New York Times columnist Ross Douthat discovers what we call around here Reverse Robin-Hood, and also concedes the point we made earlier (as he puts it), "Just because you have a million-dollar mortgage doesn't make you a millionaire, and a lot of the fat-cat defaulters probably aren't that fat anymore."
Mr. Douthat goes off course, though, in my view, when he writes:
This isn't just a corporate welfare problem. The same pattern is at work in our entitlement system, which is lurching toward bankruptcy in part because of how much Medicare and Social Security pay to seniors who could get along without assistance. Instead of a safety net that protects the elderly from poverty, we have a system in which the American taxpayer is effectively underwriting cruises and tee times...
House Minority Leader John Boehner, to his great credit, recently floated the possibility of means-testing Social Security.
Mr. Douthat links to a column in the Hill that has Mr. Boehner suggesting "reducing or eliminating benefits to Americans with a 'substantial non-Social Security income' while retired."
I'm all for entitlement "reform," but this is outrageous. The seniors who "could get along without assistance" paid all this money into the system in the first place against a government promise of benefits. They are the "American taxpayer" underwriting the system. Means-test this program and it becomes not a universal social insurance program but a welfare program for those who didn't save, and it winds up creating all sorts of perverse incentives to keep your income low enough to keep qualifying to receive the Medicare and Social Security benefits you already paid for in taxes anyway. The Social Security maximum benefit is about $2,000 a month, low enough to make any begrudging of tee times and cruises seem the opposite of generous-spirited.
There's a Republican impulse on entitlements to soak the rich (or the upper middle class) that I've written about before. It seems to me, though, that a better argument for the free-market side is to talk about the tilt between taxpayers and tax-eaters, and to try to even out or lessen that tilt, rather than accentuating it further, as these means-testing proposals would do.