Monday, October 1, 2012

Catch of the Day

This was going to be some cranky blogging, but I happened to look around after I wrote it and noticed that not only did Steve M. beat me to it, but he did a better job than I was going to do on Frank Bruni's obscene column urging "sacrifice" in the NYT Sunday Review yesterday. "It's time to take our medicine"??? Disgusting.

I mean, wrong as Bruni is on Paul Ryan, he's even totally unfair to Mitt Romney, who actually has been saying, at least recently, that people shouldn't expect a tax cut from his tax reform proposal. You know how hard it is to be unfair to Mitt Romney over his tax reform position? And yet Bruni manages to do it. Let alone the rest of know, before Bruni whines about how politicians won't ask people to give up their gas guzzlers, he might want to look up something about CAFE standards and Barack Obama (vs. say, Romney's views -- if you get rid of the phony "sacrifice" junk, you can often find that politicians actually have policy positions, which aren't all the same).

Anyway, I'll also take the opportunity to plug my old idea for a Chess Model of Sacrifice. The idea is to remove "sacrifice" out of the "morality" drawer and put it into the "pragmatic" drawer. There's nothing noble about a sacrifice in chess, and we would be far better off if we talked about sacrifice in politics without the mythology of nobility that gets dragged into it. 

Oh, and: Nice catch!


  1. One other irritating thing about that Bruni column: He brandishes the word "sacrifice" as if he's some kind of brave truth-teller, talking about something no one else is willing to talk about.

    A Google search for "Simpson-Bowles" and "sacrifice" brings back 256,000 hits. "Grand bargain" and "sacrifice" brings back 275,000 hits. "Ryan Budget" and "sacrifice" brings back over 5 million hits.

  2. Why aren't tax increases seen as sacrifice or making hard choices? Wouldn't a phased in payroll tax increase to ensure currently scheduled SS benefits be a tough choice? (Albeit, to me, a logical one.)

    Instead, the current debate completely takes tax increases off the table. Instead we have to choose between an IMO bad solution, chained-CPI on the Democrats' side, and something worse on the Republicans' side.

    They're doing their best to hide the cost of their choices. Another increase in full retirement age combined with Chained-CPI makes potentially painful cuts sound painless. To me, that's ignoble.

  3. JB, I disagree.
    First, I don't think the "average person" applying "community standards" would find the "dominant theme" of the piece to be obscene. (But, maybe I end up teaching Roth & Miller too much!)

    Anyway, to the meat of Bruni's point: Romney, until the last couple of weeks, has been consistently saying he would lower rates, drop some deductions, and cut spending to balance the budget. Here, it's useful to go back to the recent political science data on perceptions. Mettler has a table in her book where she shows that people who get benefits CLAIM TO NOT GET BENEFITS! Sure, the highest one is 529/Coverdell folks (59%), but also up there are mortgage deduction takers and other beneficiaries of tax-code spending. However, even your classic "government mails you a check" recipients (TANF, government housing, Medicaid/Medicare, Social Security....all have significant (like, around a third) of their recipients claim, with a straight face, to not get government help. The 47% brouhaha is all about this: almost everybody thinks they're in the 53%...WAY more than are in the 53% (which, itself, is a fantastically stupid statistic). Bruni is noting that the "sacrfiice" that politicians ask for is always for the other guy.

    The core of Bruni's point is that both parties (with Dems the lesser evil on this front) are offering a free lunch. GOP dogma for 30+ years has been that you can cut taxes and there are no negative consequences. Complete and total bullshit. However, it's popular bullshit, so for around 20 years, the Dems have acknowledged the reality of public opinion and have only pledged to soak the rich (which people favor) to balance a budget. (Usually, these Dem balanced budgets rely on somewhat generous assumptions about the economy, but they're close-ish without those asusmptions, whereas the GOP says, with a straight face, that we can cut taxes, raise defense spending, and balance the budget, never once mentioning Grandma eating cat food or going back to a barter economy once Uncle Sam fires millions of workers)

    All this said, the Bruni column IS insipid, from false equivalence to outright wishing upon a star (yes, because debates are the great venue from which we need to start a societal conversation on unrealistic assumptions!). Moreover, even well written, Steve M.'s rejoinder is well-taken, and I would side with him on this. But Bruni's core complaint isn't one that can't be discussed in public. It's just poorly made, poorly timed, and poorly backed up.

    1. This is great, Matt.

      One small extension: I think the above illustrates the drawback in the Chess Model. When I embark on a chess match, my only objective is to win, I care not a whit for any of my pieces aside from that objective. If I sacrifice my queen for a larger strategy that works, I haven't "lost" anything by losing my queen - I won, I gained my objective.

      In the case of spending, the going $1 T hole in the Federal budget is going to have to be filled with 'sacrifice' that constituents hold dear. If, heaven forfend, part of that solution involves Grandma eating cat food, I suspect that Grandma, unlike the chess player, will not at all see her cat food consumption as part of a grander strategy to bring her beloved country back on sane fiscal footing.

      No, Grandma will almost certainly want to know who the f***ers were that made her eat cat food.

  4. The same Frank Bruni who was head over heels when it came to George W Bush in the 2000 campaign?

    You don't say!

  5. This answers your question about why do journalists and pundits looooooooooooove talk about sacrifice (

    Because we're the sacrifice; they're the priests. The rich get tax cuts, the rest of us get cuts in everything else. When that fails, as it always does, then we do it again.

    You will very rarely (if at all) see major pundits calling for sacrifice on the part of the elites.


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