Social Security's funding programs are decades in the future. Medicare's problems are steep and immediate. There are only two ways to address them: by slowly dismantling the program, or by comprehensively removing unrestrained greed from our health economy. Since their banker-backers are against the latter approach, they inevitably drive the discussion toward the former.
... And the Pitch
Kessler and Third Way propose raising the retirement age for Social Security even more steeply than currently scheduled. During the radio debate Kessler argued that Social Security initially provided coverage for an average of 17 years or so, and that the qualifying age should be indexed as life expectancy increases. But that was never an animating principle of this self-funded program, and it's an inherently unjust idea.
Remember, Social Security is a social insurance program. Insurance is designed to be there when you need it -- not to be distributed according to abstract principles. Whether you have two car accidents or none, the principles behind auto insurance are upheld. The same should be true of social insurance.
Here's the inequity: Raising the retirement age affects all aging Americans immediately. But it's primarily wealthier -- and white -- Americans who are seeing increases in life expentancy. Lower-income and minority Americans would feel the pain of a longer work life and reduced benefits, but would see much less of the benefits.
This proposal could therefor be summarized as follows: As rich white people live longer, let's keep cutting benefits for others who need them much more.
The anti-social contract movement, speaking through Third Way, also proposes means-testing, a proposal we've debunked at length. Here's the short version: If you think rich people are getting off too easy, raise their taxes. Funny, isn't it? They never seem to mention that option.
I worked in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states during their conversion from Communism, as a consultant and project director on social insurance issues for the State Department. ("Bipartisanship" mavens take note: That was under Republican President George H. W. Bush.) For a brief moment the phrase "Third Way" gained some traction in European Communism's twilight, as activists tried to galvanize support for a movement that was independent of both the capitalism of the West and the Communism of their past. They quickly discovered that the lure of MacDonald's and Mercedes Benz was too much for them to fight.
But that was a genuine "third way." This "Third Way" isn't "third" at all: it's a repackaging of the same "One Way" that has dominated Washington for too long. It's the same "One Way" that repealed Glass-Steagall, deregulated Wall Street, and brought down the economy. It's the same "One Way" that has led to ever-increasing wealth inequity, growing poverty, and the decimation of the working class.
It's a "One Way" ticket to more unemployment, fear, and despair. This "One Way" comes in two flavors: Republican brutality, and the more genteel oversight of self-described Democratic "centrists."
It's time for a real "third way," one that's based on a view of most Americans (including most Republicans and Tea Partiers). The real third way -- the one that's backed by voters, not highly-paid political elites -- is a populist movement which believes that Social Security should not be cut, that Medicare should be protected, and that the rich should pay their fair share in taxes (without "simplification" gimmicks to confuse the public and cover their tracks).
The faux "Third Way" crowd loves to claim that true progressives are living in the past, a 60's-era universe of beads, Birkenstocks, and benefits for Medicare and Social Security. But they're the ones living in the past. They're stuck in the ephemeral economic illusion of the 1990s. They long to return to that bubble-fueled, illusory world where "centrist" Democratic consultants and politicians could savor both the admiration of liberals and the wealth of hedge fund managers. But that world is gone forever, while the progressive ideas they dismiss are supported by Americans across the political spectrum.
Earth to banker-backed mock "centrists": The dream is over. It's time to really "break the silence" -- by defending the public's will and the public interest, and by defending Social Security and Medicare.
(The conversation between Kessler and Lawson is well worth listening to in full.)