The increasing number of voices on the center-right of the political spectrum who want to try to solve the entitlement problem on the backs of "the rich" is a trend we have been following closely here.
Two more data points: First, an Amity Shlaes column reporting on a proposal by the Heritage Foundation's David John, who "would stanch the Social Security system's red ink by reducing government pensions that higher earners receive." (Mr. John's earlier ardor for fixing Social Security's finances regardless of the principles at stake prompted a 2006 New York Sun editorial headlined "The Heritage Tax," which elicited a letter to the editor in response from the think tank.)
And second, a Jeff Jacoby column in the Boston Globe gushing over a "whip-smart" "conservative" Republican candidate running for Congress against Barney Frank named Sean Bielat. Mr. Jacoby writes of Mr. Bielat that, "To preserve Social Security, he envisions a bipartisan package of fixes — not just private savings accounts, but also means-testing benefits, raising the retirement age, and lifting the income cap on Social Security taxability."
This sort of thinking about Social Security is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom on the center-right. A Heritage Foundation blog post, for example, asserts that "any changes to the benefit structure of Social Security should focus benefits more heavily on those who need them the most." Look, I fully realize that I risk sounding like a crazy person if I start saying that the Heritage Foundation is starting to sound like a bunch of Marxist redistributionists, but look at where we are headed in this country. If you don't earn a lot of money and you work in "public service," the government will cancel your student loan obligations after ten years. If you did or do earn a lot of money, the government is going to cut your Social Security benefits so that it can give more to people who paid in less money in Social Security taxes than you did. And if you make the mistake of earning too much money and saving it instead of spending it, there's a move afoot to bring back the estate tax so that the money gets taken away from your family by the government. The redistributionism starts to get relentless, the treatment of financial success starts to become punitive, and the incentive to save, earn, or invest starts to evaporate.
I realize that "the rich" have a lot to be thankful for, and that, by comparison to the challenges suffered by the poor, their problems may seem petty. But it's hard not to see in some of these policy debates the echoes of the column by Bloomberg's Matthew Lynn describing "the rich" as "vicious" and "nasty." Is there any other group left in America about which such sweepingly negative generalizations are still socially acceptable? Okay, maybe cigarette smokers. But you can't say that sort of thing publicly about racial or religious or sexual minorities, at least not in polite company. And that's almost certainly for the best. But calling the rich or people who work in the financial industry "vicious" or "nasty" or "fat cats" seems not just acceptable but trendy — and it goes hand in hand with the effort to raise their taxes or cut the government benefits for which they have already paid in more than their share.