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June 09, 2008

Comments

The talking points aren't matching the official line for the day (and ObWi isn't an officially targeted blog).

Do you think they'd be the slightest bit embarrassed to be accused of astroturfing? Hell, do you think they even know what that means, and why it's wrong?

Ah, the innocent Hilzoy. Don't you remember when Tom characterized his blog and commenters as a Mongol Horde?

bcamarda, you don't recognize the reference. Rohrabacher, in a long and eloquent speech during the energy bill debate asked the climate poobahs if they thought we were all morons out here. It's worth reading that speech if you want to see why the carbon paradigm is collapsing.

Thanks, Glasater; not as scary here as No Quarter back in the day.
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Since there's been... friction here of late, I too wanted to commend bedtimeforbonzo's post.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who comes here to argue sincerely, in good faith, and without malice is “family”, regardless of our differences.
Bedtimeforbonzo, I’ve never doubted that you fell into that category.

That goes also for all the other folks I’ve been pestering around here lately - I usually don’t respond to bridge-dwellers. If I’ve argued with you, you’re “good people”.

Nice comments, BY and Turb; it is really a matter of which you think is a better vehicle for secure long term growth, the unencumbered efforts of individuals and companies, ie the stock market, or government bonds. You mention a number of interesting objections, Turb, none of which seem to me insurmountable. Tying returns to the ingenuity and effort of individuals and companies is the only way out of this Ponzi Scheme.
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Ah, it's that infamous Hilzoy--Tom Maguire grudge match that Hilzoy only recently became aware of. (Why am I imagining trolls dressed in butterfly-inspired henchman uniforms?)

"Um, I thought that self-employed and non-self-employed folks pay the same SS tax rate; the only difference is that for non-self-employed, half the money is invisibly paid by the employer while half the money is cut out of your check every pay-period. Was I mistaken?"

No, you're correct. I especially like the word "invisibly".

"Assuming I'm right, why do you think the government should cut taxes on the self-employed while requiring non-self-employed folk to pay a higher effective rate?"

I wouldn't advocate non-self-employed folk paying a higher rate. I'd advocate them paying the same rate and their employers paying the same rate that they are now. I'm advocating having single-owner businesses with no employees pay a lower rate, to foster entrepeneurism and to recognize the idea that I'm not both a person and that person's employer. There's a drawback for the single-person business -- their total contributions as individuals, in the end, will be lower.

Well, KCinDC, you may well be right, but Hilzoy made it part of the record that she hadn't read Tom's piece before writing hers. Check with her about whether or not there is a grudge match.

Well, between the two of them. I've got a grudge against many of her commenters, more over at Drum's site than here. You people are halfway decent.
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You people are halfway decent.

All of us halfway decent, or half us all the way decent? From the waist up, or down?


Turb - I should also have mentioned that there are lots of other reasons to give a "break" to the no-employee business. If you're interested, I'll go into them.

I've learned from you. Very decent of you, well in a halfway sort of way.
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LeftTurn - Reasonable viewpoints as always. I guess it's an "agree to disagree" type of thing, since your counterargument rests on the idea that this year is different, and I don't have any specific data to back up a claim that it's not. I do believe, though, that something like misguided conservative idea==>ding ding==>painful electric shock has to occur before peoples' associations will change, and they'll abandon the ideas that conservatives have been very effectively pushing for over 30 years. Maybe Obama can win this time without doing it. But it's going to have to be done at some point.

On the other hand, I have been very impressed with Obama's counter-punches so far. He hits the right note, sounds the right theme, and, as Bruce said, does it without stooping.

"All of us halfway decent, or half us all the way decent? From the waist up, or down?"

"You're not half the boy that Nate was. You're not even half the boy that the top half of Nate was after you cut him in half."

"So you're saying that I'm less than a quarter of the boy that Nate was?"

