Monday, April 20, 2015

Means Testing, Marxism and Chris Christie

Remember that old book, Animal Farm?  That glorious, little book which every American child reads in grade school and whose lessons are promptly forgotten by so many in adulthood?  Yes, that’s the one.  It’s a story about achieving communism through incrementalism.  Here’s how it works:  you begin with what seems like a noble purpose and you establish a set of rules.  Then slowly, over time, the powers that be begin to change the rules…one by one…, until one day people wake up and what they have no longer resembles the noble thing that they were sold, but that’s okay because most of them no longer remember what the noble thing was to begin with.  Anyway, it’s then too late, because the changes tipped the scales in someone’s favor, and someone isn’t about to give that up without a fight.

The history of Social Security in this nation is a case study in incrementalism.  When it first began in 1937 the payroll tax to fund Social Security was 2%, half being paid by the employee and half paid by the employer.  Over time the tax has been gradually increased to its current total of 12.4%.  That’s an increase in the tax rate of 520%.  But hold on.  The maximum earnings that could be taxed in 1937 were $3,000, which equals $48,900 in today’s dollars; however, instead of the maximum being $48,900 today the maximum has been gradually increased to $118,500, an increase of more than 142%.  Since its inception there have been gradual but expansive additions to the roster of people who qualify for Social Security; and over time there have been changes to the minimum age at which benefits are paid out.  Let’s not forget, also, that at the time it was enacted it was controversial to begin wtih, and it’s constitutionality was challenged in the SCOTUS much like Obamacare was.

With each decade, the realities of simple math and human nature that point to the program’s inevitable doom have prompted our ever-resourceful lawmakers to propose changing yet another rule.  They want to “fix” Social Security by “means-testing” people and withholding benefits from anyone who is above a certain means.  Means-testing has probably been quietly bandied about for quite some time among the busy little bees in our government because, let’s face it, it would mean the realization of the wet dreams of the socialists and Marxists.  Lately, though, certain philosophically-challenged Republicans have brought the proposal to the forefront of the public discussion on Social Security in what seems a misguided effort to appear to be bold, fiscal conservatives.  Paul Ryan started beating the drum for means-testing a few years back.  Now Chris Christie is jumping on the bandwagon in an apparent effort to salvage his fading presidential aspirations.  Right on cue NPR’s Mara Liasson called Christie “brave” when the subject was discussed on Special Report yesterday, so there you go.  It is now “brave” to propose withholding a promised benefit to someone who has fulfilled his end of the bargain.  Gee, give yourself a pat on the back, Governor Christie. 

For anyone who still doesn’t understand what’s wrong with means testing for Social Security retirement benefits here’s a quiz:  tell me what the difference is between means-testing and Marxism (“From each according to his ability; to each according to his need”), because I can’t tell the difference. 

“But CW,” some will argue, “The country is drowning in debt, yet we are giving Social Security benefits to millionaires and billionaires and the money could run out.” 

First let me ask:  Does anyone really believe that the Koch brothers or Bill Gates are going to waste their time filling out applications to receive Social Security?  Trust me it is not the “one percenters” who are draining the mythical trust fund.  Social Security revenue doesn’t keep up with expectations largely because the usual free-loaders have elbowed their way to the trough.  Consequently, means-testing will ultimately necessitate eliminating payments not just to the wealthy, but to the middle and upper-middle class, because that is the only way to keep up with the free-loaders.  Eventually it will be strictly a mechanism for transferring wealth from the earners to the non-earners, because we all know that no politician will ever suggest cutting off the free-loaders.  The last thing Republicans should do is to pave the way for legalized theft by “fixing” this mess via means-testing, and anyone who suggests doing so has surrendered any claim to being a conservative in my book. 

If you’re not sufficiently irritated yet, let’s go ahead and consider what happens when we adopt means-testing.  How will the government know if you’re too wealthy to receive benefits?  Well, you’re going to have to give them all of your financial information every year, right?  Tell them how much you have in the bank, how much you have in your retirement account, what your property is worth, etc., etc., etc.  So much for privacy.  I’m sure nothing bad will come from sharing this information with the government.

