Thursday, June 16, 2005

social security, one more time

The President isn't busy talking about how the Trust Fund doesn't exist, he worries about it going broke and the national catastrophe that will surely ensue due to all the broken promises. Policy wonks suggest raising the retirement age, but no one who works because they have to likes that idea. Every once in a while, we might want to ask what the fuss is all about.

The CBO makes that easy. By 2100 (the date of the largest gap in the table), social security will be spending 2% more of the GDP than it takes in. Revenues will be about 5% of GDP, and outlays will be about 7%, all substantial, perhaps worrisome sums.

But if a 2% SS deficit a hundred years from now should worry us, you'd think a 3.6% deficit today would worry us even more. After all, we don't really know what will happen in a hundred years. Today is real. Today, we're spending 3.6% more than we take in. If a potential future deficit of 2% is so ominous that we must act today, how come it is safe to delay action on our current deficit until tomorrow? Financing the 2% SS gap could be closed by raising revenues as a percent of GDP by 12% (16% to 18%) over the next hundred years, hardly a herculean task. Closing our current deficit would require raising our current revenues by 22% in a couple years. Which seems harder?

The CBO federal budget projection has some remarkable details. In 2012, for example, it shows us running a surplus. That requires a hefty increase in revenue, and I wondered where it would come from. In 2004, individual income taxes were 7% of GDP. In 2012, they're projected to be 10% of GDP, a whopping 40% increase. Corporate taxes relative to GDP drop over that period. It's hard to imagine such a scenario actually coming to pass.

what did hiatt really say?

From atrios, a pointer to elton, who characterizes Fred Hiatt's view in this op-ed as "Might makes right." I don't see it.

When Hiatt says
The premise of this highhandedness is that the United States is, on balance, a force for good in the world -- a superpower that uses its might not to subjugate others but to allow them to live freely. This is a premise that The Post's editorial page on the whole accepts -- to the dismay of many readers.
he does not say that the Post accepts high-handedness, but that the Post believes that the United States is, on balance, a force for good in the world. That's a judgement on the effects of US policy, not the propriety of the means. Indeed, his final point
Do we behave as well as we claim, as we should, as we expect of others? That's the beginning of the right conversation...
is that right is necessary to justify might, not the other way around.

Hiatt does not explicitly condemn US unilateralism, and it could be that such unilateralism is enough on its own to outweigh any good a nation could do, however spotless it's record. A policy may need to pass the "net benefit" test to be considered, but that test may still not be sufficient justification for the exertion of power. Hiatt's piece is silent on such issues, and it is fair to criticize that silence. Criticizing the claim that might makes right is not, because that claim was never made.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

hero or traitor?

To be honest, until I saw the first TV promo ("Deep Throat revealed, but is he a hero or a traitor?"), it never occured to me that this was a controversial question. It is hard to believe that the country has changed so much over the last thirty years that this could be seriously debated. And yet it has, and it is.

Felt did not bring down President Nixon, the truth did that. Felt helped the truth come to light. Those who argue that he should not have done so are arguing that Nixon's crimes should have gone undetected and unpunished, that loyalty to the chain of command is more important than loyalty to the nation and its laws, that the highest value in the land is in fact fealty to authority.