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Why This Ain’t Gonna Be Easy

October 20th, 2010 . by economistmom

gallup-poll-on-entitlement-reform

A new Gallup poll tells us that:

More than three in four Americans believe the cost of the government’s major entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, will create major economic problems for the U.S. in the next 25 years if no changes are made to them. At the same time, Americans do not provide a mandate for raising taxes or cutting benefits to address the situation.

If you want to take a “glass half full” view, however, the poll also shows (emphasis added):

62% do support one approach or the other. Specifically, 12% favor both options, 30% favor a tax increase but not benefit cuts, and 20% favor benefit cuts but not a tax increase. Still, the data show that there is little consensus on how to address a problem most Americans see looming, and more than one-third of Americans (35%) oppose both options.

In other words, if we’re to come to any agreement on how to improve the federal budget outlook (not just agreement that there’s a problem with it), we’re going to have to do the “mutual sacrifice” kind of compromising, not the “rewards all around” kind we’ve been practicing over the past decade.

Obviously that’s a hard sell any time, but it is pretty much impossible in an election year.

4 Responses to “Why This Ain’t Gonna Be Easy”

  1. comment number 1 by: Jim Glass

    Perhaps we should accept our fate and see the virtue in spending all we want on ourselves to make ourselves happy without paying for it, and running up however much debt it takes to drop on our grandchildren to foot our bills.

    After all, there is a moral imperative to soak the rich — is not making the rich pay more the essence of progressive tax policy? And our children and grandchildren figure to be a lot richer than we are — the 2% long-term growth rate in national income per capita will make them twice as rich as us in just 35 years. And that doesn’t count “quality” improvements — compare the cars, TVs, medicine and the Internet of 1975 to today.

    A while back Steven Landsburg observed that if imposing higher taxes on the richer to benefit the poorer is morally virtuous at any one point in time then it should be inter-temporally too, across time. How could it not be? So our dropping higher taxes on the rich of the future to benefit our poorer selves today, transferring welfare from them to us, is not merely defensible but practically a moral necessity!

    Now Landsburg I think was speaking rhetorically to raise some questions about progressive taxation per se.

    But considering where we are and where we’re headed, maybe we should just take his argument at face value and be happy with it.

  2. comment number 2 by: SteveinCH

    Interesting thought Jim. In a totally off topic way, it brings me back to global warming where there are a group of scientists arguing we shouldn’t use a discount rate in understanding the costs and benefits of mitigation because of “intergenerational equity”. Wish I had thought of this argument during that debate.

    To the main point, I really disagree with Diane’s last sentence. I think an election season is perhaps the only time when we could build the consensus to solve the problem. I would love to see the parties (the 2 we have and any others that want to play) set up competing visions of addressing the fiscal balance issue we have and have a vote in a national election. The winning party would then have a mandate to do its thing on fiscal balance. I’m not sure there’s any other way we can ever pass anything.

  3. comment number 3 by: Uncle Jeffy

    In further news, a new USA Today/Gallup poll has found that approximately 35% of all Americans have their heads buried in the sand when it comes to reality.

  4. comment number 4 by: BillSmith

    i”wthout derailing its economic recovery” How do we know there was going to be one to derail?

    So the article is an opinion piece.