Like a Good Neighbor?

As anyone who has read my comments over the years surely knows by now, I generally view Ezra Klein as over-rated and unimaginative. As the saying goes,  “Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” and Klein provided a genuine public service this week when he noted:

If you look at how the federal government spends our money, it’s an insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army.

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59 thoughts on “Like a Good Neighbor?”

  1. Except that actual insurance companies actually invest the policy premiums, rather than keep hoping that today’s receipts will be enough to pay yesterday’s claims.

    But an interesting observation.

  2. Not a thing, my friend… as long as I’m one of the first investors. Those tend to make money in the deal. But my grandmother, rest her soul, was one of the first investors in Social Security. She got her money back and then some. I doubt I’ll be so lucky.

    By the by, learned something interesting a few weeks ago. Did you know that if you’re on Social Security and you have dependent minor children, you get EXTRA payments until they turn 18? Yep! Social Security anticipates old guys with young wives reproducing past the age of 47, and gives you extra money for the mouths you’ve still got to feed. (My dad turned 65, and my two youngest siblings are still living at home. The youngest is 14, so dad’ll get at least 4 more year of the supplemental payments!)

  3. You and me, bro. But those of us at the front of the Baby Boom generation have only a marginal chance of seeing much out of it. And anybody younger than 45 better not be counting on ever seeing a dime.

    Personally, my financial planning for retirement assumes I will never see a dime either. And I’m less than 5 years from normal eligibility. I may be pleasantly surprised, of course. At least briefly. But only if the nation decides to ignore looming bankruptcy until it is too late to avoid — which looks like a safe bet, the way out Congress is approaching the situation.

  4. As an opinion blogger, I find Klein kind of boring.

    But compared to a lot of his fellow Beltway journalists, he’s a gem. He’s a good interviewer, of Republicans as well as of Democrats. He does actual research sometimes. He even shows the capacity to change his mind once in a while, and admit it. The WaPo needs more people like him.

  5. Why is Social Security even included in the chart? It is self-financing. It does not depend on general tax revenues.

    I’d much prefer to see the figures with Social Security bracketed to one side. It would show the true proportion of Defense Spending vs. all the other functions of the government.

    Is the TARP slice so small because so much of it has been paid back, or because so much of it has been forgiven?

  6. Why is Social Security even included in the chart?

    Because Social Security is an integral part of federal government spending. The fact that the taxes paid for it are theoretically set aside doesn’t change that. If the program did not exist (an unlikely proposition) those taxes paid would probably go directly into the general fund.

    I’d much prefer to see the figures with Social Security bracketed to one side. It would show the true proportion of Defense Spending vs. all the other functions of the government.

    I’m not sure, but you might find what you’re looking for here. That’s the June 2010 Congressional Budget Office report on the Long-Term Budget Outlook.

    It is self-financing.

    IIRC, as of this year, it isn’t.

    It does not depend on general tax revenues.

    Not for long.

    Is the TARP slice so small because so much of it has been paid back, or because so much of it has been forgiven?

    I’m not sure but I think the TARP slice is so small because almost all of that money was appropriated and spent in prior fiscal years.

  7. With Social Security, you have two choices:

    1) you can assume that it is “self funded”. Of course, the funds are “set aside” are actually in Treasury bills (or notes or bonds or whatever the technical term is). So, if you do this, you have to ramp up the government debt burden (including interest on the debt) accordingly. And you also have to figure out some way to deal with the fact that the amount put in by most people (from Day 1) is substantially lower than the benefits that they have ended up collecting — not to mention lower than the total that our generation is supposedly promised.

    2) you can accept that Social Security taxes are just part of the Federal government’s general revenue. Which gets spent on various things, including Social Security payments.

    The second is a lot closer to reality. And avoids the hassle of figuring out how to deal with the difference between each person’s payments over the years and what they end up collecting.

  8. Randy, you said, ,”The fact that the taxes paid for it are theoretically set aside doesn’t change that. If the program did not exist (an unlikely proposition) those taxes paid would probably go directly into the general fund.”

    Since the Social Security is financed out of a separate, distinct tax, the tax will also have to be eliminated if the program itself is eradicated. There would not be a legal reason to collect Social Security taxes if there is no Social Security. Therefore the monies being collected now for the program would not just “go into General Revenue,” because they wouldn’t be collected.

    You also said, “And avoids the hassle of figuring out how to deal with the difference between each person’s payments over the years and what they end up collecting.”

    This actually is not the way Social Security is administered. There is account, from which a person makes withdrawals upon retirement or disability. As you know, current payments are financed out of current revenues. If a person is entitled to the money because they meet the statutory requirements, they can collect the payments.

    They’ll continue to collect the payments until they are no longer eligible or they are dead. How much they paid into the system originally really doesn’t matter There is no “hassle of figuring out each person’s payments” because it is not a savings plan. It is an old age and disability pension. The American people voted it into existence in 1935 because they believed that the country *should* make sure that the elderly, survivors, and the disabled should be supported.

    I was paying Social Security taxes in 1984 when Pres. Reagan doubled the amount of FICA taxes withheld. That increase was supposed to cover any projected deficiency until 2035. That fund is still more than solvent, and will remain so for at *least* another 21 years.

    What the General Budget has borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund is the *surplus* in the program. That is the money that is collected from SS taxes each year that is *over and above* the amount paid out.

    I do agree with you that this year, through 2013, Social Security taxes collected are not equal to the amount paid out. This is because unemployment has been so high, and FICA taxes are only collected from the employed. But that is why there is a Trust Fund, right?

    The fact that the Federal Government has borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund does not mean that Social Security is now “paid for” out of general revenue. The People of the United States *owe* that money to the fund, which is there for the welfare of the elderly, widows, orphans, and the disabled.

    Should the people of the United States decide not to fulfill their obligations to, essentially, the People of the United States? That is one question. What do the People of the United States believe is a more important priority than keeping the promise they made to each other that the program can be counted on in old age?

