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Santorum on Suffering and Death

I will stipulate from the start that Rick Santorum is inconsequential to the question of the GOP nomination process.  He started the contest as toast and will leave it as naught but the crumbs at the bottom of  the toaster.

Having said that (and hopefully have forestalled comments along those lines), Santorum does keep saying things that I think a substantial portion of the population believes.  To wit:  he frequently makes moral claims that paint the picture of a universe in which all outcomes are justly generated by the actions of individuals.  In this universe, people are successful because they work hard and make good choices and people fail because they do not work hard enough and/or because of bad choices.

Now, let me stipulate another point:  it is doubtlessly true that hard work and good decisions are incredibly helpful to the generation of success whilst slothfulness and bad decisions frequently lead to bad outcomes.  This is not the issue.  The issue is the degree to which is it possible to neatly categorize the citizenry into nice, neat boxes of the good and hard-working (i.e., the successful) and the bad and slothful (i.e., those who have failed in one capacity or another).  Indeed, this issue is the crux of the social policy debate and is at the heart of contemporary partisanship (e.g., it is why Republicans frequently cast tax increases as “punishing achievers”—a phrase rife with normative judgments about the way the universe works).

Along these lines we can go back a few weeks to a town hall meeting in Iowa where Santorum extolled the value of “suffering” and apparently finds it problematic that various policies (e.g., food stamps, Medicaid, etc.) ameliorate suffering because, after all, “suffering is part of life and it’s not a bad thing, it is an essential thing in life.”

On the one hand, I have known people in my extended family, and have met others, who clearly think that they are entitled to government handouts and that their children do grow up with a distorted view of the purpose of the programs in question.  (But, of course, children frequently have distorted, entitlement orientations regardless from where the largesse that they enjoy is coming).  Further, there are example of people clearly abusing the social welfare system (e.g., Seattle welfare recipient lives in million-dollar home).

On the other hand, however, there are plenty of examples of people taking legitimate advantage of social welfare, using it as a means to sustaining themselves whilst working hard to successfully raise themselves out of poverty (a famous, albeit non-US example, would be J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, but other, far more modest, examples can be generated).

Beyond anecdotes, however, there are also facts like the following:  the implementation of social security (a universal social welfare program) has significantly contributed to a substantial and important diminution of poverty amongst the elderly:

Elderly poverty in the U.S. decreased dramatically during the twentieth century. Between 1960 and 1995, the official poverty rate of those aged 65 and above fell from 35 percent to 10 percent, and research has documented similarly steep declines dating back to at least 1939. While poverty was once far more prevalent among the elderly than among other age groups, today’s elderly have a poverty rate similar to that of working-age adults and much lower than that of children.

[...]

The authors estimate that a $1,000 increase in Social Security benefits is associated with a 2 to 3 percentage point reduction in poverty rates for elderly households. They also find no statistically significant effect of benefits on income inequality, suggesting that higher-income and lower-income elderly benefit similarly from increases in Social Security.

Applying this estimate to the change in Social Security benefits between 1967 and 2000 suggests that the increase in benefits can explain all of the 17 percentage point decline in poverty that occurred during this period. The authors also find that higher benefits lead some elderly to live independently rather than with family members, and conclude that the effect of Social Security on poverty would have been even more dramatic in the absence of these changes in living arrangements.

Figure 1

(Source:  NBER)

Of course, the purpose, on balance, of social welfare programs (e.g., food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, and the like) exist to ensure that large numbers of citizens do not live in abject poverty (i.e., the alleviated suffering).

Santorum’s notion that suffering is just part of life, or even something to be valued, is problematic when asserted by a person of obvious wealth and privilege.  In other words:  it is easy for Santorum to talk about suffering when he and his family are manifestly not suffering (and, likewise, have the means to deal far better with potential suffering than do most in the society).  Indeed, Santorum is sufficiently wealthy that he is able to run for president as a hobby (I am not sure what else to call it, as he clearly has not shot of even being Not Romney for an afternoon, let alone the nominee).

