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Breathtaking Bias

Wow. This BusinessWeek Online article, "I Want My Safety Net" is the most concentratedly biased thing I have ever read from a nominally-"Business"-oriented publication. I'm not very familiar with BusinessWeek, though, so it's possible they already had a reputation for this sort of thing. If not… well, they do now.

Let's see what we've got:

George Silli … had a brush with President Bush's Ownership Society, and it was an experience he'll not soon forget. … He saw the value of his mutual funds drop by 60% and is convinced that opening Social Security to individual investing would produce similar results on a massive scale.

I wish it were different, but the Ownership Society is only meekly about actual private ownership. Bush's proposed Social Security reform, for example, falls far short of true ownership. But leaving aside the accuracy of the comparison, I've also had a brush with the Ownership Society, and it's been working out much more profitably for me (e.g. most recently, +7.6% in 50 days.) Did they even look for someone who's turned a profit in the stock market?

A political independent, Silli has learned enough about the market to be pessimistic about a small fry's chances. He not only wants to leave Social Security alone but also thinks politicians should expand entitlements by mandating near-universal health insurance as a shield against soaring medical bills.

A political independent who distrusts markets and favors socialized medicine? Hmm, I wonder if they looked for a political independent who favors markets and distrusts socialized medicine?

Safety Netters include plenty of card-carrying Republicans and independent swing voters, and the group may represent a broader swath of America than the White House imagines.

The piece wouldn't be complete without the White-House-out-of-touch angle, delicately pitched with the word "may", disguising suggestion as opinion.

A … suvery … found 67% of Americans think it's a good idea to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens, as Canada and Britain do, with just 27% dissenting. Support for a government-directed universal insurance system is strong, despite GOP warnings about socialized medicine.

Oh sure, I also think it's "a good idea" to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens. I'm also in favor of kittens, babies, and world peace. But the trouble with desires is that they don't specify an implementation. If guaranteeing health care means socialization, I'm resolutely opposed. If guaranteeing health care means abolishing licensing and trashing regulations, I'll be first in line.

Gotta love the last sentence. It reeks of groupthink.

The mention of Canada is rich. The Canadian health care system does not provide universal health care, at least according to the Canadian Supreme Court, which recently struck down a Quebec ban on private health insurance, saying "… delays in the public health-care system are widespread, and that, in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care".

Will a free-market approach to health care guarantee unlimited health care? Of course not. But it would do a lot better than a socialist system.

Big swings in family income … have increased markedly over the past two decades … houses … are increasingly in hock … Personal bankruptcies increased fivefold …

"Big swings" ≠ "big declines". Some people have done very well. Is it impolite for me to point out that the authors are only drawing attention to the negative side of this?

As income volatility has grown, government — prodded by free-market Republicans out to reverse the New Deal — has been offloading ever more responsibility onto individuals.

Republicans do not want to reverse the New Deal. I want to reverse the New Deal. Don't give that compliment to the Republicans; they certainly haven't earned it.

Corporations vying to compete globally have steadily shifted costs and responsibility for pensions and health care to their employees …

Am I the only person who views defined-contribution plans as less risky than defined-benefit plans? I don't want to worry about the government doing something stupid and putting my employer out of business, or worry about my employer doing something stupid all by itself. The PBGC — which shouldn't exist in the first place — doesn't pick up the whole tab. And it's certainly not free.

Conservatives see disentitlement as a recognition of new economic realities — and the death rattle of the Nanny State. But skeptics, among them prominent New Democratic thinkers, counter that America's safety net can be both modern and market-based without piling still more financial burdens onto the stooped shoulders of Joe and Jane Average.

Golly gee! Prominent New Democratic Thinkers! Yessiree, I want some of those prominent thinker types taking care of me, because I can't do it all by myself. I'm glad they're taking care of me and my siblings Joe and Jane Average, because we're too unsophisticated to think about this stuff.