    Right now, the limit on wages subject to the social security tax for 2010 is $106,800, I would argue that the wage limit should be raised, perhaps to $212,00. Right now, low-wage earners pay a much greater proportional rate of their income to Social Security than do people in the top 5% of our economy. A flat tax, like Social Security, is only fair if there is no wage limit.

    Removing the wage limit would remove *any* threat of Social Security insolvency.

  9. Since the Social Security is financed out of a separate, distinct tax, the tax will also have to be eliminated if the program itself is eradicated. There would not be a legal reason to collect Social Security taxes if there is no Social Security. Therefore the monies being collected now for the program would not just “go into General Revenue,” because they wouldn’t be collected.

    Louise, while I firmly believe that the Social Security program will never be eliminated, if it ever were, I am confident that the elimination of FICA contributions would be almost entirely offset by increased personal income taxes. I believe that the fact that FICA contributions exist limits the ability of the federal government to tax.

    You also said, “And avoids the hassle of figuring out how to deal with the difference between each person’s payments over the years and what they end up collecting.”

    No, I didn’t. WJ did.

    As to reforming the Social Security system, the Deficit Commission idea of raising the retirement age by 2 years over the course of the next sixty years in order to keep it solvent was DOA within days (if not hours) of being floated, and soundly opposed by a majority of those polled on the subject. The American people can votes themselves anything they want. If they can’t pay the bill when due, whose fault is that?

  10. No problem, Louise! I’ve done the same thing myself on more than one occasion ;-)

    Anyway, curious as to where you think the money will be coming from once they start draining the Social Security trust account over the course of the next 21 years (provided nothing changes). AFAIK, the trust account exists in name only.

  11. The Trust Fund won’t really start to be “drained” for 21 years. It is at that point that we begin to enter a state odf stais: the amount of taxes collected will equal the amount of benefits paid out. According to the CBO, that period will last about ten years.

    I do believe that the money to support the Social Security could sensibly come from from two sources: an upwards revision of the wage limit on Social Security – whether it be doubles (to $212,000) or removed altogether; and means testing.

    I also believe that the current for-profit medical insurance system is fiscally unsustainable. It is a huge part of the reason that Medicare is skyrocketing in costs. Sooner or later, a not-for-profit public option will become available, simply because of public demand.

    Medicare will probably be folded into that, with supplemental and auxiliary insurance programs available for those who wish to purchase them. This sort of funding mechanism operates in the same way that health care throughout the rest of the industrialized world does, delivering both a guaranteed level of universal coverage, and options for whomever chooses to pursue them. The cost savings to the public would help to eliminate a large portion of the projected long-term deficit.

    After 2035 0r 2040? There are a number of options. Where will Congress find the money? It depends on how powerful certain interests are. It also depends on what the American public sees as the threats to its existence. Will they find the health, safety and support of their weaker members important? Tax cuts? Military expenditures? Disintegrating infrastructure? Rebuilding of our manufacturing base?

    We’re used to the idea – preeminent since 1941 – that the threats to our nation come from outside forces, “evildoers” who wish to destroy us. We may come to believe that the existential threats are internal: vast inequalities on a number of levels, or a lack of investment in public works, or even climate change.

    It’s going to be a tough but fascinating time to be living on Earth, especially if you are a student of history.

  12. The American people didn’t vote Social Security into existence, ht eAmerican Congress did. As the law of the land, the Congress can vote to amend or abolish it as they see fit.

    As for the funding of the program – it has no funds. It has the PROMISE of funds, in the form of US Treasury bonds. If a sovereign default were to occur, then Social Security would have nothing. As it is, Medicare expenses are growing at an alarming rate. Given projections on that, SS, and interest on the debt, the likelihood of the United States reaching sovereign default levels of indebtness also increases at an equally alarming rate.

    Furthermore, even allowing for the “investments” in Treasuries, SS & Medicare are UNDERFUNDED from an actuarial standpoint, to the tunes of tens of trillions of dollars. We can vote for whatever programs we choose (or rather, our idiot Congressslimes can), but if we don’t have the money to pay for it? What can’t be done, won’t be done, and the government has currently set us on a course that cannot be sustained.

  13. It’s going to be a tough but fascinating time to be living on Earth, especially if you are a student of history.

    True. But I’ll be dead by then, I’m sure, so it remains relatively academic to me ;-)

    They CAN solve the Social Security in any number of relatively painless ways. I thought the raise retirement age by 2 years over the course of 60 years was the easiest of that lot but even it is impossible to sell. I see no sign of the political will to raise payroll tax limits, do you? “Means testing” borders on political suicide (see aborted Reagan era addition of drug and long-term care coverage to Medicare) and ultimately threatens the long-term commitment as it renders the concept of universality all but obsolete. (IMO, of course)

    I think it will be a long, long time before either political party goes to the mat to reform our healthcare system.

    The special interests are ourselves. Subordination for the common good began disappearing decades ago. What you or I may perceive as wasteful military spending, for example, millions of others depend upon for their livelihood.

  14. The profits of the health insurance companies are a pretty damn small piece of healthcare costs. Shifting to non-profit health insurance companies isn’t going to change much at all. Now if you can convince doctors and the healthcare providers themselves to all shift to non-profit status, with the doctors drastically cutting their own salaries, and all of the various lab test providers and equipment companies and so forth to ALL be non-profit, we might make a dent. But of course that’s not going to happen.

    Or we could give more incentive to consumers to take price into account when deciding which healthcare services to purchase (and a great deal more of medical care is susceptible to that; it’s not all emergency room, I have no choice type of situations). That way WE, rather than faceless public or private bureaucrats, get to decide what’s worth it and what’s not.

  15. Louise,
    Sorry I wasn’t more clear. What I was trying to say is this: Social Security benefits have been increased (repeatedly) because the fund was (at the time) “in surplus.” But that was just because when I was growing up, families routinely had 3-4 kids. Which, combined with immigration, meant that there were lots and lots of taxpayers putting money in for the last few decades. But currently the norm is more like 2 kids. Which means that more money will be going out than coming in — as soon as the Baby Boomers start retiring en masse, which is to say, in about 2 years.