Along the same lines as the suffering position, Santorum (still campaigning in Iowa for some reason) made the following assertion:

“People die in America because people die in America. And people make poor decisions with respect to their health and their healthcare. And they don’t go to the emergency room or they don’t go to the doctor when they need to,” he said. “And it’s not the fault of the government for not providing some sort of universal benefit.”

Now, I will stipulate (yet again) that yes, choices in life do matter. If one smokes, partakes of various substances (legal or illegal), overeats, etc. then one’s choices may very well lead directly to death (of course it is worth noting, at least parenthetically, that in some cases, they won’t:  there are plenty of people who overeat, for example, who live a good long time while there are other examples of people who eat well and exercise and who die prematurely—one cannot discount the gene lottery).  And while some suffering can be directly linked to choices made, others not so much (e.g., many forms of cancer, mental illnesses, etc.).

However, Santorum only has a point if, in fact, the only people who die or suffer because of bad choices (goodness, how easy would policy making be if that were true? In such a universe, welfar would be nothing be altruism).  However, we know that it isn’t.  Many people make a plethora of good choices, and yet find themselves bankrupt over medical bills.  Likewise, some people make a host of really bad choices, and yet live to 90 in relative comfort.  The universe is not so simple as Santorum and his ilk make it out to be.  And even if we take his notion that suffering is a part of life (or ordained by the Heavens), there is the question of the degree to which the alleviation of that suffering is, in any way, a societal responsibility (btw, the Christian ethics that he supposedly lives by would say yes, it is).

So, why bring all of this up?  Well, public shame on Santorum is one motivation , I suppose (he is, in my estimation, a ridiculous figure), but the real reason is that these are kinds of issues that one has to take into account when considering the appropriate moves on fiscal policy.  As we talk about cutting spending, reforming entitlements, and raising taxes (all things that need to be done) we have to address the question of what kinds of societal obligations exists to persons who cannot adequately address the difficulties of life by themselves (a group that may include any one of us, given the wrong set of circumstances).   And, I bring this topic up knowing that many readers of this blog may be sympathetic to Santorum’s point of view and therefore seek to spark consideration and discussion of the topic.

Really, Santorum aside (he is, again, not the ultimate point), I think that one of the major issues facing our politics at the moment is sorting out this question of the balance between personal and social responsibility.  Now, on the one hand, the public appears to have spoken (i.e., there is massive support for Medicare and Social Security in the populace), but (and this is a big but) a) the challenge of funding these programs is huge, and b) the Republican Party, in general, often speaks more like Santorum than not (which reflects a disconnect between the party and the vast majority of Americans).

This is an philosophical (and ultimately quite practical) issue that I, myself, have been working out over time (and I do not claim to have settled on a final answers).  I will confess that I find a basic philosophy of individualism to be attractive—it would be easier to make policy if, in fact, we all rise and fall on our own merits (certainly the universe would make more sense than it otherwise does).  But, alas, I am also attracted to the empirical, and an honest examination of society suggests that life is not so simple (the rain falls on the just and the unjust, dontcha know).  There is also the broader question of the degree to which the success or failure (especially of an extreme type) has broader social implications that government ought to seek to ameliorate.  To wit:  sure, I would make sure that my children were literate not matter what the government did, but what would life be like if the government did not ensure a literate society in general?

Ok, enough for now.  This is more a place to stop than it is a conclusion.  No doubt there people have their own views on the subject.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. When I say the title “Santorum on Suffering and Death,” I thought the candidate had already penned his campaign memoir/post-mortem.

    More seriously, though, it’s odd that people like Santorum take attitudes like this given their professed religious faith.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  2. wr says:

    Isn’t this exactly the attitude of Doug Mataconis, albeit with an extra helping of Jesusy goodness?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  3. de stijl says:

    I would have gone with Santorum on The Sickness Unto Death for the headline.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. ponce says:

    CINOs (Christians In Name Only) like Santorum love to judge people.