I know what "market-based" means, but I don't know what "modern" means — yet I'm oddly certain it means precisely "not market-based". I wonder why that is? Do you suppose I'm right?

… New Democrats advocate policies … Conservatives dismiss such proposals …

A stunning reversal from the real world, where the Democrats are totally AWOL with their own proposals to fix Social Security. Oh, that's right — there's no crisis so there's nothing to fix. I forgot. (Unless you're my age and you're staring directly at a 30% benefit cut under current law!)

… despite such gambits, the President has little to show …

He's losing! He's losing! People will believe this if we keep saying it!!

… family balance sheets have improved. Americans' household wealth has floated upward of late, propelled by recovering stock valuations and soaring real estate values. Moreover, real wages for the civilian workforce have grown 8% in the past decade after a long stretch when they fell. And the family poverty rate, tallied at 10% in 2003, has improved from the 13.9% numbers recorded four decades earlier.

Oh, here we go. This is the good news. I wonder why it's buried in the middle of the article, instead of earlier to provide balance against the talk of houses in hock and rising bankruptcies?

While federal spending on the safety net for the poor has grown briskly, it hasn't kept pace with society's needs. Medicare is straining to cover seniors' bills, and some states are downsizing Medicaid programs. In 1996, strict time limits were put on welfare dependency, a step that slashed the rolls by half. Meantime, huge holes have been ripped in the private safety net as the cost shift to workers has accelerated.

It's well known (at least among economists) that when you subsidize something, you get more of it. If you provide a safety net, people will use it. If you make it stronger, people will use it more. When you're giving away something essentially for free, you shouldn't be surprised to discover that demand is essentially infinite.

And the "cost shift to workers" is, of course, something I'm totally in favor of. The authors should realize that it's misleading to call it a cost shift, though. The cost of an employee to an employer includes both benefits and wages. The benefits were never free — they were at the expense of wages. And as benefits decrease, wages will rise. I prefer wages because I can spend them on my priorities, rather than the priorities of whatever meddler-in-other-peoples'-lives decided the benefits should be.

Among the groups whose faith in the market dipped most are three key Bush constituencies: baby boomers, college grads, and suburbanites.

Doom! Gloom! Aieeee!

To George W. Bush, a Texan who revels in the myth of the wildcatter, running risks in pursuit of the big gusher is a quintessential part of the American character. But as the scion of an aristocratic Eastern dynasty, the budding young tycoon always had a network of family friends and relations to call on. Those golden connections bailed George W. out of his early forays into the oil business.

If you can believe it, this particular example of the ritualistic bringing-up of Bush's silver spoon history fills the literary role of a segue. By its presence, I assume that the authors thought a politically charged segue was better than a bland one, or none at all.

… at the core of Safety Net Nation are white men. You read that right. These are the same white-male swing voters who have been trending strongly Republican in recent Presidential contests. They tend to be socially conservative and patriotic. They have average incomes and are slightly less educated than the citizenry as a whole.

I'm getting tired of being offended at the suggestion that people who voted for Bush are stupid. The hints are too frequent. I'm sick of elitism hiding behind the mask of "just providing information". How "slightly" less educated are they? So slightly that it's not worth mentioning, perhaps? How untactful.

Bush über-strategist Karl Rove, who commands the White House's Social Security war room, sees personal accounts as vital to shifting the allegiance of younger voters to the GOP. But there's a glitch in Rove's machine: Polls show that, rather than flocking to Bush over Social Security, the under-40s are growing skeptical of his approach.

Oh goodie, I was waiting for the mention of Karl Rove. Is anyone else getting bored by the predictability? And I simply don't believe their poll comment.

Then there are disillusioned techies who once wanted government to get out of the way and let them get rich by age 30 but who now favor a federal role in shielding them from the excesses of capitalism.

Heh. :) What "excesses"? I want the government to stop shielding me from capitalism!

Groan. Okay, I'm getting tired so I'm not going to finish fisking this. I think I've made my point already.

Tiny Island