    Now if the money that was collected had been enough, on an actuarial bases, to cover the future costs, we might be OK. But it hasn’t been. Starting with the original recipients, nobody (i.e. no generation/birth year) has paid in enough to cover what they will eventually draw. No problem, as long as the population keeps expanding at a fast enough rate. But it hasn’t. It’s just a matter of demographics. At current rates, to keep pace Social Security needs around 4 people paying in per person drawing benefits. 2 or 2 1/2 just doesn’t cut it.

  16. And as others point out, Medicare is way worse. It was rapidly becoming unsustainable, even before Medicare Part D (prescription drugs) was added 10 year ago — with no tax increase to pay for it.

    And the rest of the health insurance industry is, due to the rising costs of new technologies, rapidly getting to where they have to raise rates beyond reach if they are to even break even. (Which will get screams of outrage from people who see the dollar amount of their profits, which is large, and ignore the profit per insured amount, which is tiny.) It’s not just that doctors make a lot (although they do), but that the equipment and medications used are extremely expensive. And everybody wants the very best for themselves and their loved ones. (The amount spent on extra tests as “defensive medicine,” i.e. to assure against mal-practice suits, is a separate question.)

  17. WJ,

    I do agree that there hasn’t been enough on the revenue side to put SS on an actuarially sound basis past 2035 (which will be here faster than we know it.) There hasn’t been a change in SS withholding since 1984, when the withholding was doubled on wage-earners. (What a shock that was for folks making minimum wage or slightly more!)

    SS withholding is not a “progressive” tax – since it is a flat tax, the lower the wages, the greater proportion of their income will be withheld. To simply raise the amount of SS withholding overall be have a depressing effect on the economy, because those in lower wage brackets, who must spend all of their income on goods (like housing and food) and services (doctors, transportation, etc) will have that much less to pump into the economy.

    The received wisdom over the past 30 years is that lowering taxes on the wealthiest will produce more prosperity and growth *overall.* If this were true, the Bush tax cuts would have resulted in a gusher of new jobs, and the country’s prosperity ten years later (that is, today) would be flourishing for all citizens. What lowering taxes on the wealthiest has done is produced more prosperity *for them.* The statistics are clear on that point: the middle class has actually lost ground, in both wages and most definitely in their savings. The wealthiest now possess more of the country’s wealth than at any time since the Gilded Age.

    I believe that a health democracy can *only* exist when *all* the citizens are educated, health, and secure.To have a society where 1% of the population has more billions than they can ever spend, and 99% of the population is desperate.depressed, and struggling for their existence is a situation ripe for revolution – as we are seeing across the Arab world.

    It would be far smarter of the wealthiest 1 or 2% to agree to simple changes – perhaps returning top income tax levels to pre-Bush-tax cuts. Increasing tax revenue to the General Fund would alleviate the constant demand to borrow from the Trust Fund to begin with. It would decrease the current annual budget deficit, and certainly lower the long-term projected deficit.

    The Social Security withholding itself could be altered, by raising the limit on wages subject to the tax to $212,00 (doubling it. Even removing wage limits all together would produce sufficient revenue to keep the system solvent.

    I have no more sympathy for the top 1%. They have not shown themselves to be good citizens. Corporations are sitting on $35 billion *in cash* right now. Putting that money to work hiring *American workers* would go a long way to recapitalizing Social Security, because it would increase payroll numbers.

    There are a lot of ways to fix SS which do NOT harm the mass of Americans financially. Those are the steps I would advocate.

  18. “I think it will be a long, long time before either political party goes to the mat to reform our healthcare system. ”

    What’s Obamacare, then?

  19. The received wisdom over the past 30 years is that lowering taxes on the wealthiest will produce more prosperity and growth *overall.* If this were true, the Bush tax cuts would have resulted in a gusher of new jobs, and the country’s prosperity ten years later (that is, today) would be flourishing for all citizens. What lowering taxes on the wealthiest has done is produced more prosperity *for them.* The statistics are clear on that point: the middle class has actually lost ground, in both wages and most definitely in their savings. The wealthiest now possess more of the country’s wealth than at any time since the Gilded Age.

    This has several problems. First, tax cuts do not work in isolation. For example, we might be much worse off NOW if the Bush tax cuts hadn’t been enacted. Trying to separate out various causes and effects ain’t easy. For example, the Bush tax cuts have not really had an effect on our national policy of shipping our manufactoring jobs overseas. (That has been the national policy of both political parties for forty years now.) So whether or not Bush’s tax cuts were or were not a good idea, and whether or not they produced jobs, is not as easy as saying “Things stink now, so they failed.” You might as well say that things stink now, so we should have cancelled Seasame Street ten years ago. They’re equally valid arguments, unless you can prove that income tax policy is the ONLY thing that impacts the economy.

    Second, why do you think the Buish tax cuts would have significant’y altered the distribution of wealth in this country? T. Boone Pickens would still have truckloads of money to burn in his fire place to stay warm at night. At the taxes not incurred would have been used to pay more government workers. That isn’t helping us poor folk any. Further, the middle class lost ground through the Clinton years as well, and has lost ground at an amazing rate during the Obama years. Nothing about higher marginal tax rates on the rich would significant’y alter the picture, save punative tax rates. And that has been shown to not work very well either, unless you’re the tax man.

    Wages (and relative wealth) have been stagnant or declining for several decades now. Tax rates have had far less to do with that than have debt practices, a declining industrial base, and especailly America’s relative decline versus the rest of the world. We were pre-eminent after WWI because the bulk of the world’s economic capacity had been ruined by years of warfare. Recovery from that took a few decades for Europe & Japan. China didn’t really get things going in a serious way until less than 35 years ago. All of that has meant better capacity at cheaper wages elsewhere. That was going to degrade our jobs base regardless of internal tax policies. And that was going to hurt the middle class the most – the blue collar types first, and then the white collar types.