I'm advocating having single-owner businesses with no employees pay a lower rate, to foster entrepeneurism and to recognize the idea that I'm not both a person and that person's employer. There's a drawback for the single-person business -- their total contributions as individuals, in the end, will be lower.

david, I don't understand how you might justify this change. Everyone has to pay 15.3%; how you split that between employer and employee is at best a secondary detail. The problems addressed by that tax are no smaller for self-employed folk, so there's no reason to believe that self-employed folk will draw out only half as much in benefits as employed folk do. What you're proposing is reducing benefits for everyone so that we charge self-employed people less than their fair share.

I don't think such a policy would dramatically improve entrepeneurism. since being self-employed for tax purposes has little to do with entrepreneurism per se. Provided there are no major systemic incentives that bias things in one direction (such as what you propose), the two notions align well. However, if you introduce new biases, you will find lots of people transitioning from employed to self-employed overnight while doing exactly the same jobs for the same bosses they did before. If I could get an extra 7.6% simply by quitting my job and having my company hire me as a consultant, I might do that, but that wouldn't benefit the economy in any way; in fact, it would impose losses from the pointless waste, while sapping the SS trust fund of needed dollars.

Don't get me wrong, I think it would be awesome if the government created massive tax breaks that were extremely narrowly targeted towards, well, me. If I was self-employed, I might long for a special tax cut for self-employed people. But I don't think it would be good policy.

Also, I don't see why you're calling them no employee business since they seem to have exactly one employee.

david,

Good points and agreed. My intuition is that we have in fact arrived at the metaphorical point of, as you so colorfully put it:

misguided conservative idea==>ding ding==>painful electric shock

To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, the prospect of $6 per gallon gasoline and stagflation concentrate the mind wonderfully. I think that close to half the population is now concentrating, and with a good campaign we should be able to get enough of the rest to win.

As far as the 12.4 per cent for SS is concerned--it comes closer to 15 per cent for self-employed what with medicare added. And individual states can throw a couple of "extras" in that mix.

So with that 15 per cent figure in mind--plus income taxes--then there are state and local taxes--property taxes--you're starting to talk about some serious coin here.
Plus, Obama is talking about raising the "cap" on SS. How is that little gem going to help the situation.
Thanks to YOU Kim

Turb - Okay. But if they were one-employee businesses, I would call them no-employer businesses ;).

If I'm an actual employer and I hire you at $75,000 a year, what do I pay SS tax on? The $75,000. If I'm the owner of a no-employer business, what do I pay SS tax on? Everything I bring in. I can't just give myself a paycheck and pay SSN on that. It makes it very difficult to start up a new business and compete effectively against businesses with a lot of capital.

There are other large strains on a no-employer business. Healthcare is one. It's wildly expensive, because I can't leverage a group of employees (yes, there are small business "groups", but the healthcare prices are still comparitively huge ).

The idea is not to get a tax break. The idea is to give a small business a chance to grow. Many of our most successful companies started as one- or two-person enterprises.

I also have no problem with being limited in what I can take out later based on the fact that I didn't contribute as much.

"If I could get an extra 7.6% simply by quitting my job and having my company hire me as a consultant, I might do that, but that wouldn't benefit the economy in any way"

Like I said, the idea is to promote growth and entrepreneurial innovation, not to get a tax break.

But to take your idea further -- your employer probably also pays things like workers comp. Why do you think your employer prefers to have you as an employee rather than a contractor?

david kilmer: If I'm the owner of a no-employer business, what do I pay SS tax on? Everything I bring in.

Only if you hire a really bad accountant. Speaking as someone who was once, for several years, a one-person self-employed business.

And only if, with your really bad accountant and all, you manage to bring in no more than $90,000 a year: anything over that, and Social Security doesn't apply.

Jes - True - good point. I should have said "all of my profit". I can (and do) get exemptions for a lot of the money I put back into the business.

It's an interesting point you make about accountants. It seems to me that many small businesses keep themselves above water by being... let's say creative with their tax reporting. It's sad to me that things need to be that way.

I also wish the ceiling was higher and that there was a reasonable floor.

