Wednesday, May 18, 2005

…give me entitlements, or give me death.

Think about the political landscape a decade ago. Newt and his merry band of freshman Republican Congressmen had won a majority in the House of Representatives. They were swept in on the promise of a new, New Deal, only in reverse. The so-called “Contract with America” was to trim the fat and whip our bloated government into shape. The medicine, of course, was methodical spending reductions and radical bureaucratic reforms. There was “welfare reform” and…uh…what else? Oh, that’s right, they’re politicians. What they say is typically worthless, but what they do is quite expensive.

Speaking of expense, those free spending slugs in Washington seem to be running out of conventional ideas for fiscal waste. I’ll let the dead horse of LBJ’s socialist legacy lay, because that piece of work is culturally embedded at this point, though I still hold out hope. What’s on the front burner however, is Social Security. SS has always been an entitlement and may well continue, as the “payroll tax” is undeniably Ponziesque. Charles Krauthammer has a good article that exposes the fraud.
As I have been writing for years with stupefying redundancy -- and obvious lack of success -- this idea is a hoax. There is no trust fund. The past Social Security surpluses were spent the year they were created. The idea that in 2017, when the surpluses disappear, we will be able to go to a box in West Virginia to retrieve the money we need to make up the shortfall (between what Social Security takes in and what it pays out that year) is a deception. There is no money there. It will have to be borrowed or garnered from new taxes.
But things are worse than that. The fiscal problem starts to kick in not in 2017 but in 2009. The Social Security surplus, which Congress happily spends every year, peaks in 2008. Which means that starting in four years (and for every year thereafter) a budgetary squeeze begins, requiring new taxation or new borrowing.
Ah yes, new taxes. Why, because of need. Politicians need votes. Another failed pension scheme that the government plans to procure, to cement future power, is in the form of a corporate bailout.
The government corporation that insures pensions for 35 million Americans is facing a serious financial shortfall of $23 billion. The deficit increased when United Airlines was allowed to transfer its pension obligations to the government. Now there's concern that taxpayers could face a costly bailout if other companies follow United's lead.
Not to worry, this will be an isolated case…I’m sure of it. So now the American tax payer will be fleeced to finance government pensions as well as private ones. Are “we” developing an allergy to personal responsibility and self sufficiency? Nah, surely not…our forbearers were rugged individualists that built the richest, most powerful and “freest” nation in history. Perhaps decadence has replaced resilience, the desire for the unearned has replaced the great American work ethic. People seem to think that, by virtue of existence, their neighbor owes them whatever can be construed as a need. One of the more absurd examples of this is found in the ridiculous Medicare prescription drug give away. According to the government, elderly erections are a necessity.
The federal government will spend nearly $2 billion in the next decade on male impotence drugs under its Medicare program, according to a new cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office that is fueling some lawmakers' efforts to end that spending.
That’s surely a type-o…everyone knows that lawmakers never seriously seek to end spending. It must mean that they might conceivably try to slow the increase in spending, but certainly not eliminate it entirely. After all, old folks reliably vote for whichever candidate promises to keep the benefits coming, so to speak.

Update: Will Wilkinson posted a relevant quote: "There is no more justification for using the state apparatus to compel some citizens to pay for unwanted benefits that others desire than there is to force them to reimburse others for their private expenses."
- John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, p. 250 (rev. ed.)

Acknowledgement: Catallarchy