Joseph Goebbels understood the big lie. Make it big and continuously repeat it. As he said:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
The big lie these days goes as follows: Ageing baby boomers will put such large fiscal demands on the U.S. budget that the very economic viability of our government depends on containing the pressure they will put on Social Security and Medicare. The generation about to retire is, for no other reason than its sheer numbers, a dire threat to U.S. security. This blatantly false and scapegoating mantra has become so widespread that hardly any politician dare question it.
Even Christine Roemer, Chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, was spreading this falsehood on the Charlie Rose show the other night. She expressed her belief that the biggest fiscal crisis facing the U.S. will be the number of retirees drawing on the Social Security and Medicare system. She failed to mention that the Social Security problem is not a problem unless the U.S. Congress chooses not to pay back the 2.7 trillion dollars it borrowed to cover wars and tax cuts for the wealthy. As the Nobel Laureate Economist Paul Krugman stated in a New York Times op ed piece:
“The Social Security system won’t be in trouble: it will, in fact, still have a growing trust fund, because of the interest that the trust earns on its accumulated surplus. The only way Social Security gets in trouble is if Congress votes not to honor U.S. government bonds held by Social Security” (March 28, 2008).
Republicans and conservatives in general hate Social Security and Medicare. We can expect them to spread misinformation and negatively stereotype the elderly. But we should and can expect the Obama Administration and the Democrats to make the case for truth and social justice. Christine Roemer must know that Social Security is a pension program with a separate trust that is actuarially sound – recipients’ benefits are determined by their payments (payroll deductions) during their time in the workforce.
Medicare is an insurance program paid for through a dedicated tax of 1.45% of every bit of an individual’s pay. Recipients also pay a premium for Medicare Part B as well as a premium for Medicare Part D. Furthermore, individuals can purchase other coverage. There are several causes of the fiscal drain on Medicare, none of which is the fault of the individuals eligible for the benefits.
When Medicare Part D was passed by the Congress, a provision prohibiting negotiation of drug prices was included in the legislation. Hence, Part D, pushed by conservatives and the Bush Administration, is a huge drain on the Medicare system. According to Peter Orszag, head of the Office of Management & Budget, Part D will cost approximately 1 trillion dollars over 10 years. Part D was intended to be a major benefit for Big Pharma and the insurance industry. Prescription drugs could be provided to the elderly at a drastically reduced cost but Medicare is prohibited from using its massive clout in reducing costs.
Furthermore, the U.S. government and the Medicare system is failing to take simple steps reduce fraudulent billings, which are costing the Medicare Trust Fund 60 billion dollars per year. It is just a matter of putting controls in place. There are a large number of other Medicare cost controls that can be put in place without reducing benefits, which are too numerous to discuss in this post but which will be discussed over time.
Problems with the fiscal viability of Social Security and Medicare are not the fault of “Baby Boomers” – now or in the future. It is the fault of the corruption that has infected our United States Congress. However, propaganda that it is the fault of the elderly serves as an excuse to deny social justice to all age groups – including children.