Saturday, February 2, 2013

Has Bill Maher Bought into the “Entitlement Spending Crisis”?

A crowd in D.C. two years ago protests against possible Social Security cuts. Bill Maher somehow thinks that cutting "entitlements" like Social Security will free up more $$$ for those under 18. He's dreaming! What needs to be cut - pared down in HALF- is the Military-Industrial Complex and  Military Welfare State.

Bill Maher comes off as an intelligent host of HBO’s REAL TIME, and in most instances his intellect manages to side on the right side of issues. However, in a disturbing few moments last night one wondered if maybe he had too many tokes before his show. In one exchange, which included guest Sam Harris, Bill opined:

“Do we really want to be spending $4 on every adult over 65, to only $1 on every child under 18?”

Guest Sam Harris, a putative, proclaimed liberal, didn’t help matters by suggesting Social Security be “means tested”, so that no high earners could receive benefits.

First, let me hammer Bill before going on to Sam Harris. The issue again, isn’t “ entitlements” such as Social Security, but rather out of control “defense spending” which is really EMPIRE building! I mean, c’mon already! Do we REALLY need 702 military 'installations' in 63 foreign countries with 4,471 bases altogether? This, according to the Defense Department's 2012 annual budget statement.

Clearly, if you’re spending so much on this nonsense there will be little left for humane spending, including on social insurance. Nor will there be sufficient funding for education, teachers. Bill, before disengaging mouth, ought to have considered what spending $0.3b each on 2,335 F-35 bombers would have accomplished for schools, services, paying teachers. Instead, he became an instant Neoliberal moron by parroting their usual lines, almost right out of Bob Woodward’s playbook.

So what Bill actually did with his reckless comment, is disclose being hostage to the false choice paradigm – which he’s often accused others of promoting! Had he done a tad more research, such as into former defense analyst Chuck Spinney’s research, showing that the jump in military spending in 2004-05 by 2% of GDP would mean “war on social programs” – he might have been more temperate. He’d also then have recognized that spending on seniors – whether via Medicare or Social Security, is not counterpoised against spending on education and services for youth. Instead, it is bloated military spending which is gobbling up so much of the budget pie it leaves little for other needs. See also:

Bill also appears oblivious to the fact that aging Boomers in their 50s -early 60s) have actually suffered the most in the past decade and hence need the social insurance lifeline the most. Studies have found that Americans in their 50s and early 60s — those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security — have lost the most earnings power of any age group. This according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company.  Their income fell 10% even as their retirement savings and home values fell sharply at the worst possible time: just before they needed to cash out. They are supporting both aged parents and unemployed young-adult children, earning them the inauspicious nickname “Generation Squeeze.”  Meanwhile, a recent study by economists at Wellesley College found that people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security lost up to three years from their life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.

Does Bill really want to cut the social insurance floor out from under them to save the military industrial complex and defense contractors?  These besieged Boomers – above all- NEED those “entitlements”!

Hence, if Bill had been even remotely with it, instead of Neoliberal grand standing, he’d have been able to offer a REAL solution: i.e. that closing 50% of all the overseas military bases, installations, would save $500 BILLION a year! (DoD estimates put the cost of sustaining all the bases at $1 trillion a year). THAT money would then be more than enough to help all the under 18 segment of the population, as opposed to pissing more good money after bad on useless bases – many of which are in WWII former opponent nations, like Japan and Germany.

Now, as for Sam Harris, while his “means testing” proposal sounds rational and reasonable at first blush, it also shows a disarming lapse in grasping political dynamics. The fact is that when social programs are means-tested, they instantly become altered to WELFARE in political perceptions. And we have already seen what happened to welfare in the 1996 ‘Welfare to Work’ act. Think it couldn’t happen with Social Security? Think again!

Think of this now: when all economic demographics pay in and can also obtain benefits, they will be more likely to see the program as worth preserving. On the other hand, when some of these, especially in the upper tiers, have their benefits cut off by a means –test, they will be less likely to offer further political support. After all, they’re not benefiting, so why should they? To them, Social Security becomes just another "welfare" program to be cut!

When enough economically powerful demographics or quintiles are sliced off, the voting interests also mutate and this will include the directions of money contributions. These political campaign contributions will then pitch toward those enclaves favoring “entitlement cuts” or maybe even balancing access to Social Security with work (The same way my own state of Colo. requires indigent seniors to work in exchange for receiving breaks on their property taxes. For example, if you get a $1500 break on your property taxes you can expect to work for 500 hrs. at $3.00 /hr)

The conclusion is that Sam Harris is just as wrong with his means testing proposal as Bill Maher is with his entitlement cuts to loosen funds for the under-18 year old set.

Hopefully both these guys will move away from their unwarranted Neoliberal enchantment in the near future.

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