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US Candidates Ignore Looming Debt Crisis

Hemos posted more than 10 years ago | from the chicken-little-or-right-on? dept.

The Almighty Buck 266

code_rage writes "Carolyn Lockhead of The San Francisco Chronicle has written an article about one of the most important, but overlooked, political issues we are facing. Baby-boomers will soon begin retiring, which will result in a huge fiscal imbalance (deficits and debts). The article says that the present value of the anticipated debt is estimated to be between $40 trillion and $72 trillion, depending on the source. To put that in perspective, the current national debt is $7.3 trillion.""

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill commissioned a study (free PDF) that was written by Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters. To give a sense of how serious the fiscal imbalance is, consider some of the painful measures that the study said would be necessary to balance the books:
- More than double the payroll tax, from 15.3% to 32% of wages
- Raise income taxes by two thirds
- Cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by 45%
- Eliminate all "discretionary" spending (including such constitutionally mandated government functions as the military and the judiciary)

Peter G. Peterson has written a book about the issue: "Running On Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do about It." He recently gave an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations. He prefers to express the issue in terms of cash flow, because Social Security and Medicare are "pay as you go" systems (there is essentially no trust fund). The cash flow impacts will be an estimated $783 billion in 2020, increasing to trillions later.

Peterson offers some concrete proposals in the interview, and offers some political cover to the candidates in saying "I have never thought that a political campaign is an optimum environment for serious discussion or practical proposals.

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Social Security, etc... (3, Insightful)

salesgeek (263995) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234115)

O'Neil's report is nothing new at all. Social Security is and always has been a grand pyramid scheme that worked because America's population grew fast enough that enought people came in at the next level lowerer on the scheme and enough people died off of the top. People live longer and don't reproduce as much - so the pyramid begins to collapse.

The best solution may end up being Bush's "ownership society" where we transition from a cashflow scam to personal investment programs. The problem with this, and it is a very big problem is that there is little risk to a healthy chashflow scam and investments are by definition risky. The other problem is that the money would not be 100% under government control and congress could not use the money when other sources of revenues dry up as it uses Social Security today.

At the end of the day, this issue is of critical importance as I really don't look forward to watching my parents generation financially crush my daughter's generation under the weight of some social contract. Taxes suck. So do governments, but ours is much better than the alternative.

Re:Social Security, etc... (5, Insightful)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234226)

The problem with this, and it is a very big problem is that there is little risk to a healthy chashflow scam and investments are by definition risky. The other problem is that the money would not be 100% under government control and congress could not use the money when other sources of revenues dry up as it uses Social Security today.

You're right. But at this point, I'd rather take the investment risk than the certainty of a cashflow system that will fail. The second reason you describe obviates the first... one of the reasons, besides basic mathemetics, is that the so-called Social Security Fund is really just more government debt.

From what I've heard, in the best of time Social Security ended up rendering about 2% interest in terms of average payouts. There is no 40-year period in the last 100 years where investments in the stock market wouldn't have beat that by a huge margin. The key is the length of time: 40 years. Certain the period from 1928 to 193x was awful, as were other times like 1987, 1990-1991, and the beginning of this decade, but over 40 years, these drops were more than offset by the subsequent economic growth.

If the government could unleash the economy with true tax reform (a la Dennis Hastert, Jerry Brown and many others), combined with a program of retirement investment becoming personal rather than just another Congressional feedbag and Ponzi scheme, I think the problem can be solved. However, these are drastic measures, and it seems like it would take someone as crazy as Ross Perot to be bold enough to actually propose them (rather than just hint around). That's one thing I really respected about him, by the way. I was really hoping President Bush would drop a huge tax reform bomb at the RNC convention, and I think it could have clinched his run for re-election. Like a friend of mine used to say: The flat tax (or whatever scheme you are talking about, like VAT, etc) won't work perfectly either, but it makes a whole lot of sense to start from there and fix that rather than add to the 20,000 pages of tax code that alreadyt exist. An additional plus is that there's a whole industry of people who could get jobs that actually produce something rather than just waste productivity dealing with an incomprehensible tax code.

True tax reform and Social Security are just like the weather, everyone talks about them but no one does anything.

Re:Social Security, etc... (5, Insightful)

utopiabound (199550) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234790)

Social Security is not a personal retirement account.

It is a social safety net; It is a social pact, a new socal covenant; It is the promise of the Government that when you get old, you will not be homeless and die of hunger. It is not about rich people having more disposable income when they retire. The Rich are not supposed to get the lions share. If you think of Social Security as a safety net then, who gets paid, becomes clear. The people who paid the least get the most, and the people who paid the most get the least. This is the heart of the "New Deal" the new pact between the Government and the People.

This is a program that, at its heart, is truly Christian (not to say that it doesn't fall well into any other religion, Christian is just what I was raised). This is loving your neighbor. This is helping the poor.

Re:Social Security, etc... (-1, Flamebait)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235752)

You forget that most of thoese in power on the right worship the god of profit over the God of Heaven.

Re:Social Security, etc... (4, Insightful)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236613)

Social Security is not a personal retirement account.

But that's what it's been sold as, at least these days. Otherwise it's just another tax and more income redistribution. If they call it that, then I think people will look at it a lot differently, especially since there will be no difference between the hard-working person who couldn't save enough to retire despite good planning and best efforts and the stupid person who didn't plan for the future and squandered his money, from the system's point of view. And we all know proving a negative ("I can't be successful.") is infinitely harder than proving a positive ("I have been successful."), where success here means being able to take care of yourself.

I'm not disagreeing with your categorization of what it should be. The problem with all these "Christian charity" type Government programs is a.) they are coerced, and b.) that far too many people will do everything they can to unfairly take advantage of them.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be a safety net, there absolutely should be. But I am extremely leary when the government implements one, because every time it has done it in the past, it has failed. Not in the fact that it didn't provide the safety net, although that happens, but the fact that such programs attract abuse and result in dependency, whether real or perceived.

It is truly Christian to administer "tough love" (although obviously not to the point of people starving to death). The problem is that there are people who cannot help themselves, temporarily or permanently, and people who will not help themselves, because of lack of education, motivation or need (i.e., the system lets them float along just fine). I think the former, while very real and in genuine need of our help as citizens and as a society, are greatly outnumbered by the latter. The problem is that "The Government provides a safety net." is perceived by many as "The Government owes me a living."

The pact of the New Deal is that if you do your part, the government will cover your butt if something really bad happens, and that's good. The problem is with the "you do part" part of it. Just like with Communism, the "give what you have and take what you need" won't work when people fail to acknowledge the proper definitions of "have" and "need".

Re:Social Security, etc... (3, Insightful)

Bluesman (104513) | more than 10 years ago | (#10237262)

If this were true, we'd have means testing of social security recipients.

As it is now, even the richest old people get their social security check each month.

What you're describing is welfare.

Re:Social Security, etc... (4, Insightful)

GOD_ALMIGHTY (17678) | more than 10 years ago | (#10237374)

The basis of authority for Social Security is not morality. It's a recognition that we are not willing to let old people simply starve and die in the streets. If we believe that a person has the right to emergency health care, regardless of ability to pay, then it makes sense to pursue policy that decreases the amount of emergency care required by those who cannot pay. Leaving old folks to fend for themselves creates an environment

Your right about the safety net functions, but this is a recognition of a more advanced and complex society and the rights that must be recognized in order to achieve growth in this modern world. I believe that is a more accurate description of the heart of the New Deal. No law in the US, no matter how "good" or "moral", can use morality as it's basis for authority and remain valid. Laws who's only basis of authority is moral violate the principle of equal protection under the law.

The GOP economic policy of so-called ownership is about taking ownership of risk, not providing opportunity. If you look at all of their proposals and replace the word opportunity with risk they start to match with reality instead of looking like some ideologue's fantasy. Check out this column [washingtonpost.com] by Harold Meyerson, which lays out this concept very clearly.

Re:Social Security, etc... (1)

code_rage (130128) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236592)

"From what I've heard, in the best of time Social Security ended up rendering about 2% interest in terms of average payouts."

There is a very important difference between Social Security and investment accounts. SS is continually being raided (every dollar coming in is sent out to granny immediately -- actually there's a little more coming in than going out, but very minor). The analogy that would fit would be if you took out a loan on your 401k for your kid's Ivy League education (removing the entire principal). No principal means no earnings.

Re:Social Security, etc... (1)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236661)

Perhaps, but what you receive in benefits does not depend on how the government manages the fund, at least until it runs out.

All I know is that the people who are contributing to the system are the ones getting screwed. Not only do they not get what they could because of investments, but neither does anyone else. It's a significant chunk of our economy being sucked away to feed more government rather than grow the economy. It's taking economic growth which is not a zero-sum game, and making it into a zero-sum (or near-zero-sum) game.

Re:Social Security, etc... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10235214)


The best solution may end up being Bush's "ownership society" where we transition from a cashflow scam to personal investment programs. The problem with this, and it is a very big problem is that there is little risk to a healthy chashflow scam and investments are by definition risky. The other problem is that the money would not be 100% under government control and congress could not use the money when other sources of revenues dry up as it uses Social Security today.



Perhaps, but how do you expect to pay for the $1-2 trillion over 7 years to pay for the transition between the current pay-as-you-go system to the personal investment system? Also, who is going to determine where this gigantic glut of cash is going to go? Will you limit choice to try and ensure low risk? Will you allow lots of choice and say tough luck when thousands of people lose their safety net? What will the increase in overhead be to fight fraud by unscrupulous investment firms?



The social security system (including medicare) in my opinion is harmful to our economy. We would be better served by creating a welfare system which utilizes tax funds collected from higher income people to create an economic safety net for the poor. This would leave FICA tax in the hands of the people most likely to spend it, which increases the standard of living of the lower classes, while increasing profits at companies to up the pay of the people who have to pay higher taxes.

Enron showed how delusional Bush plan is (4, Insightful)

leftie (667677) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235292)

Corporations go bankrupt, and their investors lose everything they have invested when they do.

All these privatization of Social Security plans are scams devised by the filthy rich to have the stock markets flooded with capital so that THEIR investments will be massively increased in value. The investor class has their investment spike while the average worker is forced to pay a premium.

None of these privatization schemes offers any suggestions about what to do when the next Enron happens and people lose their retirement savings. Are we supposed to shake our heads at old people and tell them to starve in the streets because the senior management of the corporation looted all the value out of the company?

There has to be a safety net for the elderly and disabled in our society. Ensuring they have minimum standard of living is far more important than the investor class getting a huge increase in their account values from a massive sump of capital into the stock markets.

Re:Enron showed how delusional Bush plan is (3, Insightful)

Cereal Box (4286) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235647)

None of these privatization schemes offers any suggestions about what to do when the next Enron happens and people lose their retirement savings.

Likewise, you aren't offering any suggestions about what to do when Social Security collapses under its own weight in the near future...

Re:Enron showed how delusional Bush plan is (1)

leftie (667677) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235865)

It won't collapse as long as reasonable efforts are undertaken to ensure it's long term stability.

The retirement age is going to have to be moved up. Social Security wasn't designed to support people for as many years as it currently does. There's a pretty easy compromise to move the retirement age to 70, but make it easier for people closer to the retirement age to qualify for Social Security disabilty. Something like automatically starting disability payments to those between 60-70 upon reciept of an application for disability, and not forcing older disabled people to wait years until all the doctors medical paperwork clears to start payment.

The ridiculously low cap on maximum amount an individual will contribute is going to have to be pulled, too.

Re:Enron showed how delusional Bush plan is (1)

Cereal Box (4286) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235899)

The retirement age is going to have to be moved up.

So that's the solution? Keep moving the retirement age closer and closer to the average life expectancy age? Work until you die, eh?

Re:Enron showed how delusional Bush plan is (2, Informative)

leftie (667677) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236041)

Work while you are healthy and productive.

