Lee Hamilton, former Representative from Indiana, in many ways represents everything that is wrong with politics in America. The co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Homeland Security Project is what Paul Krugman would describe as a Very Serious Person: someone that purports to be an above the fray non-partisan dispensing conventional opinions, but is in reality not only wrong about almost everything, but just as politically driven as everyone else. The “centrist” Hamilton made a career of picking a point somewhere on the spectrum between what Republican politicians are saying and what Democrat politicians are saying and then staking out a “bipartisan” and “reasonable” position. This approach of course is entirely wrong. Democrats and Republicans are not simply to the left and to the right of the truth. While the Democrats are a big tent party of neo-con like Hillary Clinton and socialists like Bernie Sanders, the modern day GOP is a party of whacko radical racists, unhinged from reality, staking out positions that represent the views of a vocal minority of about 10% of America. They can only win elections with voter suppression resulting in record low turnout, fear mongering, and racism.
It should therefore surprise no one that a few weeks ago, Lee Hamilton penned an op-ed titled “Let’s Finally Get Fiscal House in Order.” The crux of his argument is that “[f]ederal spending accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product . . . If current trends continue, that will rise to fully 25 percent by 2040. Revenues will not keep up — they’ll amount to only 19 percent of GDP.” Hamilton then claims that we need to “reform entitlements”, code for raising the retirement age.
To a reasonable observer, the cause of the shortfall is obvious and the answer is clear. Americans are aging faster, social security is loved by Democrats and Republicans, and 20% is not a magical spending cap. Furthermore, 25% of GDP seems like a reasonable sum to spend on issues we as a nation value: retirement, health care, defense, infrastructure, etc. We therefore need to slightly increase taxes between now and 2040 to account for the shortfall. Much of the revenue needed can be overcome by lifting the cap on income of richer Americans who are not currently paying into the social security trust fund on their entire income.
This solution becomes even more obvious when considering that the rich live a lot longer than the poor. Any increase in retirement age would be highly regressive. Even a slight increase of just 2 years would result in an increase that is greater than the increase in lifespans of poorer retirees since the 1970s. This of course doesn’t stop Hamilton and other Very Serious People, like the ones on the Simpson Bowles Commission, from proposing plans that increase the retirement age.
Since Social Security became the law of the land in America, per capita GDP in this country has increased by over 500%, yet Lee Hamilton claims that due to longer lifespans of mostly the rich, we should not allocate even a piece of that much larger pie to take care of working Americans during retirement. Funding retirement should be a national priority. Lee Hamilton’s view on social security is cruel and un-American. Things like this are only keeping people in poverty and making title loan businesses thrive.