The Brutal Truth isn't quite as clear as he thinks...
Andrew Sullivan comments Matthew Parris's point that the current economic collapse isn't a failure of market economics, it's actually the logical end-point of the credit boom, market economics coming home to roost.
Now, I agree with the general point: on average, Americans have spent the last few decades spending too much, achieving a standard of living (i.e. consumption) unsupported by the underlying economics. Eventually, just like bread that's risen too high, the underlying foundation can no longer support the heights to which the full structure has risen, and there's no more hot air to take the weight of its shoulders.
But it's Andrew's prescription that I have an issue with:
We need to take a machete to social security and Medicare and a very sharp scalpel to all domestic discretionary spending. And we need to think very hard about big withdrawals of troops in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and about the foreign aid we give Egypt and Israel.
What precisely is the connection between Social Security, Medicare, and the current financial and credit crisis? Andrew confuses his aversion to government safety net programs with some sort of logical conclusion. In fact, during the Clinton era, the U.S. government ran a surplus, but the spending of funny money was well under way. Most of the credit splurge was consumer driven (those mortgages and credit card receipts weren't signed by Uncle Sam) and in no way related to government spending. The government surplus changed of course during the Bush years, but the point is that the national current accounts deficit was not primarily government driven.
In fact, Social Security itself is actually funded, unlike much of the consumer spending fueled by leveraged home prices. And Medicare and the coming national health care system, whatever form it may eventually take (I favor a single payer system similar to Canada's or France's) can help drive down many of the costs of health care through better preventative care, standardized systems of medical record management, and yes even rationing of care (a headache doesn't mean you need a brain scan).
There are two points here:
- These issues can be dealt with in a much more rational way than "taking a machete" to them.
- These issues are just about completely irrelevant to the current economic crisis, other than in the general "we need to get our house in order" sense.
The fact that conservatives go to these options immediately, as opposed to regulation or oversight of the financial mechanisms that allowed the current catastrophe to build and collapse catastrophically, means their bias is showing.