Yeah... that's the way Social Security was designed.

When Social Security was started, it was not a retirement plan. It was a safety net to protect those who aren't capable of earning a reasonable living. People are so much healthier now so much later in life that it's reasonable that those who are in good health continue to work later in life.

However, that's also why, in exchange for increasing the retirement age, you expedite the process through which those who aren't healthy enough to work can be started up on disability much more quickly and easily.

Re:Enron showed how delusional Bush plan is (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236707)

Are you aware that the original Social Security retirement age was set above the average life expectancy at the time?

Old Problem with a New Name: Social Security (-1, Troll)

reporter (666905) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235830)

The problem with social security is fundamental, and replacing social security with 401K plans does not fix the problem. Here is the situation. Let AA be the average age of the population. With a constant population and with a population that has ever increasing longevity, AA increases. As AA increases, the ratio, RATIO, of working people to retired people decreases. The quality of life of the working people will decrease because a substantial portion of their production, in goods and services, is being diverted to the retired people.

Here, we assume that there is a particular typical age, RA, of retirement after which most people stop working. If we somehow force RA to increase as we increase AA, then the RATIO will remain constant. However, given that most people do not want to work, they would object to raising RA. In this discussion, RA does not necessarily refer to the age by which you can tap social security; rather, RA is the age by which most people deliberately stop working.

If we have a fixed RA, like what we have now, AA does not necessarily increase forever. AA reaches some fixed value when the number of people being born equal the number of people dying. Hence, RATIO does not decrease forever. However, AA will be relatively high, and the RATIO will be relatively small. We will suffer a serious reduction in quality of life.

There are 2 answers to this problem. The Republicans and the Democrats favor the illegal-alien solution. Allowing hordes of illegal aliens from Mexico to enter the USA decreases AA and raises the RATIO. As long as Mexico remains a hell hole, the illegal-alien solution continues to work. However, the solution is not permanent (even though Mexico will likely remain a hell hole due to the inferior Mexican culture) because, after 200 years, American society will face overpopulation. Overpopulation is a side effect of this solution. Also, the quality of American life will degrade to the level of Mexcian society -- corrupt, violent, etc.

The other solution is simply to raise the level of productivity. Enforce the borders and maintain a constant American population. The invisible hand of the free market will drive innovation in the market to raise the level of productivity to meet the need. Consider this scenario. Deport all the illegal aliens. Then, robots (yes, robots!) and improved processes will appear in the labor market for picking fruit.

By the way, the Japanese are pursuing the second solution: constant population and elevated productivity to address the crisis of the graying population in Japan.

In the USA, American politicians are flushing this country down the toilet by admitting hordes of illegal aliens. They may produce cheap fruits and vegetables in the short term, but the illegal aliens are destroying the USA in the long term. They are, on a massive scale, delaying the productivity improvements (e.g. robots and processes) in the market, which will be needed to support a high quality of life for the graying population.

Debt clock (4, Interesting)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234152)

debt clock [brillig.com]

The problem is, if they do not get it under balance, the dollar will plummet, and then loose value as people loose faith in it.

This is a real fear in 4-7 years. (I won't go into i18n economy bonds, and how they will weaken until the global economy becomes more bouyant)

Debt stats (1)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234164)

From the debt clock:

Each citizen's share of the US debt is $25,103.12

The National Debt has continued to increase an average of $1.72 billion per day since September 30, 2003!

You can protect your money (5, Funny)

roystgnr (4015) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234424)

The problem is, if they do not get it under balance, the dollar will plummet, and then loose value as people loose faith in it.

The trick to surviving such a crash is to choose investments that aren't tied to the value of the dollar. We're advising our clients to put everything they have into canned food and shotguns.

Re:You can protect your money (1)

thelexx (237096) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234497)

Uhuh, like those real crackpots who think gold is still worth having a little of.

Re:You can protect your money (0)

Frymaster (171343) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235821)

The problem is, if they do not get it under balance, the dollar will plummet, and then loose value as people loose faith in it.

where did you ever get the idea that the strength of the u.s. dollar was reliant on the american economy? the reason why the greenback remains strong despite a huge debt and the worst balance of payments in the western world is that the dollar is supported by two other massive economies:

  1. the criminal economy: if you're going to buy 80 kilos of uncut peruvian cocaine what are you going to pay with? drachmas? as a general rule: if it's against the law, it's paid for in greenbacks.
  2. the reserve economy: fiat currencies are rare in the world. unless you're a major power, your currency is backed up by some sort of reserve. traditionally this has been gold, but since the '70s most countries have moved to a new reserve: the u.s. dollar. that's right: billions and billions of greenbacks sitting in vaults to prop up g77 nation's currencies.
so, forget the debt, the deficeit, balance of payments... the greenback will stay the strongest currency so long as people buy drugs and third world dictators want to keep printing their faces on bills.

Re:You can protect your money (3, Insightful)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236211)

if you're going to buy 80 kilos of uncut peruvian cocaine what are you going to pay with? drachmas?

Drachmas? As if, Greece uses the Euro now.

as a general rule: if it's against the law, it's paid for in greenbacks.

Queue the american national anthem. You must be so proud!

the greenback will stay the strongest currency

You make the assumption that it is the strongest currency, which clearly it is not.

Also, this outstanding debt means, that the greenabcks in your pocket, are not actually yours, but belong to someone else who has been promised to be paid back, and if this breaks down, then noone will want them.

If the price of your cocaine sky rockets (in $$$), I wouldn't be suprised.

Re:You can protect your money (1)

zardinuk (764644) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236662)

You make the assumption that it is the strongest currency, which clearly it is not.

Well then by your definition highly inflated currencies like the Japanese yen would be stronger, which isn't the case. That's not to say that Japan doesn't have a strong economy. There were suitcases upon suitcases of American dollars found in Saddam's strongholds, probably to be used for terrorist purposes, but also pretty useful if you're going to try and disappear.

Also, this outstanding debt means, that the greenabcks in your pocket, are not actually yours, but belong to someone else who has been promised to be paid back, and if this breaks down, then noone will want them.

The $5000 or so in cash I currently have is insignificant to me. I do have a lot of faith in the US economy. We seem to be the only innovators. As most businessmen are aware debt is not always a bad thing. We had a surplus a couple years ago and we decided not to pay off debt with it, as is the case with many publicly traded companies, its no big deal. You invest that money back in the business and it turns into more money. The fact is, I have most of my money invested in capital assets, my house, my cars... Stockpiling gold is such a waste of money. If all you want is a stable currency you are a weenie. You figure out one day that the concept of "money" is a tough one to deal with. It doesn't actually exist, and nobody can really hold you accountable for it. Also, go take a look at how many countries owe the United States money, and how many countries went belly up after huge US investments were made in them. How much aid money do we give out (Government and Private Charities)? It's pretty funny how everybody hates us so much, half of America wants us to be even nicer, and the other half is fed up with it. Those of us who're fed up with the rest of the world seem to be gaining ground, so to speak.

Queue the american national anthem. You must be so proud!

A little bitter are we? =)

I'm starting to get a clearer picture why posts like this get an "Insightful" score.

Re:Debt clock (1)

rtaylor (70602) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234696)

Also, keep in mind the Debt Clock only shows National Debts. Debt is owed at a state and municipal levels, which in many cases is also increasing at a rapid rate.

Bush mentions SS on his web site, Kerry doesn't... (3, Interesting)

PatHMV (701344) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234830)

At least President Bush [georgewbush.com] discusses the problems facing Social Security and gives the general philosophy behind his solution. John Kerry [johnkerry.com] doesn't even list Social Security as a national issue.

Re:Bush mentions SS on his web site, Kerry doesn't (2, Informative)

pb (1020) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235377)

It's under medicare [johnkerry.com] , go figure.

Re:Bush mentions SS on his web site, Kerry doesn't (1)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236157)

I think Bush view SS as the secret service, not the social security. Although I think he would blindly throw .5Billion USD at anything with the word security in it.

Re:Debt clock (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234869)

The dollar is lower already, 1.23 Euro today and it has not seen one Euro in a long time.

Re:Debt clock (1)

Curtman (556920) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235015)

Keep up the good work eh [yahoo.com] .

:)

Re:Debt clock (1)

Bombcar (16057) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235327)

and then loose value as people loose faith in it.

Muhahahaha! All other currencies will run in fear as we loose our repressed faith in our currency, causing it to loose value upon an unsuspecting world!

Now we know the secret plan!

Re:Debt clock (1)

sadler121 (735320) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235774)

The problem is, if they do not get it under balance, the dollar will plummet, and then loose value as people loose faith in it.

This is why OPEC is transitioning over to the Euro from the Doller when it comes to Oil prices. The EU has a far better way of handling there economy responibly then the US. The smart thing to do is to invest in Euro's instead of the doller, or better yet, invest in China's currency, since in the next 10-20 years they WILL be the dominate super power, EXCEDING the US.

Debt isn't sexy (4, Interesting)

ghostlibrary (450718) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234162)

Problem is, real issues like Debt or Fiscal Policy aren't sexy enough to campaign. You can't stake out turf, or slander the others.

"My opponent is sending us into debt. I pledge, if elected, to send us _less_ into debt than he. This is leadership."

Electionining at all levels is always about tangibles. 'Tough on crime', 'tough on terror', 'taking a stand on gay marriage'. Debt isn't cool in that context. No one likes debt, but no one wants to talk about it.

Oddly enough, having researched the issues, I support the candidate I do because he has a record of slashing the budget in a way I agree with, as opposed to the other guy, who slashes stuff I think he could keep.

(Well, I had to mention slash, this is slash-dot!)

They should run elections just by listing all issues candidates mention, but don't list the candidates. You just vote 'yes/no/don't care' for each _issue_ and whichever matches most with a given candidates platform-on-record, they get your vote.

So 'ban on gay marriage' would have yes/no/don't care'. You vote 'yes', that may tally for either candidate-- or both, if they both support it, or neither, if they both don't care or are both against it. And your vote is the tally of all issues, whomever you support most gets your 1 vote.

So, yeah, maybe you'd only find out who you voted for _after_ voting, but it'd be on the real issues, not the spin or marketing of the candidate!

Issues or candidates (2, Interesting)

Mawbid (3993) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236031)

They should run elections just by listing all issues candidates mention, but don't list the candidates.

Good idea, but why not go all the way and just allow voting on the issues directly?

The thing I really hate about current democratic systems is that you're always voting for a person (or worse, a group of people). You have to pick the person whose stand is closest to yours on a range of issues. Unless you're using one of the candidates as the source of your opinions, you're unlikely to find a candidate that wants the all the same things as you do.

So let's say you're anti-X and anti-Y, and all the candidates are pro-X, anti-Y or anti-X, pro-Y. You're forced to either support something you don't believe in, or not vote. And even after you vote for the pro-X candidate (because you don't want to suffer these assholes who think you've no right to complain if you don't vote), you have no guarantee they'll actually deliver on what they promised.

The system we have today for discovering and enforcing the will of the people is ...suboptimal.

Are there any better methods available? I know we won't get a perfect solution to a problem this complex, but surely we can do better.

Re:Issues or candidates (3, Insightful)

ghostlibrary (450718) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236219)

Hi,

> Good idea, but why not go all the way and just allow voting on the issues directly?

That, alas, goes entirely against the idea of a Republic, and also leads to 'tyranny of the masses'.

The idea behind the US gov't is that gov't is too complicated for each us to constantly stay informed of and be able to fully judge each issue.

So, instead of requiring every citizen to be fully and accurately informed every day on 200+page bills, we instead use representatives. "I don't know gov't, but I trust that Joe's views are close to mine, and that he'll represent me accurately."

Contrast this to a pure democracy-- say, at the neighborhood level. If the issue is raised to 'evict Mawbid due to fashion sense' and 51% agree, you're screwed. That's tyranny of the masses (corrolary: a good society is one where it is safe to be unpopular.)