    They live to judge people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    @Doug Mataconis: It’s called Calvinism – if you a rich it’s because you are blessed by God. If you are not it’s because you are evil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  6. sam says:

    @de stijl:

    It take a Kierkegaard to truly limn the Santorums of this world. Or a Nietzsche.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. Ron,

    But, Santorum is a Roman Catholic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. @Ron Beasley: Except he is a Catholic, yes? (Although, granted, there is always room for theological confusion).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Liberty60 says:

    For the record-
    Santorum’s views on this mater do NOT reflect the views of the Church or even most Catholics.

    Or most Christians.

    Or most Americans.

    Or most humans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  10. ChrisB says:

    It’s worth noting that Santorum’s position is explicitly rejected by Christ:

    “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Luke 13:4

    This passage is very clear that sometimes bad things happen to people, and it’s not their fault.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @Steven L. Taylor: There was always an element of Calvinism in the Catholic church even before Calvin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. Keith says:

    I’d be interested to hear Santorum’s answer to these questions:

    There are a lot of veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, among other things. Is this suffering the result of poor life choices? Does the government have any responsibility to ameliorate that suffering?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  13. Scott says:

    One question I have never seen polled is a simple binary one: Do you think healthcare is a right? If the answer is yes,then the argument is over how best to supply and pay for healthcare within our society. If no, then we will have an entirely different society than the one we have now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Americans despise ambiguities. They get in the way of their preferred Calvinist mythology: good and evil, just and unjust.

    My belief is that we live out our lives inside a series of overlapping circles. a matrix made of DNA, experience, free will and random chance. Each of those interlocks with the others. For example, DNA and experience are interactive, not discrete. And chance is everywhere.

    But Americans really hate the idea of randomness. They don’t do quantum physics, they do basic geometry: straight lines, whole numbers. They can barely stand the idea of DNA since it undercuts simplistic moral calculations. We are not a nation of philosophers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  15. mattb says:

    @Ron Beasley … one could argue that there is an element of Calvinism in almost all theistic relgions. However the @Steven L. Taylor‘s point, if you follow Weber’s line of thought as laid out in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (which while it has its flaws, is still a compelling argument), in Christianity (European) Catholicism stood more or less in direct theoretical/theological opposition to Calvinism.

    Following that line, I think Santorum is an excellent example of how even hierarchical “world” religions (like Catholicism) are still greatly effected by the different cultural milieus that their practice is embedded within. In that way, it makes perfect sense that Santorum’s Catholicism has far more of an Calvinist bent than Catholicism in lets say Southern Europe or South America.

    Great article Stephen… I agree on all points.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. Hey Norm says:

    I choose not to listen to zealots like Santorum.
    If everyone did the same the world would be a better place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  17. Liberty60 says:

    Christian theology is complex enough to allow people to see what they want to see.

    For example, we are called to fiercely embrace life and struggle against death and suffering,

    At the same time we are called to relinquish pride and control over ourselves, accepting suffering and death when called upon.

    The decision when to do either one is never easy to determine, which leaves plenty of room for debate, even among well meaning.

    About the only thing that IS crystal clear is that anytime someone makes a sweeping statement like that you can be sure they are “in error” as theologians so nicely put it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. MD in Philly says:

    I would suggest that serious discussions of suffering are not well served by 2011 “sound bite” standards, whether in a political speech or when quoted with perfect fairness (which I will assume, without having researched them).

    I would point out that Sen. Santorum has personally known suffering with the death of a child born prematurely. I doubt that he held his wife personally responsible for the event.

    The general theme of “working hard and being good leads to a good life” is well represented in the Bible, as well as a general principle outside of the Bible (does anyone suggest being a lazy jerk is the way to success?). Yet the book of Job makes it clear that a strict correlation between suffering and personal wrong doing is a profound and cruel mistake. (Many would say Job is the oldest book in the Bible, predating Peter, not to mention the Roman Catholic Church and most certainly Calvin.)