Healthcare is one. It's wildly expensive, because I can't leverage a group of employees (yes, there are small business "groups", but the healthcare prices are still comparitively huge ).

Sure, but wouldn't universal healthcare remedy that problem?

The idea is not to get a tax break. The idea is to give a small business a chance to grow. Many of our most successful companies started as one- or two-person enterprises.

Of course. But how do you plan giving small businesses a chance to grow without privileging certain legal arrangements that can be abused by non-small-business?

I'm guessing that you know a lot more about this than I do, but do arrangements like Administaff help any here? They're a sort of outsourced-H.R. company: small businesses partner with them and gain economies of scale. For example, affiliated businesses can buy into a group healthcare plan using the buying power of a 100,000 person business even if they only have 5 employees. I don't know how useful they'd be at the very low end (1-2 employees) but they were pretty useful when I worked at a 7 employee company. Certainly, not having to employ someone to deal with lots of stupid little details was worth a lot.

I also have no problem with being limited in what I can take out later based on the fact that I didn't contribute as much.

OK. Then, can you answer the questions I raised to bc regarding moral hazard? It is all well and good for you to declare that you're willing to get much less than the cost of living when you retire, but if you can't survive on that, the government ends up paying anyway, right? Or do you think the government of the future will let you s might, as a side effect, encourage entrepreneurship. imply starve and die? For that matter, if the moral hazard is easy to resolve, why don't we give everyone, not just the self-employed, the ability to intentionally underfund their SS contributions?

But to take your idea further -- your employer probably also pays things like workers comp. Why do you think your employer prefers to have you as an employee rather than a contractor?

For the same reason my wife prefers to be married to me: my spectacular good looks? I.e., we're both more productive if we lock in terms of our employment relationship due to the fact that human beings are not fully rational. Alternatively, there might be efficiencies of scale that make it worthwhile. I certainly prefer the freedom from paperwork. And while the the company could push that paperwork cost to me by forcing me to become a consultant, it seems that doing so would lower productivity: the time and effort I expend dealing with stupid administrative crap that doesn't interest me saps time and effort away from useful work.

I agree with the Social Security argument, which is why I found Steve Clemons so disturbing this morning: supposedly Obama's new economics advisor believes SS has problems and needs reform. The absolute LAST thing any Dem should EVER do is buy into this right-wing meme. Reading that item really scared me. If Obama starts drinking that Kool-Aid, he can kiss the election goodbye, and also do a lot of harm to one of the Dems' strongest issues.

"Sure, but wouldn't universal healthcare remedy that problem?"

Depending on the specifics, yes. Let me know when they pass that ;).

"do arrangements like Administaff help any here?"

Administaff (and others) mostly provide a benefit to small businesses with employees. There's not much to leverage with one person, and you've got an extra bill to pay.

My whole point, really, is that it's prohibitively expensive to take a business from one person to something bigger in a manner that doesn't involve huge risks. From healthcare to taxes to other sorts of insurance (like E&O) to the expenses of navigating a complex governmental system, it's nearly Sisyphean. I'm suggesting something simple and (I think) reasonable. A one-person business is one contributor. I believe the deficit in SS collections would not be huge.

"Then, can you answer the questions I raised to bc regarding moral hazard?"

No, I can't. That's a good point, and I concede it.

"For the same reason my wife prefers to be married to me: my spectacular good looks?"

Let me put it another way. Let's say the government treated single-person businesses like one SS contributor. Do you believe that would tip the balance, making the situation more profitable for your employer and you (as a whole) to have you be a contractor? If so, why do you think that?

My whole point, really, is that it's prohibitively expensive to take a business from one person to something bigger in a manner that doesn't involve huge risks. From healthcare to taxes to other sorts of insurance (like E&O) to the expenses of navigating a complex governmental system, it's nearly Sisyphean. I'm suggesting something simple and (I think) reasonable. A one-person business is one contributor. I believe the deficit in SS collections would not be huge.

