Saturday, July 30, 2011

Another Brick in Neo-Feudalism

The following post from Dean Baker, commenting on the most recent lunacy from The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson:

Robert Samuelson Redefines "Wealthy"

Friday, 29 July 2011 17:27

The Washington Post once ran a front page piece questioning whether people who earned $250,000 a year, President Obama's cutoff for his no tax hike pledge, were really rich. However, it also features Robert Samuelson on its opinion page telling readers that seniors with income of $30,000 a year are wealthy. I'm not kidding.

In a piece titled "Why Are We In This Debt Fix? It's the elderly stupid," Samuelson tells readers:

"some elderly live hand-to-mouth; many more are comfortable, and some are wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the following for Medicare beneficiaries in 2010: 25 percent had savings and retirement accounts averaging $207,000 or more."

Let's see, we have retirees who have their Social Security checks, plus a stash of $207,000. If someone at age 62 were to take that $207,000 and buy an annuity this money would get them about $15,000 a year. Add in $14,000 from Social Security and they are living the good life on $29,000 a year. And remember, 75 percent of the elderly have less than this.

To be fair, many of the people with $207,000 in savings will be older than 62 so their money will go further, but it is hard to believe that anyone can think of this as a cutoff for being wealthy, or at least anyone other than Robert Samuelson and his colleagues at the Washington Post.

My thoughts:
There is a unifying 'idea' (if it can be called that) behind the idiocy of Robert Samuelson and like-minded conservatives. Recall Orrin Hatch's assertion that the poor and less-well-off need to bear a greater share of the burden.

What unifies this — and the general Republican willingness to redistribute burdens from the wealthy to the rest of us — is a true Orwellian doublethink — a commitment to the Divine Right of Wealth, the more wealthy, the more divine. This is a view endorsed by most Democrats. It finds a clear expression in a blog post by Gregory Mankiw from August, 2009: Mankiw was convinced that wealth was an indicator of superior intelligence, which in turn is genetically based; therefore, wealth is an indicator of genetic superiority. (Where have we heard this before?) This is a just a specific instance of the widespread conviction that wealth is an indicator of superiority and virtue — indeed, that wealth is itself a virtue.

On this line, there is no inconsistency in viewing subsistence-level elderly as wealthy. They 'must' be to make them plausible candidates for taxation. "America doesn't tax the poor" just as "America doesn't torture." Conversely, the really really wealthy are over-taxed, and their suffering must be alleviated through transfers from those who are under-taxed.

The logic works, if you live in the frame of mind of a 13th Century European baron.

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