    I think a fair discussion of Conservative and Liberal approaches to many issues requires more than quoting one speech by Santorum, a statement by Dean that Conservatives like children to go to bed hungry, or the claim by Pelosi that Conservatives don’t care if they breath clean air or drink clean water.

    (FWIW, came here following a “Blogad” link while at Patterico)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Console says:

    I definitely don’t get the conservative position on social security. Prior to Social security, unless you were already rich, the way you “saved” for retirement was that you had a lot of kids. The idea that saving for retirement via a whole population becoming stock investors is somehow more natural or ideal than Social Security, is just surreal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Barb Hartwell says:

    I read somewhere last week that Santorum is staying in the Presidential race because of his dying daughter she needs special care that government health-care will pay for. He wants us to do as he says not what he does. He should be more compassionate but he proves he is evil and does not care what you think about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  21. Rob in CT says:

    Heckuva post.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Barb Hartwell says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I think he is just nuts, he should not represent any good religion or any group, as he gives them a very bad rap

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  23. John D'Geek says:

    I think that the context that is missing here is not Religion, but rather State of Origin. Like Rick Santorum, I too am from Pennsylvania. I grew up in farm country just north of the “Coal Belt”. I don’t know if the PA welfare system is representative of the nation, but I do know that it’s messed up. I know two women that tried to get off of Welfare, only to be told that it was not possible. Oh, they will stop sending you checks, but you can’t get off the welfare rolls.

    The greatest irony is that one of these women should have been a success story. She and her two children left her boyfriend because he was beating her. Being the “good mom” she is, she went to school and — after a lot of hard work on her part — got a good job. She went down to the welfare office to ask how to get off welfare.

    Their answer: “you don’t”.

    I also know people who make a living out of staying on welfare. They practice failing job interviews, only apply for work at places that they know aren’t hiring, and so forth.

    PA is a very depressed state, especially in the Coal Belt. Welfare is rampant, and “they” (the mythical “they”) are often perceived as deliberately trying to keep people on welfare. The fact that welfare recipients vote “en masse” for Democrats in Pa has not gone unnoticed. It’s easy to create cynics like Rick Santorum in a state like this.

    There has to be a better way.

    Ideally, I would like to see a system where people like my friend — those who just need a real chance — succeed, while those that consider welfare a right fall off the system. The question is “how does one balance the two?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  24. John D'Geek says:

    @Console:

    The idea that saving for retirement via a whole population becoming stock investors is somehow more natural or ideal than Social Security, is just surreal.

    What do you think we’re doing now? (hint: IRA, 401k).

    In my generation, more people believe in UFOs than believe that Social Security will be there for us in any meaningful way. (Raise the retirement age to 75 anyone?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  25. MD in Philly says:

    Economics and finance is not my strong suit, but I’ll make the following points:

    1. When SS began, the eligibility age was older than the average life expectancy
    2. When SS began the costs to support any one individual was spread over many taxpayers
    3. “The government” never treated SS as a dedicated reserve, but as a credit card that somebody else would have to pay off.

    Now, I’ve heard projections about SS going bankrupt since the 80′s (right after we got over the scare about global cooling and the coming ice age), so there is reason for cynicism, but I think the vast majority of people, when shown the numbers, would realize that SS as it now exists cannot, it simply cannot by the mathematical realities, continue as it is now. The strength of the privitization plan is that if the money going into SS went into individual accounts over the past everybody would be much better off. Obviously, the drawback is the future is not guaranteed to be like the past.

    BTW, do you know what happens to the SS tax for federally elected officials? (Trick question) There is no withholding for federal elected officials for SS, they opt-out and privitize their allotment. That ought to be enough info right there to alert one to a problem.

