The British Middle Class in One Short Paragraph

A British middle class mother explains the social realities of class to her daughter.

Harriet Walker, a columnist for The Independent, was feeling disappointed in herself for not confronting in a social situation someone who expressed political/cultural views she abhored. When she told her “resolutely” middle class British mother what happened, the latter responded:

Its always hard for the middle classes. We’re pushed from the top and the bottom, and to try to change either one’s mindset in a social situation feels rude, and it never goes down well. Being polite and going down well is what the middle classes are proud of.

Harriet reflects “This remains the best simultaneous apology for and defence of the middling sort that I have ever heard”.

Which is I think the perfect analysis of what her mum said, not least because apologizing for and defending oneself at the same time is an essential part of being polite and going down well.

Social Security: OASI and DI

A brief response to a comment from yesterday’s post. When CBO projects the point at which the Social Security trust fund will be “exhausted” that means there are no more securities to redeem to pay benefits that are now greater than payroll taxes flowing into Social Security, and under current law when this occurs benefits must equal taxes flowing in. Thus,  if we do absolutely nothing, there will be an ~ 25% benefit cut in about 20 years (shown as 2033 in table below, 3rd column OASDI, last row). As an aside, while this would be a big cut, it also means that people saying “Social Security won’t be there at all when you retire” don’t understand the program’s finances. I don’t suggest doing nothing and allowing such a cut, but ~75% of benefits is a lot greater than 0% of benefits, obviously.

Continue reading “Social Security: OASI and DI”

Beating up on welfare recipients

For decades, moms and children on welfare have played the role of disparaged stage extras in American politics. It’s pretty disgusting to watch. These families deserve a lot better than they get.

Governor Romney has a new  30-second spot on the old standby of welfare reform.

The ad claims that President Obama…

Quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work. You wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.

At issue is a July 12 federal memorandum, which allows states greater flexibility in crafting their work requirements to move poor single moms into paid work.  The spot rather grotesquely mischaracterizes what the Obama administration has done. To begin with, there’s no such thing as “Obama’s plan.” Welfare is mainly operated by the states, which enjoy all-too-wide discretion to impose stringent requirements on welfare recipients. States remain completely free to impose tight work and eligibility requirements—requirements that many fiscally-stressed states have tightened since President Obama took office.

Continue reading “Beating up on welfare recipients”

American Elites: Distant from some problems, but not others

First thoughts on Christopher Hayes’ new book,

I am reading Christopher Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites—well worth the $26 I paid for it. Hayes’ book strikes several chords with me. One simple point concerns the pernicious consequences of elites’ great and growing social distance from ordinary people in American society. When less than two-percent of fighting-age adults serve in the volunteer military, most policymakers are personally insulated from the consequences of the ill-fated venture in Iraq. This matters, too, for our policies regarding the continually grinding low-level engagement in Afghanistan.

Something similar might be said regarding the millions of Americans affected by the foreclosure crisis. Members of our nation’s various elites are genuinely saddened by the accompanying human costs. Yeah, white papers are written. Hearings are held. Yet our society’s lack of urgency is abetted by the great social and economic distance between the families losing their lifesavings and the key public and private actors who will decide their fates. Too many of our national leaders behave rather as I’ve done, passing several empty houses on my street. I feel terrible for the affected families. I still scurry home, hit the web, and take solace in the ballooning value of my 401(k) supported by my tenured professorship. Pretty soon, I’m pondering other things. Continue reading “American Elites: Distant from some problems, but not others”

Hank Aaron and I mildly dissent from the GOP effort to curb American social insurance

What’s at stake goes well beyond “repeal and replace” of health reform.

Two years ago, long-frustrated advocates of national health reform rejoiced as Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Before the act was even signed, opponents began a campaign they described as ‘repeal and replace.’  This label, it is now clear, is misleading.  There is no agreed ‘replacement’ program. “Repeal” would kill expanded coverage for roughly 32 million low- and moderate-income Americans.

There is, however, a GOP program that goes beyond that, to roll back other health protections and roll back federal government activity to levels not seen since the 1930s…

This program has three pillars, which together may be more important than health reform. Thus far, these pillars have received less scrutiny than they deserve.

More here.

Let me take that one, professor.

Commenter Mike Kaplan asks Harold Pollack a question:

Why am I paying taxes to take care of your brother-in-law Vincent? He is your family – why don’t you take care of him? Why do you want to force me to sacrifice my time and labor – in taxes – to do what you are not doing?