In a representative system, though, 51% might vote for Fred, who runs on a Pro-Eviction platform, but Fred will (hopefully) look and say, hey, we don't really have a mandate here, and Mawbid's fashion errors aren't enough to do this.

In short, the republic adds friction and a buffer between the populace and laws. Both are good-- we don't want gov't making instant laws or automatically going with slight majorities.

So voting directly on issues, nope. Voting more accurately for candidates and removing the marketing/advertising of career politicians, that I'm for!

Re:Issues or candidates (1)

zardinuk (764644) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236837)

Some things should be voted by people, like propositions, but most things people are too stupid to vote for. It goes back to the 1600/1700's when only white male land owners could vote, because most non-white-male-landowners were uneducated, and might enact a bill for government subsidized beer.

The assault weapons ban is an example of this. Some lawmakers are jumping on this as if it's effective, trying to polish their image. Others don't see any real value with it, despite overwhelming popular support. As the old saying goes "Guns don't kill people, I kill people".

Things change, of course. I still think people should be required to take an IQ test before they can vote.

Generational Warfare (4, Interesting)

macinrack (314691) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234230)

We are headed for general warfare. The Republicans seem to think that we can spend spend spend and give away all our piggy bank and the sun will somehow still shine. Democrats are convinced that letting in waves of immigrants from the South will fund the Social Security system. What a mess. The fact is that the younger generation will not have enough to give, and the Me Generation (they call themselves 'boomers') will not be willing to give up anything they have been promised. It will come to a head when the younger generation finally is in power, like the Me Generation is now, and hard decisions are made about whom gets what. Generational Warfare.

Re:Generational Warfare (1)

GypC (7592) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234939)

I was thinking along the same lines.

It's not going to be pretty, but I doubt it will be as bad as some people say.

Class Warfare already declared by investor class (2, Insightful)

leftie (667677) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235375)

The investor class declared war on the middle class and poor long, long ago. 90% of the wealth in the US is held by the top 10% and 50% of the wealth is held by the top 1%. I'm so tired of trying to point out that fact and hearing "CLASS WARFARE!" in response from right wingers.

NO... "class warfare" is all the policies since Reagan was sworn in that got almost all the wealth in this society in the hands of the investor class.

Re:Class Warfare already declared by investor clas (2)

zardinuk (764644) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236894)

Yeah you should be entitled to an equal share for sitting on your ass in front of a computer all day. That's fair. Why don't you sail a boat to Cuba if that's what you want?

It's not easy to be one of the top 10%, you have to be a work-a-holic. That's the unique nature of our system, we create work-a-holics, so who're you to say that you deserve some of that money? You didn't do any of the work!

Not exactly being ignored (0)

rot26 (240034) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234373)

At least by the GOP... they're just not putting it in recognizable terms. Their shills in the audience are already floating out the "solution" to this: raising the retirement age, privatizing social security and medicare, and implementing a flat-tax or value-added tax. All of these further the Republican agenda, and all have MAJOR problems, at least for those of us in the middle and lower-income categories. Expect to see all three of these concepts being thrust into the forefront if Bush is re-elected.

Re:Not exactly being ignored (2, Interesting)

MarsDefenseMinister (738128) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235945)

Don't conflate the issues. I'm a mega-liberal, and I'll challenge any of those pansy conservatives out there to a duel any day.

There's a difference between raising the retirement age and privatizing Social Security and medicare or a flat tax. If people are living longer, it makes sense to raise the retirement age.

But, privatizing services, or going to a flat tax would be disastrous, I agree. There's a real chance that our country will move in the next few years from being a democracy, to a plutocracy. The rich will rule and get richer. The rest of us will have to bend a knee to our royal dynasties. Their power will continue generation after generation with no estate tax, and in the end we'll be no better than the regime that we fought a revolution against.

Bush and the deficit (5, Insightful)

jamie (78724) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234407)

This is why I wish Child's Pay [bushin30seconds.org] had been allowed to air during the Super Bowl. I think most Americans, Republican and Democrat, are honest and honorable enough that we don't want to stick our children with the bill for what we are enjoying today.

But most Americans don't have a clue what is going on. I saw a billboard last night that said, "Remember, it's your money" -- and it was an ad for Bush-Cheney! The administration that insisted tax cuts were the prescription for times of plenty, for times of recession, for times of peace and times of war, has now seen the unwanted side-effects: a languid recovery, and a trillion dollars added to the debt. A budget surplus, the first in modern times, converted instantly to massive deficit.

Sometimes I wonder if there isn't a way to start talking about the debt as the balance on our nation's credit card. Maybe if we put overspending into terms that the average consumer could understand, and stuck to those terms, people could finally start to get it. This country produces $11 trillion [cia.gov] of wealth every year, and, through our government, we are $7.4 trillion [brillig.com] in debt. Maybe if we start comparing the government to a family that's making $110,000 a year, but is $74,000 in debt, we could have a real national debate about government spending. The question is not whether "it's your money," but whether, being $74,000 in debt, it's a good idea for you to get a brand-new credit card and go rack up another $4,000 on it every year -- as Bush and the Republican Congress are now doing.

Especially when massive, unavoidable costs are just over the horizon.

Grover Norquist has declared his goal of drowning the government in a bathtub, and his way of doing it is to spend it into oblivion. The Republican Party has sold out the country by signing on with this brand of destruction. What it's going to yield is not prosperity and limited government, but anarchy and -- very possibly, in the decades to come -- the end of America as an economically powerful beacon of freedom. When our children are serfs for the wealthy who have bought up the country, when the old are baking to death because we can't afford to buy them air conditioners, when the poor and the sick die alone because we can't provide them with basic health care, when the unregulated food makes us sick and the unregulated drugs are a crapshoot, when half the country will never be able to retire and will be forced to work at McDonald's and Wal-Mart until their bodies fail, I hope people remember the name of Grover Norquist, and who it was [thenation.com] that put his theories into practice. One percent of this country will always enjoy all the best things in life, but everyone else will be wondering what it was like before our government was drowned, and if those folks back in the '90s and '00s knew how good they had it.

Re:Bush and the deficit (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10234877)

As it happens, The Economist recently ran an article addressing some of these issues. The article also provides context and perspective that should be of interest to those participating in this discussion. For convenience, the full text is reproduced below; it is also accessible online [economist.com] (may require paid subscription).

----

Bushnomics

A boundless vision, alas

Sep 9th 2004 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition

George Bush's economic agenda is full of bold ideas, but it does not add up

[Image] [economist.com]

FOR the past four years George Bush's economic strategy has consisted of one idea: tax cuts. Whether the economy was growing or in recession, the budget in surplus or deficit, Mr Bush's prescription remained the same. While the White House developed a bold new vision for America's role in the world, economic policy boiled down to ad hoc justifications for more tax cuts.

This changed last week. In his speech to the Republican convention in New York, the president came much closer than before to articulating a coherent economic vision. It was an ambitious one too. It purported to define the proper role of government in the modern economy. To prosper, Mr Bush argued, America had to be the best place in the world to do business; and Americans must be equipped to deal with an economy where people change jobs frequently.

That, he said, required reforms to basic economic institutions: the tax code, health coverage, pensions. It meant creating an "ownership society" where people could prepare for retirement and meet their medical costs with individual accounts. It required a busy government. "Government should help people improve their lives, not try to run their lives," Mr Bush intoned.

This is far from the government-is-the-problem rhetoric that Republicans have touted for years. Great chunks of Mr Bush's economic vision sound more like Bill Clinton than Ronald Reagan. In his convention speech in 1992, Mr Clinton talked of a government that "expands opportunity, not bureaucracy", a government that helps people succeed in a changing economy.

Mr Bush did more than steal the New Democrat rhetoric. He also copied Mr Clinton's strategy of using myriad small initiatives to show his desire to help Americans succeed. Mr Bush's speech (with accompanying details on his website) offered a slew of voter-friendly policies. There were plans to double the number of people in job training, increase money for community colleges, put a health centre in every poor county and begin a "Cover the Kids" campaign to extend health-care coverage to more poor children. Mr Bush pledged to increase Pell grants, which help the poor to pay for college. And he promised to make workplaces friendlier to families, by pushing for "comp time" and "flex time".

But if half his vision was Clintonomic, the other half was more straightforwardly conservative. Tax cuts were still to the fore. "My plan will encourage investment...by restraining federal spending, reducing regulation, and making the tax relief permanent," Mr Bush promised. Goals that many conservatives value even more highly--tax reform and pension privatisation--also got a mention. Mr Bush promised to lead a bipartisan commission to reform the tax code, to make the system simpler, fairer and more pro-growth. And he repeated his pledge from 2000 that younger workers should be allowed to divert some of their payroll taxes into individual retirement accounts (though there was no more detail on this than there was four years ago).

Just what does it all add up to? Even conservatives disagree. David Brooks of the New York Times saw it as a transformational speech that broadened "compassionate conservatism" into a new governing philosophy. Others saw only blatant vote-buying. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economic analyst, argued that Bush's agenda boiled down to "spend money on whatever you think will buy you a vote." He predicted a Republican civil war after November 2nd.

The new "agenda" was certainly designed for maximum short-term political appeal: red meat for the conservative faithful coupled with promises of help for the squeezed middle class. The economy is one area where John Kerry generally still does better than Mr Bush in the polls. And the jobs situation is far from rosy. The Labour Department reported on September 3rd that 144,000 new jobs were created in August, much better than in June and July but hardly proof of a roaring job market. Mr Bush's speech was designed to protect his vulnerable domestic flank.

Unfortunately, this short-term appeal came at the expense of consistency and credibility. For all the ambitious rhetoric, Mr Bush's agenda is self-contradictory. He pledged to restrain government spending, yet proposed a slew of new government programmes. He called for making the tax code simpler and fairer, yet he wants to make permanent his tax cuts which have dramatically complicated America's tax system. (In Mr Bush's first term the tax code has grown by 10,000 pages.)

Worse, the agenda failed to acknowledge America's fiscal predicament: a large budget deficit and the looming retirement of the baby-boomers. Junking any pretence of fiscal responsibility, Mr Bush failed to mention the budget deficit. The Bush-Cheney campaign says that its new spending proposals (excluding Social-Security reform) cost only $7.5 billion a year. The Bush people also claim, to widespread incredulity, that the deficit will be halved by 2008.

New figures released on September 7th by the Congressional Budget Office, Washington's independent budget watchdog, show just how reckless this nonchalance is. This year's deficit, at $422 billion or 3.6% of GDP, is marginally lower than the CBO estimated six months ago. But the outlook for the next ten years has worsened, to a cumulative deficit of $2.3 trillion.

Mr Bush's aides point out that this number includes improbably high estimates for military spending (by law, the CBO must take this year's large defence bill as its basis). Assume a slowdown in military spending and the deficit falls to $1.3 trillion over the decade (see chart above). But if Mr Bush's tax cuts are extended (as he pledges), then the deficit rises by more than $2 trillion. And that still does not include the cost of fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax. This was introduced in the 1970s to limit tax avoidance by rich Americans claiming deductions. Now it is clobbering ever more ordinary Americans. Around 3m people currently pay the AMT; by 2010, 30m will. Fixing the AMT to stop this expansion would add another $600 billion to the ten-year deficit.

Mr Bush's refusal to acknowledge any fiscal constraints means that, despite the bold ideas in his speech, it is hard to say what a second Bush term might really bring. Most policy wonks guess that tax reform will be a big issue, if only because the AMT mess will force more changes to the tax code. But what does Mr Bush mean by tax reform? Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute sees the possibility of "1986 Redux", when Mr Reagan pushed through a base-broadening, rate-reducing reform in his second term. Others worry that tax reform may involve no more than simplifying procedures so that millions of Americans no longer have to file tax returns. The truth is that no one--including Mr Bush--appears to know.

::: your friendly neighborhood E.T.

