Friday, January 4, 2013

Tom Brokaw, who made his living...

...reading the news from a teleprompter, is usually good nowadays for a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious. Last Sunday, however, he appeared on Meet the Press's roundtable and treated us to a generous helping of ignorance and misinformation. (I can't find the video on YouTube, but you can watch it starting at about 10:50 here.) 

How do people like this get on television? 

Brokaw began by saying that he and his "working class" brother shouldn't receive the same Medicare and Social Security benefits. And I wanted to ask him, Don't you read Paul Krugman in the New York Times? (It's not exactly an obscure publication.) About a year and a half ago, Krugman wrote in a blog post (my emphasis): 

The usual argument against means-testing — which is entirely valid — is that it (a) doesn’t save much money and (b) messes up a relatively simple program. The reason it can’t save much money is that there are relatively few people rich enough to be able to afford major cost-sharing. Meanwhile, the good thing about Medicare, as with Social Security, is precisely that it doesn’t depend on your personal financial status — you just get it. Means-testing would turn it into something much more intrusive, like Medicaid. 

But there’s a further point I haven’t seen emphasized: if you want the well-off to pay more, it’s just better to raise their taxes. 

Then, Brokaw cited the oft-repeated claim that "the fact of the matter is we're all living longer." Unbelievable. Krugman has a term for utterances like this: Zombie ideas. (The more you debunk them the more they come back.) From another post by Krugman: 

Gains in life expectancy have been very strongly correlated with income and class; those with lower incomes and lower status — the very people who depend most on Social Security — have seen very small gains in life expectancy.

Next, Brokaw goes after raising the age for Medicare and Social Security in an effort to "reform entitlements." Krugman -- and others -- have addressed this so many times you can practically trip over arguments against it. Here's just one would inflict vast hardship on the most vulnerable, while saving the federal government remarkably little money, and would actually raise overall health spending, basically because private insurers have much higher administrative costs and much less bargaining power than Medicare, so shifting seniors out of the program ends up costing a lot of money. 

Finally, Brokaw talks about people working longer, until, say, age 70 or so. (By now I'm getting tired of finding examples to refute him.) But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that it's a lot harder to work on a construction crew than it is to sit at a desk like Brokaw (or me). Also, take it from someone who worked in the recruiting business for a short time: employers don't want older workers. (In fact, it's one of the dirty little secrets of the business. Free tip: don't ever put the word "experienced" on your resume.) It was hard enough for us to place a 50-year-old candidate, much less someone 65 or even 70. (Among other things, employers don't want older workers on their company's health insurance policies.) So, while Mr. Brokaw thinks it's a good idea for more 68- and 69-year-olds to work longer, I would just ask him, For whom are they supposed to work? Doesn't Brokaw have any idea how hard it is to find an employer these days? And doesn't he have any idea what the unemployment rate is? (7.8 percent, as of this morning.)

Again, how do guys like Brokaw get on TV anyway? Shouldn't the guests on Meet the Press be reasonably well-informed? (How about better informed than their viewers?) Shouldn't they at least be expected to read the newspaper?

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