American politics is haunted by the specter of undeserving poor and working class Americans living beyond their means on someone else’s dime. It’s not just strapping young bucks buying t-bone steaks with food stamps, it’s strapping young bucks buying flat-screen tvs with credit cards they can’t pay off, strapping young bucks gorging themselves at the Applebee’s salad bar with their inflated union wages, strapping young bucks buying houses with CRA-mandated subprime loans, strapping young bucks suing doctors with lawyers on retainer, strapping young bucks getting elective surgery with their taxpayer-subsidized health care. It’s an all-purpose paradigm — it explains why welfare and single-payer health care are bad, why we need “tort reform” rather than health care reform, why the bankruptcy bill was good, and why we had a recession even with Galtian geniuses like Greenspan and Rubin in charge of everything.
It’s not just CPACers who think this way, it’s the sober, serious Villagers who talk constantly about “entitlement reform”. Tom Friedman:
But now it feels as if we are entering a new era, ‘where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people,’ said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.
Let’s leave aside the question of why Tom Friedman thinks it’s appropriate to ask a “foreign policy expert” about domestic economic matters. Dean Baker:
Unfortunately, Mr. Friedman apparently doesn’t talk to anyone who has ever taken any economics. There are no serious forecasts that do not project that productivity will continue to grow for the indefinite future, and many project that productivity will grow at a more rapid pace than it did in the years from 1973-1995. This means that there is no reason, except incompetent economic management and/or the continuing upward redistribution of income, why the vast majority of the population should not experience improvements in living standards. This would mean an increase in both public and private services.
No one likes the idea of American working people improving their standard of living, but that is what is supposed to happen as productivity increases.