Entitlement Hysterics

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Jon Chait has a brilliant piece on "entitlement hysteria", noting that despite the pundits' obsession with Social Security, the entitlement problem is really a Medicare problem which, in turn, is really a health care problem:

Since you can't solve the entitlement problem without solving the health care problem, one might think that the entitlement hysterics would have gradually moved on to becoming health care hysterics. (There's also the fact that Social Security is solvent until 2041, but over 40 million Americans lack health insurance right now.) Yet this is another puzzling thing about entitlement hysteria: the sheer persistence of the obsession. It's true we have some large federal programs that are going to have to be shored up. But why do they consider this to be a matter of such unique urgency? Put aside the war in Iraq, for which plenty of people (including me) lack any confident solution. In addition to the health care crisis, there's global warming. There are numerous loosely secured nuclear sites throughout the world, any one of which could some day provide the raw material for a terrorist attack of unprecedented scale. There are numerous diseases threatening the lives of millions of Africans whose deaths could be prevented at relatively modest expense.

These other calamities have one thing in common: The consequences of inaction are permanent. Carbon released into the atmosphere can never be recovered. Africans who die from aids can't be brought back to life. And fissile material captured by terrorists can't very easily be taken back.

Meanwhile, of course, health care is precisely the issue that the candidates are offering plans on. But acknowledging that the current debate is, in fact, presenting important choices on issues of vital importance would put political journalists in an awkward position. Rather than posturing, you'd need to respond to that reality by trying to inform yourself about the issues at hand and the meanings of the rival camps' proposals to deal with them. Instead, it's more comforting to complain that nobody has the courage necessary to talk about cutting Social Security benefits.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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