Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hiatt Hysterical Over Losing His Schtick

Poor Fred Hiatt.  For years, this Editor of the Editorial page of the Washington Post has made his named appearances on the editorial page (he daily bloviates the main ed lead anonymously) only to call for cutting Social Security, and occasionally Medicare as well.  This has been his schtick for many years.  Now it is over, but he fails to recognize it.

OK, for some time I have been ridiculing him over this obsession of his, which he has imposed on many other regular writers on WaPo's ed page, including R.J. Samuelson, Ruth Marcus, and even more recently, Catherine Rampell.  I almost wrote on this when he went nuts over this on Monday, but Dean Baker  whonked on him pretty solidly immediately, pointing out how stupid and ridiculous he looked, declaring that while today's US debt/GDP ratio is 74%, with near zero interest rates, ten years from now the CBO says it will be 78%, which Hiatt hysterically declared to be "dangerous."  The 104% forecast for 2039 he declared to be "unsustainable," which Dean correctly pointed out was totally ridiculous.  So, I did not post anything.
Needless to say, the ridicule has mounted, some of it more general, some of it more specific.  So, Paul Krugman has pointed out the problem of "secret deficit lovers," people who have made a living whining about deficit dangers, but now that the latest reports say the deficit is going down are unhappy, because their longstanding calls to cut benefits for old people are not likely to be taken seriously in the near future. PK named no names, but Fred Hiatt is near the top of the list, if not absolutely at the top.  More personally, John Podesta, whom he cited in his Monday WaPo piece, perhaps the single most stupid and embarassing column he has ever written, has dumped all over him in on Twitter with an accompanying column in yesterday's WaPo, as linked to by Mark  Thoma.

So, let me add my two bits to this that none of the above have yet said.  First of all, it is amazing that when confronted with good news from the CBO that medical care costs are falling, leading to declining future deficit projections, Hiatt does not applaud, indeed, does not anywhere in his column even note that this is a change in the future projections.  He does note the new data, without noting how it reduces the hysteria of his past columns, but he continues to whine that while in the past Obama appointed the Bowles-Simpson commission that called for cuts in senior entitlements, along with tax increases that GOP members of that commission would not accept (see Paul Ryan), which somehow for years Hiatt has accepted as something irresolutely unbridgeable (he briefly noted that tax increases were one way out of senior entitlement problems, but did not remotely recommend them, despite longstanding polls showing support for exactly this solution to any such problem seriously arising in the future), he simply cannot bring himself to admit that the problem he has been carrying on about for so many years so hysterically simply is not what he claimed it was.  He, and many of his close pals, have simply been wrong wrong wrong.

So, here we have poor Hiatt, resolutely ignoring good news.  Not a whisper in his column that in fact the CBO is now forecasting not only continuing deficit reductions in the near future (with most of the US public still mistakenly believing that they are higher, with no help from WaPo on informing them otherwise).  CBO carefully does not project forward further reductions in med care costs, and Hiatt does not even remotely raise the possibility of such, much less the idea that maybe the way to avoid having a debt/GDP ratio over 100 a quarter of a century from now might be to focus on continuing the effort of Obama to bring down med care costs in the US to OECD levels.  Dean Baker has long pointed out that if our med care costs were at OECD levels, we would not have this long term deficit problem at all.  And there are many obvious ways to move in that direction, from reducing the power of pharma patents to loosening immigration rules for physicians, along with many others.

So, I feel sorry for Fred.  Beating up on seniors who have paid in their taxes for what they are getting has been the one an only topic that has  inspired him to write columns under his own name for many years.  The new projections of lower deficits, good news to most of us, simply do not register with him.  Actually, they probably do.  But Krugman is right.  As much as anybody, he is the longstanding VSP in DC who has been whining for years about cutting Social Security and Medicare, whose excuse for this argument has simply disappeared, but he and his pals simply are not willing to face the new facts.

Barkley Rosser


Bruce Webb said...

"What a long, strange trip is has been"

Like you and Dean I have been on the Social Security Defense team for a long, long time now. Indeed I was on the job even before the first iteration of MaxSpeak which of course was the immediate progenitor of EconoSpeak. And "was" is maybe more accurate than "have been" because I have largely been hors de combat for the last couple years, not just because of life issues on my end, but because it more and more came clear that my claim vis a vis SocSec had been vindicated.

Which claim can be reduced to "We have the numbers". And we do and did, the difference being that at long last the VSP are being forced to confront a reality that was obvious as early as Baker and Weisbrot's 1999 "Phony Crisis".

But for me it is somewhat like putting weight on a step that turns out not to be there. You want to go around shouting "We Won!! We Won!!" but instead we seem trapped in a Geico commercial "Everyone knows that!" As oppposed to "Social Security is NOT in crisis? Who knew?".

Well at least we got a Wiki entry out of the deal:'s_equation said...


Thank you very much for all your invaluable input on this matter over the years. I am sorry to learn that you are having personal life problems and hope that they are resolved favorably, and sooner rather than later.

The VSPs do seem to be in retreat at the moment, but I would warn that they are not fully vanquished. A GOP Senate might lead to new rounds of Congressional fiscal nonsense that could still yet threaten either or both Social Security or Medicare. But the improved deficit numbers and hopes that the bending of the medical care cost curve will continue offer some hope that any such push can be resisted.

Bruce Webb said...

Thanks Barkley. And things are going pretty well for me these days.

But on the point back in the day Social Security defenders were faced with the MedicareMedicaidSocialSecurityEntitlements Crisis and every attempt to point out that Social Security was not realistically in crisis was countered by the claim that MMSSE was and so we had to "fix" the part which could be a some sort of down payment on VSPness.. And since the cost curve on MM was kind of out of control ten years ago we were reduced to trying to slice the 'Phony Crisis' from the real one. The MM one. So to the degree that ACA etc are now bending the cost curve on MM the whole back door attack on MMSSE via MM starts to lose its force. That is increasingly we can ask "What MM Crisis'" just as we asked "What SS Crisis?" back in 2005-2006.

And a good thing because SocSec did not improve its outlook in nearly the same way as some of us confidently projected back then. It didn't get worse mind you but neither did its actuarial gap go to zero.

So to that degree in r cent years MM is holding out against MMSSE Crisis in the way that SS was ten years back. And the combined effect is kicking the E (for 'Entitlements') Crisis to the curb.

But for now this SocSec guy has to defer to the MedMed part of the pro MMSS coalition. But I am still watching the game. And ready to pitch hit if called on.