    Whenever something is designed to work in one set of circumstances, whether it was SS in the 30′s/40′s or medicaid in the 60′s, when circumstances are greatly changed one should not assume the same system will still work. The clothes I wore in the 60′s do not fit me now. Many government programs designed in the 30′s, 40′s, 50′s, or 70′s do not “fit” anymore either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  26. JohnMcC says:

    Excellent post. While trying to digest it, I flipped to Wikipedia’s bio of Sen Santorum. Did you know that at least part of his childhood he lived in Gov’t supplied housing on a VA Hospital campus while his Dad (who was born in Italy) worked there? I guess it’s not totally hypocritical, being part of the compensation for honest work. Still, his parents seem to have had a lifelong career working for the VA medical system. Thought maybe someone besides myself would find that….interesting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  27. Hey Norm says:

    @ MD in Philly….

    “…the vast majority of people, when shown the numbers, would realize that SS as it now exists cannot, it simply cannot by the mathematical realities, continue as it is now…”

    Simply not true.
    First…SS is solvent for what 40 years before it starts paying reduced benefits?
    So it needs some tweaking.
    Privatization is never going to work as was shown soon after Bush proposedit when the economy ent into recession, and again when the Bush Contraction of ’07/’08 began. And there is no basis whatsoever for your claim that:

    “…The strength of the privitization plan is that if the money going into SS went into individual accounts over the past everybody would be much better off…”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  28. James says:

    It’s also referred to as the just world hypothesis. It’s a cognitive bias that helps people deal with the bad in the world (it’s their own fault and therefore there is nothing that I can or should do about it) as well as a form of ego stroking (everything good that happens is solely do to my own greatness). Of course, it’s also bunk.

    My personal favorite example is my grandparents. My grandfather commuted several hours a day from Iowa into Illinois t

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. ponce says:

    Thought maybe someone besides myself would find that….interesting.

    Remember Santorum lied about where he lived so the government would pay for his kids’ schooling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  30. James says:

    @James: Somehow the comment posted before I was done.

    Drove into Illinois to work for John Deer. He worked hard all his life and they were going to retire comfortably and travel the country.

    Except that didn’t happen. It started shortly before he retired, he was struck with a neurological disease (not sure which one as I was 10 when he died and the technical details were not explained to me). All of my grandparents retirement money went to his care and in less than five years a lifetime of savings were wiped out.

    My grandmother then had to make do with the help of family and half of my grandfather’s social security (she had not worked outside the home since being married as was the custom of the time).

    According to people like Rick Santorum, as well as many conservatives I know, my grandparents must have been terrible, lazy people to deserve what happened to them.

    I don’t buy it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  31. Stan says:

    @MD in Philly: The main problem with privatizing Social Security is that stock prices don’t always go up (see http://tinyurl.com/4523lp9). If you retire at the wrong time and the stock market crashes, you’re out of luck. That’s one problem. A second is that most Americans aren’t knowledgeable enough about investments to achieve a proper balance between protecting against inflation and conserving capital. A third is that privatizing Social Security would lead to a big increase in administrative costs. Privatization is a loser in a policy sense, and it’s political poison. Better solutions to the problems you mention are raising the cap on income subject to FICA taxes and raising the retirement age, with exemptions for people in poor health.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    good post, Steven.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. “People die in America because people die in America.”

    Isn’t this sort of moral fatalism considered a pretty serious sin by the Catholic church?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. john personna says:

    @Scott:

    One question I have never seen polled is a simple binary one: Do you think healthcare is a right?

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think it is a right, but I do think that when a society becomes sufficiently wealthy it becomes a justified burden.

    When you are taking literal food off one person’s table to care for another, that’s one thing. When you are taxing $100K incomes, that’s another.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  35. Barb Hartwell says:

    It may not be a right but it is the right thing to do. How can we justify paying taxes to support the wealthiest people while letting others go without health-care because they cannot afford it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. Leonhardt says:

    @ChrisB:
    How about the story of Job? This is one of the most significant and meaningful stories in the Bible. Note, it is a story, not meant to be true, but we can learn a great deal from it. Job has done everything right, but still undergoes terrible, painful suffering. In one of the most beautiful accounts, God goes to Job and has a “talk” with him. In this, God reveals a few things about the way he works, and the most asked question of all: “Why do good people suffer? Why does God let this happen?” For those of you out there who are suffering now and need some insight, reading the book of Job, or some of it, might be helpful, but we can never truly understand completely why this happens. As one concentration camp survivor, a person who had lost his entire family, once told a reporter: “Why should I blame this on God? I had a great life until then (imprisonment). And, God is not the one who built those concentration camps.” Can any more be said?
    I think that Santorum is really a nice guy. He just really needs to get out into the people and see what is going on. He needs to quit trying to follow the party line and try some real perspective on life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Leonhardt: Every time some one brings up Job, I think of this….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  38. An Interested Party says:

    In my generation, more people believe in UFOs than believe that Social Security will be there for us in any meaningful way.

