Paul Krugman: Out-of-Touch "Centrist" Elites Should Really Meet a Poor Person Before Slashing Safety Net

In today’s New York Times, Paul Krugman targeted “politicians who want to sound wise and responsible” by attacking the safety net for working Americans, in order to cynically solidify their centrist bona fides. He explained:


Many readers will, I hope, find nothing surprising in what I just said. But all too many affluent Americans — and, in particular, members of our political elite — seem to have no sense of how the other half lives. Which is why a new study on the financial well-being of U.S. households, conducted by the Federal Reserve, should be required reading inside the Beltway.

Take, as a prime example, positioning on Social Security. For decades, a declared willingness to cut Social Security benefits, especially by raising the retirement age, has been almost a required position — a badge of seriousness — for politicians and pundits who want to sound wise and responsible. After all, people are living longer, so shouldn’t they work longer, too? And isn’t Social Security an old-fashioned system, out of touch with modern economic realities?

Indeed, the attack on social security is one of the more egregious of examples of this technocratic assault on the poor. As Robert Reich explained two weeks ago, the idea that social security is “going broke” is a pervasive and pernicious centrist myth that has compelled Republicans and neoliberal Democrats alike to clamor to “save” something that is not in need of saving. And, in doing so, created the political cover to eventual gut one of the last - and most essential - vestiges of the New Deal. Krugman went on:

Meanwhile, the reality is that living longer in our ever-more-unequal society is very much a class thing: life expectancy at age 65 has risen a lot among the affluent, but hardly at all in the bottom half of the wage distribution, that is, among those who need Social Security most. And while the retirement system F.D.R. introduced may look old-fashioned to affluent professionals, it is quite literally a lifeline for many of our fellow citizens. A majority of Americans over 65 get more than half their income from Social Security, and more than a quarter are almost completely reliant on those monthly checks.

For millions of Americans, the safety net and peace of mind provided by social security is not a debt obligation or an abstraction to be turned into political hay - it's, as Krugman puts it, a “literal lifeline.” With 3 in 10 non-elderly Americans saying they have no retirement savings or pension, the strength of social security isn’t just about saving FDR’s dream of a secure retirement, it’s about saving lives.

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