Defending Entitlements Against the Debt Terrorists
Dean Baker recently posted on the closed door meetings some prominent CEOs are having on shaping austerity budgets to be used after the election to pressure Congress to arrive at a bi-partisan compromise that will cut spending much more than it raises taxes and “put us on the road to fiscal sustainability and fiscal responsibility.” Dean rightly points out that these concerns are greatly overblown since the most important problem we are facing now is growing the economy and providing for full or near-full employment. In particular, he's very opposed to entitlement cuts and is opposed to the current bipartisan impulse to sacrifice entitlements on the altar of fiscal sustainability/responsibility. He then says:
”The question is how to make it so that popular sentiment overrides the big bucks of the corporate chieftains. The obvious answer would be to make the protection of these programs central issues in the election. Members of Congress and candidates for seats should be pressed to indicate where they stand on the proposed cuts to these programs.
“That means getting them to answer specific questions, like whether they support reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustment or raising the normal retirement age for Social Security or the age of eligibility for Medicare. These are among the most important issues in people's lives and voters should not have to go to the polls not knowing where the candidates for the House, the Senate or the presidency stand on them.
“People should also be aware that politicians are true masters of evasion on these questions. A response like, "I support Social Security and Medicare," should be taken to mean that they are prepared to support cuts for these programs. All of the people running for office are smart enough to know how to say that they oppose the cuts being put on the table, and they undoubtedly would say that they oppose the cuts, if it is true.
“Similarly, a statement like, "I oppose the privatization of Social Security and Medicare" should also be taken to mean that they are prepared to support cuts to these programs. Again, they are not being asked about privatization, it's not immediately on the table, why would they give an answer about privatization except to avoid admitting their support for cuts?
“The news media should also be pressed into service in this effort. It is their job to tell us the candidates' positions on important issues and there are few issues more important to voters than Social Security and Medicare. People should harangue their local newspapers and television stations to ask candidates their positions on cuts to these programs. This is far more important than most of the gossip about the campaigns that dominates news coverage.
“The whole effort here must be focused on smoking out politicians on where they stand on cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The CEOs want to do this behind closed doors because they know that politicians who have to answer to their constituencies will never be able to get away with these cuts. The key is to force the debate into the sunlight.”
While I very much agree with the idea that we must force this debate into the sunlight and should focus on getting our Representatives, Senators, and even Presidential candidates to take a “no entitlement cuts under any circumstances position,” I also think that the methods outlined above by Dean are unlikely to be enough to carry the day.
We also need to be trashing the position that says that there is a deficit problem, and that there is long-term deficit reduction/debt problem that need to be fixed. That's true because unless we do that, we just look like selfish people trying to hang on to safety net benefits, when, the deficit hawks will say, the US reached a period where fiscal responsibility/sustainability demands that we cut those benefits on pain of running out of money, or ruining our capability to borrow money from the bond markets at low interest rates.
Fortunately the position of those who think we need to reduce the deficit and fix the debt is easy to trash because the economic and fiscal assumptions it's based on don't apply to currency sovereign governments like the United States. For us the problem of eliminating the debt is neither problem nor a burden, and our current deficits are no problem because they are far too small to produce demand-pull inflation. In recent posts, I've both explained why the debt is no problem, outlined how to eliminate it if we really want to and explained why our current deficits are too small. Please see here, here, here, here, and here for the explanations.
Besides approaching our candidates and the media with anger and better arguments and traditional methods of influence, I also think we need to make use of other channels of influence. These days, both officeholders, candidates, and the media all have web sites, Facebook pages, and Twitter sites. These especially need to be flooded with protests and also the truth that there isn't any debt/deficit problem that needs to be fixed. And also with demands that candidates come clean about their positions on entitlement and other spending cuts, and, as well, plain threats that a vote for entitlement cuts and other programs that benefit poor and middle class Americans will be met with retaliation against the candidate before and during the next primary election and their certain defeat.
The message must be very clear. It must be given to both parties, and it must be unrelenting from now through the election, and for as long as it takes to make all the advocates of austerity cease and desist their efforts at destroying activist government and a State that fosters equality of opportunity, an end to extremes of economic inequality, and a decent standard of living for all.