to quantify either. They simply want and need Social Security to appear to be a failure to validate their general Big Government is the problem approach. There really is no more 'there' there than that. The very worst nightmare of the Economic Right is the notion that Social Security as is might self fund itself at 100% of scheduled benefits. Which is why they won't even discuss Low Cost even in theoretical terms. The best I was ever able to coax out of Prof. Samwick was that he thought it was too optimistic, but even he wouldn't go into any details. I have had a few brave souls venture over and come back citing the Fertility figures, without considering that marginal changes in fertility won't have any effect on the workforce until those greater or fewer babies actually reach working age, which is to say two decades or more in the future, nope they just hang their hats on that number and move on.

'Phony Crisis' didn't fall silently like an unseen tree in the winter woods. Baker and Weisbrot fired a shot that was heard among the privatizers, as was the BDK paper and the No Economist Left Behind Challenge. Privatizers know they cannot make an economic case for private accounts being an improvement for worker retirement on a dollar for dollar basis, in fact the much touted Liebman-MacGuineas-Samwick plan doesn't even pretend to do so, its public policy goals are quite distinct from the issue of worker welfare, their hope is that no one will actually examine the plan as it actually is.

It is not surprising that few people get this, and I have big doubts that a campaign of education and LTTEs is going to move opinion. A huge ideological battle is being waged under the cover of a perceived but largely unidentified economic 'Crisis'. The fact that Reformers are not really concerned about the actual crisis, such as it is, that they really really do not have the best interests of Social Security at heart is something that I think the general public simply doesn't and probably won't grasp. Because who in their right minds would destroy a government program that worked exactly as planned funded entirely by those who will ultimately benefit from it? Well lots of people. If your entire intellectual platform rests on a bedrock assumption about efficiency between pure market and governmental solutions to any given problem, and someone presents a powerful counterexample, it is only human nature to pretend that it simply can't be true. On this issue the "Wah, wah, wah, I can't hear you" is practically deafening.

Jack said...

Bruce,
I've still got several high level positions available in the Jacobin Society(USA). I think you would make a good fit. I think of it as an educational organization. The mere existence of such a group would give people like Samuelson, those who earn their significant keep by suggesting the diminution of others, some food for thought. I'm hoping to recruit additional members to fill some of the few remaining senior positions. We need good men and true, as the cliche goes, whom we can trust not to lose their heads.