I sympathize: it must be extremely painful to navigate that world on your own. But to be fair here, SS isn't the main problem. The main problems are that employee-subsidized healthcare systems suck and that the legal and tax environments for running small businesses are way too complex. Giving self-employed folk an SS cut won't materially alter either of those problems.

Let me put it another way. Let's say the government treated single-person businesses like one SS contributor. Do you believe that would tip the balance, making the situation more profitable for your employer and you (as a whole) to have you be a contractor? If so, why do you think that?

I'm not sure what you mean by "treating single-person businesses as one SS-contributor". If you mean doing what they do right now, then there's no incentive for me to become a contractor. But if you mean charging self-employed folk 7.6% instead of 15.2%, then yes, I probably would switch, even though it would be a huge pain in the neck because I could get the company to pay me the 7.6% they would otherwise be paying directly to the government. Getting a 7% raise would motivate me a great deal in fact.

How does one require those who make bad investment bets to "eat it" in practice?

That's a legit question. 401(k) admins are limiting choices but still using the market. That's one option. plus, not all is subject to the market.

how do you prevent massive corruption associated with giving fund managers access to an asset stream that large? How does California and Alaska do it for their retirement funds?

Did you mean lowering the capital gains rate?

I was being sarcastic. I am trying to understand why Obama wants to raise the rate. Being prepared for retirement is so much more than just having ss and a pension. Being out of debt for one, or having non-retirement savings.

Thanks, Anarch.

And thanks, Bruce.

I find, despite only getting four hours of sleep (again) last night, I have a lot more energy today and my mind is more clear-headed (but much, much less so since I started writing this, at work, a couple of hours ago, before this final edit). That said, I am bracing myself for the inevitable "crash."

Insomnia -- a malady I fought even before my recent loss -- is a bitch. As someone who operates best w/ a solid 8 hours of sleep, one or two weeks of getting half that is dangerous.

In 1991, I was diagnosed as a bi-polar manic depressive -- and when I fail to get the requisite rest, I find myself battling all kinds of demons.

I truly appreciate reading words of encouragement from you and my new-found friends on ObWi. I am finding out the true meaning of the term "web community."

Nothing will fully compensate for the loss of a loved one. But, in the end, compassion, guidance, wisdom and someone willing to listen is more, much more, than one can hope for.

I don't want to become obsessed w/ death -- and I beg your pardon, whoever dislikes a blogger going entirely off-topic like this -- but it is fascinating that our society avoids the subject as much as possible, almost as if the subject itself were taboo.

A quick story:

Only two or three days after CoCo's demise, my wife asked if she could throw away my late dog's toys, of which there many, all tucked behind the big-screen TV in our den in the basement. Throw away CoCo's toys already? How dare her?

"Sure, honey," I mumbled as if I didn't care, not wanting to sound unmanly.

A few minutes later, I saw her walk by w/ one of those big, green Glad trash bags, filled to the brim. Boy, CoCo had even more toys than I thought and now they were in a big, green Glad trash bag, soon to be in our big blue trash can.

Later that night, in an act of defiance, desperation -- I'm not sure what to call it -- I went out back when I knew my wife wouldn't notice and retrieved the Glad trash bag and picked through it. What to keep? Geez, there were a couple dozen of stinky stuffed animals.

No problem: I picked CoCo's favorite -- a duck that long ago had lost the ability to quack (the squeaky thing was always the first thing to go when my Golden Retriever mix got a hold of a new toy she really liked). The duck had no head, that went long ago, too. But it had two feet and a tail, and that was enough.

And every time CoCo wanted to engage me in a game of fetch or tug-of-war in the basement, invariably, she would pick through all of the nicer stuff and come out w/ a duck that couldn't quack and had no head. I loved it.

So that duck now rests in our small, secondary shed that holds really only one thing of importance, the lawn mower. I have put one of the shed's cabinets to good use, joining the duck are four discolored tennis balls that I rounded up from the backyard. Joining them was a prayer card from my Uncle Bob's recent viewing. And finally, tucked behind the duck was a fifth of Old Grand Dad. Surely, there will be times when that has to be replaced.