    Finally, those corps aren’t siting on anywhere near the cash claimed. Or rather, it is worth less than claimed. Outside of a few of the big tech companies, most companies aren’t that well off. You can’t just look at the cash, you also have to look at the liabilities. And it has been shown that most of those greedy corps sitting on mountains of cash also have large liabilities. It’s a wash for many of them, and for many more they’re actually in the hole. Corps are stockpiling cash for several strategic reasons. All of those reasons ultimately boil down to one thing: After the shock of the autumn in 2008, companies don’t trust that the international financial system will be able to get them cash in an emergency if they need it, so they’re socking it away for another rainy day. While they can get cash, they will get cash. (One can read more about this at Mish Shedlock’s blog. This has been a favorite topic of his.)

    What it comes down to is this – the companies, just like the central bankers and the politicians, know that we’re still deep in it, and they’re taking precautions. They’re caliming that things are better, but their actions show otherwise.

  20. Karen, Obamacare (really it should be Reid-Care, as the legislation as passed was basically all put toether by Harry Reid) was doubling down on the status quo, with a few more layers of bad government oversight and dictates thrown in. The only way to rationally explain it is that they’re trying to make the entire system fail so that they can get what they want later – a true nationalized healthcare system run from some office in the Old Executive Building. (Probably run by someone appointed by the President with no Congressional approval, i.e. yet another “czar”.)

    Now there are plenty of IRRATIONAL ways to explain it, the most alarming being that they actually think it will work. That’s actually possible, given that the President, most of the Congress, and most of the experts they relied on didn’t actually understand the current system. For example, the President either didn’t know that most large companies self-insure, or he was telling bald-faced lies about the health insurance companies. But I know for a goddamned fact that a great many of his prionouncements about the (then) current system were dead wrong, as that was my professional life before getting crushed by the recession. You can decide for yourself if it’s better that the President and his men are completely incompetent or completely dishonest. But it’s AT LEAST one or the other, if not both. (The Republicans were no better on health care. Most of the ones I heard speak aped the same incorrect information about insurance companies and completely ignored the existence of a large subset of self-insuring employers. They do get one more option beyond being dishonest and incompetent, however. It may just be that they were too cowardly to tell the truth. And that’s no real improvement in a nation’s leadership.)

  21. What’s Obamacare, then?

    Exhibit #1

    FWIW, IMO:
    “Death Panels” = Exhibit #2

    2010 Election Results = Exhibit #3

  22. Further, the middle class lost ground through the Clinton years as well, and has lost ground at an amazing rate during the Obama years.

    IIRC, the middle class has been losing ground for decades. Fairness dictates the observation that they didn’t do well during the Bush years. The financial collapse didn’t happen under Obama. It happened under Bush and, as we have seen, it has been deep, long, and painful no matter what, or which, government tried to do about it.

    First, tax cuts do not work in isolation.

    No they don’t. And pretending they do, as everyone seems to be doing now, is the road to ruin as long as everyone refuses to get serious about what needs to be done to maintain them. Otherwise, your baby is going to have a miserable future in store.

    For example, we might be much worse off NOW if the Bush tax cuts hadn’t been enacted.

    As it turns out, they were, and are, sufficiently marginal in the big scheme of things (trillion dollar wars, half-trillion dollar Medicare drug benefit giveaways, etc.) that their enactment and continuance are lamentable.

  23. They have not shown themselves to be good citizens.

    I have a problem with comments like this. That’s a slippery slope you seem happy to go down and I’m not too sure you’ll like the result if others join in with their definitions of who or what is not a good citizen.

    [EDIT:]
    FWIW, here’s a list of companies with large cash holdings as of July, 2010:

    Cisco: $39.11 billion
    Celgene: $2.95 billion
    Qlogic Corp: $375.4 million
    Forest Labs: $3.32 billion
    Novell: $979.6 million
    Tellabs: $1.4 billion
    Priceline: $1.24 billion
    Humana: $8.58 billion
    Lorillard: $1.66 billion
    NetApp Inc: $3.72 billion
    Analog Devices: $2.39 billion
    Google: $26.51 billion
    VeriSign: $1.55 billion
    Linear Technology: $1.02 billion
    Altera: $1.74 billion

    The methodology used for the above left out many big names with vast amounts of cash. For example, according to their most recent financial statements:

    Intel has almost $22 billion in cash and short-term investments
    Apple has almost $26 billion of the same
    Microsoft has $37 billion
    Nike has $5 billion
    GE has $77 billion (but they are a semi-financial company)
    Dow has $7 billion
    Amazon has almost $8 billion
    Oracle has about $18.5 billion
    Berkshire Hathaway has almost $36 billion

    Are all these companies bad citizens? Is Warren Buffet a bad citizen? Bill Gates? Jeff Bezos? Steve Jobs? Larry Ellison?

    BTW, the total amount currently “hoarded” by American corporations is in the $1.8 trillion dollar range, not $35 billion. That’s about equal to the proposed budget deficit next year.

  24. BTW, the total amount currently “hoarded” by American corporations is in the $1.8 trillion dollar range, not $35 billion. That’s about equal to the proposed budget deficit next year.

    What a pity for the sensibilities of the far left that, if we abruptly confiscated it all, we could have a balanced budget for 1 year and then be right back where we are now. (OK, except for the negative impact on the economy of having all those companies get trashed at once.) Well, at least it gives a perspective on just how bad the deficit problem is.

  25. For example, we might be much worse off NOW if the Bush tax cuts hadn’t been enacted.

    Quite true, Ice. On the other hand, the economy might be in much better shape. The trouble with counterfactuals in economics is that they are so hard to evaluate. On rare occasions we get two countries with apparently identical economic situations, which then enact distinctly different policies. But unfortunately for progress in macroeconomics, such experimental evidence is very rare.

  26. Perhaps there is a middle ground between confiscating it all, and simply waiting for the Corporations and the Banks to get in the mood for investment in something besides financial instruments.

