Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Clarifying Priorities

During the months when my mother was dying of a brain tumor, and unable to speak or think coherently, I found myself somewhat distracted. In addition to the emotional issues, there were serious legal and financial and logistical problems to sort out. It was all very...engrossing, I guess you'd say, and I didn't have much attention left over for current events. If a fleet of swastika-covered UFOs had streamed forth from New Swabia to form a one-world government with the Greys and the Bilderbergers, I'm not sure I would've noticed.

Many of the decisions I made turned out to be good...or at least, not as bad as they could've been. But a lot of that was sheer dumb luck. God knows I wasn't thinking ahead, or following any kind of plan; I simply lashed out at immediate problems as they popped up, and put everything else on the back burner, for better or worse.

I wouldn't wish that mindset on anyone else, which is one of the many reasons I'm unlikely to be hired by the Wall Street Journal. A recent editorial gloats over evidence that public concern about global warming has declined, as economic traumas like losing a job or home, or declaring bankruptcy due to medical bills, make more pressing demands on their attention.

Tough economic times have a way of clarifying political priorities and forcing people to distinguish among needs, wishes —- and fantasies....Electorates all over the world are starting to question the climate-change received wisdom.
The WSJ supports this rather ghoulish argument with a survey by Australia's Lowy Institute, which "showed climate-change had fallen to the seventh 'most important' foreign-policy goal for the public."

The Australian public, that is. And while it did rank 7th as a foreign-policy goal, it still rated as "the 4th most critical threat facing Australia." (I believe this is known as "cherrypicking.") Also, the fact that economic issues are foremost on people's minds doesn't mean they're all free-market fanatics; for all I know, some of them may be strongly in favor of sending oil industry CEOs, glibertarian investment bankers, and WSJ editorialists to the guillotine, on the assumption that it'd solve many of our problems at one blow.

All things considered, invoking one disastrous side effect of anti-regulatory, cornucopian dogma as an argument against addressing another is kind of problematic. What's even more problematic, though, is the notion that tough economic times "clarify" our priorities, and cause us to make wiser or better decisions for ourselves and for society.

One of the things we're supposed to do, as proudly self-interested individuals whose private vice leads to public virtue, is eliminate the social safety net and replace it with uncoerced charity. Putting aside the fact that this is nightmarishly illogical, what happens to charitable giving in the times when it's needed most?

As Helmut at Phronesisaical notes, it declines as our priorities are clarified by our imminent ruin. In 2008, charitable contributions fell by two percent in current dollars, which is the largest decrease in four or five decades. The situation is actually far worse when you look at specific types of charity: for instance, donations to the human services sector comprised only nine percent of total giving, but "declined an estimated 12.7 percent in current dollars." And this happened in a year when "54 percent of human services charities saw an increase in need for their services."

The Giving Institute, which compiled these figures, makes the essential point:
Charities in this subsector are among the first to report increasing needs for their services and slower growth in contributions when the national economy slows its rate of growth.
Given that little detail, and these ones, it begins to look as though you can't necessarily rely on individuals to make socially beneficial decisions during tough economic times. That seems like a pretty good argument for strengthening the social safety net, and a pretty good argument against letting public opinion drive climate policy.

But of course, that's not how we roll.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is joining 6 other Senators to demand that Speaker Nancy Pelosi approve a commission to recommend cuts to Medicare and Social Security - or else they'll refuse to vote to increase the US government's debt ceiling....

Cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits would be a truly insane, reckless, and radical act. At a time when the US economy is entering a period of long-term high unemployment, the very last thing you want to be doing is further undermining the ability of Americans, particularly the aged, to make ends meet.

Cuts in Social Security and Medicare will not only ripple through the economy in the form of reduced spending, they'll also ripple through younger generations, who will fill the gap lost by the cutting of government benefits with money out of their own pockets to help their elderly relatives make ends meet and get the treatment they need.
At which point, their priorities will be so wonderfully clear that they may ignore the climate altogether, and we can declare that Doomsday has been canceled due to lack of interest.


grouchomarxist said...

Yeah, when I read about DiFi and company's latest groin-punch to the working class, I just about blew a gasket.

Raise taxes? Cut military spending? Oh goodness no: It might inconvenience Princess Di and the other millionaires. Especially her husband, who derives a major portion of his gelt from the MIC.

Better the common people should get the screws put tighter; after all, they're used to suffering.

And these senators -- by virtue of the (D) after their names -- are supposed to be on our side? It's as if the difference between the parties has come down to this: In the recent past, the Dems demanded the rabble at least be given a thin sliver of pickle and dab of ketchup with that shit sandwich, while the GOP insist it must be garnished with broken glass. Now DiFi and her pals seem to think the pickle and ketchup are just too dear.

Through careful selection and patient husbandry, we've managed to breed as corrupt and heedless a gaggle of lordlings as ever graced a garden party at Versailles.

Anonymous said...

there is a possibility that this is targeted to the wealthiest who receive these benefits. Warren Buffet pay Social Security taxed on only the first $100K he earns. After that he doesn't pay into Social Security or Medicaid. In addition there is a cap on how much of your retirement income can be taxed no matter how much money you make. There is no limit on how long you draw out of the pool, just how much, based on your lifetime earnings. I don't think it is a radical notion that someone who makes millions (gets huge salaries via WallStreet bailouts) should pay Social Security and Medicaid taxes on more than the first $100K that they earn. The most common proposal would be to increase the ceiling to $200K. This would significantly affect how long social security will last for those who it is intended to help the most. BTW Warren Buffet thinks the present tax system sucks and that he should be paying more.

Phila said...

But - Feinstein now has a place of honor on my shit list

Speaking as a former Californian, she's been on mine since practically forever. She's a horrible, horrible person.

there is a possibility that this is targeted to the wealthiest who receive these benefits.

There's also a possibility that it isn't. Given that Feinstein's behind it -- to say nothing of Lieberman, Bayh, and Sessions -- I tend to think the wealthy have very little to fear.