But Cutting Spending Will Hurt People!

No shit, Freddie. DeBoer doesn't hold back while attacking the Dish's plea for fiscal seriousness. He argues that "actual seriousness means wrestling with the very serious and real costs of the harsh measures you're advocating":

Here's what you won't find at the Daily Dish, or at the Corner, or in any of the other places showily demanding seriousness: the actual, human, negative consequences of harsh entitlement cutbacks.

I mean, from reading online today, you'd be hard pressed to know why we have Social Security and Medicare at all. I'll tell you why: because our winner-take-all economic system leaves defenseless, impoverished people in its wake. We have Social Security because the sight of so many elderly people left literally homeless and starving, too old and weak to work, was unseemly to an earlier generation that was willing to take less for themselves to provide for others. We have Medicare because it is an obscenity for a country responsible for the atom bomb and the moon landing and the Hoover Dam to allow suffer and die from lack of health care access due to the vagaries of birth and chance. That's why those programs exist.

Cutting them will lead to human misery and death. It will. Cutting Social Security will mean the difference between subsistence and a pitiful existence for untold thousands of senior citizens. Cutting Medicare will mean some people won't get the health care they need when they need it and will suffer the physical pain and indignity that comes with that. That's just the way it is. Yet I keep reading all of these very serious people today failing to mention this reality at all. It's as if we have entitlement programs for no reason.

Megan responds as well as I could:

I'd say that at least this pundit wants to get serious now precisely because I don't want to see punishing cuts in pensions and health care services, or 15% unemployment.  The way that you avoid making those kinds of cuts is that you start early, before there's a crisis.  You refocus social security on people with low lifetime earnings, giving those with higher earnings plenty of warning that they need to save.  You put tight(er) means tests on Medicare and Medicaid to encourage the development of markets for private health insurance and long term care insurance for the carriage trade.  You start cutting back military priorities relatively slowly, so that companies, workers, and redundant troops have time to transition into something else.  You phase out tax breaks like the mortgage income deduction slowly enough that neither budgets nor the housing market break.  If this was on the table now, most of us budget hawks would be perfectly fine with the current deficit.

I concur entirely. The current math simply demands either massive tax hikes or massive benefit cuts in the future. Adjusting now will make the future, relative suffering less rather than more painful. And like Megan, I'd like to see the cuts focus on those who are most able to afford it. To use the obvious example: why should we be sending Warren Buffet a social security check?

But my worry is that not only will acting now make the pain more bearable later, but not acting now may precipitate a financial collapse of confidence in the US that would mean far worse misery than the government actually balancing its books. Borrowing to help people now - at the great expense of people later - is not a responsible policy. And financial panics and crises tend to happen with little warning.