    When you have so many conservatives and libertarians trashing government in general and Social Security in particular every chance they get, that many would hold this belief is hardly surprising…

    Did you know that at least part of his childhood he lived in Gov’t supplied housing on a VA Hospital campus while his Dad (who was born in Italy) worked there?

    This is along the same lines as Paul Ryan collecting Social Security survivor’s benefits when he was a teenager…to people like Santorum and Ryan, what’s good enough for them apparently isn’t good enough for others…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. MD in Philly says:

    I don’t think you get it. We want kids to go to bed hungry, after breathing dirty air all day. In fact, going to bed hungry will be to their advantage; if they had food they would just have more belly cramps from the dysentery from the dirty water.

    It’s a good thing they caught Santorum trying to scam PA education. I mean, just because he had to be a resident of PA to be elected from PA, and just because he paid income tax and school tax in PA, doesn’t mean he had any legitimate claim.

    Stan, thank you for a polite response. If you will note, in my post I made mention that the problem with privitization was that past earnings (experience) could not be guaranteed in the future. Increased administration costs? Does the private sector really generate more administrative overhead than government?

    Bob, I’m not sure who is paying taxes to support wealthy people. Last time I checked the wealthiest 1% were paying a heck of a lot more than 1% of the taxes. You may think the wealthiest 1% should pay more than they do now, but the rest of us don’t subsidize them.

    Hey Norm, from Social Security themselves:
    Each year the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds report on the current and projected financial status of the two programs. This message summarizes our 2011 Annual Reports.
    The financial conditions of the Social Security and Medicare programs remain challenging. Projected long-run program costs for both Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable under currently scheduled financing, and will require legislative modifications if disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers are to be avoided.
    The long-run financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare should be addressed soon. If action is taken sooner rather than later, more options and more time will be available to phase in changes so that those affected have adequate time to prepare. Earlier action will also afford elected officials with a greater opportunity to minimize adverse impacts on vulnerable populations, including lower-income workers and those who are already substantially dependent on program benefits.

    Once upon a time VP Gore talked about putting SS payments into a “lock box”. That was a pretty radical idea compared to what has been going on since it was started. Rep. Ryan, last heard, was not talking about taking the SS money and running away with it, but trying to plan “early action” to “minimize adverse impacts on vulnerable populations”. A Democratic President with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate couldn’t put together a budget for 1 year, I’m not sure they can be counted on to plan well for the future.

    The original post accused Santorum of being overly-simplistic. I suggested that all discussion is likely to be overly-simplistic when held to stump speeches and sound bites of our present age.

    So, if you want to simplify things by saying Santorum wants to get rid of all government and Ryan wants to get rid of all governmental programs so it was hypocritical of them to make use of them once upon a time, be my guest. I need to go pollute some air, dirty some water, and make sure my child doesn’t sneak into the kitchen and steal some food.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  40. anjin-san says:

    What would Jesus do…

    Let ‘em die apparently.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. de stijl says:

    @anjin-san:

    And let Dad sort it out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. Console says:

    @MD in Philly:

    When the government program essentially only consists of cutting checks, yes, the administrative costs are low. Hilariously enough, I’m a government employee and my version of the 401k (TSP) has one of the lowest administrative rates in the business.

