Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Posts Tagged ‘austerity

National and Social Security and the Right to Eat

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Vegetarian diet

By Scott Bauer, USDA ARS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Section 2 of the National School Lunch Act of 1946 reads,

It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States,  through grants-in-aid and other means, in providing an adequate supply of foods and other facilities for the establishment, maintenance, and expansion of nonprofit school-lunch programs.

In the hearings for this Act,Major General Lewis B. Hershey testified to Congress that 16% of Selective Service registrants in World War II were rejected from service or placed in the limited service class and that malnutrition or underfeeding played a likely role in somewhere between 40% and 60% of these cases (U.S. Congress 1945). Congress felt the need to remedy this situation and, thus, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), under which the federal government provides cash and commodity aid to states for localities to use in serving warm lunches to students, was seen as a “measure of national security.”

I ran across this in a paper by Peter Hinrichs on the health and educational effects of the school lunch program. It’s striking to think of a program designed to help the poor as a ‘national security’ measure, but it’s true that a great deal of government action in the  World War II and post-War period was justified on this basis. (I’d love to see a geneology of the ideas of social security–which originally meant something far more broad than today’s meaning of Old Age Insurance, and national security, and how the latter overcame the former as the main justification for the welfare state.)

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Written by David Kaib

May 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Chained CPI, Social Insurance and Two Kinds of Politics

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Social Security was enacted in response to mass mobilization. It can only be saved through mass mobilization.

The president’s new budget proposal includes both Chained CPI, a cut in Social Security benefits, and cuts in Medicare benefits.  As Shawn Fremstad  notes, the White House’s assurances that the ‘most vulnerable’ will be protected are not to be taken seriously.

It’s troubling for any number of reasons, including that the defenses offered are nonsense.  Chained CPI is arguably a more accurate measure for working people, but the existing measure clearly underestimates inflation for seniors, who spend far more of their income on health care, where costs are rising faster. Social Security doesn’t contribute to the deficit, which doesn’t matter (at least at the moment), and no one actually cares about it, and Medicare costs could be dealt with through costs controls rather than benefit cuts. Read the rest of this entry »

A Rolling Conversation on the State of the Union at Jubilee

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Elias Isquith has put together an interesting group of people to comment on the State of the Union, and surprisingly I’m one of them. I’ll be adding the links on this post at they come up. Check it out and maybe even comment. We are…not of the same mind on this thing.

Here’s my opening: “The fact that people have such different readings of this speech isn’t that surprising. It reads to me like it was designed to do just that – let each of us hear what we want to hear.”

Announcement: A Rolling Conversation on the State of the Union

The State of Austerity (Elias Isquith)

Ethan Gach — State of the Union Address Shows Obama’s Priorities: Everything

Robert Greer — Is Obama the Liberal Great Communicator?

David Kaib — The State of the Union Is…Ambivalent

[Update: 2-15-13 a.m.]

Shawn Gude — The Problem with Piecemeal Reform

[Update: 2-20-13 a.m.]

The State of the Union’s Quiet Radicalism  (Elias Isquith)

Shereen Shafi — “Transparency,” Drone Strikes, and the Conditions of Public Support

[Update 2-26-13 p.m.]

The State of the Union’s Crises (Alan Kantz)

Written by David Kaib

February 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm

There was No Legislative Decision : The Temporary Sort of Resolution to the Fiscal Grift

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Red Cliff along US287 between Lander and Dubois in Wyoming
By Wing-Chi Poon [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

[Update: Turns out the House may not be interested in rubber stamping these deal. Also, see Matt Stoller's Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill, From Goldman Sachs to Disney to NASCAR.]

The deal to avoid the misnamed ‘fiscal cliff’ the self-imposed crisis (i.e. shock doctrine) designed to impose austerity on a public that is overwhelmingly opposed to it justified by fake concern over deficits and debt sheds important light on the state of our political system. I’ll have more to say later, but to start, I wanted to mention the sham that has become of the legislative process. The deal was negotiated between Vice President (and former Senator) Joe Biden and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a process that excluded the other 99 members of the lame duck Senate and the entire House of Representatives. As the Washington Post reported:

“There are two people in a [metaphorical] room deciding incredibly consequential issues for this country, while 99 other United States senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives — elected by their constituencies to come to Washington — are on the sidelines,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)said on the Senate floor in the afternoon.

[snip]

…Thune was right that legislators had, essentially, been cut out of the legislative process. By the time a deal was announced, about 8:45 p.m. Monday night, there was little time for anything but a vote.“At least we would have had an opportunity to debate this, instead of waiting now until the eleventh hour,” Thune said.

[snip]

Monday marked the third time in two years that a congressional cliffhanger had ended with a bargain struck by McConnell and Biden. The first time came in late 2010, during a year-end showdown over the expiring Bush-era tax cuts. The second was in August 2011, during the fight over the debt ceiling.

It should go without saying that when all those high level federal officials are cut out of the process, the people are too. But for the moment, I want to point out how our models for understanding politics are often inadequate. Members of Congress aren’t deciding anything here – they are ratifying a decision made elsewhere. Now it’s true that Biden and McConnell were not free of political constrains, but then again, no one ever is.  It’s generally a bad idea to assume that those who hold the power according to civics textbooks are those who actually hold the power.  The Constitution was supposed to make the House the main driver of fiscal policy, secondarily the Senate, and lastly the President.  (The Supreme Court was intended to have little to no role, yet that didn’t stop Chief Justice Roberts, a ‘neutral umpire,’ from making it the main theme of his report [pdf] on the state of the judiciary.)

