Jul 272011

An investment firm named KPCB (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) has posted a lengthy presentation on YouTube that addresses the current issue of U.S. government debt and provides an ostensibly impartial analysis of the situation and how it may be addressed. This article is offered as a review and commentary of the presentation’s content:

This is one very skewed take on the federal debt issue presented by a very large global investment company with a seriously vested interest, including a major presence in China. While the slideshow pretends to be non-partisan, in reality, it’s a propaganda tool that emphasizes all GOP talking points and glosses over any mention of opposing views.

If you agree with the KPCB take, then the main problem with the U.S. economy is entitlement spending. The slideshow emphasizes this point over and over, throughout the presentation. It also distorts the truth about tax revenue, demonizes government employees, minimizes the impact of defense spending, and makes a series of unfounded comparisons backed by equally illegitimate half-truths.

The following are some specific criticisms:

They assault the growth in government spending by charting the growth starting with the Great Depression: it’s up to 24% of GDP following a 3% trend line prior to 1930 — no shit it grew — there was no prior safety net and no future for anyone but the robber barons and banksters. That’s why we had the Great Depression! The New Deal paved the way and the ensuing period of time following WW2 was the greatest sustained economic expansion in our history — all under a system of shared prosperity brought about through government programs and regulation.

They use the GOP favorite, a family example, as comparison to show what the government should do. Of course it fails to illuminate any of the distinctions between the two very different groups. You know, like one can actually address trade rules, modify tax structures, and print freaking money — or that one is focused on its own wellbeing and the other is supposed to be focused on the wellbeing of ALL the people.

They claim that entitlement costs are rising “exponentially,” which is, of course, true, but still a means of somewhat overstating the issue. Even in today’s sad state of economic affairs, our GDP is presently growing “exponentially” — at a rate of 1.6%, which is pathetic. But the fact that few Americans understand exponential growth provides an open opportunity to exploit their ignorance and make the situation sound as bad as possible. FYI, even the Heritage Foundation estimates claim that entitlement spending will “double” by 2050. I guess “double” just doesn’t sound scary enough.

They label the growth in entitlement spending as a “runaway freight train,” comparing it to the increase in tax revenues, claiming that the former has grown at 2 times the rate of the latter over the past 10 years. Of course, they conveniently leave out anything about the Bush Tax Cuts and the fact that tax rates are at their lowest mark in more than 50 years. Are low taxes really evidence of “runaway” entitlement spending?

They emphasize how large our entitlement spending is by comparing it to the GDP of India, the “world’s 9th largest economy, but they never state that India’s GDP is only $1.38 trillion, or less than 1/10th the size of our own.

They attack the entitlements, but they completely glaze over defense spending. They list it as only 20% of the total and $656 billion. Of course, the truth is that when looking at all defense spending, not just the department of defense, the number is over $1 trillion, and is pushing 30% of overall spending.

They chart a picture where defense spending is actually below the statistical average since 1948 as a portion of GDP. Based on said chart, they assert that we’re actually not spending that much on defense. Of course, they chose a period of time that does include the spike for the Korean war and also the Viet Nam war years, but conveniently omits WW2, when spending peaked at 42% of GDP, and they made sure they stopped the chart in 2003 — eliminating the final $300 billion in Bush increases, not to mention Obama’s own.

They also never make any distinction in what might be considered appropriate defense spending between peacetime/wartime, nor do they address differences between wars of necessity versus wars of choice. They also fail to mention that defense spending has actually tripled since 1997, and they leave out entirely the true financial costs of war — those which echo through many facets of the economy and include a huge portion of federal interest payments and are in total estimated to be more than three times the direct costs.

They do mention defense cuts but only the most low hanging of fruit, like the extra engine for the F-35, and certainly nothing like actually ending the wars.

They show the future unfunded costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, $35, $23, and $8 trillion respectively, but fail to mention (except in the fine print) that this is over the next 75 years. They also give nothing for comparison, like the fact that at the present rate, defense costs of over $1 trillion each year, which are taken from general revenue, would amount to more than $75 trillion over the same period.

They talk about healthcare costs and results but give only lip service to any real reform that might be made. They make no mention of soaring insurer and pharmaceutical profits, or of the fact that Medicare is prohibited from negotiating drug prices, nor do they mention the 3-6% administrative costs for Medicare as compared to the 12-30% for private insurers. They even understate total healthcare costs at 8.2% of GDP when it’s actually running over 17%.