    I don’t get it. How the hell do you get brainwashed into this “private industry is always better” stuff, when the facts are out there and easy for anyone to pick up. Hell, even the social security thing is crazy to me. Sorry, but the main problems facing america aren’t that Social Security is going to pay reduced benefits 40 years from now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  43. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “But, Santorum is a Roman Catholic. ”

    And that stops him from being a Calvinist how?

    (the joke is, that Santorum’s positions make him very much a ‘cafeteria Catholic’)

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  44. Barry says:

    @Barb Hartwell: “I read somewhere last week that Santorum is staying in the Presidential race because of his dying daughter she needs special care that government health-care will pay for. He wants us to do as he says not what he does. He should be more compassionate but he proves he is evil and does not care what you think about it. ”

    The m-f is certainly drawing on a Senate pension, and gets better government-funded healthcare than the overwhelming majority of the US population – he’s probably pushing being in the 1% there. And that’s in addition to his money, most of which was ‘earned’ by being in the Senate, a position where you get many generous ‘friends’.

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  45. Barry says:

    @John D’Geek: “In my generation, more people believe in UFOs than believe that Social Security will be there for us in any meaningful way. (Raise the retirement age to 75 anyone?) ”

    That’s because the lying M-F’s have been saying that for years. I recall that propaganda from decades ago.

    Their idea is that if they convince you that it won’t be there, then they can cut it. Like somebody who owes you money always talking about how bankrupt they are, to prep you for when they tell you that they ‘can’t’ pay you back.

    The day that the right can’t cough up trillions for whatever they want is the day that their claim will not be a lie.

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  46. Barry says:

    @MD in Philly:

    First, “Now, I’ve heard projections about SS going bankrupt since the 80′s (right after we got over the scare about global cooling and the coming ice age),” has been dealt with. Go to RealClimate and search for that (in short, the ‘scare’ was in the magazines, and the science was discussing Milankovich cycles).

    Second, about Social Security, it can go on *almost* as it does now. Read Krugman, so that you know what you are talking about.

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  47. Barry says:

    @JohnMcC: “Excellent post. While trying to digest it, I flipped to Wikipedia’s bio of Sen Santorum. Did you know that at least part of his childhood he lived in Gov’t supplied housing on a VA Hospital campus while his Dad (who was born in Italy) worked there? I guess it’s not totally hypocritical, being part of the compensation for honest work. Still, his parents seem to have had a lifelong career working for the VA medical system. Thought maybe someone besides myself would find that….interesting. ”

    It’s almost a requirement for right-wing politicians to suck as much government cash into their own pockets as they can, while sanctimoniously preaching ‘f*ck you’ to everybody else.

    Right-wing economics could almost be defined as ‘government money to the elites is good; government money to anybody else is Evil’.

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  48. Barry says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Santorum: “People die in America because people die in America.”

    Stormy Dragon: “Isn’t this sort of moral fatalism considered a pretty serious sin by the Catholic church? ”

    By that standard, if I was found to have the odd several dozen tortured corpses of children buried in my backyard, I could simply point out that children suffer and die every day in this country.

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  49. Barry says:

    @MD in Philly: “Increased administration costs? Does the private sector really generate more administrative overhead than government?”

    Yes. Again, read Krugman.

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  50. John D'Geek says:

    @An Interested Party:

    When you have so many conservatives and libertarians trashing government in general and Social Security in particular every chance they get, that many would hold this belief is hardly surprising…

    The most damning evidence actually comes from the Social Security Administration themselves. Well, that and what the Politicans say about SS.

    I have been told that Social Security was never intended to be a “retirement plan”, but that is how it is being sold. Every year, the Social Security administration sends out their estimates; last I checked, my maximum was just over $18k a year. Now I’m no accountant, but I do know that that is barely enough to pay property taxes in New Jersey … and PA is getting just as bad. That, combined with the SS Administration’s own admission that the system needs fixed …

    @Console

    Hilariously enough, I’m a government employee and my version of the 401k (TSP) has one of the lowest administrative rates in the business.

    Been there, got that T-Shirt. Let us not forget the famous joke: “I’m from the Government, I’m here to help.” (To be fair, the TSP is — by far — my best performing 401k. The rest are going to be moved. If there’s anything left in them.)