Way to go, asshat (1, Informative)

Safety Cap (253500) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235168)

Please allow me to highlight the most important part of the article you forgot to include:

Copyright [economist.com] © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2004. All rights reserved.

As you are obviously incapable of understanding rudimentary concepts like copyrights, then I will not explain them to you. Perhaps someone else reading this who might be confused by your flagrant violation of the law will first check out common copyright myths [templetons.com] before deciding to emulate you.

Re:Way to go, asshat (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10235303)

It would be a mistake to assume, as you apparently have done, that breaking the law necessarily demonstrates an ignorance of it. When I choose to reproduce copyrighted material, believe me that I am mindful of the consequences and consider the benefits to outweigh the drawbacks. And yes, I do sleep well at night; thank you for asking.

::: E.T.

Re:Bush and the deficit (1)

j0nb0y (107699) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235720)

A budget surplus, the first in modern times, converted instantly to massive deficit.

Yeah, that's Bush's fault. It's not because the dot.com bubble burst. It's also not because we massively increased spending when we had that surplus. Of course, can you really call it a surplus if we proceeded to spend it all when we found out about it?

Re:Bush and the deficit (3, Informative)

jamie (78724) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236269)

It is indeed Bush's fault. About half of the deficits are the result of Bush's tax cuts [pkarchive.org] :

The prime cause of giant budget deficits is a plunge in the federal government's tax take, which fell from 20.9 percent of G.D.P. in fiscal 2000 to a projected 15.7 percent this year, the lowest share since 1950. About 45 percent of this plunge can be attributed to the Bush tax cuts. The rest reflects the end of the stock market bubble, the still-depressed economy and -- probably -- growing tax sheltering and evasion.

(Note: much of the reason the economy is taking so long to recover is, obviously, the war in Iraq, and the fact that Bush's tax cuts were back-loaded, having most of their effect in the years to come, not in the three years we just lived through.)

And you simply have no idea what you're talking about re "massively increased spending." Go look up what the annual increases in discretionary spending [factcheck.org] were under Clinton and under Bush. Even Cato calls it "The Republican Spending Explosion."

Re:Bush and the deficit (1)

molo (94384) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236475)

Maybe if we start comparing the government to a family that's making $110,000 a year, but is $74,000 in debt, we could have a real national debate about government spending.

While I do think that the defecit it somehting that needs to be taken care of, I don't think this method will work. A family with that kind of income usually will have a mortgage and at least a car or school loan to pay off.. hundreds of thousands of dollars.

US Consumer debt rose to $1.98 trillion in October 2003 - this number includes credit cards and car loan debt, but excludes mortgages. The average family has about $18700 in this kind of debt. Taking credit card debt alone, the average family has $12000 in debt.

Perhaps that would make a better comparison?

-molo

Re:Bush and the deficit (1)

jamie (78724) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236845)

The trouble is that it's hard to compare national production to a family's wages. I agree that the $110,000/year comparison is off-base, but I'm not sure how to fix it.

One basis for comparison is that of the U.S.'s $11 trillion economy, only about $2 trillion is reasonably available for a budget, since it is politically impossible (and of course unwise) to tax, say, 50% of the nation's production. So the analogy might be a family with $110,000 income that has to spend $90,000 of that on nondiscretionary expenditures: let's say mortgage, taxes, food, insurance, and so on. That's pretty much impossible for that income level; anyone at $110,000 has a lot more than $20,000 worth of discretionary spending, so people will have a hard time imagining it.

Statistically, what household income level has about $20,000 in discretionary spending? Or maybe I'm looking for what household income level has $8,500 discretionary income, which I guess would be proportional to the fed's discretionary spending. Hmmm... or am I looking for total fed revenue minus nondiscretionary spending, which I would guess at about $4,000 for a household?

Maybe a household earning $40,000 a year would have about $4,000 in discretionary income. And how would that family look at a $74,000 accumulated debt? Would that family think it wise to not only spend that $4,000 on new stuff instead of paying down their debt, but then also rack up an extra $4,000 in debt every year?

Maybe if there was a way to tell this story [zfacts.com] in numbers that were proportional to household discretionary income? As GDP and governmental tax revenue grew, that could be understood as a household getting promotions and better jobs. The war debt from 1945 could be seen as a major household expenditure that was paid down until 1955, and then stayed manageable because of the "promotions" that the country kept getting (the American miracle of increasing productivity). It lasted right up until Reagan, at which point the country started spending much faster than its wage-earners got "promotions"...

Which one will be chosen? (1, Flamebait)

eyeye (653962) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234428)


- More than double the payroll tax, from 15.3% to 32% of wages
- Raise income taxes by two thirds
- Cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by 45%
- Eliminate all "discretionary" spending (including such constitutionally mandated government functions as the military and the judiciary)

I say all of them

Re:Which one will be chosen? (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235310)

Yes brillant idea. Lets reconstruct. The US has such a high standard of living for 2 reasons, high Gross National Product (meaning a lot of stuff is made per person, efficiency is high) and people feel secure (we don't have to worry much about invading armies and such).

Ok now lets cover the points.

- More than double the payroll tax, from 15.3% to 32% of wages.
This will cause massive inflation as people will need to be paid more to continue making the same living.
Thus money will be worth less, so the increase tax revenue won't mean as much.

- Raise income taxes by two thirds.

Diddo.

- Cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by 45%
Slightly agree, personally I think we could save bundles just be monitoriing where the money goes, I know my step mother gets almost a thousand dollars a month in unneeded medication just because she wants it, doctors don't say no, and medicare doesn't look into it. The same can be said with welfare and all the other descrecinary spending, it could be used wiser.

- Eliminate all "discretionary" spending (including such constitutionally mandated government functions as the military and the judiciary)

Diddo.

Note how I said our high standard of living hinges on our feeling of security. Seriously reducing the military would have 3 effects, reducing the actual and perceived security of this country. And reducing opportunities for young adults who want to go into the military. And reducing the vast amounts of research and technology that comes out of the military.

Yes I agree that the money we are spending on things such as Iraq is an economic blackhole. Though theoretically a stable middleeast could be an economic boon to the world, or not.

All previous statements are opinions, predicing economic trends is like predicting any complex system, not really possible. This is why I really shake my head when people jump up and down insisting they know that X economic policy will have Y effect, when they have absolutly no economic background, even when serious economist often get it wrong.

I say none of them. (3, Insightful)

pb (1020) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235446)

It's possible to start responsibly paying down the debt without any huge shifts in economic policy, Clinton proved that. The amount we pay on interest on the national debt every year is often less than the deficit itself, which implies that if we didn't have the debt now, we wouldn't get into more debt! So all we have to do is start paying it down, and eventually our interest payments will shrink as well.

As a percentage of the budget, it isn't that big a chunk, so we wouldn't have to cut back too much. As for Social Security, I suggest we raise payroll taxes and income taxes slightly, and/or possibly institute a small national sales tax on luxury items. Simultaneously, we can start saving the Social Security surplus for Social Security, instead of spending it on the rest of the budget--because we know we'll need that money!

So there; no drastic changes. It isn't all bread and circuses, but it's at least somewhat responsible and forward-thinking.

Re:I say none of them. (1)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235610)

The total US DEBT has went up each year for the past 30+ years. Check the USTres website and you will see.

The USGOV makes enron look like perfect bookkeepers. ;->

You're right, (1)

pb (1020) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235669)

And you're right again--their accounting is a hard act to follow. However, if you look at the curve, you'll see that Clinton was making some progress, for whatever reason. I think the "surplus" was only accounting for the public debt. And as I already mentioned, the social security surplus we're running these days just gets spent every year on the rest of the budget, which is something that I think a lot of people don't know, realize, or consider the implications of...

Nip/tuck and botox will not do the trick (1)

code_rage (130128) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236520)

This is not the same problem as year-to-year account deficits. Peterson estimates that the year-to-year deficits would be $783B in 2020, increasing to trillions later. Even Robert Rubin and the other economic experts on Clinton's team cannot pull off those kinds of savings and revenue increases without radical reforms of the entitlements.

Peterson does propose some relatively minor tweaks which will add up to big effects -- indexing COLAs to inflation instead of wages, legally mandatory savings accounts, and a variety of reforms of Medicare.

I do not believe that the radical options presented in the Gokhale/Smetters study are serious proposals for reform so much as illustrations of just how serious the problem is. I'm not saying that they are disingenuous at all, merely that they expressed the seriousness of the inter-generational debt in a way that the politicians can understand.

Re:I say none of them. (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236812)

It's possible to start responsibly paying down the debt without any huge shifts in economic policy, Clinton proved that.

Umm, no. The National Debt increased every year Clinton was in office. Even when we had that "surplus", the National Debt was increasing. Go figure.

possibly institute a small national sales tax on luxury items

Raise your hands if you don't believe that such a sales tax wouldn't be expanded to include pretty much everything within twenty years!

Note, by the way, that the original Income Tax was for incomes greater than $50,000. At that time, $50,000 income could only be had if you were very rich (it's more or less equivalent to $500,000 per year now). Funny how that one trickled down, isn't it?

Candidates, or News Organizations ignoring debt? (5, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234494)

Do we really know who is ignoring the issues? I know that the only time I've heard more than two sentences from Kerry was his acceptance speech at the DNC, and only on CSPAN. On network news his speech was overlayed and overshadowed by Talking Heads. Beyond that time, I don't hear anything else about Kerry's proposals. The news covers polls, Swifties, fonts, and superscripts. They don't cover election issues, as far as I can tell.

I honestly can't comment on Bush's ability to get his words out. In a way, it just doesn't matter, because Bush has had nearly 4 years with a friendly Congress, so we don't need to hear what he says. We can see what he has done. We can expect more of the same, changing only the degree of aggression in pursuit, based on Congressional makeup.

I have 4 possiblities:
1: The news services are incompetent, and have forgotten how to cover hard news in favor of covering fluff.
2: The news services are interested primarily in revenue, and know that pushing emotional hot buttons is the best way to Sell More.
3: (mild tin-foil hat) The broadcasters that own the news services want to keep consolidating, and know Kerry is less likely to go along. Therefore they want Bush to win. Open coverage of issues like the National Debt hurt Bush, so they don't get covered.
4: (strong tin-foil hat) The news services are in it with the Space Aliens and the Republican Comittee, and all want Bush to win. The rest is like (3).

For any choice above, IMHO the new services are failing in their responsibility to cover the news and enlighten the population.

Not ignored (3, Insightful)

Kohath (38547) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234528)

Bush talked about Social Security reforms at the convention.

The rest of the Federal debt is constantly overhyped. I remember in the 80s it was going to kill us all, and in 2000 we were going to pay it off on 10 years. Now it's going to kill us all again.

The solution is very simple: cut spending, grow the economy, reform Social Security into private accounts. Bush is saying he'll do all those.

The Social Security "obligations" can be retired by selling government land. The Federal government owns most of the land west of the Mississippi.

Re:Not ignored (1, Troll)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234710)

The solution is very simple: cut spending, grow the economy, reform Social Security into private accounts. Bush is saying he'll do all those.

But what he actually did the last four years is almost exactly the oppositie - cut taxes and increase spending.

Re:Not ignored (1)

Kohath (38547) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234728)

He also more-or-less kept his campaign promises from last time. He did most of what he said he'd do.

Re:Not ignored (1)

k_187 (61692) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234784)

Yup, and you can say what you want about me because of it. I believe that had 9/11 not happened, we would not be deficit spending. Well, more likely it wouldn't be the biggest deficit ever. The upswing in the economy hasn't come about as fast as anybody would have liked, and that would have put a dent in the budget. Granted that doesn't do much for Social Security.

Re:Not ignored (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10235512)

You may be interested in The Economist's take on the issue [economist.com] , particularly its analysis of the argument that "the expansion of government under Mr Bush is the unfortunate consequence of events, particularly the September 11th attacks" (under the heading "Not just homeland security").