They present a terrible view of the increase in Medicaid recipients, showing that in 1965 only 1-in-50 people relied on the program compared to 1-in-6 in 2007. Of course they present this as if it were solely an issue associated with program rules and say nothing about the impact of increased cost of living and falling median income and loss of benefits.

They present the only choices to “fixing” Social Security as increasing the retirement age to 73, increasing payroll taxes to 14.3% or reducing benefits by 12%. This paints a pretty bleak picture. But it may not be so bleak when you consider that the tax increase could come largely from lifting the salary cap, or the benefit reduction could apply only to those who are wealthy — or a combination of the two. They also never mention that the program is 100% solvent through 2037, or that it will still be able to pay 78% of benefits beyond that period without any program changes —but then that wouldn’t serve their purpose.

They also make the argument that life expectancy has increased in the U.S. by 26% since the inception of Social Security while retirement age has only gone up by 3%. Now that doesn’t seem very balanced, but of course when you consider that those who actually perform physical work are barely living any longer at all, and that the real increase in expectancy applies mostly to the high income earners who need Social Security the least . . . well, I guess it depends for whom you’re advocating.

They make assertions in pursuit of the GOP agenda item to divert attention from the impact corporate profits and reduced taxation of the economic elite have had on the economy, and they attempt to place the blame on government workers and unions. They actually choose to paint a picture that blames GM’s economic problems chiefly on retiree benefits, and then claim that the company’s recovery was achieved by removing employee healthcare benefits and focusing on quality. Oddly, they never mention the government bailout.

They assert that if a corporation fails to balance its books, they are forced to go out of business, but they neglect to say a word about Too Big To Fail — the socialization of Wall St. debt , the $16 trillion in loans made by the Federal Reserve to the nations biggest banks and corporations at near-zero rates, the auto industry bailout, or any of the billions of dollars in corporate subsidies, which were estimated by the conservative Cato Institute at $92 billion in 2006 alone.

They depict the debt picture in the U.S. by comparing it to other nations and using our gross public debt number, which unlike other nations has the added factor of including inter-government and state-issued debt, neither of which is typical of most other countries. The combination of these two categories is about 30% of the total, which puts the 86% number in a considerably different light. And BTW, even though they chose to use government spending trends from 1930, they fail to mention that the debt to GDP ratio was 122% after WW2 — a number that we paid down with economic expansion and higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

They totally distort the tax picture by placing blame on the 51% of Americans who didn’t pay taxes and never mention that the number increased because Wall St. had literally stolen trillions in middle class wealth and crashed the economy in the process, sending 8 million people to the unemployment lines and creating a situation where it was necessary for the Obama administration to extend $288 billion in further tax cuts as part of the much maligned stimulus program.

They assert that the number of people paying 50% of taxes had dropped by 60% between 1965 and 2005. All true, but what they don’t say is that the slice of people making enough money on which to live has also been dropping — that the share of income gouged by the top 1% had grown from 8% in the mid-1970s to 23.% in 2007, and that the median wage fell for the first time in decades under G.W. Bush. They also fail to mention that the corporate share of taxes also dropped from 20% of the total in the 1960s to under 9% in 2010 — from 4% of GDP in 1965 to 1.3% in 2009, which is the lowest of all OECD nations except Iceland.

They present an absurd picture of addressing the debt with tax increases by isolating such measures as a single-solution response. In so doing, the picture they paint is that income tax rates would have to double. Of course, they conveniently ignore any combined solution of spending cuts and tax increases; they completely skim over the potential for eliminating tax loopholes and tax havens, instead offering only the possibility of either taxing healthcare benefits or eliminating the home mortgage deduction — both obviously targeted at raising alarm in working Americans. They also leave out any possibility of limiting the increased tax rates to millionaires and billionaires — you know, like the hedge fund managers, many of whom rake in over $1 billion in a single year and are able to treat their income as capital gains, paying only 15%, while a single person making $35K has to pay 25%.

They speak about government action where “nearly all” Americans will share in the sacrifice, but they don’t want you to consider that what they really mean — when the bottom 98% of us pay the entire price, that is “nearly all” Americans.

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