By James Kwak
This isn’t a post explaining how Medicare works in detail. It’s a post about why Medicare matters to you.
The basic “problem” with Medicare is that its liabilities are projected to grow faster than its revenues indefinitely because health care costs are growing faster than GDP (and Medicare’s revenues are a function of wages).* The “solution” proposed by Paul Ryan is to convert Medicare from an insurance program, which pays most of your health care expenses, to a voucher program, which gives you a certain amount of money that you can try to use to buy health insurance. I’ve described the main problems with this approach already: it transforms a large future government deficit into an even larger future household deficit, and on top of that it shifts risks from the government to individual households. Today I want to look at this from a different angle.
By James Kwak
David Brooks’s commentary on Paul Ryan’s “budget proposal” is entitled “Moment of Truth.” Brooks falls over himself gushing about his new man-crush, calling it “the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes.” “Ryan is expected to leap into the vacuum left by the president’s passivity,” he continues.
By James Kwak
In a Congressional hearing today, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, strongly criticized Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke for failing to contain the severe inflation threat posed by the Tooth Fairy.
Ryan pointed to numerous studies showing that, despite ongoing economic sluggishness, the Tooth Fairy is paying much more for children’s baby teeth than in past years. In neighborhoods such as Winnetka, Cleveland Park, the Upper East Side, and Palo Alto, children can receive more than $20 per tooth — a dramatic increase from the 25-50 cents that the Tooth Fairy paid only a decade or two ago. In the Hamptons, summertime prices for teeth can easily exceed $100, according to a survey commissioned by the American Enterprise Institute.* Because the Tooth Fairy is able to create money magically, her purchases of unused teeth (with no apparent economic value**) increase the money supply, fueling inflation. Without explicitly accusing Bernanke of participation in the Tooth Fairy’s scheme, Ryan implied that the Tooth Fairy’s higher payouts may be part of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing scheme.
By Simon Johnson
Writing in the Financial Times today, Paul Ryan – the incoming chair of the House Budget Committee – presents himself as a fiscal conservative, primarily focused on bringing the budget deficit and government debt under control. He is not.
Only in American could self-styled “fiscal conservatives” say that “America is eager for an adult conversation on the threat of debt,” but then decline to discuss the first order problem that has brought us here and threatens us going forward: Dangerous systemic risk brought on by the reckless behavior of big banks. No “fiscal conservatives” showed up for the legislative fight to rein in big banks – none, and now Spencer Bachus (presumptive incoming chair of House Financial Services) says that restrictions on big banks should be further lifted (quoted in the FT today, p.15).
We can reasonably draw only one conclusion: Paul Ryan and his colleagues are not real fiscal conservatives. This is further confirmed by the following: Continue reading