Social Security, Medicare and public investments have one thing in common: They make us richer

Remind me again why I’m supposed to be dismayed about the federal government providing insurance much more efficiently than the private sector?

When it comes to investing in America, people and projects both count.

Josh Bivens calls out New York Times columnist David Brooks for setting up a false choice for voters: Social Security/Medicare vs. public investment:

Yesterday, David Brooks channeled a deeply flawed presentation by the Third Way to argue that while the federal government used to spend money on things that improved national “dynamism” it now just spends on “entitlements.”

…[Brooks] spends most of his time, and, Third Way spends all their time, arguing that there is something deeply damaging about the fact that federal spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is now a bigger part of the budget than public investments. There’s little economic basis for this angst.

You’d have to look hard to find a bigger fan of public investments than me. But, the economic benefits of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are absolutely enormous. They provide a service (insurance against risk, and people value insurance quite highly) much more efficiently than do private-sector providers. In the case of Social Security, this efficiency is mainly in low administrative costs and the government’s ability to provide actuarially fair insurance without needing the compensation that private-sector insurance providers would demand.

… In short, the really salient choice isn’t between social insurance versus public investments—as Brooks and Third Way would have it—it’s really between those who believe the substantial evidence showing that a mixed economy (one where governments weigh in when they can do something more efficiently or set rules that rule out socially-destructive behavior) can make us richer and those who don’t. And there’s no reason why we can’t have both well-run social insurance and public investments.

You can read the whole thing on Working Economics »

One thought on “Social Security, Medicare and public investments have one thing in common: They make us richer

  1. Dennis Wulkan

    The author is correct about the economic benefits of Social Security. It’s the most effective anti-poverty program the nation has ever created. Most seniors rely on these programs to help make ends meet. And it’s true the administrative costs are exceptionally low–less than 1%. But Social Security and Medicare are benefits the public has earned–they are not entitlements. We pay for those benefits through FICA taxes that are the specific source for funding these programs. Medicaid is funded differently and it is a needs based program for those with limited income and resources Of course it is worthwhile and it provides important health care benefits. But I prefer not to confuse Medicaid with Medicare or Social Security.

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