----

George Bush

The contradictory conservative

Aug 26th 2004 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition

Despite the narrowness of his mandate, George Bush has done more to alter America's profile abroad, and its government at home, than any president in years

NEXT weekend, the Republicans, meeting in New York, will anoint George Bush as their candidate for a second term. His approval ratings in his own party stand at around 86%. Among Democrats, they run at around 8%. Few presidents have been loved and loathed as heartily as Mr Bush; few have so starkly polarised the country; and few have done so much to change both the way America's government behaves at home, and the way it is perceived abroad.

The Bush presidency has proved a radical unsettling force, from AIDS policy in Africa to education reform at home; in different ways, for good and ill, it has undermined the rulers of both Saudi Arabia and San Francisco. Rather than offering a compendium of all that Mr Bush has achieved, this special report will focus on three projects that history may eventually judge the most controversial: the alleged "revolution" in foreign policy, the pursuit of big-government conservatism and the dramatic expansion of presidential powers. These may not prove the deciding factors in the coming election; but they may be the ones that resonate longest.

Begin with foreign policy. Mr Bush has had a bigger impact on diplomacy than any president since Harry Truman. After the second world war, Truman set up the system of alliances that ensured the Soviet threat would be contained and American leadership of the West would continue after Europe recovered. Ronald Reagan turned Truman's creation into more of a public challenge to what the Soviet Union stood for, but he did not fundamentally alter its structure.

Mr Bush did. After the end of the cold war--long after, in fact--he argued that the old world order had run its course. He rejected both a supposed cornerstone--the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty--and some later additions, such as the Kyoto accords and the International Criminal Court, both also rejected by Congress.

But Mr Bush's foreign-policy revolution actually came in two steps. The rejection of the treaties was the first and, since it came to terms with a geopolitical fact, the Soviet collapse, it may well prove the more lasting. The second step came only after the September 11th attacks, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In response to the atrocity, NATO for the first time invoked its article 5 provision that an attack on one member is an attack on all, signalling a willingness to help America militarily. The Bush administration was slow to pick up the offer. "Coalitions of the willing" took the place of traditional alliances. Then, in Iraq, Mr Bush put his doctrine of prevention and possible pre-emption into effect. In an age of global terror, this said, self-defence meant acting alone and pre-emptively, if need be. Working through the United Nations--ie, waiting for others--could be suicide.

These two steps obviously had much in common. Both said that treaties can constrain America's freedom of action and that, when they do, they should be ignored. Both imply that the exercise of power alone may be enough to achieve American aims. Still, the second step went beyond the first. It proposed new rules for going to war and a substitute for traditional alliances--the willing coalitions.

Over the past few weeks, however, these additions have begun to look shaky. Is the Bush revolution in foreign affairs reaching its limits?

It may be. In May 2003, on the flight-deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Mr Bush argued that once upon a time, "military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation. Today we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime." Experience in Iraq contradicts that optimism, or at least suggests that "freeing a nation" requires more than just bringing down a troublesome regime. Legitimacy, it turns out, matters. It does not spring up spontaneously if American motives are pure, as some in the administration have argued. And coalitions of the willing do little to confer legitimacy.

[Image] [economist.com]

Moreover, as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and Jim Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations have argued, the doctrine of pre-emption supposes that the intelligence services will be good enough to warn America of threats before they are realised. The catalogue of errors is not reassuring on this point.

Lastly, problems in Iraq have strained the unstable coalition that is Mr Bush's foreign-policy team. Neo-conservatives, who argue that America's destiny is to spread democracy round the world, are losing influence. The world-view of assertive nationalists (notably Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence), who say military might will be enough to deter America's enemies, has not been dethroned. But it has been weakened, and their unilateralist instincts look more problematic. The "soft power" diplomats--Colin Powell and the State Department--have become more important. All this raises questions about support for Mr Bush's foreign policy even within his own cabinet.

As if to confirm the doubts, the past few months have seen a new look. Having handed over sovereignty to the Iraqis and got the Security Council's blessing, as it always meant to, America has also asked Europeans to endorse its "Broader Middle East Initiative" and appealed to NATO to help train Iraqi troops. The big question now is whether these changes are part of a profound reappraisal of American foreign policy, or whether they are just tactical adjustments to recent difficulties.

The honest answer is that it is too early to be sure. But the changes are probably tactical. Despite the presence of heavyweights in his cabinet, Mr Bush has always been the author of America's foreign-policy transformation, and he has repeatedly denied any new change of course. This is not to be discounted; in foreign affairs, the president has usually signalled what he is planning to do very clearly.

It is true that Iraq has raised doubts about the doctrine of prevention and pre-emption. But the debate has shown that the alternative "rules for going to war" are, from America's viewpoint, far worse. This is the claim, particularly espoused by France and Germany, that, except in the case of actual attack or imminent threat, countries cannot use military force legitimately without the approval of the Security Council. No American president would ever accept, or has ever accepted, such an idea. If others insist that the alternative to unilateralism is the UN, America will stick with unilateralism.

Most important, the underlying rationale of Mr Bush's transformed policy has not really changed. This is that there is a huge gap in military power between America and everyone else, that the country has opportunities denied to anyone else and that traditional alliances are therefore useful rather than necessary. Iraq has shown that the exercise of American power is harder than the administration thought; but the exercise of power is still what matters most to Mr Bush. In that sense, his foreign policy is being refined, not retooled.

Mr Bush once campaigned as a proponent of a "humble" foreign policy. In practice, he has not provided one. On the domestic front, he has been equally surprising. And despite the narrowness of his mandate, he has proved as polarising at home as he is abroad. Consider, next, the peculiar character of the president's domestic conservatism.

A big-government guy

This is one of the most conservative politicians ever to inhabit the White House. Mr Bush has fed red meat to the various groups that make up the conservative coalition--opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research for social conservatives; the invasion of Iraq for neo-conservatives; tax-breaks and deregulation for business conservatives. He has driven liberals stark raving bonkers. "Among the worst presidents in US history," proclaimed Jonathan Chait in the New Republic. "Incomparably more dangerous than Reagan or any other president in this nation's history," wrote Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect.

But exactly what sort of conservative is Mr Bush? Ever since Barry Goldwater's quixotic bid for the White House in 1964, American conservatism has been a small-government philosophy. Ronald Reagan regarded government as the problem rather than the solution, and therefore shrank social programmes. Newt Gingrich's troops assaulted not just Lyndon Johnson's Great Society but also a pillar of FDR's New Deal, the welfare system.

Mr Bush's track-record has been very different. While cutting taxes in a dramatic way that Mr Reagan would surely have applauded, he has relentlessly expanded both the scale and scope of central government--in order to advance the conservative cause. Mr Bush has tried to preside over the birth of a new political philosophy: big-government conservatism.

The Bush presidency has seen the biggest increase in discretionary spending since his fellow Texan, Johnson, was in the White House (see chart 1). In his first term, according to the 2005 budget, total federal spending will rise by 29%, more than triple the rate of increase in Bill Clinton's second term. The Bush administration raised spending on education from $36 billion in 2001 to $63 billion in 2004, a 75% increase; it has also pushed through the biggest expansion of Medicare, the federal health-care plan for the old, since the programme was created in the 1960s. More people now work for the federal government than at any time in history.

[Image] [economist.com]

It could be argued that the expansion of government under Mr Bush is the unfortunate consequence of events, particularly the September 11th attacks. The terrorist threat more or less forced the government to create a giant new homeland-security apparatus, which Mr Bush at first opposed. Mr Bush has promised conservatives that he will try to get spending under control; the 2005 budget envisions domestic discretionary spending rising by only 0.5% and calls for the abolition of 65 federal programmes, saving $4.9 billion.

Not just homeland security

Yet this argument seems unconvincing. The war on terror accounts for only part of the increase in government spending. As for Mr Bush's promise that he will eventually get spending under control, the White House has already embraced commitments that could keep government growing for years. On some estimates, the Medicare bill alone could end up costing $2 trillion in its second decade.

Mr Bush's big-government conservatism goes beyond a mere blind response to events. During the 2000 campaign, he made it clear that he had a different attitude to government from his fellow conservatives. He sang the praises of "focused, effective and energetic government". Rather than calling for the abolition of the Department of Education, like the rest of his fellow conservatives, he called for its expansion. He even had a good word to say about Johnson's Great Society.

Mr Bush's big-government conservatism also goes beyond a mere willingness to spend public money. He has reversed a long-standing Republican commitment to decentralisation by giving the federal government a greater role in setting education standards than it has ever had before. He has also reversed a long-standing Republican suspicion of government bossiness by trying to use government to promote conservative values. The Education Department is promoting abstinence in sex education. The Department of Health and Human Services is trying to use the welfare system to advocate the virtues of marriage and responsible fatherhood. John Ashcroft's Justice Department has ridden over states' rights to prosecute people who believe in assisted suicide and the medical use of marijuana.

Where has all this come from? Mr Bush turned to big-government conservatism as an antidote to growing problems of the small-government kind. As the 1990s wore on, Mr Gingrich and his merry band increasingly tried America's patience with their bomb-throwing radicalism. The middle classes had been happy to advocate tough love for the poor, but they were much less happy when the tough love involved cuts to Medicare or student loans. Not unfairly, Mr Bush calculated that making peace with government was the only way to re-endear conservatism to the middle class.

Many of his fervent supporters regarded tax cuts as their highest priority: cuts that Mr Bush duly delivered. But many elements in the conservative coalition also looked to government to solve their problems. Business people wanted the government to subsidise their industries at home and promote their interests abroad. Corporate America had been calling for educational reform for years. Social conservatives were keen on using government to promote "virtue" or eradicate "vice" (from assisted suicide to pot-smoking), a position highly attractive to a president who starts every cabinet meeting with a prayer. The White House and the Republican majority in Congress worked assiduously to shower government largesse on Republican-leaning interest groups. Agricultural legislation involved a huge give-away to agribusiness; prescription-drugs legislation provided a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry.

The neo-conservative intelligentsia has played as vital a role in promoting big-government conservatism as it did in promoting the Iraq war. Irving Kristol, the godfather of neo-conservatism, sees the growth of the state as "natural, indeed inevitable". His son Bill uses his Weekly Standard magazine to lead a crusade to replace "leave-us-alone conservatism" with "national-greatness conservatism". Mr Kristol and his supporters argue that "wishing to be left alone isn't a governing doctrine", and that loving your country while hating its government is not a sustainable philosophical position. Besides, there is no need to hate government if it is in the right (Republican) hands.

A lasting philosophy?

The most compelling argument in favour of Mr Bush's policies is that he is doing more than just expanding government. He is increasingly tying public spending to competition and accountability. The No Child Left Behind Act, the most interesting reform of American education for a generation, uses a combination of national standards and standardised testing to measure children's progress: if too many children in a particular school fail to hit the required standards, then parents have the right to move them elsewhere. The Medicare reforms have been a way of introducing medical savings accounts. The proposed individual investment accounts in Social Security (federal pensions) will give individuals more responsibility for managing their nest eggs. This emphasis on accountability explains why public-sector unions loathe Mr Bush, despite his big-spending ways.

[Image] [economist.com]

Yet attempts to introduce competition in schools or health care have not gone very far. There are good reasons to doubt whether the educational bureaucracy will ever have the guts to close down failing schools. The Bush administration signally failed to use the expansion of Medicare as a lever for introducing structural reforms, such as means-testing. Mr Bush's only real chance to build choice into the heart of a government programme lies in his mooted Social Security reforms.