    It would consist of a tax policy that putatively taxes returns from derivatives and other speculative investments. These instruments are extremely profitable for the financial class.. They do do nothing to encourage investment in infrastructure replacement, which is badly needed. Nor do these investments create a single job, unless it’s for the people in the financial sector itself.

    If the nation wants more investment and a lower unemployment rate, then its tax policy should vigorously encourage that sort of behavior. Corporations are not natural phenomena. They are pure creations of our tax codes. They have been favored, and made successful, Why shouldn’t the nation change the tax code to create a “Corporate animal” that betters the nation *as a whole,* rather than simply overloading benefits and wealth to the FIRE sector, or to the absolute wealthiest?

    A decade after the Bush tax cuts, we have neither the vaunted prosperity and job creation that was promised, *or* the balanced budget and reduction of the deficit. When you look at a chart of the structural causes of the Bush tax cuts, you can see that the deficit is not caused primarily even by spending, but by the shortfall in revenue that resulted.
    http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3036

  27. Randy, I state that corporations have “not been good citizens” because they have been given the same rights as citizens but show none of the civic responsibility that we ask of our fellow human citizens. The Citizens United case has granted them the same rights of speech as citizens. They act to form contracts and purchase and own property as citizens.

    Yet corporations are not *human.* They cannot be jailed for their crimes. They cannot serve in the military, They never die. They have no morality, and indeed, are frowned upon for doing so. Their only duty is to make money for their stockholders; if they allow other considerations to affect their decisions, the Boards of Directors can be sued. They are, essentially, sociopaths. They are designed that way.

    If Corporations are to be given the rights of citizens, why can’t their creators, the American people, insist that they behave for the betterment of their fellow “citizens,” as opposed to just the benefit of their stockholders or CEOs? It seems thatthe sheer wealth of Corporations, demonstrated by the clout in Washington, has purchased them the right to escape all obligation other than the obligation to make a profit.

    Is the right of Corporations to make and keep as much profit as possible more important than any other value in our nation?

  28. Randy: IIRC, the middle class has been losing ground for decades.

    Yeah, and I actually made that point. So what is yours in responding as though I didn’t?

    Randy: Fairness dictates the observation that they didn’t do well during the Bush years.

    That was taken as a given, as I didn’t dispute the earlier contention of louise on that point. I was pointing out that she was hardly being fair by narrowly focusing on the Bush tax cuts. So get stuffed.

    Randy: The financial collapse didn’t happen under Obama.

    And where did I claim it happened under Obama? In fact I reference that it happened in 2008.

    Goddamnit Randy, you’re not my proctologist so climb out of my ass. I know you think I’m nothing but a Republican shill, but try reading what I wrote, fuckwad.

    wj: The trouble with counterfactuals in economics is that they are so hard to evaluate.

    Uh, thank you for actually getting the point.

  29. Louise: Thank you for sharing your ideas. While I strongly disagree with most of them, I’m not interested in debating them at this time.

    Icepick: I am sorry that you were so antagonized by my idle thoughts.

  30. Louise, the projected federal deficit this year will be as large as the entire federal budget was in 1998. Total federal spending has more than doubled in the past thirteen years, increasing by about 125%. That is not a revenue problem, that is a spending problem. And no, the economy has not increased by a comparable amount over that time frame. In fact it has only grown by about 75% according to official figures. Federal government spending is outstriping economic growth by 5 to 3. No amount of revenue growth makes that sustainable.

  31. I realize i’m dog paddling in the shallow end, here in this conversation(although fuckwad is pondscum talk, ice)- but, if the collapse of our economic system is “blamed” on Bush tax cuts and “happened” under W– then he must wield a freaking huge stick to have swatted down world economics, as well.

    I’m not buying it. I think more that the big $$$$ was changing global hands at an unprecedented rate and the empty trades caught up w/the banks- the traders- and the “little people”. I’m not white collar and i doubt i qualify for blue– no middle of the road classiness here– i’m dirt. I work in dirt and i have about that much- our $$$$ is in our equity, unless it dies. All in all, I’d rather be dirt in America than any other country. Our poorness is wealth compared to many another definition of poor.

    It is also my understanding that the more money taken form corps by big gov’t causes a less generous attitude on the part of the corps- and they hide more moola as opposed to giving charitably to those less fortunate. Wouldn’t it be great if the definition of charity didn’t mean gov’t welfare, but those of more fortune looking out for those w/less? As a farmer, we get money when our paycks are so low they don’t even cover the cost of production, but since the formula of pymt is based on trading value or something that takes a rocket scientist to figure out– i doubt things will ever make sense. Farmers don’t need handouts, they need parity.

    Heh– maybe i’m ring-around-the collar ;0)!!

  32. Via Instapundit:
    CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Obama’s Louis XV Budget.

    A more cynical budget is hard to imagine. This one ignores the looming debt crisis, shifts all responsibility for serious budget-cutting to the Republicans – for which Democrats are ready with a two-year, full-artillery demagogic assault – and sets Obama up perfectly for reelection in 2012.

    Obama fancies his happy talk, debt-denial optimism to be Reaganesque. It’s more Louis XV. Reagan begat a quarter-century of prosperity; Louis, the deluge.

    Moreover, unlike Obama, Louis had the decency to admit he was forfeiting the future. He never pretended to be winning it.

    There should be linkage- i suck at tech, so…
    But, i love Krauthammer!!!!

  33. Randy,

    Thanks for your courteous reply. It’s a pleasure to discuss – or choose to hold discussion in abeyance – with a person of opposing viewpoints who is friendly and polite. Most of the time when I find myself in a discussion with someone of opposing political or economic viewpoints, there seems to be a greased slide to ad hominem attacks.

    Thanks again.

  34. icepick,

    It is both a spending *and* a revenue problem. We can both agree that the Federal budget has suffered tremendous inflation *in real dollars*, Medicare and the “Defense Budget” are the too most egregious areas of growth. (Might the fact that they are so highly reliant on for-profit work done by the private sector, which seem to have little to no cost controls?)

