David Brooks, in his April 6 column1, takes President Obama to task for calling the Paul Ryan Budget Plan “Social Darwinism”. Others2 take President Obama to task for his socialist budget and plans. What’s the difference between Socialism and Social Darwinism? About 15%, it turns out.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock has an interesting post3 with graphs on some of the features of the Ryan and Obama budget proposals. As commentators too numerous to count have warned, neither budget plan is long on details. Congressman Ryan’s points to cuts in spending and increases in revenues due to closing loopholes, without spelling out details. President Obama’s plan has been derided as a political document. Nonetheless, some of Shedlock’s figures are entertaining and his graphs fun to play with. In 2021, for instance, the cumulative Obama debt will be 18.7 trillion dollars; the Ryan debt 16.1 trillion, or 14% less. In 2021, the Obama budget will have total spending of about 5.7 trillion dollars, the Ryan budget of about 4.8 trillion, or about 16% less.
The website also included another revealing graph showing the growth in Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as a percent of the economy, compared to revenues as a percent of the economy. The caption notes that Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare will take an increasing share of the economy until, in 2050, it will take up all of the government’s revenues. However, the graph tells a slightly different story. In 1970, the three combined took up about 4% of the economy, almost all of that by Social Security. By 2080, Social Security and Medicaid will take up about 8% of the economy (roughly 40% of revenues), but Medicare will take up another 15% or so (roughly 75% of revenues). So the real culprit in our long range financial woes is mostly Medicare, and including Medicaid and Social Security is somewhat disingenuous. And the difference in the Ryan and Obama budget plans in outlays for Medicare? Miniscule. (Though changing Medicare from fee-for-service to premium support could be significant.)
These manageable differences between the two aside, Ezra Klein4 takes a different view. Bruce Bartlett5 finds that the Ryan plan tax changes will reduce revenues by 2.5 trillion dollars over the next 10 years. As Ezra Klein’s graph shows, most of that goes to the very wealthy. At the same time, the Ryan plan preserves Social Security and Medicare (non-poor programs) at levels similar to those in the Obama plan, but cuts 5.3 trillion dollars from programs which aide the poor. Klein goes on to say that this is a betrayal of the beliefs Ryan set out in a speech to the Heritage Foundation where he noted that upward mobility is the key to the American idea. Many of the programs cut in that 5.3 trillion dollars are those which help the poor advance so that upward mobility becomes available to them (e.g. Pell Grants, job training).
As for income transfers, just about half of the money the Ryan plan would take from programs benefiting the poor will be transferred to the wealthy, probably the largest transfer of wealth from one segment of society to another in the history of the republic.
David Boaz, in the Cato@Liberty blog Socialism and Social Darwinism6, considers President Obama’s dismissal of Chairman Ryan’s budget plan as “Social Darwinism” to be considerably more abusive than are dismissals of President Obama and his plans as “Socialist.” Jonathan Chait, on the other hand (It’s Okay–Call Republicans Social Darwinists7), proposing a few variations on the definition of Social Darwinism, thinks the term not inappropriate.
Conservatives feel abused to be called Social Darwinists; Liberals to be called Socialists (except Bernie Sanders)…and all of this name-calling over 15%.
1That Other Obama
2Too numerous to mention; just Google “Obama Socialist Budget Plan”
3Obama vs. Ryan: Budget Showdown
4Paul Ryan betrays his own views on income inequality; The Ryan budget’s priorities in two graphs
5The Ryan Budget Plan: More Fantasy than Reality
6Socialism and Social Darwinism
7It’s Okay–Call Republicans Social Darwinists