Even if these programmes can be made to work, big-government conservatism undoubtedly has drawbacks. The new creed's biggest problem is simple: if you cut taxes deeply while increasing spending lavishly, you end up with a gigantic deficit. This newspaper is not about to argue that cutting taxes is wrong in principle: the Republican Party's instinct that it is better to leave money in voters' pockets than to give it to bureaucrats has been one of its most attractive features. But big, persistent budget deficits also put a burden on people. If the Republicans continue to tax like a small-government party and spend like a big-government one, deficits could average $500 billion a year for the next decade--an alarming prospect. Mr Bush should be preparing for the retirement of the huge baby-boomer generation.

Nor is big-government conservatism the political cure-all that it might seem. It is alienating big chunks of the Republican coalition. Libertarians don't want to be told whether they can smoke pot by Mr Ashcroft. Old-fashioned conservatives don't want to see Washington extending its power over local schools. And good-government types don't want to see the deficit balloon out of control.

Senator John McCain has reprimanded Mr Bush for failing to use his veto to control a Congress which is spending money "like a drunken sailor". Rush Limbaugh has complained that Mr Bush's legacy may be the greatest increase in domestic spending, and one of the greatest setbacks to liberty, in modern times. "This may be compassionate", says Mr Limbaugh, "but it is not conservatism at all."

A third problem lies with unintended consequences. Forty years ago, the founding fathers of neo-conservatism criticised the Great Society on the grounds that its soaring intentions often produced bad results: rent control reduces the availability of affordable housing, for example. The biggest unintended consequence of Mr Bush's efforts may be that big-government conservatism morphs into big-government liberalism. Government is by its nature a knife that cuts to the left, in part because government employees tend to be on the left, in part because government programmes promote dependency. Rather than twisting government to conservative ends, the Republicans may simply be creating yet more ammunition for future Democratic administrations.

Mr Bush is nothing if not ambitious. If his new philosophy endures, he will be a transformative figure in the history of the modern conservative movement. If it fails, he will be seen as a domestic policymaker who doomed himself by ignoring the central insight of the revolution that began with Goldwater: that the essence of conservatism lies in shrinking government.

Mr Bush's presidency has been radical not only in what he has tried to do, but in the way he has gone about doing it. His term has seen an extraordinary change in style. Partly by his own efforts, partly as a result of underlying forces, he has increased the power of the presidency at the expense of other branches of government. This is the third great project of his presidency, the least noticed outside Washington, DC, and perhaps the most worrying.

Imperium revisited

Mr Bush came to office arguing that restrictions on presidential authority, especially since Watergate, had harmed decision-making. The implication is that good government requires a certain period of privacy in which officials can thrash out policies. The public should judge only the result. In 2002, his vice-president, Dick Cheney, said, "I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job." He said he and Mr Bush had talked about the need to "pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors." They have succeeded, after a fashion, but at a heavy cost.

Unified government, with the administration and Congress under the same party's control, tends to boost presidential authority anyway--the more so this time, as the Republican Party is fairly disciplined. Tom DeLay, the majority leader in the House of Representatives, has defined his job simply: "How do I advance the president's agenda?" The party's narrow majority keeps troops in line. Lest there be any backsliding, Mr Bush's personal campaigning in the 2002 mid-term elections reminded congressmen and senators of their interest in keeping on good terms with him.

More important, wars always increase the powers of the executive branch. Because it has implications for America's domestic freedoms, the war on terror may well end up increasing executive power more than most.

But Mr Bush's ambitions have gone beyond what these underlying forces make inevitable. One measure of his ambition was the claim of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department (the administration's main source of legal advice), made in August 2002, that the president's authority as commander-in-chief was in effect unlimited in the conduct of a war. As the legal opinion put it, he "enjoys complete discretion in the exercise of his commander-in-chief authority."

This claim showed how expansive Mr Bush's view of his powers could be. No former president had gone that far. In fact, it was too far. The Supreme Court said the constitution did not warrant such a reading and struck down the policy based on it: holding detainees from the war in Afghanistan without charge. But the case was unusual only in that the high court overruled Mr Bush. More commonly, he has had his way.

The most important check on a president's authority is Congress, formally the sovereign power. To see how Mr Bush and his allies have treated the legislature, consider the Medicare bill.

In January 2003, the White House sent Congress a proposal for reform of the health-care system. The price tag, it said, was $400 billion. The real cost was $534 billion. Medicare's chief actuary was told not to answer congressional questions on pain of dismissal. After the House and Senate passed different versions of the proposal, the Republicans began work to reconcile the two. They refused to let five of the Democrats nominated to the process take part in deliberations--and rewrote the bill.

Even then, they fell short of a majority when voting began, at 3am. Defying precedent, the House leadership held the vote open for three hours while arms were twisted. The bill finally passed just before 6am. Norm Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, called it the ugliest breach of congressional standards in modern history.

Making laws has always been like making sausages (don't look closely). When the Democrats were in charge, they did not always run Congress as prescribed in the civics textbooks. Some of Congress's hallowed traditions could do with pruning, especially the power of committees.

But the Republicans have put forward none of this in mitigation. Instead, they have claimed, in essence, that the ends justify the means. Mr Bush, they say, has pushed big tax cuts and education and health-care reforms through a closely divided, bitterly partisan institution. The alternative to such strong-arm tactics was legislative gridlock, which, they argue, would have been worse.

Even if you think the ends are good, the means have inflicted institutional harm on Congress. The committee system for amending bills has all but collapsed. Bills are now written by the leaders and their staffs, in concert with the White House. Debate is often cut off: many controversial measures are voted on under a "closed rule", which bars amendments. The conference stage, when different versions of a bill are reconciled, has been turned from an occasion for compromise into yet another opportunity for partisan gain. Sometimes the conference committee does not meet at all. Sometimes Republicans have ignored the rule that says the committee can only iron out differences, and have fundamentally altered bills at the last minute. The budget process is in tatters.

Dozing watchdogs

As for Congress's other main job--oversight of the administration--that has declined too, with a few exceptions (the Senate Armed Services Committee held useful hearings on the Abu Ghraib scandal). Serious investigation has been left to special commissions, such as the one that looked into the September 11th attacks. The responsibility for this lies largely with congressional Republicans: they are reluctant to investigate one of their own. But Mr Bush has not exactly shown deference to Congress's oversight role. The White House refused to let Tom Ridge, the head of homeland security, testify in 2002. It declared it would not answer questions from Democrats on budget committees. Mr Bush refused to testify before the 9/11 commission. In all these cases, the administration finally backed down. But at a time of dramatic change, the watchdogs of Congress have been dozing.

Congressional oversight is at the heart of the administration's claim that excessive intrusiveness is harming executive decision-making. The cause célébre in this case was the new energy policy. When Democrats attempted to force the vice-president to reveal whom he had met while formulating an energy bill, Mr Cheney refused, arguing that the constitution protects the president and vice-president from congressional attempts to reveal details of their deliberations. As the solicitor-general argued to the Supreme Court, "Congress may neither intrude on the president's ability to perform these [deliberative] functions, nor authorise private litigants to use the court to do so." On this occasion, Mr Cheney prevailed. His victory will encourage future administrations.

But the administration has not stopped there. The power of the president is limited not only by the might of Congress but by a host of smaller laws and administrative rules: freedom-of-information requests, the power to classify documents, and civil-service procedures. Partly in response to domestic security worries, the discretionary power of the executive has increased substantially in these areas.

The best-known examples come from the Patriot Act, which boosted law-enforcement powers and surveillance. That act, at least, was passed by Congress and is subject to congressional review. More commonly, the administration has increased its powers by asserting them. Soon after September 11th, Mr Ashcroft issued new guidelines on freedom-of-information requests. The attorney-general reversed the Clinton-era policy of rejecting such requests only if to allow them would cause "substantial harm". Public-interest groups complain that requests are now often denied, even over matters that seem to have nothing to do with security, such as pollution or car safety.

According to figures from the National Archives, around 44m documents were classified in the first two years of the current administration--as many as in the whole of Mr Clinton's second term. More officials--including, for some reason, the secretary of agriculture--have been given the power to classify materials. This is more than just a response to September 11th. Mr Bush has issued an executive order overturning the rule that presidential papers are automatically declassified 12 years after presidents leave office; instead, he said, former presidents could decide whether to disclose their papers during their lifetimes, and the incumbent president would also have power of review.

In the details

A subset of this reaction against scrutiny is the use of what might be called government by small print: slipping additions into law at the last minute or tinkering with the wording of rules that implement laws. As a recent series in the Washington Post argued, such changes often appear minor but can have a big impact. By changing the word "waste" to "fill" in a rule governing coal-mining, for instance, the administration allowed an increase in strip-mining in West Virginia. By adding two sentences about scientific evidence to an unrelated budget bill, it gave itself increased authority to rule in regulatory disputes.

Perhaps the most disturbing way in which the administration has increased its power has been through its public-relations machine. Thomas Jefferson said long ago that a well-informed electorate is the most important constraint on government. By issuing partial and sometimes misleading information, the Bush administration has hampered such scrutiny.

Consider for instance the arguments for tax cuts. Here, Mr Bush made claims about the cost of the cuts and their distributional impact that he should have known were misleading. In 2000, he claimed the first round of cuts would cost $1.6 trillion over ten years, a quarter of the budget surplus at that point. On his own figures, the share was a third, not a quarter, and he arrived at the figure only through outrageous accounting gimmicks that he is now campaigning to forbid.

He also asserted that the cuts would provide "the greatest help for those most in need", providing a Treasury study to back up his claim. In the past, Treasury studies have been impartial. But this one arrived at its conclusion by leaving out the parts of the tax cut that most benefited the wealthiest (such as the repeal of the estate tax). By any normal measure, the tax cuts have been regressive--hardly "the greatest help for those most in need".

Taking facts out of context, politicising government studies and presenting anomalous examples as typical are hardly unique to the Bush administration. But they still do damage. The system of checks and balances--indeed, democracy itself--requires voters to be able to understand the impact of actions taken on their behalf, so they can apportion credit or blame fairly. If it is impossible to tell how much of the administration's arguments for war were vindicated or disproved, or who the tax cuts really helped, then proper public accounting is impossible.

Beyond that, members of the administration have occasionally acted in ways that have discouraged public debate directly. In May 2002, the White House's communications director, Dan Bartlett, argued in the Washington Post that Democratic criticisms of administration actions before September 11th were "exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do." Mr Ashcroft had earlier conflated civil-liberties activists with terrorist sympathisers, telling Congress: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists." All this came near to arguing that, after September 11th, debate itself could be treasonous.

Mr Bush has frequently said that voters will give their verdict in November, and that he looks forward to it. But quadrennial elections are not the only means of restraining government. The genius of the American system is that administrations must work within a system of checks and balances. These checks have themselves been checked.

Congress is the main competing source of power. It has become more like an adjunct to the administration. Information encourages public scrutiny. The flow has been reduced. The administration's actions are filtered through civil-service rules and procedures. The rules have been chopped and changed. A free press is essential to the working of democracy. Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, rejected that view, arguing "I don't believe you [the press] have a check-and-balance function." On occasion, the administration has even crossed the line separating the interests of the state from the party by using taxpayers' money to finance advertising for the Medicare bill.

Almost all governments bend the truth. This one has seldom resorted to outright falsehood; instead, the administration has manipulated public information and breached basic standards of political conduct in Congress, the civil service and public debate. Whatever the merits of increasing presidential authority, Mr Bush has achieved his aim less by winning support for more power than by weakening the authority of other institutions.

In the round

Mr Bush's supporters may regard carping on about this expansion of powers as a distraction from other more visible achievements of his presidency. Look, they may argue, at the way that the White House has set about reducing nuclear proliferation, or at his plans to build an ownership society at home, or at the long-term economic stimulus of his tax reform. From the other side, his critics complain that the administration has trashed the environment, or worsened inequality, or schemed to roll back abortion rights.

It usually takes some time for the true significance of any presidency to emerge. Mr Bush's most contentious projects may come to seem relatively unimportant. For now, perhaps the most remarkable thing about this presidency is the extent to which it has already confounded expectations. When Mr Bush was elected, it was widely believed that his power would be slight and he would achieve little. For better or worse, those predictions were refuted. Whether this will help or harm him in November remains to be seen.

