Must-Read: Duncan Black: Sometimes We Get Results

Must-Read: Duncan Black: Sometimes We Get Results: “Or, at least, play a part…

…Aside from yay team, it’s important to remember that this isn’t just some ideological thing, though it is that, too. It’s a recognition that the retirement crisis is here and it’s very real. I’d say there’s a broad enough consensus (does not include zombie-eyed granny starvers) that however we get to the goal, society should be structured in such a way that the vast majority of people hit retirement age with some economic stability. The current system has not done that, and whatever Exciting New Ideas we can come up with for the ideal retirement program (obviously I’m partial to plans which rhyme with brocial maturity), we have a crop of people in retirement or entering retirement soon who have no hope of coming up with that kind of post-retirement income stream. The only way to keep them off the streets, or for the lucky few working them until they die, is to provide non-trivial across the board benefit increases. And if you’re worried Donald Trump’s Social Security payment is too large (none of them are very large, so worrying about this is silly and the only people who claim to worry about such things are just using it as an excuse to not help anyone), you can just increase tax rates on rich people. That’s the easy way to means testing, and how a progressive tax system is supposed to work.

David Dayen: The Real Story Behind Obama’s Radical U-turn on Social Security: “The initial impulse from the Obama administration was to use Social Security cuts as a bargaining chip in a larger deal with Republicans…

…Grand bargain talks from 2011 to 2013 repeatedly invoked a different way to calculate the consumer price index (known as ‘chained CPI’), which would have resulted in $1,000 less a year for the average 85-year-old. Obama put chained CPI in his fiscal year 2014 budget. Contrary to some after-the-fact snickering, this was a very credible threat, and it allowed Republicans to point to a Democratic president favoring entitlement cuts. Only the Tea Party’s unwillingness to consider anything resembling a compromise saved retirees from cuts.

At first, liberal groups played defense on chained CPI, accustomed to mobilizing in opposition rather than staking out a bolder claim. But the expansion movement can really be traced back to one blogger: Duncan Black, popularly known as ‘Atrios,’ who waged an initially lonely crusade in a series of 2012 columns in USA Today, explaining why the retirement crisis was coming and how expanding Social Security represented the cleanest solution. Eventually, Black found adherents. The New America Foundation, in a groundbreaking proposal, called for an entirely new, $11,000-a-year universal benefit on top of Social Security. By mid-2013, most major liberal groups adopted an old bill from former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin to modestly expand Social Security with more generous cost-of-living increases that better reflect rising medical costs for seniors. By 2014, chained CPI was out of the president’s budget. The reason Social Security expansion was a wedge issue waiting to be wielded is that it’s massively popular….

Now President Obama, who started this all by embracing the opposite position years ago, has explicitly endorsed the expansion of Social Security. This victory is a great credit to Duncan Black and everyone who moved a minority opinion in the corridors of power in the Democratic Party into the mainstream. There are wildly varying ways to claim support for Social Security expansion, ones that are modest and ones that are disruptive. But before the question, even among Democrats, was how much to cut Social Security; now the question is how much to expand it…. Politically, Republicans know that Social Security cuts equal political death. The same was true of opposition to same-sex marriage, which is why most of the GOP caucus just stopped talking about it. The path to Social Security expansion can’t go through the courts the way marriage equality did, and it will take a lot more work. But the center-left, in Washington and in the country, is on board. And that is a testament to the power of taking a stand and not relenting. Eventually, the world might just swing your way.

June 17, 2016


Brad DeLong
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