Category Archives: The People’s Pension

The liberal critics of Big Government

What does it mean to be a “progressive” or “liberal” in America today? More than anything else, perhaps, it implies a determination to defend the signature achievements of the New Deal/Great Society eras: Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and a collection of related programs. And that’s just the problem, say their critics on the right: for progressives, government is the answer for everything. But are conservatives the only ones concerned about the growth of the administrative state—of bureaucracy? Should progressives be worried as well?

We’re used to conservatives, from Ron Paul to Rush Limbaugh, complaining about Big Government. Believe it or not, however, there was a time when liberals—social scientists, lawyers, some members of the Roosevelt administration, even the philosopher John Rawls—worried about the consequences of a liberal state built on regulation and government services and the people’s loyalty to the institutions responsible for them. Anne Kornhauser’s new book, Debating the American State: Liberal Anxieties and the New Leviathan, 1930-1970 (University of Pennsylvania Press), reintroduces the liberal critics of Big Government, arguing that their concerns are still relevant today, particularly since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency refocused concern on the surveillance bureaucracy.

Discussing the implications of her book for today, Kornhauser, a historian at City College of New York, ticks off a number of other areas where the New Deal institutions and their progeny are not fulfilling their expected role, including health care and regulation of the financial services sector along with national security. Continue reading The liberal critics of Big Government

The Meaning of Harry Reid’s Departure

For the last decade, Harry Reid has been a bulwark against efforts by Republicans and members of his own party to send the core of the New Deal achievement down the road to oblivion. Other Democratic lawmakers may be equally committed, but almost none have the same close emotional ties that he possesses to the Rooseveltian state.

When Senate minority leader Harry Reid announced last week that he won’t run for reelection in 2016, the first thing that flashed through my mind was his age: he’s 75. Only nine senators are older than Reid, and only two of them are Democrats. That underscores how few people still serving in the Senate were born during the New Deal, the period that formed the modern US government, with its social protections, administrative apparatus, and (not so happily) military-industrial complex. For the past 35 years, roughly corresponding to Reid’s career in electoral office, the legislation that Washington enacted during the Great Depression has been a war zone, Continue reading The Meaning of Harry Reid’s Departure

AK Press Needs Your Help

Independent publishers are a bulwark of free speech, free exchange of ideas, and the struggle for a better world. The last thing one of our best indy publishers (and distributors) needed was a warehouse fire.

AK Press, publishers of my book, The People’s Pension, suffered a calamity just 10 days ago when a fire broke out in the printing plant that adjoins AK’s warehouse and offices in Oakland, California. Three days later, the City of Oakland red-tagged the entire building, which means no one can re-occupy it until it is again deemed safe. AK are still waiting to get back in, which means it’s difficult for the publishing collective to take care of day-to-day business. As they announced last week, Continue reading AK Press Needs Your Help

It’s All About the Taxes

It’s a simple question that progressive types – and many non-Washingtonians, for that matter –ask themselves all the time: If Social Security needs more money in coming decades, why not just raise the payroll tax? It’s how we’ve done it in the past, why can’t we just do it again? The reason is that the far right and the center-right – Washington’s Very Serious People – have agreed that the low-tax regime they’ve collaborated on putting in place for the affluent is here to stay, along with the income inequality it’s helped to spawn.  There will be no further increases, even in a comparatively un-progressive levy like the payroll tax, they insist.

It’s not news that you can’t mention the words “tax increase” in Washington without someone attaching an epithet like “job-killing” or “politically unpopular” to them as a matter of reflex. This goes for the payroll taxes that fund Social Security as for any other tax. House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan says Continue reading It’s All About the Taxes

Reading FDR’s Mind: “Full Funding” and the Original Intent of Social Security

What kind of a program did Franklin Delano Roosevelt want Social Security to be? A narrowly designed, fully self-funded system, or a more expansive institution whose funding sources might change over time? Today’s three-way struggle between progressives, conservatives, and the center-right over Social Security’s future makes the question of FDR’s “original intent” more timely than ever.

When I was writing The People’s Pension, my history of the past 30 years of the Social Security debate, I sidestepped – for the most part – the question of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s precise intentions were for the program he signed into law in 1935. The early history of Social Security is extremely tangled. The political context was unique. FDR himself was a complex and contradictory figure, and Social Security was much changed by the time my story began, in 1980. But activists on all sides continue to evoke the debates that took place within and around the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s to defend their particular visions of what Social Security should be. In spite of myself, I got interested – and started forming opinions.

So have a lot of other people, at a time when Continue reading Reading FDR’s Mind: “Full Funding” and the Original Intent of Social Security

“The People’s Pension” Available as an Ebook

Quick note for all of you who like your reading compact and fully mobile: The People’s Pension – the book – is now available as an ebook from for $10.99.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to check the People’s Pension Facebook page for news about my upcoming tour in support of the book. New York, Boston, Washington DC (the belly of the beast), Philadelphia, Portland OR, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the East Bay, Chicago, Baltimore (a return engagement), and Miami are just some of the burgs I’ll be touching down in between now and early fall.

Book Launch for ‘The People’s Pension’ in NYC

What: Book launch event for The People’s Pension: The Struggle to Defend Social Security Since Reagan

When: Fri., April 27, 7 p.m.

Where: Bluestockings Bookstore, 172 Allen St., New York, NY 10002 (just south of East Houston St.)

The People’s Pension is out after some years of my own struggle to research it, write it,  and update what’s turned out to be a very lively moving target. I’ll introduce the book at Bluestockings along with Continue reading Book Launch for ‘The People’s Pension’ in NYC

First Review in on “The People’s Pension”

The first review of The People’s Pension: The Struggle to Defend Social Security Since Reagan, is out, and it’s good.

Ken Buffin is one of our leading actuaries as well as an economist and statistician.  He has been studying, consulting on, and writing about Social Security throughout the period I cover in my book. In other words, he’s had a ringside seat at the Social Security wars. As such, I was delighted when he offered to read The People’s Pension and comment about it Continue reading First Review in on “The People’s Pension”

People’s Pension – the Book – Available Soon

It’s been a long time in the works, but The People’s Pension: The Struggle to Defend Social Security Since Reagan will be available from booksellers by approximately mid-March. The worthy folks at AK Press are bringing out my book, which traces the 30-year war against Social Security and the struggle to defend it. You can find out more about the book here. The People’s Pension is the only book that covers this crucial slice of U.S. history, from the beginning of the war under Reagan right up to the present.

I’ll be posting more news about the launch of People’s Pension: The Book (to those of you who’ve been reading this off-and-on blog for some time) as it’s available. Possibly even more exciting is the kick-off of my tour to promote Continue reading People’s Pension – the Book – Available Soon