The year(s) of living dysfunctionally: Banana republic, here we come.
So writes Paul Krugman, at the end of his year-ending column (click here). Indeed, its hard to doubt that were gaining that status, so moronic has Americas public discourse become.
That said, we will challenge Krugmans implied future tense. Banana republic, here we come? Intending no disrespect to Krugman, that gong-show republic is already here. Weve lived in it for a very long timeand the liberal world has helped create it.
How low is our nations public IQ? In todays column, Krugman writes about nonsensical fiscal claims being advanced by major Republicans. With that in mind, lets consider the scripted illiteracy put on display in Michael Gersons penultimate column of this benighted year.
Gerson was a major speech-writer for George W. Bush; in that role, he sat at the very top of American politics. As a columnist at the Washington Post, he now sits at the very top of our journalistic pig-pile. But does this highly-placed man understand even the basics of our most elementary budget debates? In Tuesdays column, this is the way he explained the elaborate accounting trick which lies at the heart of the Social Security program:
GERSON (12/28/10): Obama's liberal base contends that the Social Security trust fund is not in immediate trouble. But this argument depends on an elaborate accounting trick. The trust fund is not filled with assetsgold bullion and Apple stock. It is filled with debt issued by the government to itself. The surpluses of the trust fund are in fact liabilities for the government as a whole. And these illusory surpluses are regularly used to subsidize the rest of the budget. The scheme begins to collapse in 2037, when promised benefits for Social Security recipients will suddenly drop by about 25 percentunless the system is reformed.
Its true: According to current projections, promised benefits for Social Security recipients will suddenly drop by about 25 percent around the year 2037, unless changes are made to the current system. (One such change could involve modest increases in the payroll tax.) But this projected problem has nothing to do with the demagogic claim that the trust fund is built on an accounting trick, resulting in illusory surpluses; that future shortfall is projected by those who treat the surpluses (and the trust fund) as what they areas wholly valid entities. More specifically, Democrats and liberals project that shortfall, even as they treat the trust fund as a wholly valid entity. In short: In that puzzling paragraph, Gerson merges a set of demagogic claims with a wholly standard budget analysisa budget analysis offered by those who dont accept those claims.
Gerson has sat at the top of our discourse for years. But he doesnt seem to understand the logic of this extremely basic issue. Nor does this apparent confusion matter, given the way our banana-shaped public discourse now works.
Gerson knows the words hes supposed to sing. Those lyrics were ginned up decades ago, inside plutocrat-funded think tanks; these lyrics involve familiar claims about accounting tricks and illusory surpluses. But Gersons presentation doesnt seem to make sensehe doesnt seem to understand the basic logic of that bogus old song. But then, neither did his editors at the Post, who waved his fine mess into print.
Gersons bungled complaint comes at the end of a year of living dysfunctionally. In todays column, Krugman complains about clownish budget claims being made by major Republicansclownish new claims, of a type which havent been made in the past. Krugman describes a gruesome intellectual dysfunction, of a type which defines a banana republic. For ourselves, though, well only say this: In this past year, weve despaired at the endless dysfunction displayed by the liberal world as well. For ourselves, this is the year we became convinced that Americas liberal world is itself too dysfunctional to create a winning discourse.
Well discuss that dysfunction in the year to come. But lets close the old year with this:
Gerson offers a bungled version of a demagogic set of claims. Over the past several decades, these demagogic claims about Social Security have become part of the background music of American discourse. By now, these demagogic claims are so familiar that the Gersons dont even have to get the overall song right. They merely have to include those lyrics about accounting tricks and illusory surpluses. People have heard these lyrics for so many years that no one notices when a man at the top of our discourse cant even sing them correctly.
Gersons bungle helps us see the broken state of our cultural moment. The clownishness of that highlighted paragraph is part of the banana republic to which Krugman refers in todays year-ender. But Gersons bungle has been enabled, for decades, by a feckless, inept, uninvolved liberal world. A public discourse cant get this dumb without help from all major sectors.
That banana republic belongs to us too! That said, Krugman is wrong on only one score. Banana republic, here we come? That gruesome republic is already herehas been here, making us fools, for a very long time.