Someday I will share this crazy story w/ my 9-year-old son. He will understand -- we have a better connection on many things (baseball, ice cream, old trucks, A&W Root Beer) that my wonderful wife (who, trust me, means well) couldn't give a hoot about.

Again, thanks for your indulgence, dear fellow bloggers.


Back to this post:

LeftTurn, as usual, you make salient points. (By the way, your historical references always enlighten and/or impress me.)

And as a Clinton (now Obama) supporter, I agree:

Obama -- as probably would not have been the case w/ Clinton -- could provide the coat tails that our party needs to help our downticket candidates.

Finally:

Now that Sen. Clinton is out of the race -- and has given a full and heart-felt endorsement of Sen. Obama -- I figure the discussion will soon turn to the VP selection.

Mark Warner already seems to be getting a lot of play in the MSM as an Obama running mate -- and, if that is a trial balloon his campaign has floated, I would say they have gotten a positive response.

Warner would be terrific and give the Democrats a great chance to win Virgina.

So would Sen. Jim Webb.

Gov. Ed Rendell would deliver Pennsylvania but, taking him at his word, his heart does not seem to be in the VP spot. As he has said, he prefers being his own boss. I like his honesty.

Don't discount Sen. Biden from my home state of Delaware.

Biden has loads of foreign policy experience and he would add gravitas to the ticket.

VP?

Any thoughts?

My understanding is that in practice, VP candidates don't actually do any of the stuff they're supposed to when it comes to swinging this voting bloc or that. In any event, it seems to me like the priority for the next president right at the moment is getting a VP that he's comfortable working with, who will support his administrative efforts fully, and who will help in the ugly, necessary work of rolling back executive power gone mad.

"I sympathize: it must be extremely painful to navigate that world on your own."

Please, no sympathy. It's completely my choice, and I'm aware of the down-sides. I will likely go out of business, but if I do, I will consider it my own failing.

"But to be fair here, SS isn't the main problem."

Absolutely true. But giving a tax break to single-person businesses is simpler and easier to implement. And the 7.6% makes a huge difference. I'm all for fixing the other stuff.

"I'm not sure what you mean by "treating single-person businesses as one SS-contributor"."

In a regular employment situation, there are two contributors: the employee and the employer. I'm suggesting treating a single person business as one of those for purposes of SS.

"But if you mean charging self-employed folk 7.6% instead of 15.2%, then yes, I probably would switch"

Assuming your employer would agree to that. In most peoples' cases, the employer wouldn't. My question is basically this: If the single-person business got the tax break, would employers find it financially advantageous to start offering employees contractor relationships? And would employees in significant numbers find this arrangement financially advantageous enough to take it? If so, what makes you think that?

There's really no need to answer that, though, Turb. I already feel like we're hijacking the thread.

bedtimeforbonzo - I'm BP as well, and I understand totally about the sleep thing. Sleep deprivation is probably the number two biggest factor in destabilizing mood (There are studies somewhere on that). So I'm really hoping you find a way to get some regular sleep.

The number one factor in destabilizing mood is probably sudden loss (death of a loved one, divorce, losing your job, etc.). I've found that one can easily lead to another. And all of them lead to isolation, which is the worst kind of negative feedback loop.

So I hope you're getting support from your wife and family (though from some of your comments, I fear that you're not), and I'm glad you're finding comfort in the people here. If you ever need to talk, feel free to e-mail me (there's a link on the About page of my blog).

bedtime: again, lots of sympathy flowing in your general direction. The death of anyone you love is horrible, whatever the species.

I'm glad you saved the duck.

The one time a dog of mine ever died, her sister survived her, and was absolutely inconsolable. Being single, I could do whatever seemed right regardless of how it might look to anyone else, so I moved the mattress into the kitchen (couldn't let her into the bedroom; my house was partitioned at that time, so that she wouldn't kill the cats), and slept there for a little over a week. This did me as much good as it did her.