    During the same 13 year period you cite, projections for both the nation’s long-term and annual deficits have been widely divergent. We can both remember a time when tax and spending policies resulted in a budget surplus – the basis of the “Bush tax cuts.”

    I agree that revenue alone cannot solve the nation’s budgetary woes. What then is the answer? Budget cuts alone cannot solve the problem, either. Non-defense discretionary spending is only 12% of the Federal budget.

    What will put the unemployed and underemployed back to work at jobs which will enable them to participate in the economy through their spending and also through their tax contributions? Or must we become accustomed to an ever-shrinking standard of living for the lower 98%, as we race to the bottom in wage and price competition?

  35. icepick, perhaps the other side of the equation is to “grow the economy”. (By this, do your mean the GDP? Just trying to make sure I understand the terms being used here.)

    64% of our nation’s current GDP is produced by the financial sector – trades of financial instruments and banking. It’s extremely profitable for the banks and traders, but has no multiplier effect in the economy at large.Infrastructure, transportation and energy, manufacturing – all these industries would generate more business and income.

    Of course, the odds of any of these things happening is next to nil. It’s fairly obvious that the 2012 elections are going to be dominated by corporate-sponsored PACs who now have unlimited amounts to spend on “issues advertising.” Republicans will be bold in pushing their policies; Democrats will be timid in opposing them.

    Taxes will be slashed at both state and federal levels, and oublic expenditures will be slashed as well. Public unions – actually, all unions – will be eliminated. It looks like Medicare and Social Security will have been greatly curtailed, if not eradicated, by 2016. Public schools will be well on the way to privatization. Obama and Geithner just announced this week their plans to get almost all Federal guarantees out of the home mortgage market, “Obamacare” will have been struck down, and the number of the medically uninsured in this country will continue to climb. The estimate life expectancy in this country will fall to the lowest level in the industrialized world – probably because the US will continue to be the only nation in the industrialized world with no form of universal health care for its citizens. But we simply won’t be able to afford to keep our all of our citizens healthy.

    “Onerous EPA and OSHA regulations” will be history by the end of the decade. I expect that the minimum wage, 40-hour work week, the weekend, and the 8-hour day will be eliminated, as well, in the name of “competition.” .But then – so few of us have that luxury anymore, especially if we are small-business owners or non-salaried employees, that the change will probably pass unnoticed. Public transportation will be mainly a thing of the past, except perhaps in some run-down holdovers such as the NYC subway system. Roads and bridges will be crumbling. Workhouses under another name – some form of low-security prison for the homeless indigent? – will be a growth business opportunity.

    It’s reassuring to know that we will still continue to have the largest military ever assembled by Man. It will take a long time for even China, the next largest military spender, to catch up with us, since we spend annually $700 billion to their $100 billion. We’ve also got 5,113 nuclear weapons (as of the May 2010 count) which will continue to give us some clout.

    It will be a wonderful time to be a successful and wealthy person in this nation. The United States will continue to be “the best.”

  36. Ah, Karen – thank you :)

    I’ve always thought that it would be great to get all my online correspondents into a big Junto, as my hero Benjamin Franklin did. It’s so much easier to see smiles and winks when you’re face to face.

    Do you think forming Benjamin Franklin Clubs all over America would help change the tone of political discourse? It wouldn’t matter if you are on the “Right” or the “Left” – you’d just have to apply Franklin’s approach to speech and discussion.

  37. Honestly, Louise– i’d love that(if i even knew what a Junto was!!)

    I don’t travel well, though- if travel is necessary. Some travel. Maybe, after the yr we’ve had– two yrs, actually– i would bypass my reservations to make reservations and just take off w/the wind. I think that means i’m maturing.

    I was ever so lucky to meet Randy last year when he and his Mom did a tour of the NEngland states– it made my year.

    He has a beautiful smile that reaches his eyes. :0)!!!!!

    I know i keep eluding to what happened ~last year~. We lost about 55 or 60 grand in a bid to take over a family farm from my husband’s parents- they jumped the gun on us by two yrs and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when my F-in-L told me he loved me and asked if that was ok w/me. It wasn’t. A month later he asked me what he’d done to make me hate him so much because i treated him differently(dud)– i said i didn’t hate him and then he accused me of ~looking for something~ and of a lot of other things. I had clued my husband in about his dad’s ~crush~– and then when the other shoe dropped we decided to move back home and travel again. I was so scared as he kept finding me alone, i’m thankful he never ~tried~ anything.

    Oh, i could tell every little detail of the angst/anger it’s caused me, but- what would be the point. So, we agreed to sell them animals back– 128thousand $$$$ worth– and they haven’t gotten their loan yet. That was supposed to have closed in June- They have been paying us 2000$/mo, we were applying it to their principle(amortized schedule and all), but now we call it rent, which we should have been doing all along and they reproduce- cows do– so what of the 21 calves born since? @ 700$/pop- that’s a bit of change, too. If they never get the $$$$ we will have to get the original animals plus the offspring back, as i understand it, and that may take a Philadelphia lawyer, as well. Know of any?

    Stressed spelled backward is what???? Baggage, that’s what.

  38. Hey Karen – no worries. You must not be taking your B vitamins, because I didn’t notice any spreading yellow stain.

    Unfortunately, I know of no Philadelphia lawyers, although it does sound like you need someone with legal experience in your corner. Is the farm in a differnt state from your place of residence? Finding a lawyer out of state is always difficult. I know it only too well frrom negotiating a rverse mortgage for my mother.

    It’s always a terrible thing when family feuds, especially over money.But your F-in-L sounds like a piece of work! If he’d hit on you, my D-in-L, then he would have no compunction over cheating on your M-in-L, or committing any other selfish family-destroying action. What does your husband think of all this?

    The personal issues with the man also complicate the financial ones. At $2,000 per month,they will need over 5 years to pay you back just for the original purchase. When you say that they are paying “rent,” does this mean that they have actually surrendered title of the property to you?

