Thomas Paine, the Tea Party, and Social Security

Sixteen Republican Senate candidates – almost half the field – have stated their support for diverting some portion of Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts. That reflects the impact on the GOP of the Tea Party movement, which so loves to wrap itself in the cloak of America’s revolutionary past. At least one Founding Father – the most famously revolutionary of them all – would not have recognized their vision of America as his. But he would have found much to admire in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s.

Say what you want about the Tea Party – its devotees truly love the Founding Fathers. And the Constitution, as narrowly interpreted. Wikipedia defines the “Founding Fathers” as

the political leaders who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or otherwise took part in the American Revolution in winning American independence from Great Britain, or who participated in framing and adopting the United States Constitution in 1787-1788, or in putting the new government under the Constitution into effect.

That surely makes Thomas Paine a Founding Father. So what would today’s Minutemen (or Minutepersons) make of Paine? Better yet, what would he make of them?

Paine is an uncomfortable presence for conservatives, and isn’t much read these days by Americans who like to call themselves “patriots” Continue reading Thomas Paine, the Tea Party, and Social Security

“Inside Job” – See This Movie!

Charles Ferguson has made a documentary that must be seen if you want to understand why the same people who let the housing bubble and the 2008 financial meltdown happen are still in charge. But if you can’t go out and see Inside Job right away (it opens in New York and Los Angeles today), read Ferguson’s article, “Larry Summers and the Subversion of Economics,” summarizing his case in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The thesis of Ferguson’s film (a trailer is available here; a New York Times review is here) is simple, and astonishingly obvious: economics, as a profession, has been subverted by its proximity to power and money. Continue reading “Inside Job” – See This Movie!

A Short Guide to Social Security Doublethink

Figuring out what Social Security’s critics really want is sometimes difficult. They’ve become so afraid of being tarred as “privatizers” that they’ve developed an elaborate vocabulary of code words to soften the edges of their positions on the issue. A closer examination clears away some of the fog, however.

The polite way to describe them is “terms of art.” George Orwell came up with a cruder but more forceful alternative: doublethink. Either way, the language that Social Security’s critics use to state their position is calculated to calm the fears of the vast majority of Americans who don’t want to see the program privatized. This has been going on for at least 15 years, ever since the first serious proposals to carve private accounts out of the program were tabled on Capitol Hill and Democrats pounced on them. Today, if use of the term “privatization” is the litmus test, there’s only one lawmaker in Congress Continue reading A Short Guide to Social Security Doublethink