I’m not sure what this is, but it’s not representative democracy. And it’s not legislative decision-making.

Written by David Kaib

January 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm

How Means Testing Exploits Well Intentioned Liberals

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Means testing of Social Security or Medicare is a bad idea.  It doesn’t generally save that much money and it undermines the very logic of social insurance–universal coverage paid for by dedicated taxation, thereby spreading risk over the whole population, protecting everyone.  Means testing is a way of welfarizing social insurance, that is, associating it with the poor (read : undeserving)  Most people, even politically active people, don’t understand the idea of social insurance, either its policy or political logic.

That said, I’ve found the idea is one that many liberals seem drawn to.  I’m not talking about neoliberals who are really skeptical of social insurance. I mean people who are primarily concerned with inequality, who have no ideological skepticism toward government. And I don’t mean the politicians and think tanks that are pushing it.  I mean why people think it sounds like a good idea.

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Written by David Kaib

December 17, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Why is Dick Durbin Trying to Undermine Social Security and Medicare?

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Dick Durbin, who wants to undermine social insurance

Dick Durbin, doing his best to undermine social insurance and the long-term viability of the Democratic Party, is seeking to convince progressives to demobilize rather than fight attacks on Social Security and Medicare.

A top Democrat pressured fellow progressives Tuesday to support – rather than fight – a far-reaching budget deal that includes cuts to entitlement programs after resolving  the upcoming fiscal cliff.

“We can’t be so naive to believe that just taxing the rich will solve our problems,” said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “Put everything on the table. Repeat. Everything on the table.”

This is nonsense. Why on earth should everything be on the table? Even if it was true that deficits were out of control (they aren’t) and that we had to act now to address them (we don’t), things that don’t contribute to the deficit at all – like Social Security – shouldn’t be part of the conversation.  But beyond that, it’s just false. Vastly popular, wildly successful programs that happen to be unpopular with elites shouldn’t be “on the table.”

This is how Social Security and Medicare ends – with false progressive officials, supposedly liberal commentators like Kevin Drum, and compromised organizations like the AARP all shifting the terms of the debate so we’re only talking about how to cut benefits not whether, let alone how to expand these programs.

As I said in my last post, never trust anyone who extolls the value of a political deal without talking about the substance of the deal.

If people like Durbin can float these sort of claims without being punished for it, everyone in Washington will know that they can go after these programs without consequences.  If, on the other hand, he is made suffer, few will want to be next in line.  Social insurance is only vulnerable if we fail to mobilize to protect it.  Which is why this sort of thing is unforgivable.

For what its worth, Durbin holds the number two position in the Senate. As the whip, his job is to get Democrats to vote correctly.  He represents everyone else in the caucus.  It strikes me that every member of the Democratic caucus should face angry constituents demanding that they condemn him.

Written by David Kaib

November 28, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Kevin Drum Tells Liberals to Chill Out Over Social Security

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Kevin Drum wants liberals to calm down about the possibility of a deal to address Social Security.

If we extended the solvency of Social Security for the next century, it’s true that the Cato Institute would be back the next day complaining that this wasn’t enough. After all, they’re ideologically opposed to the whole idea of Social Security. It might take the Heritage Foundation a little longer, but they’d get right back into the fight pretty quickly too.

But the Washington Post wouldn’t. The Pete Peterson folks wouldn’t. The truth is that all the earnest, centrist, Very Serious People who want to reform Social Security don’t want to starve your granny. They don’t have a problem with the concept of a guaranteed retirement program. They just want it to be properly funded.

They just want it properly funded?  The chorus of people who keep falsely claiming we must deal with “out of control entitlement spending” leading to an “exploding deficit” thereby conflating Medicare spending, which is increasing because medical costs are increasing, although more slowly than in the private sector, with Social Security spending, which is not rising at nearly the same rate and contributes nothing to the deficit?  Anyone who’s paying attention can see all the very serious people have been emphasizing the alleged threat of social insurance to the budget deficit.  Read Dean Baker to see the endless attacks on Social Security from all these VSP – including the Washington Post.

The fact is, as Andrea Campbell and Kimberly Morgan (pdf) have shown, that elites turned against the social insurance model in the 1970s, while the public has remained supportive, wanting expansions of these programs rather than cuts.  Given the vast unpopularity of that position, as opponents have long realized, the only way to undermine Social Security and Medicare is by claiming that changes are needed to protect it – that is, by constructing threats to the programs.  The incentive to lie is obvious.

Of course, those of us who want to expand Social Security and Medicare are fine with reforms like ending the cap on payroll taxes which will bring in more money.  But why talk of a deal instead of the specifics?  Are cuts or benefits interchangeable?

Never trust anyone who extolls the value of a political deal without talking about the substance of the deal.

The only thing that protects these programs is that the public would mobilize if they realized what was really going on. There was a time when the mere whiff of a mention of cuts would have led to DEFCOM 5.  The whole idea of Social Security as the third rail of politics was that it was unacceptable to even speak of cuts.  When Bush sought to privatize Social Security, the Democrats were a united front against any changes at all.  Nancy Pelosi famously said “We have a plan. It’s called Social Security”This time there is far too much talk about cuts, even from people who stood against Bush.  Even the AARP has been wishy washy on this score.  This talk removes the chief barrier protecting these programs – keeping it off the agenda.

We don’t need to chill out.  We need a massive mobilization. We need everyone to take clear, repeated, bold stands against any benefit cuts, for whatever reason.  We need to press politicians for merely talking about austerity, or a so called entitlement crisis.

And anyone who claims otherwise, regardless of their intentions, is working to “starve your granny.”

Written by David Kaib

November 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm

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