Friday, October 09, 2009

Historical amnesia

“Anybody want to get rid of Medicare today? Many of the arguments against health care reform today were used back in the sixties against Medicare by leading Republicans.”

One of the many oddities of Victor Reppert is his acute case of historical amnesia. By that I don’t mean book learning, or the lack thereof. Rather, I mean his inability to remember certain parts of history he actually lived through.

He and I are roughly contemporaries, so I find it strange that he can’t remember events that I can remember perfectly well. His long-term memory is a sieve.

I do, however, notice a coincidental alignment between his failing memory and his political ideology. He has an inexplicable habit of forgetting things which get in the way of his politics. I wonder if there's a pattern?

Take the above statement. “Leading Republicans?”

Remember Pat Moynihan? Perhaps that was before your time. But it wasn’t before my time. Or Reppert’s.

Moynihan was a liberal Democrat and academic. During his years in the senate, he was its leading liberal thinker.

And yet he could be a prescient critic of the welfare state. Back in 1965 he pointed out that liberal social programs were creating a culture of dependency, delinquency, and institutional poverty:

And for many years he warned his colleagues that Social Security was headed for bankruptcy. (Keep in mind that solvency of Medicare is contingent on the solvency of Social Security.) For example,

The president is in Africa, the Republican Congress is AWOL, but at least one politician has been working. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) last week announced a plan to change Social Security for the better by cutting the payroll tax and letting Americans use the money for private retirement accounts – or for whatever else they want.

Moynihan's credentials as a liberal social reformer can't be questioned. So when he advocates privatizing even a portion of Social Security, it's big news. It's also why his idea is panicking advocates of the status quo.

Something must change, Moynihan is convinced. The "veto groups," as he calls them, cannot prevail. Young people, especially, have lost faith. They wonder why they can't take care of their own retirements with stock and bond investments, rather than trusting a system that either is headed either for bankruptcy or will provide paltry or even negative returns on their contributions.

The senator from New York – former labor economist to President Kennedy, Harvard professor, ambassador to India and the United Nations, author of 17 books, ranking member of the Finance Committee – wants to alter the Social Security system profoundly. It is no longer enough to fiddle around the edges.

In his speech March 16 at Harvard, Moynihan described the process in 1983 that led to saving the system, temporarily, by boosting taxes: "Had we, indeed, just barely escaped bankruptcy? What then did the future hold but more such crises?

Specifically, Moynihan would:

Allow voluntary tax-deferred personal retirement accounts, which each American could finance from the 2 percent tax cut. Through the magic of compounding, a $30,000-a-year worker, putting just 2 percent of pay into an account that earns a modest after-inflation return of 4 percent, would accumulate $350,000 over 45 years.

Put Social Security on a pay-as-you-go basis. In 1997, for example, the government took in $446 billion in Social Security taxes and paid out only $365 billion in benefits. The extra $81 billion went into a trust fund (valued at about $631 billion) and was lent out to finance other federal programs. Moynihan has long wanted to end this nonsense. We're extracting tax dollars from those who can least afford it – and from everyone who might have better uses for it.


  1. No! Could it be that a long memory is shortened by his own will? :)

  2. Reppert voted for Obama. Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize after serving in office for only 10 days.

  3. Now hold it. Moynihan had problems with the way Social Security and Medicare were administered. What you are quoting from him is a long, long way, from saying that Social Security and Medicare are bad ideas, and we should wean ourselves away from them. It's one thing to want to steer the ship of Medicare or Social Security somewhat to the right. It's another thing to blow it up and leave it in the bottom of the ocean. But the right wing didn't want the ship built in the first place, for many of the reasons that are now being used in opposition to the public option.

  4. Explain to me how Medicare and Social Security are economically feasible in the long run. How do you square that with the demographics of Social Security? How does it differ from a pyramid scheme?