::: E.T.

No, he didn't (1)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235718)

He didn't sign the Assault Weapons Ban as he promised. ;->

See, bush doesn't think the 1st, 2nd, 4th or 5th adms to the constitution exist.

Re:No, he didn't (1)

EnderWiggnz (39214) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236274)

what i want is a president who believes in the 10th amendment...

Re:No, he didn't (1)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236461)

Well that rules out Kerry and Bush.

Re:Not ignored (1)

TRACK-YOUR-POSITION (553878) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236528)

No, but he plans to break them this time. His own OMB projected that by the end of his next term deficits would be cut in half--IF his tax cuts are allowed to expire. But he's promised to continue those tax cuts.

Either the OMB is lying, or his campaign is lying--but both of those answer to Bush.

Actually, what am I talking about? He broke every promise from Last election, too. He promised to cut government spending, but has vastly accelerated it, even before 9/11. He promised to reform education and got the Dems to go along with NCLB, but then refused to fund it. He promised to bring credibility to the White House, but instead transplanted Clinton's personal life into dishonest economics (like unemployment staying constant while the overall number of jobs drops, or lying about the cost of Medicare prescription drugs) and dishonest foreign intelligence. He denounced nation building (in Kosovo), but launched a war with no other purpose than destroying a nation so we could rebuild it to suit our purposes.

Credibility, education, and the size of government, restraint in military adventurism. Those were probably the biggest themes of his "compassionate conservative" campaign--and he has delivered on not a single one of them.

You can claim Bush is justified in becoming a completely different person than he ran as--disregarding every single one of his campaign promises--with 9/11, if you wish. Still, one wonder what sort of crisis would justify becoming a completely different person once again after 2004, and breaking every single campaign promise AGAIN. Perhaps debt crisis?

Re:Not ignored (2, Interesting)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236216)

But what he actually did the last four years is almost exactly the oppositie - cut taxes and increase spending.

50% accurate, he did not promise to raise taxes.

Also, seven months into his term he was forced to seriously adjust national priorities and focus on unanticipated problems and issues.

A nit to pick... (1)

hummassa (157160) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234530)

The baby boomers are already retired. The babies of the boom are the ones that will begin retiring soon.

Re:A nit to pick... (1)

Canthros (5769) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234929)

Not quite. Many definitions have the baby boom running into the sixties; the Gen Xers and some of the early "Gen Y" folks are the boomer's kids. The boomers have begun to retire, but only just.

Incidentally, the baby boom is usually defined as the massive upswing in birthrates that came about in America the aftermath of the second World War. With the retirement age at 65, and WWII ending in 1945, the very earliest boomers probably won't reach standard retirement age for another six years or so. There's certainly nothing to stop them from retiring earlier (and, undoubtedly, many of them have done so), but it's a bit silly to assume that they've all retired. I doubt it's even plausible to say that most of the initial boomers have retired.

Read my post again please :-) (1)

hummassa (157160) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235393)

If I had a kid in 1954, I am a baby boomer. If I was 20 at the time, I am 70 now, and I am surely trying to retire, if I am not retired yet. So, my point stands the boomers (as defined: the people who had a lot of kids in the aftermath of the Great War) are retired or retiring by now.

The problem stated here is that the GenW/X/Ys will retire in 30-so years (I -- born at 1970 -- surely intend to).

Recap:

born in 1945-1965: boom baby; their fathers were the baby boomers.
born in 1965-1980: Xs
born in 1980-199x: Ys

That's what I found fishing around in Web dictionaries.

Re:Read my post again please :-) (2, Informative)

Canthros (5769) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235596)

No, a baby boomer, at least in the context of the Social Security problem, was a child born during the baby boom of 1945-65. The group you refer to as their parents is either the Silent Generation or the G. I. Generation (aka the Greatest Generation, and a handful of other names, reflecting their involvement in fighting WWII).

Run "baby boomer definition" through Google and see what you get. I'd be curious to know which web dictionary you got you're definition from; it's not correct.

Coverage on TV (1)

CosmicDreams (23020) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234547)

This is issue has been the centerpiece of MSNBC's Scarborough Country for about a week. Mainly because he's promoting his new book. Link to transcripts here [msn.com] .

The world is changeing and now we have a way of making issues come to the forfront. Bloggers unite!

Reality Check (3, Insightful)

rueger (210566) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234560)

The perception is that politicians get re-elected by spending money in their constituencies. The aim of course is to spend tax dollars in whatever way will register with the largest group of voters.

As evidenced by the Bush administration, politicians really don't give a fig about debt - they care about getting re-elected. If a few billion dollars of deficit spending will bring in the votes, that's what they'll do.

Of course, voters aren't much different. I have yet to hear a fiscal conservative make a list of the things that they are prepared to forego in the name of debt reduction, only the things that everyone else should give up.

Re:Reality Check (1)

WarPresident (754535) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234938)

The perception is that politicians get re-elected by spending money in their constituencies. The aim of course is to spend tax dollars in whatever way will register with the largest group of voters.

That is true for someone in the House or Senate, but when applied to the pResident, that becomes quite chilling. Of course, that is exactly what we've got right now.

As evidenced by the Bush administration, politicians really don't give a fig about debt - they care about getting re-elected. If a few billion dollars of deficit spending will bring in the votes, that's what they'll do.


It's not a few billion dollars, it's a few hundred billion dollars of deficit spending. With devestating tax cuts for the wealthy, and pumping billions down the rathole [thedailycamera.com] of Cheney's old company, where is the money to pay for this administration's short-sighted goals? When you're pushing 60 and there's no Medicare or SS benefits waiting for you, what are you going to do? What's going to happen with health care? Education? What happened to the social contract? I guess that's just a liberal, left-wing, commie idea...

Of course, nobody ever got [re-]elected saying we need a tax increase, but the Republicans shout that Kerry is a "Tax and Spend Liberal" while nobody (including the Democrats) points out that Bush is a "Spend and Spend Neocon".

Re:Reality Check (1)

Bluesman (104513) | more than 10 years ago | (#10237307)

I'm a fiscal conservative. I'll give up everything except for national defense and highway construction, which the federal government is, and always has been, constitutionally mandated to provide for.

Now you've heard it.

Lots of small changes (1)

stomv (80392) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234615)

in Medicare and Social Security could greatly increase the chances that the US can weather the retirement "storm."

1. Increase retirement age, perhaps by 3 months a year. Doing so over a period of 16 years would help to stretch out retirement time -- more months of tax payments, fewer months of social security payments.

2. Increase the ceiling. Right now, the income ceiling is $87,000. After that, you're not taxed teh 6.2%. While the ceiling rises every year (IIRC), it could rise a whole lot faster. Crank it up by $3000 a year for five years. Those extra funds would certainly help.

3. Scale down payments. Hey -- social security isn't a pension fund; it's a safety net incase everything else in your life goes bankrupt. Scale down payments, and hope that welfare and other social services can pick up the slack.

4. Work hard to reduce medical expenses. This is a huge problem and incredibly complex. I suspect that improving public health (reducing smoking, alcohol abuse, fat-assedness, etc.) would help tremendously. Working on decreasing the price of perscription drugs is a help, but it's drops in the very big bucket.

5. Put a Medicare tax on stuff that makes people sick. Cigarettes, booze, and restaurants would be a great start. Why should some Americans get to enjoy a butt, a beer, and a double burger -- and then enjoy health care paid for by those who treat their bodies better. Drinking, smoking, and eating crap food is part of the American way... but those doing the enjoying should be paying their fair share for their future added costs.

6. Encourage Americans (and anybody else) to buy savings bonds. With increased demands on US bonds, it'll help keep the borrowing rate artificially low; it's a bit like refinancing the US mortgage with lower interest rates.

Ultimately, the US has got to figure out a way to spend less, tax more, and keep the economy churning. I don't think a single massive change is ever going to happen; instead, it will require 30 years of real responsibility and sacrifice by our elected officials to work to get the government in the black.

Re:Lots of small changes (4, Insightful)

Cade144 (553696) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235780)

4. Work hard to reduce medical expenses. This is a huge problem and incredibly complex. I suspect that improving public health (reducing smoking, alcohol abuse, fat-assedness, etc.) would help tremendously. Working on decreasing the price of perscription drugs is a help, but it's drops in the very big bucket.

5. Put a Medicare tax on stuff that makes people sick. Cigarettes, booze, and restaurants would be a great start. Why should some Americans get to enjoy a butt, a beer, and a double burger -- and then enjoy health care paid for by those who treat their bodies better. Drinking, smoking, and eating crap food is part of the American way... but those doing the enjoying should be paying their fair share for their future added costs.

Just to be a bit dismal, I think you miss one of the key problems with both Medicare and Socical Security: Longevity.

When both Social Security and Medicare were conceived (heck most pension plans for that matter) life expectancy wasn't much pas age 65 or so. If you managed to live long enough, you could benefit from your company's penson plan, or the government backup (Social Security) and get government medical benefits so that getting sick once didn't wipe you out financially (Medicare).

However, medical technology, good dentistry, and the "health craze" movement have all added years on to people's lives. Now people live longer, and expect to partake in the government largesse. People who live longer need expensive medications and surgeries to help them live longer. The longer they live, the more Social Security and Medicare money they soak up.

Just look at President Clinton or VP Dick Cheney. Both men would be dead (or unable to do much more than lay in bed) without nifty cardiac surgeries. Those surgeries cost thousands and thousands of dollars. (I am not saying that the price of these procedures is too much, just that they cost lots of money.) Now that their lives have been prolonged, they can expect to continue taking medicines to keep their cholesterol down, blood pressure down, and so on for the rest of their lives. This costs more money. When they finally make it to the age where cancer starts to take them down, they can expect to use more money on cancer treatment.

The longer you live, the more it costs to keep you alive. Multiply that by all the people eligible for Medicare, and you can see how the policy of providing medical treatment to people is a positive feedback loop that rapidly chews up all your spare money.

How do we solve this problem? Heck if I know. I don't want to turn us into some parody of Logan's Run where people are forcibly retired from living at age n. But I do want those who run for political office and who claim "leadership" as one of their defining adjectives, to discuss this seriously.

Re:Lots of small changes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10235837)

While you are at it, just put an End-User Liscense Agreement on all stuff that's "bad for you".

I would rather that the government give up all taxes on tobacco, and just have a EULA on every carton that says to the effect of "By smoking this product you give up any and all future reimbursements for medical treatment by the government." The same thing with McFood, Coke, & Cheeze Whiz. Broccoli and tap water are the only thing that don't get this label.

Eventually everyone has consumed some product that "voids their warranty" and become inelligible for Medicare, Medicaid and their private Blue Cross plan that they have been paying into at work.

Everybody wins. The rich continue to get all the health care they can pay for, and the middle class and the poor get shafted, but are made to feel that they deserve it.

There is another choice (4, Interesting)

sofakingon (610999) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234651)

There is a candidate who will veto ALL deficit spending if elected:

Taken from badnarik.org [badnarik.org]

Every working American is acquainted with the principle of balancing his or her checkbook. You have income. You have expenses. If your expenses are larger than your income, you either cut expenses or you start getting nasty letters from your bank and your creditors about bounced checks. Maybe you end up in court. Maybe you go to jail.

Unfortunately, we--the people--are the federal government's "bank" ... and right now, we don't have any way to bounce the rubber checks that Congress writes and the president signs.

Deficit spending is no different in principle for the government than it is for you or me. It happens when government spends more money than it takes in.

When that happens, the people must inevitably take it on the chin sooner or later. Either the government raises taxes, or it inflates the currency--reducing the spending power of the money we've earned--to pay off the debt it has amassed.

