At the Becker-Posner blog, Richard Posner offers some ideas for amending the entitlements programs that are “threatening the long-term solvency of the federal government”:
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Which leads me to the first of the only two practical ideas that occur to me for slowing the increase in entitlement expenditures relative to the size of the economy: a shift in emphasis in medical research from length of life to ability to live independently. Independent living means living without home care (whether by relatives, thus taking time from them that they could use more productively in other activities, including paid employment, or by paid care—paid by the government in many cases) and being able—and wanting—to work. Independent living can be fostered by focusing medical research on problems of vision, musculoskeletal problems (which impair mobility), obesity, and dementia, in preference to research on curing and preventing cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
During the Social Security lecture to my class of 500 freshman, most expressed disbelief that the program would exist when they retire. Like a young colleague of mine, they were sure they would never collect.
Wrong! I can’t see the program being abolished. It is very popular, and its potential bankruptcy is one of the most easily dealt with policy problems we face: just raise the age for regular benefits by one year in each of the next four quinquennia, raise the taxable base for FICA, and voilà — problem solved.
But perhaps my students’ pessimism is a good thing. If they believe this, and act on their beliefs, they will set aside more for their private pensions — saving more. Given the low American saving rates over the last few decades, maybe I should encourage their pessimism!
One of the major complaints of right-wing politicians against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is its imposed mandates that individuals obtain health insurance and that larger businesses offer health insurance to employees. The professed opposition is to the mandates, per se. It ignores the mandates that both employers and workers pay taxes for Social Security coverage—old-age, disability, Medicare, and unemployment compensation. Mandates are not new—nor is “government interference” in private choices about private insurance.
Opposition to the ACA mandates is really just a stalking horse for the eventual dismantling of the American social safety net. If the new mandates were to be dropped (unlikely, thank goodness), I would expect that their opponents would quickly move on to removing mandates for other programs that have been in effect for 70+ years.
One of the President’s budget proposals treats tax deductions as if a person’s marginal tax rate were 28 percent, rather than the actual possibly 39.6 percent. This would bring in substantial extra tax revenue, yet it wouldn’t violate the Republicans’ strong distaste for higher marginal tax rates on the grounds that they allegedly stifle incentives of the rich. Despite that, they are complaining loudly.
The President is finally proposing indexing Social Security benefits by the chained CPI, a more correct measure of price inflation than the current measure. Using it would reduce benefit growth and make indexation fairer to taxpayers and recipients. Yet I have already been deluged by liberal groups’ email petitions objecting to this change.
The only good thing about this sorry spectacle is that it is nice to know there is no shame on any side.
I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent researches.
jennifer atkinson asked:
“When did we start calling social security, medicare, and medicaid ‘entitlements’? Seems like they might well be deemed obligations.”
The Oxford English Dictionary does not yet include this sense of the word “entitlement,” but I believe that it originated with or was at least popularized by pioneering legal scholar Charles Reich. Reich used “entitlement” meaning “right to governmental benefits” in his landmark article “Individual Rights and Social Welfare: The Emerging Legal Issues” in the Yale Law Journal in 1965. He had earlier used the corresponding sense of the verb “entitled” in his even more landmark article “The New Property” in the Yale Law Journal in 1964.
Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?
We “Greedy Geezers” will not be getting an increase in our monthly Social Security benefit payments in January, because the CPI is still below what it was in 2008. Read More »
Photo: procsilas A coalition of college presidents has been pushing states to lower the drinking age as a way to discourage problem drinking on campuses. But here’s one unintended consequence of teaching young people responsible drinking habits: it could make Social Security bankrupt faster. A 2004 study by Frank Sloan and Jan Ostermann at Duke […] Read More »