Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Overstatement of the Day Department

I'm a fan of Dean Baker (really). He's a smart guy who sticks to his guns and pulls no punches, and his work is always interesting. He was ahead of the stock market and housing market bubbles, and called the over-valued dollar several years ago. (My portfolio thanks you.)

All that said, his rhetoric can get a bit overheated at times. Here I'm thinking of a recent column, entitled "Vicious Ideologue Renews Attack on Social Security." If it were about, say, me I could understand the title.

But in fact the vicious ideologue in question is Pete Peterson, the investment banker and former Commerce Secretary who has long supported the Concord Coalition and now funds a foundation dedicated to, among other things, raising awareness of future entitlement shortfalls.

A couple points regarding Dean's article are worth making:

  1. Cutting the "safety net": Dean in several places points out that Social Security and Medicare form "an essential safety net," implying that Peterson wants to reduce or (given his viciousness!) even eliminate it. What's not stated is that, in addition to their safety net functions, both Social Security and Medicare pay generous benefits to high earning households. It's easily possible to solve both their funding shortfalls without touching the safety net, but you wouldn't know this from Dean's article.
  2. "Peterson has long been an ardent foe of these programs." Again, I don't know Peterson's private thoughts. But I do know that the Concord Coalition, an organization Peterson has long been associated with, takes no position on whether entitlements should be fixed through increased taxes or reduced benefits. They merely argue that taxes and benefits must be equalized, and the sooner the better. (This opens them to attacks from folks like Peter Ferrara, who apparently agrees that they're vicious ideologues, just of a different stripe.) Now, the political culture is such that Americans will likely want to fix these systems with fewer tax increases and more benefit cuts than Dean would prefer (and probably more tax increases and fewer benefit cuts than I would prefer). But that's a different issue.

There's more I could quibble with, but the larger point is ultimately we're going to have to come together to reach a compromise on these issues, and it's neither helpful nor, in my view, fair to make such strident attacks on other people character. This is a punch Dean should have pulled.

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