One obvious solution, of course, is to forbid Congress to spend more than it takes in. While a "balanced budget amendment" to the Constitution has been proposed--and while I support such an amendment--there's no substitute for a chief executive whose veto pen stands ready to shut down any congressional appropriations in excess of revenues.

As your president, I'll veto deficit spending. Period. I expect this to be an easy thing to do, since I'll be slashing the size of the federal government at the same time--so much so that taxes will be slashed as well.

A second solution is to put the American economy back on real money, backed by gold and silver, and to take away the ability of the Federal Reserve to create "money" out of thin air, debasing the value of the "money" in your wallet.

The Constitution delegates the power to coin money to Congress. As your president, I'll insist that they discharge that responsibility instead of fobbing the job off on an external entity like the Fed. And I'll veto legislation for any such operation that doesn't meet the true test of money: It is either made of gold or silver, or can be redeemed for a fixed amount of gold or silver.

A nation's money is its economic lifeblood. Passing on our debt to future generations, or defrauding the people and the government's creditors with inflation, are not options. Those paths lead inevitably to economic collapse; mine leads to long-term prosperity.

I'm Michael Badnarik, Libertarian for President. I ask the tough questions--to give you answers that really work!

Re:There is another choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10236020)

But he'll lose, so nobody cares.

Re:There is another choice (3, Informative)

joss (1346) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236065)

Why gold and silver, why not butterflies.

What is inherently more real about using gold and silver as a basis for currency than some other arbitrary good ?

If someone creates something, eg writes a computer program, there is more stuff in the world, and either more money needs to be created, prices need to go down, or we end up with a situation where there is plenty of stuff around, but not enough money for people to buy it. Stuff gets created all the time, so the amount of money available has to go up continually. Since we have fractional reserve banking system money is continually created [in form of debt]. In fact, so much is created that we end up with inflation rather than deflation.

I agree that the current debt based monetary system is responsible for a huge number of problems, but it works better than the gold standard did. It's not just that it works better, economies which relied on stagnant money supplies got wiped out in an almost darwinian fashion. Debt based money fosters growth [and inflation, boom/bust economics, banking supremacy, war and other stuff, but it's certainly less stagnant].

I recommend "The grip of death" for a better understanding of this stuff.

Neither of those options are going to be exercised (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 10 years ago | (#10234709)

> - More than double the payroll tax, from 15.3% to 32% of wages

And by doing so close half the businesses in the country? What president is dumb enough to do that?

> - Raise income taxes by two thirds

This may be a good time to remember why we declared independence from England. As I recall, the high tax rate was one of the reasons. "High" was something like 5% back then...

> - Cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by 45%

Do you realize how old most people who vote are? Doing this would automatically prevent reelection of everyone who votes for it.

> - Eliminate all "discretionary" spending

If you look at other debt-laden governments in the world (like Argentina, for instance), you will see that these "options" are not even considered. When the debt can not be raised any further, the government simply defaults on it, or prints more money. In either case the result is hyperinflation and immediate devaluation of the currency, but nobody seems to know that until it happens "entirely without warning".

Re:Neither of those options are going to be exerci (1)

Bombcar (16057) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235410)

> - Cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by 45%


Do you realize how old most people who vote are? Doing this would automatically prevent reelection of everyone who votes for it.


See what term limits could do? Imagine a Senate and House were 60% are out from term limits anyway, with a lame duck president (which we'll have if/when Bush gets reelected): then it could be done. Of course, people would run saying they were going to reverse it.

I personally thing that Social Security is a last resort - and so should be the absolute minimum. It would cost about $300 a person to build large flophouses and food kitchens.

Medicare is the real killer.

Term limits empower anonymous brokers (1)

code_rage (130128) | more than 10 years ago | (#10237155)

I oppose term limits because I believe the result would be that the power of staffers, consultants, and lobbyists would be increased. A neophyte congressman would be (IMO) more susceptible to manipulation and pressure from these anonymous power brokers.

That is not to say that I like the status quo. One big problem is congressional district gerrymandering, by which a huge percentage of Congressional Reps are in politically "safe" districts (strongly Dem or Rep). They would basically have to commit murder to be unseated. I forget who said it, but "voters don't choose the candidates, candidates choose their voters."

The other issue that I think bears mention is the "rules" by which the House and Senate are run. This is another case where the rules are made by those who must then live by those rules.

I'm not sure how to deal with these issues, but I'm not convinced that term limits would do the trick either.

Who is FICA and why are they taking my money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10235125)

In an episode of the 70's show Jackie complained about FICA, an obvious script bug.

Before 80's Reaganomics attacked the FICA paycheck deductions were tiny. Then Greenspan warned of future problems. Social Security was changed to a pay as you go system so naturally FICA deductions began to rival Federal taxation (and raiding the fund became commonplace). Now Greenspan again warns of future problems and few other than Krugman expose the thieves fraud, showing how dangerously irresponsible the financial media has become. The Bush push for privitization of the fund will make it easier for the Enron's of the elite to steal the rest.

The long range plan of taxing labor and consumption while dropping any pretense of taxing capital and land, for the benefit of corporations that have been granted more rights than citizens, is reaching fruition.

It's shameful that so many Libertarians and Independents have fallen for the scam.

The Candates get away with ignoring it .. (3, Insightful)

torpor (458) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235187)

.. because the People ignore it, too.

Ignorance of the issues concerning the National Debt lead to Big Profit on the part of Banks (and other Lenders) to whom the Debt is owed... so you can be damned sure that popular culture has no clue just deep in the red the nation is ...

In other words, its not enough to blame the politicians. Blame the people, and the Banks, too ...

These issues can be discussed in a campaign (1)

JohnnyX (11429) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235272)

It just requires a candidate in the debates who is willing to tackle them. Hearken back to 1992, when the major party candidates were busy nattering on as they do. Along comes Ross Perot, a quixotic little Texan with a penchant for flip charts and one burning issue: the deficit.

Perot did not win the election, but the man who did ended up moving us from a deficit to a surplus. He didn't want to do it, but being publicly shamed by a Texan with big ears will get someone to change their mind mighty fast.

It's 2004 now and we're in worse shape than in 1992. Thankfully, there's another Texan with big ears [badnarik.org] who has some good ideas about fixing our economic crisis [badnarik.org] . All we need to do is get him into the debates.

You can help. These bastards [debates.org] want to keep Badnarik out of the debates. Send a letter to your local paper telling them how you feel about that. Send a letter to the Bush and Kerry campaigns telling them that you will not even consider voting for their candidate unless he debates Badnarik. Let a thousand voices ring out with the cry, "We're not going to take it!"

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...it's time...

What will we do? (2, Funny)

clambake (37702) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235274)

How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do about It.

Quite simple realy... We'll wait until they are all old and feeble and then stop paying for them. It's cruel, but they brought it on themselves.

Who cares any more? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10235289)

Now that Dan Rather and CBS have basically delivered re-election for President Bush.

Fertility is an Issue (1)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235563)

There are many parts to this problem, but birth rates are a large part of it. When the baby boom starts to retire the ratio of workers to people getting social security will shift. Even if we change the social security rules it won't matter much. There will be fewer people running the economy as a percentage of the population. This will be even worse in Europe were pretty soon there will be more people collecting benifits than paying taxes.

The USA needs to raise its birth rate in a major way. If each woman in the USA went from 2.x kids to 3.x it would at least in the long term solve some of these problems.

Its only been ignored by not paying attention (1)

crmartin (98227) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235690)

Cf the privatization scheme Bush came up with; the idea is to turn SS into a real investment scheme, instead of a Ponzi scam -- but means that some of the "pay as you go" revenue is lost. The Democrats have their own schemes, which depend on increasing the most regressive Federal tax.

Mathematically, there's no scheme that will work without one or the other approach, and either approach is untenable in the face of a populace assured for years that they can have whatever they want if they'll only vote for it, so it's hard to see what solution is possible.

Google a couple phrases: "panem et circusem" and "In the long run we'll all be dead."

Some more suggestions to save tax $ (2, Insightful)

russeljns (806466) | more than 10 years ago | (#10235775)

-End the "War on Drugs"
-Pull out of Iraq. Now.
-End military aid to ALL foreign coutries
-Stop development of Star Wars defense system and new nuclear devices.

Dollar devaluation is how it will be solved (2)

DukeLinux (644551) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236224)

The government does not have the stomach to stop it's ponzi scheme. When the proverbial shit hits the fan people will still receive their "entitlement." It just won't be worth anything. The sitting President will have to go to war (wag the dog) as long as the countries who design our weapons systems let him :).

The situation is not totally helpless however.. (4, Interesting)

CashCarSTAR (548853) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236228)

You just need to be willing to think outside the box. To look at the big picture.

Problem:The debt is every growing, unless drastic measures, which are politically implausible are taken. Why?

Not enough tax money is being taken in to cover the costs. Simple. So you can either cut costs, or you can figure out ways to expand the tax base. Can you expand the tax base without raising taxes? Sure can!

Steps that can be taken:
#1. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount. This would increase the tax base by quite a wide margain. As well, it would relieve strain on various governmental services by quite a wide bit. Sure, it would cut down on corporate profits...boo fucking hoo.

#2. For the cost of the medicare system, we can publicize the whole thing and bring out Universal Health Care. Again overal this would create more a more efficent system, which basic economics says creates more jobs, meaning a higher tax base. As well, it would have a nice side-effect of fighting overseas job loss, as rising health care costs are a big motivator to move the jobs in the first place. Cut the parasites out.

#3. Make it official government policy to have as many people to work as possible. Current government policy is to maintain a certain unemployment rate to fight inflation. Get the people you need to do whatever jobs needed to be done. Sure it costs tax dollars. But with all the spinoff money of those jobs, the amount of taxes taken in will much more than account for the additional costs.

Three steps that can be taken to enlargen the tax base without costing you a dime. (Unless you pay somebody minimum wage, which in that case FUCK YOU parasite). Yeah the corporations will bitch and scream. But it's pure survival folks. It's them or us.

Take your pick.

Re:The situation is not totally helpless however.. (4, Insightful)

jpryan98 (813095) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236716)

So we raise the min wage to $50/hr. What will this do. I currently make$35/hr so I need a raise to $75/hr because I do not have a basic job. The people that have more responsibilities than me get a raise to $100/hr. So now that means that everything that we produce must cost more to cover our wages as I work in a small business and there is no big corporate money. Our product that was selling for $150 must now sell for $225. Are you as a consumer willing to pay that increase or is my company going out of business?

Fiscal Deficit, Loss of Liberty (1)

$exyNerdie (683214) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236411)

Financial deficit, loss of liberty and what not... Watch this 40 min video clip and then
http://www.prisonplanet.tv/articles/august20 04/082 804dictatorspreview.htm

do a thorough search on the two terms "Skull Bones" and "Bohemian Grove" on the web, read some books...

Re:Fiscal Deficit, Loss of Liberty (1)

$exyNerdie (683214) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236455)

Here is the link without spaces:
http://www.prisonplanet.tv/articles/august2004/082 804dictatorspreview.htm [prisonplanet.tv]

don't discount this as just another conspiracy theory... do a thorough research

Re:Fiscal Deficit, Loss of Liberty (1)

$exyNerdie (683214) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236731)

Direct Windows Media video link (you will see that both Bush and Kerry belong to the same secret Elite society and are actually distant cousins):
http://www.prisonplanet.tv/video/americanpreviewmd m.wmv [prisonplanet.tv]

Remember to do a thorough research on the terms "Skull Bones" and "Bohemian Club" and see who is running the country...

Expect to see certain things change (1)

mike_lynn (463952) | more than 10 years ago | (#10236530)

Such as this: http://www.ssa.gov/retirement/retirechartred.htm [ssa.gov]

How many of you know that currently your full retirement age is 67? What do you want to bet it will soon be higher?

Maybe if they didn't make exceptions for the 1943-1954 group Social Security might last a bit longer.
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