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  51. MD in Philly says:

    Just checking in.

    Console, FWIW I never said that “private industry is always better“, I said: Does the private sector really generate more administrative overhead than government?

    But if you want to oversimplify and set fire to the straw man, feel free.

    How the hell do you get brainwashed I already told you, by breathing all of that dirty air and drinking all of that dirty water, and malnutrition from growing up going to bed hungry.

    I’ll say here what I say elsewhere, that what I’d really like to see are depositions sworn under oath by Krugman along side of depositions by those who disagree, and actually have someone being payed to bring clarity to the issues with intellectual honesty.

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  52. MD in Philly says:

    John D’Geek, I have a question that you may have some insight on, according to your posts above.

    I have often heard that fed elected officials (and fed employees?) do not participate in SS. I did some brief (and not authoritative) searching on the subject that said that the claim “was not true”, that they participate in a “Version” of SS, the TSP. But by the comments above, it seems that the TSP is like SS only in the fact that money goes into it every month while you are working.

    I’ll be breathing some clean air for a bit so I might be able to understand your answer.

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  53. wr says:

    @John D’Geek: “I have been told that Social Security was never intended to be a “retirement plan”, but that is how it is being sold.”

    Perhaps you might consider that instead of blindly accepting everything that you’ve been told, you should do a little reading and find out a little truth. Or at least some facts.

    I’m sure the same people who told you SS is going bankrupt tomorrow also claimed Obama was a Muslim fascist socialist genius idiot who wants to destroy America. The fact that a human being is able to form syllables with his tongue doesn’t requre you to believe and regurgitate them.

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  54. Console says:

    @MD in Philly:

    It’s different now. Before the new federal retirement system was put in to place, you got a big pension but no social security benefits. Now you get a mix of a pension, social security, and a 401k (which is TSP)

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  55. Scott O. says:

    @MD in Philly:

    I’ll be breathing some clean air for a bit so I might be able to understand your answer.

    Might lead to some improvement in your attempts at wittiness too.

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  56. MD in Philly says:

    wr said:

    >”I have been told that Social Security was never intended to be a “retirement plan”, but that is how it is being sold.”
    Perhaps you might consider that instead of blindly accepting everything that you’ve been told, you should do a little reading and find out a little truth. Or at least some facts.
    I’m sure the same people who told you SS is going bankrupt tomorrow also claimed Obama was a Muslim fascist socialist genius idiot who wants to destroy America

    wr, why do you need to be mean? Have you done the reading, do you know the facts? The fact is that when SS was instituted benefits did not start until after the average life expectancy at the time. SS was meant to prevent “widows from starving”, literally. It, as started, was never intended to be a main source of income for a growing number of elderly people no longer working. Likewise, Medicaid when it started was never intended to actually pay the costs of providing medical care, it was designed simply to reimburse docs at the time for their overhead costs in seeing patients for free (which many did at a financial loss to themselves). We are a far cry from when the majority of medical costs were from “seeing the doctor in the office”, so it should not be surprising that maintaining a system designed for a totally different time doesn’t work now.

    Had you read my “Unhelpful” (= “I don’t like”) posts above you would have already known this.

    At least John was modest in his claim and showed an openness to (polite) correction. Any one can blast away as if they have all knowledge and be condescending.

    Console-
    Thank you for your helpful response. My point is that I will have confidence in the system when an elected official gives me the same opportunites they give themselves. I guess we would need to look into some details and number crunching to determine how what is withheld from you and what you get back for it compares to others who pay into SS who aren’t a fed employee or elected fed official.

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  57. MD in Philly says:

    Scott O. said

    Might lead to some improvement in your attempts at wittiness too.

    Little chance of that. My wife says that I said something funny once, but she forgot what it was.

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  58. Barb Hartwell says:

    @Barry: I guess he did not have the nuns I had for Sunday school teachers They beat the evil out of you. He`d still be on his knees doing penance.

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