Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Freakout Over "Chained CPI"

For years now, I've advocated increasing Social Security benefits -- by doubling or even tripling low-end benefits, 50% increase at the mid-range, maybe even a 25% increase at the top. This is not rocket science, it's basic consumer economics.

Social Security benefits are cripplingly low for many retirees as well as for many of those who would retire, except they can't afford to.

It's a ridiculous situation that any rational society would not have allowed to occur, especially not during the worst economic depression since the 1930's. A rational society would have pumped up retirement benefits promptly and would have made retirement possible for many more people at an earlier age. I've advocated 55 or 60 as the proper retirement age for full benefits, rather than 66 or 67 as is now the case, and of course, I advocated something like "Medicare for All" as opposed to the titanic insurance company and medical-industrial subsidy that is Obamacare.

Doing those things: substantially increasing SS benefit amounts, reducing the retirement age, and instituting single payer health care/Medicare for All would have made a huge difference in the course of the now-Permanent Recession and would have alleviated a lot of suffering.

Instead we get cuts and talk of more cuts to come.

This is insane.

Apparently the White House is really, really pushing to institute "Chained CPI" for calculating COLAs for all kinds of benefits, especially Social Security. The beauty part, according to those who have looked into it, is that Chained CPI also functions as a mid- and lower-class tax increase because it adjusts tax brackets ever so subtly, gradually forcing lower income people into higher tax brackets while leaving those already in the highest brackets where they are. Brilliant!

With the specter of raising Medicare eligibility age to 67, the impoverishment of ordinary working Americans is set to continue until Doomsday.

This is absurd.

There is now a full-blown freakout on the so-called 'left' over the Chained CPI proposal out of the White House, and all leftish internet effort is being marshaled to put a stop to it. Yes, well. Good luck with that. It's not that it is impossible to do; it's that it's the wrong crusade.

The effort should be focused on increasing benefits, lowering the retirement age and instituting single payer/Medicare for All.

All the Freakout does is try to maintain the status quo. It doesn't advance anything. It simply tries to keep things as they are for as long as possible.

I've made this criticism of Digby more than anyone, but the tendency on the so-called 'left' is almost universally to preserve the civilized status quo against the assaults by the barbarian 'right.' Typically, it fails. And the 'left' falls back to the next barricade until it, too, fails, and so, backwards we slide, constantly. The nation becomes more and more rightist because the rightists are the ones who keep pushing against the status quo, while the defenders of the status quo are the supposed 'left.'

Didn't anybody learn anything from the failure and fall of the Soviet Union? The tragedy of the Supreme Soviet making its last stand against Yeltsin's tanks was not that they were wrong. They weren't -- at least they wouldn't have been if things weren't so out of whack. The tragedy wasn't even that they failed. The tragedy was that they had nothing to offer beyond preserving the status quo, and they were incapable of recognizing that the status quo... sucked. (Well, it could have been worse, and it got worse, but that's another issue.)

So now the American 'left' uses all its energy to preserve what it can of the status quo and calls it "Victory!" -- and that's just crazy, especially as the status quo keeps moving rightwards. Preventing Chained CPI doesn't stop the impoverishment. It's not at all certain that Chained CPI can be stopped at this juncture. So if it is instituted, the impoverishment of the American People will be accelerated somewhat, but that impoverishment will take place anyway if the current COLA formula is maintained.

Do people realize that there were no COLA adjustments for two years during the darkest period of the Permanent Recession, despite the fact that the basic cost of living was skyrocketing at that time? Food, housing, utilities, medical prices etc. were all going up, some at double digit rates, and people on fixed incomes were being battered by these increases, but they were ignored by those calculating COLAs, one of the excuses being that beneficiaries had received a large COLA previously due to fuel cost increases, and since the cost of fuel was (temporarily) lower, they didn't need COLA increases to cover other rising costs.

Maintaining the current COLA formula, in other words, is effectively backsliding. Shifting to Chained CPI calculations accelerates the backsliding.

Neither is an improvement, neither stops the impoverishment of the People for the benefit of Our Betters.

It's part of what drives me nuts about what passes for the 'left' in this country.

Those who actually want to and try to make like better for the masses are dismissed as crackpots and worse, while those who are singlemindedly focused on preserving things as they are are hailed or condemned as some kind of 'leftist' heroes or villains (depending on ideological perspective), and the rightists claim the "center."

There's an uncompromising level of cruelty among Our Betters and an utter lack of empathy for the victims of their policies that could be highlighted much more -- and much better -- than it is. A real Left might do that, but given the lack of enthusiasm for using terms like "cruelty" to describe the policies being inflicted on the rest of us by those in power (for fear of offending?) it's going to be an ever lengthening row to hoe to enlighten the suffering and reverse the cruelties of the High and the Mighty.

Of course the entire political culture is complicit and both major political parties are deeply involved in demonizing and impoverishing the masses. There is no better solution from either party, merely a pendulum swing from bad to somewhat less bad. Nor is there is a chance of forcing "change" by either boycotting elections or voting third party. We've already seen how -- and how effectively -- authority and "interests" will interfere with any election that doesn't produce acceptable results. If you doubt just how far Our Betters will go, look to the astonishing replacement of elected prime ministers in Europe with compliant technocrats whenever the austerity interests declare it desirable.

We mustn't allow ourselves to be fooled into believing that elections will get us anywhere. They won't. They will not be allowed to.

Chained CPI may or may not be implemented. We the People will have no effective say in the matter. But by ensuring there is a complete freakout over it among the so-called 'left', Our Betters ensure that there is little effective opposition to their overall scheme. It works beautifully. For them.

UPDATE: Young Ezra has cogitated the matter and decided not to get too worked up about Chained CPI, it's the whole damned thing that's too mingy as it is, and behold: increasing SS benefits and instituting a public option or Medicare for All actually -- wait for it -- benefits the economy.

Who. Duh. Thunk?

Maybe. Everyone knows Young Ezra is a complete and total tool of powerful interests (particularly in the White House, doesn't matter who's occupying said House) and he doesn't take stands or advocate policies on his ownself.  What he does is push whatever line his most recent Power Contact pitched to him. In this case, it appears there is someone at the White House who's had a dawning, a come to Jesus moment. A realization: the economic policy makers are going about everything backwards, no wonder it doesn't work! Ah ha! Yes, well.

Having the realization and doing anything about it are two different things. Ezra is just a vessel, much as Brooksie is; a great deal of their work in the media is designed to palliate the masses, quiet their grumblings, by declaring that this or that position that the People may (or may not) favor is being discussed by the High and the Mighty, who are considering every possible argument before inflicting a policy on the rest of us. You see. That is why they are called Our Betters.

I would go so far as to suggest that Young Ezra has had no dawning at all. He'll cheerfully put the notion out there that, say, maybe it would be cool to increase rather than shrink benefits and put in place a rational public health care system. There. It's been said.

Now let's get on with the screwage.

I am so cynical.

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