Tag Archives: CPI

Words and Meanings

I regularly use this space to take right-wingers to task, but those on the Left deserve similar treatment when they engage in similar behaviors.

Ever since reports that Obama’s budget included a “chained CPI” for Social Security, liberals have been screaming about proposed “cuts” to Social Security. My inbox has been flooded with pleas to sign this or that petition, to call my Senators and Congressional Representatives, and generally to make it known that these “cuts” cannot be justified.

As I understand it, what the President has proposed is changing the metric currently used to calculate Social Security cost of living raises. The CPI index being used has been criticized as an inaccurate indicator, resulting in larger raises than are needed to keep up with a rising cost of living. This change in the yardstick for calculating those raises will result in lower Social Security “bumps” or increases going forward.

That is not a “cut”–at least, not in my vocabulary. It is a recalculation that will result in smaller increases in the future–lower expectations for growth.

Now, I am not an economist, and I don’t play one on TV. I have no independent ability to evaluate arguments about the relative merits of the indexes involved, although several people whose judgment and expertise I respect appear to agree that the current index is inaccurate. If they and the President are wrong, then critics have a perfect right to object to the proposed change on that basis. But advocates of the status quo do themselves no favor by mischaracterizing the proposal and mounting a hysterical assault.

When NRA supporters refuse to consider background checks because that is “really” the first step toward a registry that will then be used in an effort to confiscate all the guns, we rightly accuse them of irrational behavior. When progressives respond to a suggestion to change the way we calculate benefits by characterizing it as a hard-hearted assault on old people and the first step in dismantling the social safety net, we engage in similarly overwrought behavior–and risk being dismissed for the same reason.

Argue for or against the use of the new metric, but leave the hyperbole at home.