Not a very nice question – even setting aside the obviously false premise that Vincent isn’t being cared for by his family – but it does have a fairly easy answer.

Professor Pollack is not and should not be obligated to support a disabled relative, because that relative is neither his minor child nor his chattel.  Vincent is a human being.  The government has determined that Vincent lacks the ability to support himself, and therefore Vincent, not his family, is entitled by law to a subsistence income from the Social Security Administration.

Before Social Security, people like Vincent were considered unpleasant accidents best kept out of the public eye and certainly undeserving of personhood status.  The family of an intellectually limited person was presumptively the only means of support, and consequently entitled to make use of him or her in any way they chose.  Developmentally delayed children grew up to be exploited as slave labor and for the sexual gratification of those who supported them.

Every disabled person should be afforded the ability to live as independently as possible and to have choices so he or she is not forced out of personhood.  In Vincent’s case, this means an income from SSI, which is an entitlement, not a gift, as it would be if it came from a family member.  I can hear the libertarians lining up to scoff at the notion that a monthly SSI check can be considered “independence,” but it is the best we can do.  For people with physical disabilities, independent living requires the expenditure of public and private funds to build entrances that allow them access to buildings and transportation services.

And of course not every developmentally disabled adult has a high-income relative. In the richest country in the history of the world, whether such people can lead minimally decent lives should be guaranteed by policy, not left to accident.

This discussion reminds me of a passage from Tom Jones, following an act of generosity by Squire Allworthy:

Allworthy here betook himself to those pleasing slumbers which a heart that hungers after goodness is apt to enjoy when thoroughly satisfied. As these are possibly sweeter than what are occasioned by any other hearty meal, I should take more pains to display them to the reader, if I knew any air to recommend him to for the procuring such an appetite.

Nations, like individuals, can learn to “hunger after goodness.” Or not.



Why am I paying taxes to take care of your brother-in-law?

A commenter believes the taxpayer should not ne supporting my disabled brother-in-law. What do you think?

Commenter Mike Kaplan asks the following question below my last post:

Why am I paying taxes to take care of your brother-in-law Vincent? He is your family – why don’t you take care of him? Why do you want to force me to sacrifice my time and labor – in taxes – to do what you are not doing?

All of us need to be responsible for ourselves and our families. The federal government currently borrows over 40% of what it spends. We just don’t have the money to continue this way.

I’ve been thinking about this. It’s reasonable to ask in the direct and sincere way Mr. Kaplan does. After all, I am a full professor at a leading university. I am not an economically disadvantaged person. 

I have my own views. I’m more interested in how RBC readers would answer this query. So what do you think? I hope you answer him directly, in a spirit of civility.

Your Restrained, Non-Activist Conservative Jurisprudence

From Jon Cohn’s report:

Alito seemed particularly concerned that, because of the mandate, young, healthy people would have to pay more for their insurance, because they would effectively be subsidizing the sick. In a direct response to the government’s argument that the law’s minimum coverage requirement is “necessary and proper,” Scalia responded that it was clearly necessary but not proper – and that government could avoid the problems of the insurance market by simply not requiring insurance companies to cover people regardless of pre-existing condition, as the law will do.

Note that neither of these are legal arguments in the way that they have been understood for the last eighty years.  This is basically Alito and Scalia saying that it isn’t constitutional to have social insurance.  We should cut the garbage: these guys are hacks, pure and simple.

 I’m actually a little surprised that anyone thought that either of these guys would vote to uphold. 


Bloggingheads on Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Chicago’s challenges

Glenn Loury and I cover Newt Gingrich’s janitorial views, Mitt Romney’s misconceptions on social insurance. We also had some serious talk about the challenges facing young people in Chicago. I feel genuinely blessed to have such conversations with an old friend and mentor.

Chicken Little and Social Security

Last week I polled my mostly-undergraduate policy design class at Berkeley as follows:

A. Social Security is in very serious financial trouble and probably won’t be there for my parents

B. Social Security is in financial  trouble and probably won’t be there for me

C. Social Security is basically OK and just needs some minor adjustments.

The results were 66% B, 16% each A and C.  This is a level of misinformation in an educated population that puts the capacity of democratic governance in doubt, and raises serious questions about whether mainline media are playing straight with us.  Articles like the Washington Post piece dissected and hung out to dry by Dean Baker demand we resurrect language like “kept press” from back in the thirties.