*hugs*

David:

Thank you for your support and wise words. Being BP I don't know nearly enough about the disease -- this, despite seeing a shrink for 17 years.

Shrinks . . .

A necessary evil.

Don't get me wrong, I like my guy, and at one time, we became too close: buddies who would go to ballgames and things. But I've learned that shrinks don't "talk things out" with you (which I've felt I needed many times these past 17 years). They prescribe pills and pills and more pills, which I know I need -- and couldn't live a sane life without.

Still . . .

Everything you said hit home. Also, when I am tired and unsteady, I feel crying jags coming on, like when I read your post (and, of course, we do everything possible to hold them back in public, which is absolutely necessary, and, hence, my need to always have a couple Klonopin in my pocket).

Reading your words, knowing the truth in them, made me feel weak, yet strong. It's nice knowing when you have someone in your corner.


Hilzoy:

Hugs back to you, and thanks for your story.

P.S. That duck ain't going nowhere.


One last thought:

This site is terrific for strong, passionate debate on politics, and sometimes I've found, popular culture. A lot of agreeing and, it seems, even more disagreeing goes on.

That's what makes this site great.

But what makes it greater, I've discovered, is that Obsidian Wings has a very, very big heart.

Good night.

Kim says "Yes, publius, you must think we are morons. You eliminate risk, and you eliminate reward. What a great way to fund retirement. Do you see why the Fund is rapidly approaching insolvency?"

Kim, you are apparently unaware of why the fund is approaching insolvency. Reagan (yes, the hero of the right) increased the payroll tax (yes, a regressive tax) to help fund social security into the future. So we've all been paying extra in for over 20 years, but under Bush they started using the surplus for other things (or basically just to make the deficit look smaller). Medicare is a different issue--Bush made that worse too, with the unfunded drug benefit.

And as to the old platitude of how the market "always" does better over time, in the first place it depends on over which time interval, and in the second, some economists think this may not be true going forward for quite some time. There have been long periods of essentially no increase in the past. You eliminate risk and you not only eliminate possible reward, you eliminate possible disaster. Risk has two sides.

Look, dnfree, a dozen years ago Paul Krugman said the Social Security System was in crisis. Please don't give me that carp.
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Regarding McCain and age -- it IS an effective attack. But it's not one Obama needs to explicitly make, or even make obliquely.

That attack will take care of itself. You don't have to make the case that McCain is old -- he's [i]old[/i]. He looks old and worn out at his own rallies.

The most effective "Age-based" attack on McCain will be side-by-side comparisons of speechs and the debates. Obama doesn't have to do anything, and that attack will hit over and over again.

(Although I'm not sure you can call it an 'attack' if it's just McCain sitting around being 70ish next to Obama being an energetic 40ish).

Do you think we are all morons out here?

Not all of you, no.

It's a campaign slogan, doc. For whom I'm not sure.
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To clarify: Kim, we think that some of you repeating long-disproven falsehoods are morons, others simply malicious children, some moral idiots in the sense of lacking any real awareness of right or wrong, and some paid staffers or volunteer associates of organizations interested in advancing Republican causes dishonestly. We recognize a wide range of reasons someone may feel comfortable spewing falsehoods in calculatedly disruptive manners, and would hate to pigeonhole any of you prematurely.

The people who most suffer from the actions of trolls like yourself are of course the honest conservatives. The more often their views are associated lies and malice, the harder it is for them to get an honest hearing. But you presumably don't care, in that they tend to be apostate these days anyway.

I hear a lot more trash talking than refutation of 'long-disproven falsehoods'. What ya got?
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"But what makes it greater, I've discovered, is that Obsidian Wings has a very, very big heart."

It's of a young boy, and Hilzoy keeps it in a jar on her desk. (™Robert Bloch.)

DNFTT.

Okay, does anyone else want that carp I was going to give to Kim?