  39. (although fuckwad is pondscum talk, ice)

    Appropriate when dealing with pondscum. In a few sentences Randy accused me of ignoring relevant facts (which I had mentioned), accused me of a lack of fairness by not mentioning something else that I had already implicitely agreed with, and then accused me of distorting facts (which I had not done and had statements in my post that proved otherwise). Given that Randy has accused me in the past of being nothing but a Republican shill, his intent was clear. Calling me a liar while lying to do so warranted him being called a fuckwad.

    And personally I find dishonesty worse than rough language, but to each their own.

  40. Or must we become accustomed to an ever-shrinking standard of living for the lower 98%, as we race to the bottom in wage and price competition?

    Yes, that’s what we have to do, because that’s what the people running the country want. (I include the bigshots in and out of government.)

    As for the surpluses of the late 1990s – those were a bit of a shame. To get surpluses one had to include all revenue sources against all expenses. Big surpluses in SS made for an overall ‘surplus’, even though the SS should be considered separately. The general (non-SS non-MC) budget hasn’t been balanced since before I was born, and will only be balanced before I’m dead if we have either a sovereign default, or an extended bought of very high inflation. It’s too late for a soft landing.

  41. Louise, sorry to answer late but I lost my internet connection Staurday and just got it back this afternoon.

    I’m not entirely sure what I would mean by “the economy”. Traditional GDP measures, for example, have problems in what is measured and what isn’t. And as you point out, not all economic activity or growth is equal. Job growth is good, if the jobs have economic reason. (As opposed to existing because of some artifical prop. If your job is dependent on government subsidy, then there’s a reasonable chance it’s an overall drag.)

    It’s fairly obvious that the 2012 elections are going to be dominated by corporate-sponsored PACs who now have unlimited amounts to spend on “issues advertising.” Republicans will be bold in pushing their policies; Democrats will be timid in opposing them.

    THis is silly. Barack Obama got more money from Wall Street than any other candidate ever has. He was bought and paid for by Big Finance. Evidence of this – all the Goldman ties (direct and indirect) in his council of economic advisors, the reappoint of The Bernank, Turbo Timmy getting to be SecTreas despite overseeing the disaster on Wall Street more than anyone else (in his role as President of the NY Fed), Biden as VP (who has never missed an opportunity to shill for Big Business in general and Big FInance in particular – see his work on the 2005 bankruptcy “reform” legislation and his lobbiest son’s ties). Dems in general are no better. Barnie Frank has shilled for banks through his support of Fannie and Freddie (to which he had personal ties for some time), one for big time Senator and Governor was in fact a former Goldman Sachs executive who bought his way into office, and on and on it goes.

    And before Randy accuses me of a lack of fairness, the Republicans are no better. Look at Bush’s last SecTreas for one blatant example.

    THe truth of the matter is that big money has bought both parties, to varrying degrees. Dems also have ties to Big Labor, but given that Big Labor these days mostly means government employees (and as always, mobster thugs), that doesn’t actually mean they’re interested in so-called blue collar America. Both parties look to extend their power, which means they both favor extensions of government power. The House Republicans pointless list of government spending cuts (far too small to actually matter) are evidence of that.

    Currently the only push-back is from the Tea Party types, and a few of the budget butchers who’ve been electeed since. (Chris Cristie, that guy in Wisconsin, a few others) But the push back is scant, mostly driven by state-level legal constraints, and is unlikely to hold up. How long before the people in Wisconsin cave to the teachers union? (If they already have, forgive me – I haven’t seen any real news since Friday or Saturday.)

    The truth is we’re in this mess because we lacked the discipline as a society to avoid it, and we’re going to get deeper into it because we lack the fortitude to claw our way back. THe whole thing is toast at this point.

  42. The estimate life expectancy in this country will fall to the lowest level in the industrialized world – probably because the US will continue to be the only nation in the industrialized world with no form of universal health care for its citizens.

    Those numbers are skewed somewhat. We count infant deaths (amongst other things) differently than most other nations. Also, our high number of Third world peasant immigrants doesn’t help.

  43. It’s reassuring to know that we will still continue to have the largest military ever assembled by Man.

    Define largest. YOu apparently mean most expensive. That’s not up for debate, but I bleieve the Chinese still have more people in uniform than we do.

    But don’t worry, the military will also be cut back, probably more so than the other stuff you imagine. THe simple rule is this – What can’t be done CAN’T be done. At the moment we are spending truckloads more than we can afford, by the hour. That won’t last for long before some corrective measure hits.

  44. Do you think forming Benjamin Franklin Clubs all over America would help change the tone of political discourse?

    Oddly enough, the tone was worse in the time of the Founders and in the decades immdeiately after the Founding. As for Franklin’s speech, he wasn’t kidding when he said “We’ll hang together, or we’ll all hang separately.” Don’t forget that the civility in tone of (some) of that generation was backed up by actually killing people, in numbers. There was that small matter of the Revolution….

  45. In a few sentences Randy accused me of ignoring relevant facts (which I had mentioned), accused me of a lack of fairness by not mentioning something else that I had already implicitely agreed with, and then accused me of distorting facts (which I had not done and had statements in my post that proved otherwise). Given that Randy has accused me in the past of being nothing but a Republican shill, his intent was clear. Calling me a liar while lying to do so warranted him being called a fuckwad.

    IIRC, I apologized about the GOP shill comment on Ambivalog two or three years ago.

    My more recent thoughts were, as I said, idle ones. I didn’t think you were intentionally distorting facts. What you say was obviously implicit in your comment was not obvious to me. I added my observations. As I said above, I’m sorry that you were so upset by them.

  46. ~The Bernank~– do you know how much i love that little video, ice?? Esp when Sarah Palin is hated because she’s dumb(or do they say stupid?). Besides, i’m the Republic schill- esp since i know so much less than you do:0) but parrot the sentiment. I just hate bad language towards people i like.

