In his book Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties are Bankrupting Our future and What Americans Can Do About It, billionaire hedge fund mogul Peter G. Peterson focuses much of the blame for U.S. fiscal profligacy on “entitlements,” which has become a pejorative term for Social Security and Medicare.  His polemics are aimed at programs for keeping tens of millions of U.S. citizens from sinking deep into poverty while he ignores the obscene personal income and corporate income tax structures that have become increasingly “rigged” to benefit the powerful, wealthy, class of which he is a member.

Mr. Peterson has funded the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a think tank with inordinate clout in Washington, D. C.  It is from this power base – supported by the likes of Larry Summers, as well as most other influential players in fiscal policy – that Peterson and his cronies have launched a fiscal policy crusade.  A major issue for them is government debt, a major cause of which is, according to Peterson, “entitlements.” That deficit spending is such a bad thing is questionable and the subject of many Paul Krugman columns – who just happens to be my economics hero and guru.  Nevertheless, money in our economic system is finite.  The more money directed toward income classes below the super rich, the less available for them.  And that class doesn’t really like to share any more of the wealth than is absolutely necessary to keep the lid on things.

Hence, they skillfully and carefully propagandize in preparation for political moves to divert more resources from the middle and lower income classes to themselves.  For instance, after a long propaganda campaign against poor mothers on public assistance in the 1970s and 1980s, the Clinton Administration disgracefully pushed a so-called welfare reform program through Congress, which was nothing more than an assault on the poor.  At the same time, Congress was continuing to shift federal taxes from upper income classes and corporations to the middle class.

Much like the Peterson Institute is now launching an attack on the “Baby Boom” generation (more about that will be discussed on this blog in the future), Social Security, and Medicare, in the 1970s and 80s, a plethora of powerful, right-wing, think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Manhattan Institute supported Neo-Conservative academics and theorists who disseminated theories about the lazy, dependent nature of welfare recipients.  The influence of Charles Murray (bigot and co-author of the Bell Curve), George Gilder, James Q. Wilson, Edward Banfield and a host of other reactionary but highly influential social scientists prepared legislators and the public for passage of Clinton’s punishing program – we have far more hungry and homeless children and their mothers because of it.

Having reduced their tax burden by stereotyping and punishing the poor, it is now to programs needed by millions of aging Americans that the wealthiest of the wealthiest are turning their attention.  A message to “Baby Boomers” is you can ignore these people, but you do so at your own peril.


  1. David – It has come to my attention in the last month that there seems to be some kind of media blitz on that”50% of Americans don’t pay income taxes.”
    This appears to be a conservative attempt to blame lower income folk for the current budget deficits and at the same time get upper income types off the hook for any future taxes.
    What is conveniently not mentioned is that lower income people still pay Social Security(7.85%) and Medicare (1.45) whether or not they are on the line for income taxes. I believe the cut off for Social Security taxes is about $90,000 of income a year and neither Social Security or Medicare is collected on earned income (interest, dividends, etc.).
    Considering the fact that Social Security and Medicare are a big chunk of the Federal budget and that we don’t really pay for our own Social Security and Medicare, but rather our parents’ and grandparents’, lower income groups are still paying probably more that their “fair share” of the country’s tax bill. When billionaires are only paying a 15% tax rate on capital gains, much of this on borrowed money, I think it’s shameful that the half lie of 50% not paying income tax is being perpetrated.

    Vashti Winterburg

    • Vashti,

      You make some excellent points. If 50% of Americans don’t pay income taxes, you can bet that some of that 50% is very wealthy. If people are too poor to pay income taxes, they are, as you say, still paying a larger proportion of their income in payroll deductions for Social Security & Medicare. Social Security is a regressive tax because it is capped at $102,000. Also, as the Federal income tax higest marginal tax rate was lower to 36%, letting the very wealthy off the hook, more responsibility for social programs was shifted onto states. The states raise a considerable amount of their revenue through sales taxes, which are very regressive – the poor pay a larger proportion of their total income in taxes than the wealthy.