Steamed grass carp, with a splash of soy sauce and some finely chopped fresh ginger, then sprinkled with minced scallions, is truly one of the greatest dishes in history. So, um, sure!

Special note to Gary:

A very, very big heart and a very, very special sense of humor:)

TG

Off to work before I am late for my 1-9. Cheers.

but under Bush they started using the surplus for other things (or basically just to make the deficit look smaller)

I don't think this started under Bush; it's been a problem for longer than that.

And that problem would be somewhat averted with private accounts, wouldn't it? The gov't couldn't use money assigned to a specific person thereby making the budget process more transparent?

And here's my main problem with social security: it was never intended to be the sole source of income in retirement yet it is for 40% of retirees. Why? Are our incentives not enough to save before retirement? Why not? It is essentially becoming a national pension system rather than a safety net. I know there are some that cannot save much during their working years, but too many rely on it exclusively through choices they make. And when many draw far more than the sum of their contributions and interest, we have a problem.

bc, the personal choice not to save is one thing, and the completely changed retirement environment is another. I'd like to be able to retire, but within the past two years both my husband's company and mine have terminated their pension plans. So that's money we thought we would have in retirement that has evaporated. The "three legs" of the retirement stool are all wobbly. Pension plans have gone away or been diminished, even for those already retired; 401(k) plans have failed to gain much over the past ten years or so; social security has to be changed in some way. Roth IRA's only came along recently, and for those of us my age, the more generous tax deductions for children came along just after our children were grown. While we were raising our children, we were getting the same $600 a year per child tax deduction that my father got for me. Oh, yeah, and the increase in medical costs....I'm just going to keep working as long as I can, until my job is moved somewhere else.

"And here's my main problem with social security: it was never intended to be the sole source of income in retirement yet it is for 40% of retirees. Why? Are our incentives not enough to save before retirement? Why not? It is essentially becoming a national pension system rather than a safety net."

You seem to have the bizarre assumption in this that everyone is middle class, and has the ability to "save before retirement," and that if they don't, it's because the "incentives" aren't right.

Millions of Americans' don't "retire." They don't have careers. They don't have jobs much of the time, and some don't at all, because they have medical conditions, they're disabled, they're homemakers, they're not in a mental state where working is an option, and on and on run the reasons. They are poor, and that's why they are in the underclass, and thus live entirely different lives than the middle class, lives clearly invisible to most Americans, who somehow assume that everyone's lives are middle-class, and who seem to have little clue that for millions of us, it just isn't so, for one reason or another.

It's not a matter of choices; it's a matter of lack of choices.

And me, I'm for Milton Friedman's negative income tax, despite problematic aspects. But every idea has problematic aspects; the question is whether the trade-offs are worth it. I very much think we still need a lot of social services -- differently structured, more efficient, social services, to be sure, but I think the NIT should be part of the mix. We almost had it under Nixon, but it disappeared down the memory hole of the Reagan era, never to be seen again; I'd like to see it hauled out and looked at anew, as part of the discussion of what America should be doing in the 21st century.

poverty.

[...] According to the most recent Census Bureau statistics, nearly 36 million Americans lived in poverty in 2003, an increase of 1.3 million from 2002. And since 2000, 4.4 million more people in this country are living in poverty. The Census Bureau defines poverty as an individual earning $9,393 or less and $14,680 or less for a family of three.

And American families are faring worse than they have in years. Last year 7.6 million American families -- or 10 percent of all families -- lived in poverty, a big jump from 2000.

That was 2004, and it's only gotten worse. This is also America. The apparently invisible America, to most middle-class folks.

Please to release my kidnapped comment. Thanks.

The 11:04 comment was by me, the one held for alleged s p a m.

McCain thinks Putin is the President of Germany.

This is not a mistake that could cause as much trouble as mixing up Sunni and Shi'ite, but it's also damned bizarre: thinking Angela Merkel is the President of Germany would be forgiveable, but Vladimir Putin?

It's easy to get confused about Merkel and Putin. He speaks German fluently and she does Russian ;-)

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