“The Soup is Terrible and the Portions Are Too Small”

Much of the “governing” that took place in our country throughout the twentieth century, has consisted of a) identifying a problematic social program that had been put in place in some past generation to redistribute money — what in God’s name were we thinking when we put that turkey in?? — and b) putting together yet another one to give our children the same nightmares our parents gave us. We seem to possess a regrettable ability to fail to recognize a Faustian arrangement, right up to the last phases of it, the moment our nose-hairs are tickled by the sulfuric fumes.

Regarding the President’s speech Wednesday evening, I got five things out of them:

No one single plan is finalized yet, so nobody else can criticize it but I can “dispel rumors” by fantasizing about what I’d like to see in the final draft;

I get to call my opponents liars, but when they say I’m a liar it’s a breach of some kind of sacred code of civility;

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If my opponents point out something won’t work, you should pretend nothing of value has been said at all, until such time as they can come up with a solution to it — but when I say something that makes no sense whatsoever but sounds good, go ahead and get as excited as you want;

Medicare is broke because it promises things we cannot afford to pay, so the solution is to promise more;

My plans all make it harder for any person or company to make a profit providing the services we say we want & need, thereby making it much less likely that it will happen — but don’t call it that, call it “holding them accountable.”
All in all, a fine and stylish re-hash of all twentieth-century left-wing proposals to “fix” our social-engineering and gimme-gimme programs handed down to us by our parents and grandparents. There’s nothing new added, but all the old stuff has been meticulously covered.

The editors of Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook have gone over the President’s remarks to see what else they can get out of it:

Mr. Obama began by depicting a crisis in the entitlement state, noting that “our health-care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers,” especially Medicare. Unless we find a way to cauterize this fiscal hemorrhage, “we will eventually be spending more on Medicare than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health-care program is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.”

On this score he’s right. Medicare’s unfunded liability–the gap between revenues and promised benefits–is currently some $37 trillion over the next 75 years. Yet the President uses this insolvency as an argument to justify the creation of another health-care entitlement, this time for most everyone under age 65. It’s like a variation on the old Marx Brothers routine: “The soup is terrible and the portions are too small.”

As astonishing, Mr. Obama claimed he can finance universal health care without adding “one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period,” in large part by pumping money out of Medicare. The $880 billion Senate plan he all but blessed this week would cut Medicare by as much as $500 billion, mainly by cutting what Mr. Obama called “waste and abuse.” Perhaps this is related to the “waste and abuse” that Congresses of both parties have targeted dozens of times without ever cutting it.

Apparently this time Mr. Obama means it, though he said this doesn’t mean seniors should listen to “demagoguery and distortion” about Medicare cuts. That’s because Medicare is a “sacred trust,” and the President swore to “ensure that you–America’s seniors–get the benefits you’ve been promised.”
Mr. Obama also called for “civility” in debate even as he calls the arguments of his critics “lies.” So in the spirit of civility, we won’t accuse the President of lying about Medicare. We’ll just say his claims bear little relation to anything true.

We’re gerbils on a treadmill, the way we hear these promises about how budgets will be met without cuts being made anywhere. We act like we can look back on some track record that promises accuracy in these rosy prophecies — or at least provides some way to determine accuracy, accurately.

That’s probably the biggest lie that’s been told or implied in this whole issue. These programs don’t cost what we’ve been told they’ll cost; they cost orders of magnitude more. There isn’t even a mathematical formula available to predict how much exploding they’ll do. The only one that’s worked out over the generations has been “>1”. Beyond that — the programs cost every single bit as much money as they want to cost, and when it happens, we’re powerless to stop it. There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Except of course for one thing: Make more programs, provided the guy trying to get us to make them, is a really good speech-maker.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes.

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