In her recent coming out video (coming out for POTUS candidate, that is), liberal Democrat Hillary Clinton promised to help us do more than “just get by,” but allowing most of us to just get by is exactly what the socialists want and hope to achieve by incrementally siphoning off anything over and above what they think we should have.  This is not a fight about keeping benefits.  It’s a fight about freedom, and holding politicians in our government accountable to the promises they make so that maybe one day they will cease making false promises.  Don’t hold your breath on that one.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Governor vs. Senator for POTUS…or…Why Krauthammer and Coulter are Wrong

With each new candidate that enters the race for POTUS it seems we must renew the debate over who is better qualified to be president, a former governor or a former senator.  I find myself increasingly annoyed listening to the arguments on both sides of this debate, but I am especially irked by the argument some are making that we should be wary of any first-term senator candidates because Obama was a first-term senator and look how that turned out.  Two of my favorite pundits, Charles Krauthammer and (sometimes) Ann Coulter, have both recently made that argument, much to my surprise and disappointment. 

There may be merit to the ‘inexperience’ argument and I wouldn’t dismiss the notion that leadership experience would be helpful to a president, but let’s get something clear once and for all:  Obama’s failure as POTUS was not a matter of his inexperience.  This ought to be evident by the fact that he has now been POTUS for six long years and despite that “experience” he is every bit as bad today as he was on day one, if not worse.  How can that be if experience makes one a better POTUS?  Fifty-plus years of “experience” didn’t help Fidel Castro, which ought to be a real head-scratcher to those who tout experience as the chief qualification for POTUS. 

Experience is helpful to a candidate who wants to do the right things but doesn’t yet know how. On the other hand, no amount of “experience” will make a candidate with the wrong ideas and the wrong motives, i.e., Barack Obama, become a good POTUS, so I find the comparison between him and conservative candidates nothing short of maddening.

Now let’s talk about the “experience advantage” of the governors.  It’s true that governors are given a unique opportunity to lead, and the history of their time in office ostensibly offers voters a sort of window into what their presidency might look like.  Be that as it may, however, the role of governor is quite different than the role of POTUS, or at least it should be.  Governors routinely deal with issues relating to education, transportation, healthcare, infrastructure, and other issues that, for better or worse, involve them in the day to day lives of their constituents.  The best governors, we are told, have learned the art of compromise (a.k.a. “reaching across the aisle”) and they know how to “take care” of their citizens.  The way I interpret this is that governors have learned the art of socialism.  I’m sure some would bristle at that description but it’s true.  Have you listened to former conservative, John Kasich, since he became governor of Ohio?  It seems his philosophies have evolved since he got that job, and not for the better.

Being that the federal government has no business, under the Constitution, of micromanaging education, transportation, healthcare, and so many other things that were meant to be left to the states, I am not necessarily impressed when a presidential candidate boasts of his “management experience” owing to his tenure as governor of this or that state.  In fact, I get a little scared.  I want a POTUS who protects my rights, not someone whose claim to fame is that he knows how to negotiate with the thieves on the other side of the aisle. 

Some conservatives in the pro-governor camp have invoked the legacy of Ronald Reagan to give weight to their side, but we should not allow our esteem for Reagan to let us forget that even Reagan gave us amnesty and arguably sowed the seeds to Obamacare (see “Ronald Reagan, EMTALA & the Roots of Obamacare”).  My point is not to diminish Reagan but to note that his greatest achievements as POTUS came when he followed his conservative instincts, not necessarily when he leaned on the compromise or nanny-state skills he became accustomed to using as governor.

History has thus far demonstrated that there is not necessarily a common denominator in candidates’ resumes that strongly suggests success or failure (I readily concede, however, that another community organizer is a slam-dunk bad idea).  Woodrow Wilson was a former governor, as were Clinton and George W. Bush.  LBJ and Nixon both served as vice president prior to their presidencies, so they could hardly be accused of inexperience, but we know how that turned out, if I may borrow a phrase from the pundits.  As far as I am concerned any “experience” points one earns as a governor is pretty much cancelled out by the ugly sausage-making they learn to immerse themselves in, and which they must unlearn in order to become a good POTUS.  That leaves us with name recognition, any actual achievements they can boast of, and the ideas and principles they bring to the table – same as anyone else.