    Louise, 1stly: we gave up the dream of taking over his family farm. We have a farm, it just doesn’t have any land, we have to rent it all excepting one small pasture. Our barn is way better in terms of cow comfort and the house is a cute little ranch as opposed to a very cold and small roomed farmhouse, but i had hopes. Our farm is only about 4 miles away& tucked up beside a huge, wooded hill in a little valley. Very little valley. On the proverbial dirt road- that is horrendous in the Spring. You’ve heard of VT in the Spring– no lie.

    We put 50k in improvements into the farm. It needed about 100k more. The barn i milked in(it was an L-shaped design of two barns w/separate herds to support the cost of- having two barns and two herds, i guess)was very uncomfortable and our cows too large to fit, anyway. It’s just that– his parents jumped the gun by two yrs and instead of letting us build equity and animals so we didn’t have to purchase extra– as well as both farms paying down debt– they quit and tried to sell the farm to a millionaire that raises the long-horned shaggy Highlanders– he’d purchased at least 5 local farms already. We had a purchase agreement that locked them into giving us 1st chance and they relented. The land is that good down there. It clouded our misgivings.

    So, it got intense even before we got there. Maybe it was a ploy to make sure we didn’t back out, i don’t know. Threaten to sell it to someone else. We traveled for three months- weekends were hard because we have two younger girls and our older son was gone to his biological dad’s for weekends. It’s so confusing. Everyone thinks kids on a farm is the way to go, but i am always worried for my kids in the barn around the cows. We just lost a 6-month old kitten to a swift kick in the head by a 1st calf heifer. I’m just thankful he never saw it coming and it was instant, not to mention that i hadn’t gotten him fixed yet.

    My F-in-L – i never would have suspected. A part of me even could see where he was coming from– he was 61- losing his status as the uno male of his own place, as we hired him to work for us- his wife got a job, although i can’t even remember when she finally did- he moved out of his home of 40 yrs(they took the ck we pd for the cows($100k)to make renovations to the smaller home that goes w/the place)when it should have legally gone to pay down their debt)- so now they cannot get the $$$$ to pay us for the animals they bought back from us when we left– 64 = 128k. So, he was lost, right? and he was projecting. He never made a pass or anything- it was just pathetic. UNTIL– about a month later- it was all my fault. THEN, i was more than uncomfortable- i was pissed and hurt and confused and it really got to me, having to work w/him. So yuck.

    At 1st my husband wondered if i’d made it up because i was unhappy. I told him everything, every conversation. He never acted differently toward his dad– we needed his dad until we left. He will never get over the betrayal- that is something unacceptable. Yet, since he didn’t act differently his dad thought i was lying about telling him. Now, i’m to blame for getting my husband to leave that farm and come home– no one in my husband’s family knows about this tacky stuff. I was afraid, since the barns aren’t really together- to be w/that person. Things are forever different, now.

    So, we are home, we have our original herd and we are owed about 120k for the animals. Not to mention the babies they are having. If we took them away, his folks would lose everything as they would have no income. They want about twice for the property as it’s been appraised for, of course- so they can’t/won’t sell. How long can they keep going? I guess as long as they know they can guilt their son into providing the fuel for their ride. Meanwhile, these animals are depreciating- they can die on a whim, they are not managed as we would manage- although they are being well fed and look good.

    I guess this Lent i’ll practice patience. It’s been feeling like Lent for a long time.

    A good friend says we got a good education, unfortunately- the teacher was expensive- isn’t that how it goes ;0)? So, i figure we must have gone to the UofWisconsin- Madison:0). It will all work out, i suppose, it’s just that we are still paying for those animals that we are getting pd for and they wanted us to keep taking their money as if we were a bank. We can’t afford to do that!!!

    Farmers deal w/so much money– so much passes through our hands and our purchases are expensive, yet- in the end we make very little until our debt load is lowered. It’s an amazing thing.

  47. I just hate bad language towards people i like.

    Fair enough.

    As for the Republican sentiments – well, the sentiments aren’t all bad, but the application of them by the party has been dreadful. I mostly didn’t vote in the big elections last time because I didn’t want to be voting (by extension) for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. (Although I did cave and vote in my Congressional district – but that was a vote against the horrible Alan Grayson.) I feel pretty justified in my non-votes given the way things are going. They hope to cut the deficit by less than 10% and call that a victory for fiscal responsibility. Disingenuous tools.

  48. Randy, I don’t remember if you apologized or not, and frankly I just don’t care. A (figuratively) mumbled apology doesn’t square important stuff. And while you may not have know what I meant by implication on one point, the other two were pretty clear.

    Randy: IIRC, the middle class has been losing ground for decades.

    Icepick in an earlier comment: Wages (and relative wealth) have been stagnant or declining for several decades now.

    That was fairly clear.

    Randy: The financial collapse didn’t happen under Obama.

    Icepick: After the shock of the autumn in 2008, companies don’t trust that the international financial system will be able to get them cash in an emergency if they need it, so they’re socking it away for another rainy day.

    Well, I clearly placed the financial shock during the Bush Presidency. Fairness would have dictated not lambasting me for blaming it on Obama.

    As for my implied position on the middle class during the Bush II years – no where did I state that those were good times for the middle class. Given that not only myself but several of my friends have gone from middle class to poor because of the recent economic collapse it’s unlikely I would make such a claim. But I’ll grant that maybe that wasn’t so clear.

    Now how do you explain the other two points? Oh that’s right, idle thoughts. What the hell ever.

  49. I overlooked the first of your sentences quoted above when I wrote my response. Had I seen it, I certainly wouldn’t have made the same observation. That doesn’t matter, though. As you consider me both a “liar” and a “fuckwad,” my responses will always be unbelievable or unacceptable to you.

  50. Randy, why should it be otherwise? In a fit of anger you called me a shill. Later I got a (figuratively) mumbled apology. Which one more likely reflects your true feelings? And I’ve got enough respect for your ability to read to think that you can’t be that obtuse as to miss complete sentences and significant trains of thought. It’s all just sceaming/typing into the VOID anyway….

  51. Despite your inaccurate assumptions, you are entitled to express your opinion. As you agree that nothing I say is either believable or acceptable to you, this conversation is now over.

Comments are closed.