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Friday, October 23, 2009  

Sour 'n Sour Set

I like to read Tuesday Morning Quarterback for the football analysis, but I try to skip everything else, as Gregg Easterbook is a complete tool. But I didn't manage to miss this little gem, on the $250 early-bird special subsidy:

Seniors as a group are the best-off segment of American society. Multimillion-dollar bonuses to bungling bankers are more outrageous than a $250 check, but the total expense of the latter is greater, while in both cases, government is taxing the less-well-off, or borrowing from the young, to hand a giveaway to a politically connected lobbying block. Our new president must learn to pronounce the word "no," or liberalism will be discredited for a generation.

"The best-off segment of American society?" There are a lot of "segments" of American society, and I would wager that seniors are less well-off than, say, the richest decile of the population, or than people with graduate degrees, or the average Connecticut household, or any number of other "segments" of society. Presumably he means relative to other age groups, but if so it would be nice for him to say that or to have an editor read it and say, "hey Gregg--this sounds completely boneheaded; did you mean something else?" I only carp because people assume that when a credentialed pundit says something, it might be true, and thus it gets repeated and amplified. TAE made the more plausible inference:

The elderly are, statistically, the wealthiest generation of Americans currently alive. Per capita, people over 60 have the lowest number of people below the poverty line. Per capita, the elderly have larger savings (excluding retirement accounts, obviously).

Generation--there's a word that means something. Not so hard, is it? Now per capita numbers get skewed here because so many very rich people are old, not because so many old people are very rich, and I don't see any reason to exclude retirement savings from any cross-generational comparison. Social Security and Medicare have radically dropped the poverty rate among the elderly, and that's good, and obviously old folks tend not to be sitting on big mortgages. If anything, these cross-generational comparisons tells us a lot about how much more tolerant we are of child poverty than of elder poverty, and how much more indebted we've become as a society.

But anyway, the real kicker is Easterbrook's last point, about discrediting liberalism "for a generation." Well, if you assume as most people do that movement conservatism was as discredited as a democratic governing ideology can be after the 2008 elections, we're looking at a generation-minus-one-year left of discredit before they can return to power. So we're cool.

After all, it was a conservative regime that gave us Medicare Part D, a program that makes $250 to Grandma look like small beer indeed. It also gave us the Iraq war, a $1.5 trillion and growing boondoggle. And our Pentagon budgets are nowadays upwards of $680 billion a year. Recall that when Congress proposes legislation that has an upfront price tag of $870 billion over ten years but doesn't raise the deficit, you need to wheel out the fainting couches for Evan Bayh and the like. But $680 billion for one year, to which we add the massive Homeland Security budget and about $150 billion in military spending stashed elsewhere in the federal budget, that doesn't even provoke a debate.

And yet for all this, the people who gave us the crazy for the last eight years will be riding high at next year's midterms if the economy doesn't improve. And if it's still in the crapper in 2012, Obama will be out, and the refurbished neo-cons will ruin everything all over again and then the Democrats will be back. This is how it works. Politics, as people who aren't Gregg Easterbrook seem to grasp intuitively, is a zero-sum game. Somebody has to win.

This is why grandiose theories of realignment elections and the like are usually overblown. Ronald Reagan won big in 1980 and even bigger in 1984, but in 1992 his vice-president's re-election bid was crushed, and the Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote exactly once since then. In 2004, Economist mega-genuises John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge wrote a chapter in their book Right Nation about the melancholy withdrawing roar of liberalism. Whoops! Two and a half years later, Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House.

For good or for ill, these battles are almost always fought tediously between the proverbial forty yard lines.

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 11:40 PM
Two thoughts:
1. I suppose after reading this, that I should accuse myself of plagiarism because I did not directly cite TMQ when I wrote my post, although I did read his weekly article before I wrote mine.
Nevertheless, I didn't cite him because I didn't quote him...and for good reason! Better to take an angry man's argument and tone it down (and throw in a little logic just for fun).
2. I agree with you that a Republican takeover of the House or Senate is very unlikely in the near term. But a conservative backlash mostly caused by the fiscal immorality of the liberals (I include Bush 43 in this statement) is going to push Gen Y away from its current progressive bent.
That may be not exactly what Easterbrook was getting at, but I think the point is valid.

The problem, as I see it, is that true conservatives have no one to provide them shelter from the spending storm right now...the Republicans are just as reckless as (if not more than) the Dems.
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