The Government Spends $100 on the Rich for Every Dollar It Spends on the Poor

There is a new favorite in the "stupid things that intellectuals say" category. As David Brooks tells readers in the NYT this morning: "the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children."

Of course this is true. That is because we run a retirement program through the federal government. We require workers to contribute to Social Security (they go to jail otherwise). They then get Social Security benefits back when they retire. Similarly, we also require them to pay taxes to support their health care in retirement which is provided through Medicare. (This program is not fully financed through the designated tax.)

Since we require that workers pay substantial taxes through their entire working careers to the government to help support their retirement, it really should not be surprising that they get a substantial sum back from the government in retirement. However, if David Brooks and other so-called educated people want to ignore these taxes, then we should also talk about the money the government pays out to the super-rich, like investment banker and big-time Social Security foe Peter Peterson, as opposed to poor children.

Peterson has well over $1 billion in wealth. Let's suppose that he has 10 percent or $100 million in government bonds. This means that he would be getting around $3.5 million in interest checks each year from the government. By comparison, the total payments -- SCHIP, food stamps, EITC -- going to support a poor kid would probably not even sum to $10,000. This means that the taxpayers are giving Peter Peterson $350 for every dollar that we give to poor kids. Isn't that an outrage?

We should look forward to reading about that one in David Brooks' column in future days.

--Dean Baker

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