Thursday, May 26, 2011

When A Dollar's Not a Dollar

Gail Collins tells David Brooks, "You’re famous for your sanity," but famous with whom?  And for what examples of sanity?  OK, unlike that other conservative intellectual poseur, Newt Gingrich, Brooks is not cast as a 'bomb thrower,' but the distinction makes him sane?

Earlier in The Times "The Conversation" column where Collins makes her comment, Brooks says:
The average American, earning the median salary, pays about $150,000 into Medicare over the course of their career. They get back somewhere in the neighborhood of $350,00 to $450,000 in benefits. Their grandchildren are involuntarily footing a huge portion of that gap.
Gee!  Presto!  Don't watch what I am doing, just go to the "bottom line."  If Brooks is sane, he knows what he is doing here, and that it is extremely deceitful--dishonest, actually.

When I started working in 1967, the minimum wage was $1.25 an hour.  Today, I make a great deal more than that, but that dollar-and-a-quarter was also much more than it is today.  When we'd go for coffee, the older members of the crew would complain that the price had doubled: from a nickel to a dime.  The point is, that $150,000 I will have contributed to Medicare is actually quite a bit more than $150,000, were I contributing it today.

Not only has there been inflation, but the compound interest on my contribution over the past 44 years would have well over doubled the total by now.  As I am not through working, not by any means (I hope to go for at least another decade), it is likely that I will have contributed the equivalent of that $450,000 of Brooks by the time I stop.

And then there's the question of "average" and "median."  When people think of "average," they generally think of the "mean," not the "median."  The median, with as many people above as below, is quite a bit different from the mean, which is determined, in this case, by the total number of people divided into the total amount earned.  Any time someone says "average" and then switches to "median," someone is trying to hide something, for that person certainly understands that, popularly, "average" indicates "mean."

It may be that we need additional funding for Medicare, but that's easily found: tax the wealthy.  They can afford to help subsidize societal stability--in fact, doing so is in their best interest.

If Medicare reform is needed (and it probably is), we can do that, too.  But the question needs to be kept distinct from the question of funding.  And reform should not entail reduction in service.  We need that service if we are going to maintain our status as the greatest country in the world.

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